Posted by Douglas Wilson - 11/20/2005
"The Pharisees are the principal bad guys in the New Testament, and they are caricatured as such by the Lord Jesus Himself. But we frequently miss the spiritual lessons involved because we don’t understand polemical satire and caricature. We look at the portrait Jesus draws and we take it with a wooden literalism, and we therefore see the Pharisees as orcs and Nazis, and we think their temptations are not ours. But the Pharisees are not as bad as we think (they are not cartoon villains), and contemporary evangelicalism is therefore in far worse shape than we think. Almost all the condemnations that apply to them apply to us as well.
"What are the marks of a Pharisee? In Scripture, there are four basic marks. The first is contempt for others (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee loves to feel superior, loves to look down his nose. The second is superficial views of the need for forgiveness (Luke 7:47). The one who is forgiven little, loves little. The third is an overblown and heightened sense of fairness and unfairness (Luke 15:11-32; Matt. 20:1-16). The Pharisee loves to glance sideways at what is being done for others, or is being done by others. And the fourth is an unteachable spirit (Matt. 21:33-46). When confronted with the undeniable sinfulness of what he is doing, the Pharisee chooses to brazen it out, to argue the point, to make it a matter of "interpretation."
"When Jesus painted His caricature of them, He did so in a way that enabled us to see what was going on. And because it was two thousand years ago, we can see it—in them.
"We do not widen our phylacteries; we have floppy Bibles with ribbons in them. We do not offer lengthy prayers in the synagogues; we do in the churches. We do not look at the woman caught in adultery with contempt; we look at the immodestly-dressed college girl with contempt. And in a basic display of a censorious and religious bookkeeping system, our hearts (and sometimes our mouths) are full of phrases that rhyme with 'that’s not fair!' May God deliver us."