The Pharisee Card

You’re here because someone (maybe you) played the Pharisee card. Consider the following, and let’s all remember that if you’re going to play the Pharisee card, you should play it fairly.

OK, so I stole the idea from an article posted at Issues Etc. But the next time someone plays the Pharisee card, consider the following…

The Pharisees weren’t rebuked because they were “legalistic”….

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23 ESV)

Here, Jesus does not rebuke them for tithing from their spice rack. He rebukes them for not being legalistic enough. They ought to have been tithing from their mint, dill and cumin – but they were following only part of God’s law and not all of it. And although we are not under the ceremonial law of Moses, we are under God’s moral law as the spirit of his revealed righteousness. Calling someone a ‘pharisee’ because they strive for personal holiness is rebuking them for something for which Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees.

The Pharisees weren’t rebuked because they were concerned with doctrinal purity…

From Issues, Etc

The only problem is, Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for being doctrinal purists. He faulted them for being false teachers who abandoned the truth of God’s Word in favor of the erroneous word of man (Matthew 16:11–12; 15:1–9; Mark 7:6–13).

Jesus called Christians who demanded doctrinal purity “disciples,” not “Pharisees.” “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32) In fact, Christians who demand doctrinal purity are really following the example of Jesus, of Paul and the other Apostles (Matthew 7:15; see also Matthew 24:10–11; Mark 9:42; 2 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 4:16; 6:3–4; Titus 1:7–9; 2:1, 7–8; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 3:17).

Caring about doctrine, in other words, does not make someone a Pharisee. Being wrong makes them a Pharisee.

The Pharisees weren’t rebuked because they weren’t zealous enough about evangelism…

Again, as Issues, Etc. references the same…

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 ESV)

The Pharisees were evangelical, but they didn’t have the right evangel. It seems the Pharisee’s concern for doctrinal purity had no negative impact on their zeal. Again, the Pharisees were condemned because their doctrine was wrong – not because they cared too much about doctrine.

The Pharisees were rebuked because they were in doctrinal error and promoted religious self-helpism.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:25-33 ESV)

The Pharisees had a way to righteousness that was not faith, but a justification via good behavior (today we call it behavior modification or life-change). The Pharisees desired to take care of outside issues, lifestyle issues, behavior issues, surface-level renovation and their theology wrongly promoted this shallow religion. In fact, these Pharisees were of the same spiritual make-up as their fathers who martyred the prophets for preaching the Word of God. The Pharisees preferred their own made-up religion while throwing stones at those who insisted upon a Scriptural religion.

So, if you’ve used the Pharisee Card or had the Pharisee Card used on you, remember to play the card rightly. The card should be reserved for those who don’t care enough about doctrine, or those who care about doctrine but have it wrongly. The card should be used upon those who have traded sound Scriptural exegesis for surface level self-improvement.

That, my friends, is a proper use of the Pharisee Card.

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14 Responses

  1. Excellent! One of your best posts.

  2. Mark says:

    The Pharisee’s considered themselves the “Elect”

    • JD Hall says:

      And we have our first flag thrown for an inappropriate use of the Pharisee card in three…two…one

    • Although I think I know, could you explain your comment? It seems like a snide remark against Reformed Theology to say that those who believe in the doctrine of election are Pharisaical because they also believed themselves to be the elect. If that is your argument, it is woefully ignorant of the Scriptures. Can you give ONE occurrence where the Pharisees ever referred to themselves as the elect? The only one who used the word “elect” was Jesus. He used it 7 times (Mt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mk. 13:20, 22, 27). Each time, it was a POSITIVE reference about GENUINE believers. In fact, if you aren’t “elect” you aren’t saved. The sad thing in this Ergun Caner scandal is there is a common thread. Those who defend him share the agenda of hating anyone who is Reformed in their theology (even though there are MANY people who are not Reformed in their theology and see Caner for the liar he is). Because of their hatred for Reformed theology, they are more than willing to lock arms with and defend a man who has proved himself to be one of the most blatant unrepentant liars who has ever stood behind a pulpit. If you hate the theology, good enough. But don’t let your hatred for a theological view blind you to blatant and willful sin. If you persist in being so easily led astray, you might end up proving not to be one of the elect yourself. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, IF POSSIBLE, the ELECT. (Jesus)”

      • Great response, brother!

      • Mark says:

        Pastor Buck,

        Thank You for asking. Yeah i guess my remark could be considered “snarky”. In fairness to all of you. Your persona gives me the impression, if I were fighting in a fox-hole, in the trenches of War. I would want you on my side.

        This really has less to do with Reformed Doctrine but more to do with those that hide behind their Reformed faith to justify their heavy-handed endoctrinating, which includes rebuking those that recognize flaws in (or question) their Methodology. (My impression, based on their biblical interpretations, Calvinism and the term Reformed may have several dialects and Methodologies, sometimes isolating themselves from being referred to as a Calvinist or a New Calvinist and sometimes the Reformed will embrace being a Calvinist)

        There are several things that really bother me among the scriptual “elites” who profess to be Reformed. (and even those that don’t) First it saddens me to see unkind antagonism and toxic dialogue on twitter and in other threads throughout cyber space, between those that profess the Gospel. (no matter what Doctrine they embrace)

        Rather than discussing their views of Doctrine they spar.

        If I interact in the same manner much of it would be considered as sin. So why should the “elites” get a free pass? Why should the “elites” expect their Congregations be held to a higher standard, when they aren’t fulfilling that standard themselves? Isn’t that what the Pharisees did?

        The Doctrinal Strife within and outside the SBC of “elites” who profess the Gospel are showing toxic signs of disgrace because they embrace disporportioiately, the “act of conflict” more than biblically address the sin, which is crossing the line. (Phelps, among others)

        As for Caner, I have never disputed the claims made in this thread. The Methodology in how the proclamations are being made, in my opinion could use some improvement, but at this point it might be too late to critique, the swagger. Meanwhile the pedestal keeps getting higher and higher not leaving very much margin for error, for all of us.

        Also, I take exception to Spiritual and Judgemental “Abuse” directed at Christians who don’t embrace the Methodology or Doctrine of the Abuser who justify their tactics, of what may be a distorted form of “Reformed Theology”. When aggressive and deceitful Methodologies, overshadow the Holiness of Christ, the Abuser (by appearence) is defending his “Method” more than the “Message”, lacking notieable Love by his/her audience, all the while repetitively suggesting they embrace “Truth” and “Christ Holiness”.

        I’ve witnessed Preachers having too much “fluff” in their styles and I have witnessed Reformed Preachers that embrace a “Law and Sin Centered Ministry” rather than “Christ Centered” that is similiar to Catholicism that focuses on Works, Doubt and Guilt, to a point to where I couldn’t identify if the Preacher was even saved. (which occurred in a church I entered)

        In that church there was a Stealth Reformed “something?”, (he refused to disclose his Doctrine) who a month into his tenure, proclaimed to the Congregation, that he didn’t see enough suffering and persecution in the church, for him to know if they were saved. Before he became their Pastor, this particular church was beginning to heal and was hungry for God’s word, (and eager) enough to support a ministry after enduring sinful strife for many years and without the luxury of having a full time Pastor. To the one’s that stayed faithful, it would be very hard to identify that they endured persecution, because of the “joy” in their heart, for knowing Christ.

        That church stopped growing and began to shrink, Sunday School slowly ended for kids (because the Pastor didn’t allow kids in church without parents, which essentially denied access of the Gospel to those kids) while the Congregation looked beat up after every service.
        Now how is it possible to reach the lost if by appearence the lost can only identify mental stress, in the believer? (the only thing those on the outside witnessed was either arrongance, pompous or pain) The “lost” can find enough pain outside the church, to want to have to endure more of it going to church.

        I wonder if this Preacher was endoctrinated to believe that if he didn’t endure noticeable personal suffering in himself or in the church body, then he had to manufacture it. I have also wondered if Pastor Fred Phelps seeked and manufactured personal suffering and persecution when he judged the likes of the “Arminian” Billy Graham to hell, in order to find God’s favor. Phelps by appearance wore his suffering on his sleeve.

        As attenders dropped off, the Preacher, attempted to close the church in order to conduct a home church with limited seating. The membership balked and refused to close the church doors while demanding an explantion and “full” disclosure of his Stealth Doctrine. He refused to explain why he didn’t disclose and refused to fully disclose after he was “found out” 2 years into his tenure. (he only wanted to know how the Church found him out) Then he verbally rebuked the Congregation in his last service proclaiming himself as a martyr like Paul, while cleaning out the treasury when he resigned.
        He accepted a salary while force feeding his heavy-handed Stealth Reformed Methodology knowing the Congregation didn’t know what he was doing. (not quite stealing, but close) This Preacher held the congregation in bondage of his judgements while attempting to Covertly endoctrinate the church while judging those who he perceived to be a “Doctrinal Challenge” to his Methodology or seek understanding of his Doctrine.
        Throughout his tenure this Preacher also proclaimed to embrace “Truth” and “Christ Holiness” which I find as a contradiction, as he was motivated to hide his Doctrine. (strange)
        He may very well have been able to endoctrinate the Church and enjoy a long tenure by fully disclosing up-front, from the beginning.

        Between deceitful aggressive Methodologies and Twitter Wars, are “we” witnessing verbal bullying and hypocrisy instead of Love, among the the scriptual “elites”, in how they address sin? Isn’t that what set Pharisees apart from the tax collector?

        As for not embracing Reformed Theology. There are enough dialects within the Calvinist School making it impossible even among the Calvinists to have a consensus, which is a slight contradiction especially to those that are profectionists of the “Truth”. Not all Academic Calvinist embrace all 5 Points of TULIP and I don’t think it is possible to embrace some parts and not all and still be a consistant Calvinist.

        Do we really need to limit one’s ministry and only focus within the perimeters of TULIP? The Bible is more complete and covers a lot more ground, than human inspired crib notes that mainly focuses on our unworthiness. (which is same thing Catholics do)

    • JD Hall says:

      Mark, you say …”those that hide behind their Reformed faith to justify their heavy-handed endoctrinating, which includes rebuking those that recognize flaws in (or question) their Methodology.” Is this presupposing that methodology shouldn’t be rebuked or have its flaws recognized? Again, this is not a mark of Pharisaic behavior. In the mean time, it seems that your last comment is a rebuke for our… *ahem* methodology.

  3. Jim Curlin says:

    YES!!!! GREAT POST!!! How Wonderful to finally see Christ’s rebukes interpreted properly!! Thanks!

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. ateasetees says:

    I’ve often had this card played against me when trying to point out doctrinal error or sin in the lives of friends and fellow Christians. I’m a “holier-than-thou” Pharisee who thinks that I’m better than the person I’m trying to correct….it’s sad really….

  5. robert says:

    Another good look at what it means to be a Pharisee is at and answers objections, containing lots of scripture. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

    Also Ergun Caner has weighed in on what it means to be a Pharisee 🙂 See – ‘Dr. Caner gave six ways to spot a Pharisee. First, Pharisees need a crowd before they speak, as seen in John 9:17. He stated that the need for making conflict into a public spectacle is in contradiction to the Biblical mandate for direct confrontation between Christians. “Walk away from the person who always drags you into drama,” Caner stated. Second, Pharisees attack character instead of theology. In verse 18 of the text, the Pharisees set out to prove the healed man was lying about being blind. As part of this quest, the Pharisees went to the healed man’s parents. The President indicated that the third sign of a Pharisee is how they drag friends into drama. He taught that Pharisees also make assumptions, abuse their victim, and display arrogance.’

    I wonder who he was thinking of 🙂 Remember Ergun is ‘Defiant before Pharisees’

  6. Mark says:


    Pharisees considered themselves elite and above the Law not accountable of their actions.

    If Preachers publicly interact which each other in toxic dialogue while heavily antagonizing each other and yet they expect their Congregations to be more civilized, are Preachers ignoring their teachings, in the heat of debate? The Pharisees acted like they were accountable to no one.

    As for…*ahem* Methodology, not sure my describing what I’m witnessing as a rebuke, other than whatever it is this thread is trying to accomplish, won’t go anywhere unless at the very least, this thread starts some serious critiquing and ending twitter bashing those that profess the gospel.

    I’d suggest that mannerisms need improving, but that would be laughable to some.

    Its kind of hard to embrace a fairly well written Pharisee Card thread, wondering in the back of my mind why the author isn’t more careful with his predatory criticisms.

    It’s like I have suggested (and maybe that’s not your intent) what I see going on in cyber space are those embracing disproportionate “acts of conflict” like its a sport, rather than staying within the perimeters of scripture in how they address sin.

  1. May 11, 2014

    […] J.D. Hall corrects some common misconceptions of Legalism and Pharisaism […]