Parting of Ways:”Fences”That Jesus could not accept
Jesus was a Judaist until the last 4 years of his life when he was rejected by the Pharisees/Rabbis and banned from the synagogues. This essay attempts to illustrate how the conflicts arose and the eventual parting of the Ways that so many of us have never really questioned or seen the perspective. The term Judeo-Christian heritage does have a significant resonance.
- Introduction to the Religion of the Pharisees
- Who Were the Pharisees?
- The Pharisees were a strict religious sect within Judaism that functioned as a “political interest group seeking to reform society” by bringing about…
- Historical Origins of the Pharisees
- The Tradition of the Elders
- Jesus’ Criticism of the Pharisees
- Matthew Chapter 23
- PHARISEES’ CRITICAL OPPOSITION TO JESUS
- Quotations from the Bible: Pharisees Critical of Jesus
- Matthew Chapter 12: 1-2
- THE PARTING OF WAYS
Introduction to the Religion of the Pharisees
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
James J. Tissot, “The Pharisee and the Publican” (1886-96), watercolor.
If we are to understand the Sermon on the Mount, we need to understand who the Pharisees are, since Jesus’ exposition of what his Kingdom is like is contrasted with the dominant form of Judaism prevalent in Palestine in Jesus’ time, as exemplified in the Pharisees. (25.03.11)
The Pharisees were a strict religious sect within Judaism that functioned as a “political interest group seeking to reform society” by bringing about a strict adherence to the Law, especially as it related to ritual purity.
The name “Pharisee” is apparently derived from the Hebrew word perusim, meaning “the separated ones” or “separatists.” The term “Pharisee,” however, was what those outside the sect called them. The Pharisees themselves apparently didn’t have a name for their movement. Rather they considered themselves the true Israel, and referred to themselves as “sages” (hakamim). After the destruction of the temple, they used the title “rabbi” for sages.
The Pharisees, as a whole, were not the ruling class, though they sought to influence the ruling class. Nor were they of the priestly class, who tended to conform to the teachings of another religious sect, the Sadducees. Nor were they professional scholars like the “scribes” or “teachers of the law” (though some of these professional scholars identified themselves as Pharisees). The Pharisees were part of a voluntary lay movement that sought to bring “a renewed understanding and enforcement of ritual purity in Palestine.”
F.F. Bruce traces the Pharisees to the Hasidim, the “godly people,” groups of pious Jews after the exile, who began to meet for mutual encouragement. They deplored the inroads of the Hellenistic way of life into Judaism, and many supported the Hasmoneans and Maccabees in resisting the Greek oppressors and restoring the Temple to the pure worship of Israel’s God. Later they broke with John Hyrcanus (which may be one explanation of the name Pharisees, “separatists”).
The Pharisees were passionately devoted to the Torah. In the course of their study and application of the law they built up a body of traditional interpretation and application of the law known as “the tradition of the elders.” Later generations of rabbis eventually wrote it down about the Second Century AD in what is called the “Mishnah,” consisting of sixty-two tractates or sections. Later yet, from 400 to 600 AD, a Talmud*, or commentary upon and expansion of the Mishnah was developed. These are the basis of the Rabbinical writings that form the literature of present-day Judaism.
The Pharisees’ present-day descendants are to be found among the Hassidim, what we refer to in America as the Orthodox branch of Judaism. The men are distinguished by their three-quarter length topcoats, white shirts, and wide-brim black hats (and sometimes earlocks), the traditional clothing their ancestors wore in the Jewish ghettos of European cities.
Since the Pharisees were passionate in their desire to obey God’s law, they had developed over time an oral tradition, “the tradition of the elders,” that put a “hedge” or “fence” around the Biblical (OT) commandments. The idea was that obedience to “the tradition of the elders” formed a barrier that would prevent a pious Jew from breaking a Biblical (OT) commandment itself.
Here’s an example, though it didn’t seem to be an issue in Jesus’ day, but much later. Exodus 23:19 prohibits cooking a kid in its mother’s milk. A “hedge” around this law eventually because the requirement to keep a “Kosher kitchen,” maintaining two separate sets of cooking utensils, one for dairy products and the other for non-dairy cooking — lest one might inadvertently get some minute portion of milk in a pot that was cooking the meat of a young goat.
Over time, this “tradition of the elders” became a law unto itself, and it is with this “oral tradition” that we find Jesus clashing with Pharisee views. Here are some examples of how this “tradition of the elders” in Jesus’ day sometimes conflicted with the true Law in the Word of God.
|Mosaic Law||Tradition of the Elders|
|Refrain from work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11)||Harvesting is work. Plucking a handful of grain is harvesting. Therefore Jesus’ disciples were guilty of breaking the Sabbath by eating some grain plucked in the fields as they passed through (Matthew 12:1-2). Healing is the work a physician performs. Therefore one cannot heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10).|
|Fasting, on special occasions, as a sign of repentance.||Fast twice a week (Luke 18:12)|
|Tithe, give one tenth, of your income to the Lord (Malachi 3:8-10)||Tithe everything, even down to garden herbs (Matthew 23:23). Jesus does not reprove them for this.|
|Priests are to wash their hands in the Laver before offering sacrifice (Exodus 30:17-21)||All people are to wash hands before eating lest they pass ritual uncleanness to food, which, when eaten, would render the whole body unclean. Not as a hygienic precaution, but a ritual act of pouring water over the hands up to the wrists (Matthew 15:2).|
|Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12)||Money may be dedicated to God, which relieves a son from the responsibility of using that money to support one’s parents in their old age (Matthew 15:4-6).|
|When a person makes a vow, swearing in the name of the LORD to perform some act, he must keep his vow (Exodus 20:7; Numbers 30:2).||The Pharisees had developed a deceptive method of swearing. If one swore by the temple, the vow meant nothing, but if one swore by the gold in the temple, then one was obligated to keep one’s vow (Matthew 23:16).|
It must be said in their favour, that the Pharisees were not lukewarm about their faith, but zealous — though sometimes misdirected. The Apostle Paul was raised as a strict Pharisee (Acts 26:5), and sought to purify Judaism by rooting out what he perceived to be the Christian heresy.
Jesus faulted the Pharisees at two points in particular.
- They placed a heavy burden or yoke of law upon the people that God never intended (Matthew 23:4 in contrast with 11:29-30) Matthew 23:004:For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. Compared to Matthew 11:
029: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 030: For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
- Many were hypocrites, in that they were much more concerned with the outward appearance of piety and righteousness than with having a pure heart towards God (Matthew 23:5ff and 23:25-28). Matthew 23: 005:But all their works they do for to be seen of men: and Matthew 23:
Jesus also agreed with them on a number of points. 
It was apparent that Jesus rebelled against the strict stranglehold the Pharisees were having over the ordinary Jews with their regulations and laws (fences) that they built around the Torah because of their purist perceptions. But this disdain and contempt for one another was mutual. A indisputable contempt by Jesus for the “Pharisee fences” are clearly expressed in Matthew 23 reproduced in full here to illustrate the emotion and anger:
- Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
- Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
- All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
- For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
- But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
- And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
- And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
- But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
- And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
- Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
- But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
- And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
- But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
- 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 than yourselves.
- Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
- Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
- And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
- Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
- Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
- And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
- And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
- Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
- Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
- Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
- And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
- Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
- Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
- Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
- Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
- That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
- Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
- O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
- Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
- For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Matt 15:1-3 “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?”
Matt 23:1-5 “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.”
Acts 15:10-11 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
Matt 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
Matt 15:14 “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
Mark 7:5-7 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Matt 23:25-26 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Matt 23:27-29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Matt 23:5 “But all their works they do to be seen by men.”
During the start of His ministry the body of Pharisees would have been interested to hear what Jesus had to say. They were interested to hear what any teacher in Israel had to say. The problem that they had with Jesus was His monumental claims and the authority in which He spoke. No man had ever spoken like this man, and no man had ever won the favour of the masses so quickly and so thoroughly. He even went so far as to claim that He was the very reason for Torah and the fulfilment of it. Their opposition against him grew to the point that they had plotted His death. When Jesus was to be arrested the Pharisees were among those that came to take Him away:
John 18:2-3 “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons” 
PHARISEES’ CRITICAL OPPOSITION TO JESUS
Quite naturally when the self appointed guardians of the sanctity of the Torah were criticised and challenged by some young Jew(Jesus) from amongst themselves, they were angry and resentful to the point of total exasperation especially as Jesus and his followers were observed to have violated many of their “oral laws.” From the age of 12-30 years of age Jesus worked as a carpenter in Nazareth. The ministry of Christ began when he was about 30 years of age which by the standards of those days was mature. 
Jesus began his ministry in earnest after he was baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan in Judea at the age of 30. Note the late start in administrating his Ministry. He achieved a lot in that shorty period.The following illustrates the significance of this Baptism:
Baptism of Jesus by John – Story Summary:
John the Baptist was God’s appointed messenger. Before Jesus began his ministry, John had been announcing to the people throughout the regions of Jerusalem and Judea to prepare for the coming Messiah. He was calling them to repent, turn from their sins, and be baptised. He was pointing the way to Jesus. Then, all of a sudden, Jesus appeared on the scene. Jesus came to John to be baptised, but John told him, “I need to be baptised by you.” John himself wondered why Jesus asked to be baptised.
So Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” John then consented and baptised Jesus. As Jesus came up out of the water, heaven opened, and the Spirit of God, like a dove, descended upon him. Witnesses to the baptism heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”Points of Interest from the Story:
• John felt unqualified to do what Jesus asked of him.
• Why did Jesus ask to be baptised? It was obviously part of his mission in coming to earth. Like previous priests of God–Moses, Nehemiah and Daniel–Jesus was confessing sin on behalf of the people. He was also endorsing John’s ministry of baptism. In addition, Jesus was identifying with those who were repenting. He was also setting an example for his followers. He was foreshadowing his death, burial and resurrection. And lastly, Jesus was announcing the beginning of his ministry on earth.
• The trinity doctrine is expressed in verses 16-17. God the Father speaks from heaven, God the Son is baptised, and God the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus.Question for Reflection:
John had devoted his life to preparing for the arrival of Jesus. He had focused all of his energy toward this moment. He was set upon obedience. Yet the very first thing Jesus asked him to do, John resisted. He felt unqualified. Do you feel unqualified to fulfil your mission from God? John felt unworthy even to unfasten the shoes of Jesus, yet Jesus said John was the greatest of all prophets (Luke 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.) Don’t let your feelings of inadequacy hold you back from your God appointed mission.
Quotations from the Bible: Pharisees Critical of Jesus
Luke 7: 36-39
- And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisees house, and sat down to meat.
- And, behold, a woman in the city, which was “a sinner,” when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisees house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
- And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
- Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
The Pharisee thought that if Jesus was really a Prophet, he would have known that this woman was a sinner and prevented her from touching him and contaminating him.
Jesus is seen as someone who ate and drank freely with a glutton and a drunkard (winebibber.)
· And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.
· And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.
Jesus was seen to sit down to eat with unclean hands, violating Pharisee laws.
Luke 13:14 & Matthew 12:1-2
Luke 13:14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.
- At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.
- But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.
Jesus was again accused of violating the Sabbath by picking corn on the Sabbath.
· And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
· And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
The Pharisees would not accept that anyone but God alone had the authority to “forgive sins” thus accusing Jesus of blasphemy.
Luke 11: 37-54
Jesus retaliated and accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The Pharisees were provoking Jesus in order to catch him out. They were out to get him. The Pharisees were determined to discredit Jesus.
· And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
· And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.
· And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.
· But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth.
· Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?
· And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
· And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus
The Pharisees were so exasperated with Jesus that they planned to kill him.
The Pharisees saw clearly that Jesus was a threat to their popularity and authority to the people. There was no question that the Pharisees saw Jesus as a thorn in their side and would have liked to kill him.
John 9: 10-22
· Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
From John 9:10-22 it is clear that the Pharisees would not believe that Jesus could have performed miracles nor that was he a Prophet because Jesus was, in the eyes of the Pharisees, a sinner who defiled the “Tradition of the Elders.”
But more importantly was the fact that it was already widely known by that time that any Jew who accepted Jesus as Christ (a Prophet), “would be put out of the synagogue(rejected).” This confirmed that Jesus himself would have already been rejected by the Jews from the synagogue.
· And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
Sympathetic Pharisees had warned Jesus that his life was in danger. It was plain that the Pharisees could no longer tolerate the defiance of Jesus and his persistent Ministry.
THE PARTING OF WAYS
Jesus was a Jew and he worshipped in the synagogue, he practised Judaism and accepted the Torah till he was baptised, at the age of 29 years, by John the Baptist, when he began to preach his Ministry in earnest. Jesus had no problems with the doctrine of Judaism, but he felt that “the Tradition of the Elders,” the oral laws of the Pharisees, placed an unnecessary burden on the worshippers and so he campaigned against these restrictions because he did not believe that they were the Laws from God. He realised that they were laws laid down by the Pharisees to restrict and control the people, and he rebelled against it openly. He saw it as laws that allowed the Pharisees to control the people and place power in the hands of the Rabbis. Jesus was a Judaist but also a liberalist, a protestant of his day, against the Rabbis/Pharisees restrictive control. But from the quotations above, from the Bible itself, it was obvious that this running conflict could not go on forever. Jesus himself knew it could not go on forever, as he predicted his own demise.
We list here the irreconcilable divergence of concepts:
Belief in the divinity of any human being, messiah or otherwise, is incompatible with Judaism:
- “The point is this: that the whole Christology of the Church – the whole complex of doctrines about the Son of God who died on the Cross to save humanity from sin and death – is incompatible with Judaism, and indeed in discontinuity with the Hebraism that preceded it.”
- “Aside from its belief in Jesus as the Messiah, Christianity has altered many of the most fundamental concepts of Judaism.” (Kaplan, Aryeh)
- “…the doctrine of Christ was and will remain alien to Jewish religious thought.”
- “For two thousand years, Jews rejected the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the dogmatic claims about him made by the church fathers – that he was born of a virgin, the son of God, part of a divine Trinity, and was resurrected after his death. … For two thousand years, a central wish of Christianity was to be the object of desire by Jews, whose conversion would demonstrate their acceptance that Jesus has fulfilled their own biblical prophecies.”
- “No Jew accepts Jesus as the Messiah. When someone makes that faith commitment, they become Christian. It is not possible for someone to be both Christian and Jewish.” Jesus was Crucified at the age of 33 years
The Ministry of Jesus lasted 4 years because he was crucified at the age of 33 years. But in that time he sowed the seeds of Christianity that has lasted to this day.
 The Pharisees’ Fences: http://www.jesuswalk.com/manifesto/pharisee-intro.htm
 Jesus’ Ministry: http://www.bible-study.org.uk/jesus-bible-study/timeline-of-jesus.htm
 Jesus’ Ministry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Jesus
 Baptism of Jesus: http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestorysummaries/p/baptismofjesus.htm
 The Jewish Rejection: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rejection_of_Jesus#Jewish_rejection
[1A] Jesus and the Pharisees: http://www.seegod.org/his_view_of_pharisees.htm
[2A] Jesus and “Tradition of Elders”: http://www.abu.nb.ca/Courses/NTIntro/LifeJ/LawJesus.htm#L9
[3A] Woe to the Pharisees: http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/11_37-44.ht