This post appeared in the religion column of our local paper. It was adapted from a post of the same title which I wrote in 2013. It is also available as a podcast here:
The Pharisees…. What was eating those guys? Rewind to the period between the Old and New Testaments—Alexander the Great brought many nations, including Israel, under Greek rule. His vision was to make all peoples culturally Greek. He was so successful Greek culture persisted even after the rise of the Roman empire. In the time of Jesus, Greek was still the common language, and the New Testament itself was penned in Greek.
The Pharisees trace their roots to this period when the Greeks were pressing their cultural offensive. In Jerusalem, a handful of God’s people violently resisted Greek forces after one of their generals ordered that a pig be sacrificed in the Jewish temple. The Israelites routed Greek control of Jerusalem and preserved their heritage. Out of these military defenders of the faith, a priestly group emerged. These continued to resist Greek culture and protect their faith, though not militarily. This group evolved into the Pharisees, which means “separate.” Their zeal for Hebrew tradition and separateness from non-Jewish cultures made them a social and religious force to be reckoned with.
The downside was that the Pharisees struck a defensive posture. They lost touch with God’s mission to draw all nations, not into Jewish culture, but into His kingdom. Instead of advancing the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were caught up in a culture-war. Ironically, their fight to preserve what was godly brought them into conflict with God, and they had His Son executed.
This fact should give us pause. As western culture becomes increasingly less Christian, some reduce the mission of Christ to a culture-war. Continue reading…