The Pharisees - Part 1

Posted in: 2011
By Tom L. Ballinger
Jun 21, 2011 - 10:20:18 AM

Part 1
The Pharisees were the most prominent sect in Israel during the Life of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees were in opposition to the other leading sect ─ the Sadducees. The Pharisees, probably, emerged from the sect of the “Assidaeans” (there are several different spellings of this sect’s name). Reference books state that they occupied a place similar to which the Pharisees later occupied; “it may be deduced that the two parties are in a measure one.” In fact, probably, the Essenes were also derived from the Assidaeans.
The name, “Pharisee,” means “separatist.” They were the ones who “carefully kept to themselves from any legal contamination, distinguishing themselves by their care in such matters from the common people who had fewer scruples.” The Pharisees were, primarily, a religious people but as time passed, they became energetically political. This was like the Puritans in 17th Century England and the Presbyterians in Scotland during the same period. The Pharisees were a closely organized society in which the members called each other, “neighbor.” The idea of “neighbor” is very interesting when we later look at the “doctrines” of the Pharisees.
The writers of the Four Gospels assumed that their audience understood, very well, the ideology and character of the Pharisees. In fact, a closer look at the Four Gospels reveals that the tenets and character of the Pharisees were, indeed, well known to the primary audience, that being, the Jews in the Land. These Israelites had a much better understanding of the content of the Four Gospels than do Christian readers of the Twenty-First Century. The average modern-day Gentile Christian has no background for understanding that which was at play between Christ and the Pharisees at the time these Four Gospels were written. A great deal is left unsaid in these writings.
The sum of the matter is that we are not told, in any detail, what were the doctrines of the Pharisees. All we know are the points upon which Christ and the Pharisees disagreed. The doctrines of the Pharisees are not delineated in the New Testament because the writers were writing to a people who were intimately familiar with them. Since the people of Israel were influenced, taught, and led by the doctrine of the Pharisees, there was no need to spell out all that the Pharisees taught. Acknowledgement ought to be given to the Divine principle of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The first principle being; we must determine “to whom is the particular Scripture written.” Then, the interpretation must be made in the light of this understanding.
The Four Gospels were written to a Jewish audience who lived in Palestine during the First Century A.D., not to Gentiles who are members of the Church over which Christ Jesus is the Head. This does not mean that we cannot profit from all Scripture, but all Scripture must be rightly divided.
When the New Testament record opens, it is noted that the Pharisees exercised a great influence over the Jewish people. While their influence was strong, it was not predominant. The Sadducees and the Herodians held the reigns of government; one, by their alliance with the Roman Government and the other, by their inherited skill in intrigue.
The Pharisees were in Jerusalem, in Galillee, in Peraea, and in Decapolis. They were always coming into contact with Jesus Christ. This was not by accident. It was the Pharisees, out of all of the Jewish sects, who did the most damage to the Written Word of God. Jesus reserved, for them, His most severe denunciations and “woes.” He administered, to them, His most scathing reprobation.
As Phariseeism developed, they became the principal force in the Synagogues. In the earlier days of our studies, we were taught that the Pharisees could be represented as the “fundamentalists” of their day while the Sadducees were the “liberals” of that day and time. We, later, saw that this was an over-simplification and a generalization. Further study revealed that, indeed, we had only scratched the surface.
Pharisees Operated Seminaries of Theology
These schools of “Theology” should have been, more accurately, labeled as “Schools of Pharisaism.” They were devoted to turning out men “of their own kind.” These institutions could be called “Cookie Cutter Schools”—all were cut out of the same mold. They turned out graduates who learned, by rote, the doctrines of the Pharisees. They, in turn, parroted the Pharisaic Doctrine to the Synagogue congregations which they had learned from the “Elders” of the schools. (This sounds a lot like present-day Theology Seminaries who graduate men who have learned the doctrine of the school. The Bible is secondary in their learning experience).

The schools of Theology, today, are bent on making good denominational men. Lutheran Seminaries turn out Lutheran men. Baptist Seminaries turn out Baptist men. Church of God Seminaries turn out Church of God men. Methodist Seminaries turn out Methodist men. Presbyterian Seminaries turn out Presbyterian men. Church of Christ Seminaries grind-out Church of Christ men, Grace Bible Colleges bring forth Grace men (mid-Acts men), and etc.

None of these produce God men! Only God produces “men of God.”

(A change of pace ─ here is a side-note). Around 1970, the Greystone Bible Church, in Mobile, Alabama, was bringing in a new pastor to step-in and fill “the big shoes” of Dr. Henry Grube. Dr. Grube died August 28, 1968. Dr. Grube was the Pastor and founder of this Acts 9 Church, and a K-12 Christian School. I served on his Board of Directors of his school and on his Board of Deacons.

Dr. Grube was a dear friend and mentor of mine. He, knowingly, steered me to the Acts 28 position in our weekly lunch dates on Thursdays. At lunch, we talked about Bible topics, no “holds barred,” and many Biblical questions, such as, “Are the dead really dead?” “What is a soul?”  “What was “Soul Sleep?”  “When was the Mystery ushered in?” “Did the Mystery appear suddenly?” Is the “Lord’s Supper truth for today?” This was just to name a few.  Dr. Grube passed along writings of men who had moved from Acts 9 to Acts 28. Most of the writings were by men who were not “men of the cloth, such as, Keith MacDonald of Toronto, Canada. Keith owned a restaurant supply business, but he wrote a monthly publication on “The Dispensation of the Mystery” (This was not the title of his publication; I seem to have forgotten it). I was young but wise enough to not spread this confidence around. One lesson I learned from Dr. Grube was that the natural growth for an Acts 9 believer is to move on to Acts 28.

Dr. Henry Grube was a very prominent Mobilian. He strongly criticized the Social Gospel, held Patriotic Gospel rallies, wrote sermons for Billy Graham, and wrote a weekly Bible Study—“The Mid-Week Message.” He had borrowed heavily from local banks to build a larger school facility in order to accommodate the “white flight” from the recently desegregated public schools (1963).  Because of his indebtedness, he chose not to make known his thoughts on Acts 28. If he did, that could very well split the church, and his bank notes would be “called.” That would be a way to create a “perfect storm” in his ministry. [ 1 ]  The Church Board finally “called” an accredited Acts 9 pastor who was well respected in the Grace Fellowship, Wayne Webb. As I recall, Murry Evans, who was also on the Board, and I were the only two Board members not to vote for this man. This new pastor, immediately, began to denounce the Acts 28 position to the congregation Sunday after Sunday. He had, probably, gotten wind of our interest in the Acts 28 “boundary line.”

Wayne Webb went through all of the standard “plays” out of the Acts 9 “playbook” which were used to ridicule and belittle Acts 28ers (meaning Murry and me). He called Acts 28ers—No Hellers, Soul Sleepers, two body men and a host of others names. The last Sunday we were at Greystone, he ended his sermon with a fiery comment in his closing statement, and he did so with great fervor. His sermon’s closing remark was, “This one thing I know, no-one who subscribes to the Acts 28 position was EVER A GRADUATE FROM SEMINARY OR BIBLE COLLEGE!”

Murry and I had a good friend by the name of Steve Crichlow. He had grown up in Grube’s church. This Sunday, Steve was home from attending Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. He was a young man who had the “eyes of his understanding enlightened.” After the new pastor closed his sermon by “firing his last shot,” Steve walked over to Murry and me and said something to the effect; “That is a pretty good reason not to go to Bible college. They set up the curriculum to keep their students from ever stepping across the line.”

Today’s schools of Theology are copies of the Pharisaic Seminaries. The schools of the Pharisees schooled the student in the “traditions of the Pharisees.” Notice, we said the students were taught the TRADITIONS OF THE PHARISEES. The “Traditions” were the main tenet of Pharisaical Theology.


The foundation upon which Phariseeism was established was that Moses delivered two Laws. The basic theory of the Pharisees was:

Moses received the Oral Law from Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the Great Synagogue.

We believe that the Great Synagogue is legendary, having no Scriptural basis. It, too, was concocted as was the legend of “The Oral Law.” “The Oral Law” was verbally transmitted. Orthodox Jews, even to this date, hold to this tradition.

The Pharisees’ theory was that this “Oral Law” was given to “complete” and to “explain” the Written Law. Their theory insisted that the “Oral Law” was finally delivered to the “Great Synagogue.” This “Synagogue,” according to the Pharisaic tradition, was formed as a council upon the Jews’ return from Babylon. Its purpose was “to re-organize the religious life of the people.” It was to have consisted of 120 men under the leadership of the priest, Ezra, who was a “ready scribe” (Ezra 7:6). And, it was called “The Great Synagogue.” There is an absence of historical mention of this by Josephus and Philo, as well as the Apocrypha and the Old Testament. It was probably the invention of the fertile minds of the Rabbis, i.e., the Pharisees.

Sometime after Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity, the Pharisees took, to themselves, the main function of the priests—teaching the children of Israel. Their intrusion into the priests’ office left the priests with only the performing of empty ritual. The God ordained function of the priestly office was to teach the Written Word of the Law. Via the means of “slight-of-hand,” the Pharisees brought in “The Oral Law” as their substitute for the Law of Moses.

The Bible makes no mention of Moses having delivered an “Oral Law” which was to explain the Scriptures of Truth written by Moses and inspired by the LORD, to wit, Yahweh. The Pharisees, in general, learned the “Oral Law” as they sat “at the feet” of the great lawyers in Israel. Gamaliel was the “lawyer” who taught Saul of Tarsus.

“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers [Oral Law], and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3).

Paul’s reference to “the law of the fathers,” as we indicated, was his reference to the “Oral Law,” not the Law of Moses. When he referred to the Divinely inspired Word, he would say “The Law of Moses,” or the “Scriptures.” The “Oral Law” was never referred to as the Scriptures. Doctrines of the Elders were passed down by word of mouth and, as such, became the “tradition of Elders” (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:3,5). “Tradition” means, “the handing down orally of beliefs from generation to generation” (Webster’s New Compact Office Dictionary). Those who were experts in the “Oral Law” taught it as the “tradition of the Elders.”

The Bible does not identify or record all of Pharisaic Traditional Law. The four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Peter, and Luke) only mentioned those traditional laws when they conflicted with the teachings of the Lord Jesus and were, consequently, denounced by Him. The traditions of the “Oral Law” are referred to in the Four Gospels; too little is said about them to enable the student to get a clear grasp of their nature and extent. More will be written concerning these, later, in these essays.


We have no direct account of this organization in the Gospels, the Talmud, or the writing of Josephus. But, the close relationship which the members of the sect maintained to each other, their habit of united action, as exhibited in the narratives of the New Testament and Josephus, are the most naturally explained. The Talmudic account of the “neighbors” affords confirmation of this. These were the persons who, primarily, associated for the study of the Law and for the better observance of its precepts. No-one was admitted into this society without taking an oath of fidelity and a promise of strict observance of its precepts.

One of the elements of their promise was that they were not to pay a “tithe” or “heave offering” to a priest who was not a member of the “brotherhood.”  They were only permitted to take this oath when their associates in the “brotherhood” were able to certify to their character. Upon their certification, then, they were on 30 days probation.

To become a Pharisee was strictly a personal matter, not an inheritable position like the priesthood. Women were allowed to become members. Unlike the Sadducees, they were zealous in making proselytes. The proselytes, in reality, were not converts to Judaism, but rather, they were converts to the doctrines of the Pharisees which were based upon “The Oral Law,”—to wit, i.e., the “Tradition of the Elders.” As it was pointed out, the doctrine of the Pharisees was alleged to be directly from Moses.

While the Pharisees’ converts  sincerely believed they were converted to the true faith, their conversion to the “Tradition of the Elders” made them two-fold more the children of “Gehenna” than were the Pharisees.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell [Gehenna] than yourselves” (Matt. 23:15).

Here, in Matthew 23:15, is a clear warning: that to believe, SINCERELY, that which is wrong, results in serious consequences !


    [ 1 ].  The personal matters concerning Dr. Grube and my knowledge of them are mentioned because of the fact that he has been sleeping in Christ for almost 44 years. His church and school are gone. What remains are memories. The Lord Jesus blessed me and many, many others with his gift of teaching and his love of the Word of God.    

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