When the modern Christian finds himself under conviction in a conversation that has turned into a disagreement, he can usually get quick relief from his Bible-quoting “opponent” and call checkmate on the whole dispute, simply by calling the other “a Pharisee.” While everyone agrees the Pharisees are the ultimate New Testament bad guys, it seems these days that few people know why.
Today Christians are flippantly called Pharisees when they are zealous for good works, when they separate themselves from sinful situations, or when they start quoting the Bible and admonishing other believers—all of which God commands every Christian to do (Ti.2:14; 2Cor.6:17; Col.3:16). Yes, the Pharisees were religious and even quoted the Bible, but their real problem was that they had rejected John’s baptism of repentance (Lk.7:30), they hated Christ and schemed to kill him (Mt.12:14), they were obviously unconverted (Mt.23:33), they were murderers (Mt.23:35), their theology was riddled with error (Mt.23:16), they didn’t practice what they preached (Mt.23:4), they said Christ was inhabited by demons (Mt.12:24), and they continually exalted themselves (Mt.23:5).
The Pharisees were undoubtedly bad—in fact, they were very bad. And that should give us pause before we toss the label around to ease our conscience or to win an argument.