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Who are the Pharisees? In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East, bringing Greek culture and philosophy to Israel. By 200 BC, Greek philosophy and its worldview called Helenism were significantly impacting Jewish young men. More and more of them were abandoning the Hebrew faith and embracing the perceived superiority of Greek thought and ways. This created a crisis in Judaism. Would the "faith" and its covenant responsibilities survive in the generations to come? Thus the Pharisees was born in response to this alarming Hellenistic trend. Its two-fold purpose was to call young Jewish men back to the tenants of the Hebrew faith and to a priest-like life.


The first Pharisees had their hearts in the right place. They had a passion for evangelism -- bringing Jewish young men back to the historical faith as well as bringing Gentiles into Judaism. They prayed dozens of times each day. They memorized great portions of the OT Scriptures. They had a passion to honor God in everything they did and to fulfill all 613 laws in their lives. But as is true with many movements, factions within the Pharisees slowly began to revise their "theology" as they hardened their hearts towards those dissimilar to them.


Even though there may have been no more than 6,000 Pharisees in the Jesus' day, there was considerable "theological" diversity among them. There's a saying that "Whenever three Jews get together, there are at least four opinions!" There were differences between the northern and southern Pharisees and even within those two groups there was great diversity of belief and practice. However, when we get to the Pharisees who increasingly stood in opposition to Jesus, we're primarily talking about the Pharisees in the south, particularly those in Jerusalem who were aligned with the Sadducees and together constituted the Sanhedrin, the Jewish "Supreme Court" ruled over religious matters and controlled the worship and ministry of the Temple.


By the time of Jesus, some of the Pharisees had taken observant Judaism to a place that did not honor God in much of what they did. Collectively, they took great pride in their impeccable behavior. They focused on their idea of doing what's right in the law and believing their interpretation of the Scriptures and the laws. If you didn't agree with them, you were perceived and treated to be outsiders. They began to exhibit hard hearts and harsh attitudes toward the "outsiders." Jesus likened the Pharisees to "white-washed tombs," clean looking on the outside but dead bones on the inside. In their zeal for God, they gradually evolved into an Insider-Outsider "theology."

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