The Righteousness of the Pharisees Explained
The righteousness of the Pharisees is a concept that appears in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The Pharisees were a religious sect of Judaism that emerged in the second century BC, and they were known for their strict adherence to the Jewish law and their belief in the resurrection of the dead. In the Gospels, Jesus frequently criticized the Pharisees for their legalism, their hypocrisy, and their lack of compassion, and he contrasted their righteousness with the righteousness of his followers.
To understand the righteousness of the Pharisees, it’s important to first understand the context in which they lived. The Pharisees were part of a society that was under Roman occupation and subject to the authority of a foreign power. The Jewish people were deeply divided over how to respond to this situation, and different groups advocated different strategies. Some advocated for armed resistance against the Romans, while others believed that the best way to preserve Jewish identity was to maintain strict adherence to the Jewish law and traditions.
The Pharisees fell into the latter category. They believed that the way to please God and to earn salvation was to obey the commandments of the Torah and to follow the traditions that had been passed down from their ancestors. They believed that every aspect of life should be governed by the law, from what they ate and drank to how they prayed and worshiped. They were also highly critical of anyone who did not share their beliefs or who did not follow the law as strictly as they did.
In the Gospels, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for their legalism and their lack of compassion. He accuses them of focusing too much on outward appearances and neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He also accuses them of hypocrisy, of being more concerned with their own status and reputation than with the needs of the people they were supposed to serve.
One of the most famous passages in which Jesus criticizes the Pharisees is Matthew 23, in which he pronounces a series of “woes” against them. He begins by saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2-3 ESV) He goes on to denounce them for their love of honor and their pride, for their legalism and their neglect of justice and mercy.
What was Wrong With the Righteousness of the Pharisees?
So what was wrong with the righteousness of the Pharisees? In short, it was a righteousness based on external conformity to the law rather than on internal transformation of the heart. The Pharisees believed that by following the law as strictly as possible, they could earn God’s favor and secure their own salvation. But Jesus taught that true righteousness comes from a heart that is transformed by God’s grace and that seeks to love and serve others as Christ did.
Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees is a powerful reminder that it’s not enough to simply follow a set of rules or to appear righteous on the outside. True righteousness involves a wholehearted commitment to loving God and loving others, and it requires a transformation of the heart that can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are called to follow Christ’s example of compassion, justice, and humility, and to resist the temptation to fall into legalism or self-righteousness.
We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means treating others with kindness, compassion, and respect, regardless of their background or beliefs. It means seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized, and standing up against injustice and oppression wherever we see it. It means recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and grace, and that we are saved not by our own good works, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
What is the Righteousness of the Pharisees?
The righteousness of the Pharisees was a righteousness based on external conformity to the law, rather than on internal transformation of the heart. Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees serves as a powerful reminder to all of us that true righteousness comes from a heart that is transformed by God’s grace, and that seeks to love and serve others as Christ did. As we strive to live out our faith in our daily lives, may we always remember that it is not our own righteousness that saves us, but the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith.