The Pharisees and Jesus
The Stone Lectures for 1915-1916

A. T. Robertson



Since the Jews and apologists for Pharisaism complain that the Gospels and Paul's Epistles treat the Pharisees unfairly, it is only fair to begin with the Talmud to interpret Jewish feeling toward Jesus. Herford (Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, 1903, p. 7) insists that it is obvious that the Rabbinical literature must also be consulted, if a thorough investigation into the origin of Christianity is to be made.


1. The Spirit of the Talmud toward Jesus

It is not necessary here to discuss at length the question whether the Talmud quotes the Gospels or the Gospels the Talmud. Renan(1) argued that it was inadmissible to assert that the compilers of the Talmud made any use of the Gospels or any Christian teaching. This idea of Renan was championed by Deutsch,(2) who alleged that to maintain that the Talmud made use of the New Testament would be like saying that Sanscrit sprang from Latin. The point in this argument is that the Talmud rests mainly on oral tradition that antedates the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus. But Wellhausen(3) brands this theory a mere superstition, and holds that the Talmud is based on literature and refers to literature.(4)

Pick(5) shows that a number of these parallels in the Talmud to sayings of Jesus are referred 'to rabbis who lived a long time after Jesus.' He holds this view to be a vain glorification of modern Judaism, which, on the one hand, rejects the Talmud as a religious code, but makes use of it for controversial purposes. Stapfer,(6) who once asserted that Hillel was the real forerunner and teacher of Jesus, renounced his former opinion as erroneous. Hillel is the only rabbi of importance whose sayings at all parallel those of Jesus, and who also lived before Christ. There are, beyond a doubt, excellent maxims, even some close parallels to the utterances of Christ (Farrar, Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 485), but they are chiefly proverbs more or less common to the age. And in these parallels the saying of Jesus has a crispness and originality all its own. Take for instance this, the most famous of all, the so-called Golden Rule, which in one form or another is used by Isocrates, Diogenes Laertius (from Aristotle), Confucius, Tobit, the Epistle of Aristeas, Hillel. The form of Hillel is this: 'What is hateful to thee, do not to another. This is the whole law, all else is only commentary.' Jesus says: 'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.' It is possible that in some instances the Talmud made use of Christian teaching, since it did incorporate matter from neighbours of the Babylonian Jews, and from others more or less hostile to the Jews.(7)

One has to call attention also to the fact that the Talmud as now published is much less severe toward Jesus than was once the case. Farrar(8) notes that the name of Jesus appears only about twenty times in unexpurgated editions of the Talmud, the last of which was published in Amsterdam in 1644. Professor B. Pick(9) has one of these collections of the Talmudic sayings about Jesus, which was published in 1644 by the Jews themselves, for the benefit of other Jews after the Jewish Synod at Petrikau, Poland (A.D. 1631), issued a circular to the effect that future editions of the Talmud should omit the passages about Jesus. Other copies of the collection exist also. Dalman has published this collection of the passages expurgated from the Talmud and Midrash, to which H. Laible has added an introductory essay.(10)

The bitterness between Jews and Christians had become very intense in Europe. Rabbi Tarphon is quoted in the Talmud(11) as saying of the Christians and the Christian writings: 'By the life of my son, should they [these Christian writings] come into my hand, I would burn them together with the names of God which they contained. Were I pursued, I would rather take refuge in a temple of idols than in their [Christians'] houses. For the latter are wilful traitors, while the heathen sinned in ignorance of the right way.' The day came when Christians burned copies of the Talmud. 'The Talmud in wagon loads was burned at Paris in 1242.'(12) Montefiore (Judaism and St. Paul, p. 55) says: 'When Christianity became the State Church of the Roman Empire, it was forbidden under severe penalties for anybody to become a proselyte to Judaism.' So bitter was the feeling between Jews and Christians, that in A.D. 1240, Rabbi Jechiel actually denied that the Jesus mentioned in the Talmud was Jesus of Nazareth, but modern Jews do not hold to this absurdity.(13)

In order to understand the real attitude of the Talmud toward Jesus, we must use the expurgated passages as well as the rest. The same hostility appears in the Mishna, the Tosephta (addition to the Mishna), the Gemara (commentary on the Mishna), the Midrash (homiletical literature). In fact, the height of hate is reached in the Middle Ages. 'In that period the hatred of Jesus, which was never quite dormant, begot a literature, in comparison with which the Talmud must be termed almost innocent. The Toldoth Jeshu literature originated, which is still continued. In the Toldoth Jeshu a detailed picture of the life of Jesus was put together, of which the authors of the Talmud had no anticipation.'(14) Respectable Jews are not to be held responsible for these tirades.

Herford(15) is much more sympathetic with Rabbinism than is Pick or Laible, but he reproduces faithfully in English dress the work of Dalman and Laible, and does not seek to conceal the spirit of the Talmud toward Jesus.(16) There is not room to quote and discuss all the passages in the unexpurgated Talmud that refer to Jesus, but most of them are beyond dispute. The anachronisms and crass errors of fact found in the Talmudic references can only be explained on the basis of the refusal of many of the rabbis to read the Gospels or other Christian writings.

Jesus is called Ben Stada and also Ben Pandira in the Talmud;(17) why we do not know, though both express contempt and mockery of Jesus.(18) Rabbi Eliezer said to the Wise: 'Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut which was upon his flesh? They said to him, He was a fool, and they do not receive proof from a fool.' Here Jesus is called a fool, and it is added that the paramour of Mary was named Pandira and the husband was Stada.

In the Mishna(19) it is stated that Jesus was a bastard, as shown by both of His pedigrees, and that Mary 'played the harlot with carpenters.'(20) Indeed, a late passage(21) claims that Mary confessed to Rabbi Akiba that Jesus was a bastard, though Rabbi Akiba lived a hundred years later.(22)

Jesus is accused of practising magic, and in this we see a tacit admission of His miracles: 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led astray and deceived Israel.'(23) He is accused of heresy under a figurative expression: 'That thou mayst not prove a son or disciple who burns his food in public like Jeshu the Nazarene.(24) Herford(25) makes it plain that by this phrase the charge of heresy is conveyed.

Jesus is called a liar by Rabbi Abahu:(26) 'If a man say to thee, "I am God," he is a liar; if "the son of man," the evil people will laugh at him; if "I will go up to heaven," he saith, but shall not perform it.' The reference to Jesus is beyond doubt, and the second and third chapters of John may be here in mind.

Jesus is likened to Balaam(27) and is grouped with Balaam(28) and Titus (the three chief enemies of Israel) in hell. In some editions of the Talmud 'Jesus' is changed here 'to the sinner of Israel.' Jesus is called 'the deceiver,' and in the case of a deceiver who tempts others to apostasy from Judaism, the concealment of witnesses to trap the accused is justified as in the case of Jesus.(29) Laible(30) holds that this species of legal procedure really rests on the trial of Jesus as reported in the Gospels.

There is a curious little book by Rabbi A. P. Drucker, The Trial of Jesus (1907), in which he undertakes to show by Jewish legal procedure, as given in the Talmud, that the Jewish trial of Jesus as reported in the Gospels is a myth, since in the Gospels this procedure is violated at so many points. There is a grim humour in the argument which blandly assumes that the Sanhedrin, however much they hated Jesus, could not have violated the technicalities and regularities of their own courts in order to convict Jesus. Facts are made to bend to logic and to the demands of theological controversy. But the Talmud rises up to smite Rabbi Drucker in the face. Rabbi Drucker charges Caiaphas the Sadducee with a conspiracy against Jesus and the Jewish people, and with then laying the blame on the people for killing their beloved leader! In some passages in the Talmud reference is made to the crucifixion of(31) Jesus, but once(32) it is said that Jesus was led away and stoned at Lydda, but no effort is made to blame Pontius Pilate for the death of Jesus. Certainly the Talmud adds nothing to our knowledge of Jesus, but it does show with terrible fidelity the intensity of Jewish hatred toward Christ. 'He is the deceiver, the sorcerer, the apostate, the sinner of Israel; his birth Jewish contempt blackened into disgrace, and his death is dismissed as the mere execution of a pernicious criminal.'(33)


2. Jewish Hatred Shown in Early Christian Writings

Justin in his Dialogue with Trypho gives us a vivid portrayal of how Jews felt towards Jesus in the second century A.D. 'Ye have killed the Just and His prophets before Him. And now ye despise those who hope in Him and in God, the King over all and Creator of all things, who has sent Jesus.'(34) 'The Jews hate us, because we say that Christ is already come, and because we point out that He, as had been prophesied, was crucified by them.'(35) 'In your synagogues ye curse all who have become Christians, and the same is done by the other nations, who give a practical turn to the curse, in that when any one acknowledges himself a Christian, they put him to death.'(36) 'Nay, ye have added thrusts, that Christ taught those impious, unlawful, horrible actions, which ye disseminate as charges above all against those who acknowledge Christ as Teacher and as the Son of God.'(37) 'Your teachers exhort you to permit yourselves no conversation whatever with us.(38) 'The high priests of your nation have caused that the name of Jesus should be profaned and reviled throughout the whole world.'(39) In his Apology(40) Justin also says: 'The Jews regard us as foes and opponents, and kill and torture us if they have the power. In the lately ended Jewish war, Bar-Cochba, the instigator of the Jewish revolt, caused Christians alone to be dragged to terrible tortures, whenever they would not deny and revile Jesus Christ.' These quotations make very sad reading, but they at least serve to bridge the chasm between the Talmud and the New Testament, and to show the unbroken stream of Jewish resentment towards Jesus and His disciples in the early centuries.

Tertullian(41) also represents the second coming as a glorious spectacle in which he says to the Jews: 'This is your carpenter's son, your harlot's son; your Sabbath-breaker, your Samaritan, your demon-possessed! This is He whom ye bought from Judas; this is He who was struck with reeds and fists, dishonoured with spittle, and given a draught of gall and vinegar! This is He whom His disciples have stolen secretly, that it may be said He was risen, or that the gardener abstracted that his lettuces might not be damaged by the crowds of visitors!'(42) The irony is withering, almost blistering.

Origen(43) quotes from the True Word of Celsus charges about Jesus which Celsus had evidently learned from the Jews, and which are similar to those found in the Talmud, even to the point of saying that Jesus was Mary's son by a soldier named Panthera (or Pandira), that He learned sorcery and magic in Egypt, and gave Himself out as a god who was born of a virgin. Thus we see that the Jewish view of Jesus was widespread in the second century and was known among the heathen also.


3. The Picture in the Acts of the Apostles

Here the hostility towards Christians grows directly out of the claim made by Peter and John, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Thus the Sadducees are stirred to the same activity against the disciples of Jesus that they had shown towards Him (Acts 4:1-3). They were the last of the Jewish parties to be enlisted against Jesus, but the first against the disciples. The very vehemence of the Sadducaic onset against the apostles caused the Pharisees to hold aloof, and even to thwart the plans of the Sadducees for a while (Acts 5:33-42). Peter and John aroused the Sadducees, but it was Stephen who enraged the Pharisees by the same insistence on the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God, and hence the possibility of real worship of God apart from the temple in Jerusalem, that made the Pharisees rise against Christ. Indeed, some of the same charges are made against Stephen that were made against Jesus (Acts 6:9-14). The death of Stephen by stoning (sort of mob law) shows the unrestrained anger of the Pharisees that the heresy of Jesus, which they had hoped to destroy, is now as alive as ever, if not more so. The violent and successful persecution of the disciples by the Sanhedrin (Sadducees and Pharisees now united again as against Jesus) bears witness to deep-rooted hatred of Jesus. When Paul was converted, he was hated by the Jews with more bitterness than Peter or Stephen. Finally the mob in Jerusalem clamours for his blood as they did for that of Jesus. Before the Sanhedrin, whose agent Paul had once been, he stands unabashed and actually succeeds in setting the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other by proclaiming himself a Pharisee still on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, a curious example of the sudden revival of theological strife in an artificial unity. It is not pertinent to spend more time on the situation in the Acts. This sketch is given simply to show that the chain of hate is unbroken through the centuries till the Talmud is written down. The after history demands an explanation of this fierceness toward Jesus. The Gospels alone give an adequate solution of the facts of the later history, as given by both Jew and Christian. We are not here concerned with the question of who is right and who is wrong in this situation. The roots of the controversy go back to the time of Jesus, as shown in the Gospels. To be sure, Montefiore(45) tries to break the force of Paul's arraignment of Rabbinic Judaism, by saying that it 'is not Rabbinic Judaism as we know it from the Rabbinic literature and from Rabbinic life. For those criticisms, it must be remembered, are not intended to be (like the mordant criticisms of Jesus) criticisms of the perversions of Rabbinic Judaism of the defects of its qualities.' But Montefiore does not understand Paul, for Paul shows that Christianity is the true Judaism and Pharisaism the perversion. No doubt to Montefiore Paul 'seems often to be fighting windmills,'(46) because Montefiore takes Pharisaism to be the real Judaism, and Paul's spiritual elevation is too rarefied for him. But, this all aside, the Epistles of Paul, like the Acts, testify to the cleavage between Jew and Gentile. Paul's own heart was ready to break over it (Rom 9:1-3), and he clung to a future hope for the Jews (Rom 10 and 11).


4. The Story of Pharisaic Hate Common to all the Gospels

The point here emphasised is, that in all Four Gospels and in the sources, as far as they can be ascertained, the Pharisees are represented as prevailingly hostile to Jesus. Perhaps Montefiore(47) may help us when he says: 'Yet we may well suppose that though Jesus believed Himself to be the predestined theocratic chief of the coming Kingdom, the political elements of the conception were still further softened down by Him or ignored. One has, however, to be careful and cautious, remembering that the Gospel records are prevailingly anti-Jewish, and, even in a certain sense, pro-Roman, and that, in view of later events and the relation of nascent Christianity to Judaism, the editing of the tradition would have been in the direction of denationalising its content and its character.' Montefiore denies the reality of the antithesis between the political Messiah of the Jews and the spiritual Messiah of Jesus, but none the less he admits that the Gospel records show a wide breach between the Pharisees and Jesus. Montefiore seeks to soften it down and blames the Gospels for adding to the antagonism. But no amount of critical pruning can explain it all away.

The constant temptation of Montefiore is to read into the mind of Jesus the theology of a moderate Jew of the present day, one who, though a Jew, feels himself an 'outsider' towards both Jews and Christians. 'I would rather think of Jesus, in the quaint words of Mr. Balmforth, as "Unitarian above all men."'(48) He says: 'I myself stand in different ways outside both sanctuaries.'(49) But this disclaimer does not remove the fact that Montefiore still looks at Jesus and the Pharisees with his 'perverse and prejudicial outsidedness,' as he facetiously terms it.(50)

The story of mutual dislike between Jew and Christian, as we have traced it in Talmud, early Christian literature, the Acts of the Apostles, presupposes and necessitates an historic basis in the life of Jesus. The Gospels all testify to the reality of this animosity. Certainly it is true of the Gospel of John, whatever view one may hold of its authorship and historical value. That is still a matter of dispute among scholars, though my own view holds to the Johannine origin. The author is a Jewish Christian, who writes long after the destruction of Jerusalem, and looks back upon the tragedy of Jewish hate of Jesus in a somewhat detached and objective way, and often describes the enemies of Jesus as simply the Jews (chap 7 for instance). But, if one thinks that this Gospel reflects too much the hostile atmosphere of later Christianity towards the Jews, he will not find essential improvement in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew 23 we have the fearful woes of Jesus, as the final retort to the Pharisees for their machinations against Him.

It is to be borne in mind also that the Gospel of Matthew is written with a view to showing that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and would naturally put as favourable a colour as possible on the relation between Jesus and the Jews. Luke was a Gentile, but he claims in his Prologue (1:1-4) that he writes 'accurately,' and he has the historical temper. Mark is supposed to have written his Gospel in Rome, and would be charged by Montefiore with being pro-Roman, but Mark's story of the death of Jesus does not differ from the rest, in the proportion of blame between Pilate and the Sanhedrin. The historical outline of Mark's Gospel is generally held to lie behind that in Luke and Matthew. If we turn to the Logia or Q, held to be the common source for the sayings of Jesus in Matthew and Luke and on a par with Mark, we find precisely the same spirit of antagonism. In Harnack's Sayings of Jesus, the very first paragraph given (p. 127), is the denunciation of the Jews by John the Baptist as offsprings of vipers (Matt 3:7; Luke 3:7). The Pharisees rejected both John and Jesus according to Q (Matt 11:16-19; Luke 7:29-35). Q gives the woes of Jesus upon Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matt 11:21-3; Luke 10:13-15). Q gives also the accusation that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Matt 12:22-29; Luke 11:14-20). We need not give further proof that the earliest strata of the Gospel narratives according to modern criticism reveal the keenest antipathy of the Pharisees towards Jesus. It is the sanest historical criticism to find the solution in the facts that lie behind the unanimous testimony on the subject. It is not necessary for our purpose to contend for the accuracy of every statement on the subject in the Gospels, but simply that the facts, as already shown, justify the free use of the Four Gospels as sources for the Pharisaic resentment towards Jesus. No amount of discounting for prejudice can remove the solid basis of real antipathy that remains, and that alone explains all that follows through the centuries.


5. Some Friendly Pharisees

The essential fairness of the Gospels in the treatment of the relations between the Pharisees and Jesus may be shown by the fact that many of the Pharisees are represented as kindly disposed towards Jesus. Relatively there were good and bad Pharisees, as the Gospels show (Hughes, Ethics of Jewish Apocryphal Literature, p. 141). The Gospels do not make a point of blackening the Pharisees per se. There is discrimination shown in various ways. The Pharisees are credited, in the Gospel of John, with sending a committee of priests and Levites (Sadducees, and so with a bit of sly humour in the situation) to inquire of John the Baptist concerning his claims about himself (John 1:19-24). There is no evidence of hostility here. Jesus is allowed to teach in the synagogue at Capernaum at first without evidence of bitterness on the part of the Pharisees, though His preaching created excitement (Mark 1:21-28). Elders of the Jews, after the Pharisees as a whole have shown hostility, are pictured as coming to Jesus in behalf of the Roman centurion at Capernaum (Luke 7:3).

Jesus was invited to dine with the Pharisees in various parts of the country, though sometimes with embarrassing results. Still, the invitation was a courtesy to Jesus, and is so recorded. Probably such invitations came from the more liberal wing of the Pharisees, the school of Hillel, not from the school of Shammai.(51) Some Pharisees became disciples of Jesus or at least professed to do so, though Jesus exercised a certain caution about their approach to Him.(52)

There sometimes arose a division of opinion among the Pharisees concerning Jesus, and this point is noted, as in the controversy over the man born blind (John 9:16), and at the conclusion of the allegory of the Good Shepherd, when some Pharisees boldly championed the cause of Jesus (John 10:19-21). The attitude of some of the Pharisees is non-committal, but at least they were on decent terms with Jesus, as we see in the ambiguous advice of the Pharisees about Herod Antipas (Luke 13:31ff), and in the query about the time when the Kingdom of God comes (Luke 17:20f). Some of the Pharisees were actually willing to blame other Pharisees for their attacks on Jesus and the futility of it all (John 12:19): 'The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Behold, how ye prevail nothing: lo, the world is gone after Him.'

Some of the Pharisees (rulers) believed on Jesus, but lacked the courage to come out in the open on His side. 'Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God' (John 12:42f). This statement in John's Gospel throws a flood of light on the whole situation. One recalls that the parents of the man born blind refused to take the side of Jesus before the Pharisees, lest they be cast out of the synagogue, and that their son was cast out for asserting that Jesus had opened his eyes (John 9:22, 34); Nicodemus was severely ridiculed for daring to raise a point of law in the Sanhedrin in favour of Jesus (John 7:50-53). Joseph of Arimathea continued a secret disciple till the death of Jesus, when he boldly avowed his faith in the dead Christ (John 19:38-40). Nicodemus also now openly took his stand for Jesus, these two Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin. It must not then be overlooked that, difficult as it finally became for Pharisees to espouse the side of Jesus, some did it, while many others secretly loved Him and wished Him well. It is to be recalled also that later Gamaliel, grandson and successor of Hillel, showed a kindly spirit towards Peter and John, before Stephen aroused the animosity of the Pharisees. If there is prejudice in the Gospels against the Pharisees, it is not blind prejudice that can see no good in them at all.


6. Presumption against Jesus because of John the Baptist

We now come to the heart of the subject, but all the preceding discussion has been necessary to enable us to understand the elements in the situation. The Pharisees meet Jesus and the issue is joined between them almost instinctively. From the very start the majority of the leaders are suspicious and finally become violent and desperate. We must now take up the various counts which the Pharisees find against Jesus. It is an astonishing array, as the records in the Gospels give them, but the survey will repay our attention. Of course we must understand here, as in all controversy, that all is not said. Often the deepest motives that prompt to action are unexpressed, but usually what is said makes clear what the real animus is. The total result will make all clear enough. John the Baptist had already incurred the hatred of the Pharisees, who were thus to a certain extent prejudiced against Jesus. Luke (3:7) merely speaks of the 'multitude' that went out to be baptized of John, more precisely 'the multitudes' (tois ochlois) or 'the crowds' as Moffatt puts it. But Matthew specifically singles out many of the Pharisees and Sadducees as the occasion for the sharp words of John. Plummer(53) suggests that both Matthew and Luke here quote from Memoirs of the Baptist (part of Harnack's Q), and that Matthew has preserved the original form better, which is more suitable to the Pharisees and Sadducees. The epithet 'offspring of vipers' or 'brood of snakes' (gennemata echidnon) fleeing from the wrath to come, may have been suggested to John by 'snakes flying before a prairie-fire'(54) which John had seen in the wilderness. At any rate the words stuck like burrs, and were never forgotten by the Pharisees, who would hold them against John the Baptist. The use of these very words later by Jesus would be like a blow on an old wound (Matt 12:34, 23:33). John's references to the Messiah were at first in general terms, and his later identification of Jesus as the Messiah may not have impressed the Pharisees (John 1:26, 29-37). When the Pharisees first saw Jesus they did not apparently associate Him with John, but it was not long before they did so (John 4:1-4).


7. Grounds of Pharisaic Dislike of Jesus

Numerous specific complaints are filed against Jesus by the Pharisees. Let us see what they are.


(1) Assumption of Messianic Authority (John 2:13-22)

The assertion of authority by Jesus in the temple at once enraged the ecclesiastics. This incident is recorded only by John, and is similar to the cleansing of the temple at the close of the public ministry, as reported by the Synoptic Gospels. Many scholars regard it as the same event, which is out of place in John, but it seems to me more natural to follow John's chronology and to admit a repetition at the close. Only thus can we properly see the growth of hostility toward Jesus in Jerusalem so vividly narrated in John's Gospel. It was inevitable that the soul of Jesus should cry out against this desecration of His Father's house when He first appeared in the temple after entering upon His Messianic ministry. It may be straining the point to insist that the Pharisees are involved in the protest on the part of the Jews. The house of Hanan (Annas) carried on a regular market in the outer court of the temple (to ieron), and Annas was a Sadducee. The priests who had charge of the temple ritual were chiefly Sadducees, while the Pharisees found their chief forte and function in the synagogue. But the Pharisees were strong in the Sanhedrin, and the sacerdotal abuses in the temple worship, where graft of all kinds was notorious, could have been exposed by the Pharisees and stopped by public opinion. Jesus did arraign the leaders, and for the moment cleansed the temple by a supreme act of personal power and Messianic worth. But He received no support from the Pharisees in this onslaught on the corruption of the Sadducees. By 'the Jews' (John 2:18, 20) John's Gospel usually means the hostile Jews, whether Pharisees or Sadducees. At any rate, the ecclesiastics in Jerusalem, probably both Pharisees and Sadducees, resent the interference in the established order of things by an uncouth interloper from Galilee. The demand for a sign implied more than a mere miracle. It reached to the core of the Messianic claim of Jesus, and at once placed Him on the defensive. The defence of Jesus when the demand for His ecclesiastical authority or Divine sanction was made, as there was a technical right for making it, only enraged them all the more, and in a mutilated form it was cherished against Him till His trial, that He had threatened to destroy the temple with the foolish claim that He could rebuild it in three days. This first clash with the Jerusalem authorities revealed to Jesus the hopeless breach between Him and the religious leaders of His day. At once it was apparent that the custodians of the Torah, whether priest or scribe, would oppose real reform, and any effort to set up spiritual life in the empty shell of current Judaism. The very timidity of Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin (John 3), shows that the Pharisees as a class at once took ground in opposition to the claims of Jesus, in spite of the courteous 'we know' of Nicodemus (John 3:2), probably a mere literary plural. It was intolerable to the Pharisees that a man should by deed or word make Messianic claims without consultation with the scribes, the authorised teachers of the written and oral law. The rabbis had some divergences in their views about the Messiah, but they all agreed on the point of their own importance as interpreters of the subject. At the very first then Jesus was an ignorant upstart to the Pharisees, who was in revolutionary fashion upsetting all precedents and disturbing the religious order and peace of the people, not to mention His infringement of the vested rights of the merchants and bankers in the temple courts.

The Sanhedrin, Pharisees (scribes) and Sadducees (chief priests), also challenged the authority of Jesus in a formal manner on the last day of Christ's public ministry, the Tuesday of Passion Week. As a matter of fact, Jesus had no ecclesiastical standing from their standpoint, but was a mere layman, as we should say. He had the baptism of John who was sent of God, but Divine sanction was not sufficient before the great Jewish ecclesiastical court. Something more than the approval of God was required. But Jesus in a marvellous way parried their attack by demanding their opinion of the baptism of John. This question was quite to the point, and broke the effect of their demand. They were helpless in the dilemma between fear of Jesus and the fear of the multitude.

But let us return to the situation in Jerusalem and Judea after the collision with the authorities at the first Passover, as recorded in John's Gospel. Westcott(55) notes that John's Gospel never mentions the Sadducees or Herodians by name, since the Pharisees are the real representatives of the Jewish nation. So here the Pharisees were jealously watching the rapid growth of the popularity of Jesus, the new Prophet who had followed so close upon the heels of John the Baptist. The tremendous sweep and power of the Baptist's work were all too fresh in their minds. They could still feel the sting of His words as He whipped them in the face before the crowds, and made their cheeks burn with shame as he laid bare their hypocrisy and ceremonial absurdities. But the Pharisees now found satisfaction in the arrest of John by Herod Antipas and his incarceration in Machaerus. It is not clear what the Pharisees did to get John involved with Herod. It is possible that they may have had him invited into the presence of Herod, and then asked John's opinion about divorce, as they tempted Jesus on this subject much later (Matt 19:3; Mark 10:2), knowing full well that he was too brave to flinch even in the presence of the Tetrarch.

At all events, none rejoiced more heartily over the fate of the Baptist than did the Pharisees. They watched the rising tide of the power of Jesus. As John went, so must Jesus go. It is probable that the attitude of the Pharisees was by this time well known to close observers. Jesus promptly saw that the combination of John's imprisonment and his own great popularity with the people made Judea a dangerous place for Him to pursue His work, unless He was ready for the final issue. This Jesus did not wish, for His hour of supreme crisis had not yet come. From now on there is no doubt about Pharisaic opposition to Jesus, though as yet no formal charges are filed against Him, save the general one of the usurpation of the Messianic prerogative without ecclesiastical permission or Divine sanction (John 2:19). The truth is, that already the Pharisees have weighed Jesus and found Him wanting. They had rejoiced for a season in the light of John the Baptist (John 5:35), and even went so far as to send a formal committee from the Sanhedrin, to investigate his claims about himself (John 1:19-26), but the Pharisees seem never to have shown that much consideration for Jesus.

John had in truth more points of contact with the Pharisees(56) than had Jesus, as is shown also by the fact that some of the disciples of John joined with the Pharisees in criticism of Jesus (Mark 8:18), and by the fear that the Pharisees had for John's power over the people to the end (Matt 21:26). And yet the Pharisees in reality hated John with bitterness, and rejected His baptism (Luke 7:30) as an indictment of all Israel, as if they were heathen and had derived no benefit from being descendents of Abraham. The precise counts against Jesus will develop in due order. Herford(57) frankly admits that the Pharisees properly seized the issue between them and Jesus.

That the Pharisees knew why they feared, distrusted, and finally helped to destroy Jesus is true enough. And Jesus expressed, in the plainest terms, the ground on which He denounced the Pharisees. But whether on either side the real significance of the struggle was clearly seen, is to my mind doubtful. Jesus may have seen it. I do not think the Pharisees did, or ever have done, from that day to this. It is certain that Jesus saw at once the issue and how to meet it. The Pharisees also at once saw that they must suppress Jesus or perish, though it was probably vague to them why it was so. As Herford says, the Pharisees are still in the dark on that subject. 'To the Pharisees He appeared as a sort of unregistered practitioner.'(58) It was 'inevitable that they should regard Him as a dangerous heretic.'(59) 'Jesus was condemned and executed on a more or less political charge, for which the question of Messiahship provided a useful basis; but was really rejected, so far at all events as the Pharisees were concerned, because He undermined the authority of the Torah, and endangered the religion founded upon it.'(60) Thus Herford(61) sums up the Pharisaic instinct toward Jesus: 'Torah and Jesus could not remain in harmony. The two were fundamentally incompatible.' The Pharisees felt as if a burglar had invaded their house and was about to set it on fire. So Jesus withdrew from Judea to Galilee. Will the Pharisees leave Him alone in Galilee?


(2) Downright Blasphemy (Luke 5:17-26; John 5:18, John 10:22-42; Matt 26:65; Mark 14:64)

Soon Pharisaic inspectors appear in Galilee also. The independence of Jesus quickly set tongues to wagging in Capernaum. 'What is this? a new teaching!' (Mark 1:27). The rabbis had never talked in that fashion free from rabbinical rules and fresh with the dew of heaven. The Pharisees had followed the people when all Judea and Jerusalem went out to hear John the Baptist. So now the 'Pharisees and doctors of the law' came to Capernaum out of every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem (please note Jerusalem) and 'were sitting by' to see for themselves what would happen. They had not long to wait, for 'the power of the Lord was with him to heal.' In this instance Jesus forgave the man's sins before He healed the poor paralytic. The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason in their hearts, and at once found fault with the assumption of a Divine prerogative on the part of Jesus, the power and authority (exousia) to forgive sins. Their mood is hostile and Jesus feels it, and finally within themselves some say: 'This man blasphemeth' (Matt 9:3). Here is a clash of spirit with spirit. This is the real conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus is the incarnation of the spirit of love, pity, sympathy, help. The Pharisees stand for the regulated order of things as they are, the form and constituted authority even at the expense of life and love. The Pharisees strike at Jesus by blind instinct, and accuse Him of blasphemy, because He exercises the functions of God in forgiving sin and restoring spiritual life and health to the man. The Pharisees did not agree among themselves as to how the atonement for sin was made and remission secured, but the method usually included sacrifice and ritual purification whether repentance was present or not (Oesterley, Religion and Worship of the Synagogue, pp. 263-7, 279). At any rate, forgiveness was not a matter to be so lightly handled as Jesus seemed to do. Rabbinism stood confessedly silent and groundless, as regarded the forgiveness of sins (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. i. p. 508). Jesus defies the Pharisees, and accepts their challenge, and makes a virtual claim to deity:(62) 'But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house.' The intolerable part of it all was that the man 'straightway took up the bed, and went forth before them all' (Mark 2:12). Now the Pharisees had a definite charge to make against Jesus, and one of which they were themselves witnesses. He was a blasphemer. To be sure, He had embarrassed them greatly by healing the paralytic as proof of His right to forgive sins. But the miracle was another question. That problem must be attacked, but one thing at a time. The enthusiasm of the public on this occasion made it necessary for the Pharisees to observe the decencies for the present. They could bide their time and would not forget this incident and this item of proof against the new enemy of the Pharisaic order. Against the interpretation of M'Neile (Matt 9:6) that Jesus merely speaks of Himself as man, and that any man has the right to forgive sins, is to be placed the fact that the Pharisees did not claim the right to forgive sins, but called it a divine function. Jesus accepts their presentation and applies it to Himself as the Son of Man, not as any man. But the point to keep in mind is that the Pharisees are now in Galilee in great numbers. Apparently those from Jerusalem have come in a more or less representative capacity as a result of reports that came to headquarters in Jerusalem concerning the tremendous effect of the work of Jesus in Galilee. The Pharisees see clearly that the withdrawal of Jesus to Galilee has simply changed the scene of His activity and is not the end.

This charge of blasphemy sprang out of the claim of Jesus to work on the Sabbath, as God does, and from the claim that God is His Father in a sense not true of other men. He made this claim in justification of His healing the impotent man on the Sabbath day in Jerusalem. The Pharisees 'sought the more to kill him, because he not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God' (John 5:18). Jesus thus maintained that He was the Son of God, and proceeded to defend this supreme claim in a powerful apologetic (John 5:19-47).

But this charge of blasphemy was repeated. At the feast of dedication about three months before His death, the Jews in the temple flung it at Him in these words: 'For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God' (John 10:33). The Roman emperors were posing as gods and receiving worship. The Pharisees mean to say that Jesus also is assuming the prerogatives of God, and is thus guilty of blasphemy. The reply of Jesus is not a disclaimer of His deity, but a retort in kind (argumentum ad hominem), to show that in the Old Testament itself (Psalm 82:6) the term god was applied to those who exercised the functions of God at His command. Thus He cut the ground from under them for the time being. But Jesus knew clearly that His enemies would repeat the charge, and so left Jerusalem for Perea.

The Messianic demonstration (triumphal entry) enraged the Pharisees intensely. They saw in this popular approval the frustration of all their plans for His death. Some in despair went to abusing each other for their common failure (John 12:19). Others sought to make Jesus ashamed of the conduct of the multitude of Christ's disciples, in publicly hailing Him as the Son of David (Messiah), with the implication that He would disavow their enthusiasm (Luke 19:39). But Jesus' hour had now come for His public claim to Messiahship. If need be, the very stones would now cry out in His behalf. Still others (chief priests and scribes) in the temple itself were indignant that Jesus allowed the boys (paides) to desecrate the sacred precincts of the temple (their temple) by crying 'Hosannah to the Son of David.' Even the boys had been led astray by the bad example of the Galilean mob, and were misbehaving in the temple itself (Matt 21:15f). M'Neile (Matt in loco) considers it 'extremely improbable' that boys would be allowed to shout in the temple. But boys do things before they are allowed. Plummer (Matt in loco) rightly notes the horror of the hierarchy at this profanation by the boys, echoing the shouts of the multitude, in contrast with the complacent acquiescence in the profitable traffic in the same courts.

The penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning. The victim was then to be hung on a gibbet and taken down before night (Lev 24:16; 1 Kings 21:10, 13). It was on the charge of blasphemy that the vote of condemnation was taken in the Sanhedrin. Jesus, after the Sanhedrin had failed to prove any charge against him, confessed on oath, in reply to a direct question from Caiaphas, that He was the Messiah the Son of God (Matt 26:63f; Mark 14:61f). It was not blasphemy to be the Messiah, if it was true. Not all the Pharisees ascribed divine prerogatives to the Messiah. But Jesus evidently claimed that position for Himself by the term 'the Son of God.' The high priest was not expected to rend His clothes when a gross offence against God took place in His presence (Lev 21:10). It is remarkable that at the trial of Jesus the Sanhedrin make such a pitiful showing after making so many charges against Him during His ministry. The only one that will stand before their own court is this one of blasphemy, which is supplied by Jesus Himself, and is only valid on the assumption that He is not the Messiah, the Son of God. The high priest exulted in the fact that there was fortunately no further need of witnesses: 'For we ourselves have heard from his own mouth' (Luke 22:71). Jesus had said that the Sanhedrin would see Him sitting at the right hand of power (Matt 26:64). It was not blasphemy in the sense of saying something against God (M'Neile), but only in the Divine claims made for Himself. When finally Pilate surrendered to the Sanhedrin after his repeated protestations of the innocence of Jesus so far as Roman law was concerned, and made his petulant exposure of his own incapacity, saying: 'Take him yourselves, and crucify him, for I find no crime in him' (John 19:6), the Sanhedrin quickly retorted: 'We have a law, and for that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.' They had not told Pilate of their previous condemnation on the charge of blasphemy, and this statement of Jesus' claim made him more afraid than ever. Whatever support Jesus may have had in the Sanhedrin up to this point vanished when He made His great confession (M'Neile on Matt) There was no proposal to test the claim of Jesus to be divine (Swete on Mark). That was assumed as false. It is probable that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were not summoned to the meeting. As Jesus hung on the cross the Pharisees mocked Him for saying 'I am the Son of God' (Matt 27:43).


(3) Intolerable Association with Publicans and Sinners (Matt 9:10ff; Mark 2:15ff; Luke 5:29ff, 7:29, 15:1-2)

In order to understand the feeling of the Pharisees toward Jesus for His free mingling with publicans and sinners, one has only to recall their assumption of extraordinary sanctity and professions of ceremonial purity, as set forth in the preceding chapter. As shown by their own writings (the Psalms of Solomon, the Talmud, etc.), the Pharisees had a perfect horror of contamination from association with the masses of the people, the untutored 'Am-ha- arets, and regarded the rest of the people as sinners in comparison with themselves (the righteous). Jesus not merely associated with the masses in utter violation of the Pharisaic teaching as to separation and ceremonial cleanness, but He went among the diseased and the immoral in His efforts to heal body and soul. Their scorn was expressed in the phrase 'publicans and sinners,' as the familiar companions of Jesus, with the implication that He was no better than His associates. This high plea for Pharisaic puritanism did not always imply moral cleanness, but did demand religious purity, a very different matter. The Pharisees really reflected the attitude of the Jewish people in their insistence on fidelity to the Torah. Their aim was to make 'the whole people a people of the law'(63) and the law as interpreted by the Pharisees. Schuerer adds: 'The common man was to know what the law commanded, and not only to know, but to do it.' Hence the Pharisaic contempt for this multitude which knoweth not the law (John 7:49). Hence their rage at Jesus for His defiance of their scruples and practices, which involved their whole creed and conduct.

The Talmud does speak a deal about repentance, but as 'only another form of work-righteousness,'(64) and 'Rabbnism had no welcome to the sinner' till he had cleansed himself ceremonially before God and man. Indeed, 'the last word of Rabbnism is only a kind of Pessimism' (Edersheim, Life and Times, vol. i. p. 513), and the best he could expect was to die before he sinned again (Ab. Zar. 17a). When therefore the Pharisees saw Jesus surrounded by 'publicans and sinners' at the feast given in His honour by Levi (Matt), the converted publican, they were very indignant. M Neile(65) thinks that Jesus was the host, rather than Levi, and Himself invited the publicans and sinners, since Levi would hardly have invited such a motley crew to meet Jesus. But Levi probably knew the reputation of Jesus on this very point already, and certainly He had asked Levi to follow Him. The term 'sinner' (amartolos) had a wide application as an expression of Jewish scorn, not only to the openly immoral (Luke 7:37), but to Gentiles as a class (Gal 2:15), to heretics (John 9:16, 31), to publicans (custom house officers) as a class (Luke 19:7), and even to Jesus himself (John 9:24). In the Psalms of the Pharisees, the term includes Sadducees as well as all non-Pharisees. Hellenising Jews are so called in 1 Macc. ii. 44, 48.

According to eastern custom it was possible for the Pharisees to enter the house during a reception (meal) without an invitation.(66) The banqueting hall stood open, and they could easily slip in if they cared not for the ceremonial pollution. Curiosity to get proof against Jesus may have overcome their scruples in that case. Even Pharisaic Christians were opposed to eating with Gentiles (Acts 11:3), and these Pharisees may have been unwilling to enter the house of a publican like Levi. In that case they either stood on the outside and made remarks to the disciples as they came out or spoke to them later about it. The Pharisees had learnt some caution(67) by this time, and addressed their criticism to the disciples, not to Jesus. But Jesus took it up and answered it, for He was the real point of attack, and the disciples had simply followed His lead in the matter. They had accused Jesus of departing from the moral standard of the Old Testament (Psalm 1). It was a keen criticism and one not easy to answer. Every minister of the Gospel to-day has to face precisely this peril, if he goes among the outcast classes and does not exercise proper prudence in the way in which he carries on his task. The reply of Jesus was quite unexpected and disconcerting, but absolutely crushing. He, for the sake of argument, took the Pharisees at the face value of their claim to be 'righteous,' and asserted His mission, as the physician of souls, to the sinful, and therefore precisely to the publicans and sinners. The Pharisees had criticised Him therefore for doing His real work. At once it is clear that Jesus and the Pharisees stand at opposite poles of thought in their attitude towards men and the work of rescue. They were aloof in spirit, and built a hedge around themselves to keep off infection. Jesus plunged into the midst of disease and sin to root both out. He admits the danger and glories in it. Not yet have all Christians come to feel as Jesus did on this subject. Jesus appealed to Hosea 6:6 ('I desire mercy, and not sacrifice') in proof of the failure of the Pharisees to understand the very Scriptures which they had accused Him of violating. But Jesus came to glory in the taunt flung at Him by the Pharisees (Luke 7:34) as 'the friend of publicans and sinners,' though they probably gave a sinister meaning to 'friend' (philos), as boon-companion and sharer in their vices.

It was inevitable that this charge should be repeated, since Jesus would not change His conduct in so fundamental a matter, and the Pharisees would not alter their attitude, could not, in fact, without a violent intellectual revolution. The next time this accusation is made against Jesus by a Pharisee, it is in a Pharisee's house, probably in Galilee. Jesus was there at the invitation of this Pharisee, but the host could not brook the conduct of his guest, whom he probably thought he had highly honoured by his courtesy. He may indeed have prided himself on this show of independence (Plummer on Luke 7:36) of the Pharisaic leaders, who were now so hostile to Jesus. The sinful woman had followed oriental custom in entering the Pharisee's house uninvited. The Pharisee showed no surprise or displeasure at her presence, but only astonishment that Jesus allowed her to wet His feet with her tears, and to wipe them with her hair. The Pharisee Simon knew her general reputation as a sinner, but did not know of her penitence. Here again the Pharisee, with his insistence on outward form, in his heart assails Jesus, who cares more for the inward change of heart as seen in the woman's great love. Jesus dared to violate the conventional proprieties, and to incur the secret ridicule of His host.

Jesus had taken His stand as the friend of the publicans and sinners, and gradually overcame the timidity of those classes that had been shrinking from the rabbis, who held themselves aloof as from a pestilence. Luke (15:1) pointedly says: 'Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him for to hear him.' It was now a custom (esan eggizontes) on the part of all of both classes when Jesus was around. They were no longer afraid of Him as they were of the other rabbis. Here is a lesson for the modern preacher, to learn how to win the sinful to Jesus without any sacrifice of purity of life and not to drive them away by affectation of much righteousness. Real goodness does rebuke sin, but it is attractive to the sinner. Luke does not locate the incident that called forth the wonderful parables in chapter 15 of his Gospel. It was probably in Perea, but, wherever it was, the Pharisees resented the conduct of Jesus in allowing these despised classes to crowd close around Him, with the result that the Pharisees, in self-defence and for decency's sake, stood off at a distance and gave the publicans and sinners the right of way. The Pharisees had no gospel to the lost. 'They had nothing to say to sinners. They called upon them to "do penitence" and then Divine Mercy, or rather Justice, would have its reward for the penitent.'(68) There is no indication that on this occasion Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners, but He had done so at Levi's reception (Matt 9:10f). They make a double charge here: 'This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them' (houtos hamartolous prosdechetai kai sunesthiei autois). Jesus not only allowed them access, but He actually welcomed them. He not only saluted them and talked with them in public as respectable people, but He even ate with them on terms of social equality. The thing was intolerable in the eyes of the Pharisees, who 'murmured' a great deal, and kept up a buzz of discontent (diegogguzon). The scribes joined with the Pharisees in this protest. It was against both precept and practice and could not be overlooked. They made thus a formal and public challenge of the position of Jesus and His conduct, no longer to the disciples or in the secret thoughts. Jesus did not deny the charge. He admitted it, justified it, and even extended it. He was engaged in the precise business of seeking and saving the lost. If the publicans and sinners did not come to Jesus, He would go after them. The cry of the one lost lamb in the hills would give the shepherd no peace, even though the ninety and nine were safe within the fold. Here again the reply of Jesus completely turns the tables on His enemies, who only grew angrier than ever. Finally 'they scoffed at him' (exemukterizon auton, turned the nose up at Him) after Jesus told the parable of the unjust steward.


(4) Irreligious Neglect of Fasting (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)

The charge about the neglect of fasting follows the feast of Levi, and the charge about eating with publicans and sinners. The regular public fasts of the Jews in the Old Testament are only five,(69) but the Pharisees made a good deal out of private fasting, like the Pharisee in Luke 18:12, who boasted of his piety in this respect. But this private Pharisaic fasting was done in public to be seen of men (Matt 6:16), and they even disfigured their faces to show that they were fasting. It was said of John the Baptist that he 'came neither eating nor drinking,' and yet the Pharisees rejected John's baptism, and scoffed at his asceticism (Luke 7:30,33) as though he had a demon, while they reviled Jesus as 'a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners' (7:34). But the ascetic habits of John led his disciples to find an affinity with the Pharisees in the matter of fasting, especially while John was himself in prison. They perhaps were all the more ready to criticise Jesus if Levi's feast came at the time of one of the fast days. In Mark 2:18 John's disciples and the Pharisees are said to be fasting, and both together came to Jesus, with the query why His disciples do not fast. In Matthew and Luke the disciples of John are the speakers. Perhaps they acted as catspaws for the Pharisees, but it is sad to see this combination of the disciples of John with the enemies of Jesus. Fasting with Jesus is an individual act for a real reason, not a stated function for empty show. But here again professional Pharisaism cannot brook the independence of this revolutionary thinker who is cutting the ground from under their feet, and making their whole system appear ridiculous in the eyes of the people.


(5) The Devil Incarnate or in league with Beelzebub (Matt 9:34, Matthew 12:22-37; Mark 3:19-30; Luke 11:14-36)

This bitter charge that Jesus was in league with the devil came early in the Galilean ministry, as a result of the enthusiasm of the multitude who 'marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel' (Matt 9:34). This itself was a reflection on the Pharisees, and placed the crown on the head of Jesus as the supreme teacher who acted as well as spoke. M'Neile (on Matt 9:34) treats this verse as 'a scribal insertion due to 12:24; Luke 11:15,' and Plummer (on Matt 9:34) rather inclines to the view that we have here a doublet. If so, we only know that the Pharisees are not recorded as giving expression to their venom on the subject quite so early. 'By the prince of the demons casteth he out demons.' There is no effort to deny the reality of the casting out. The Pharisees are content to find the source of this kind of miracle in the devil himself. In Matthew 12:22-37 the multitudes not only were amazed (existanto, stood out of themselves with astonishment, like the eyes standing out of the head), but they actually dared to ask: 'Is this the Son of David?' They asked it in a form (meti houtos estin ho huios Daueid) that implied a negative answer, but this may have been due to a desire to avoid controversy rather than to the conviction that it was not true. The Pharisees evidently felt that the very fact of such an inquiry from the astonished crowds showed that the claims and miracles of Jesus had produced such an effect on the people that they were ready to hail Him as the Messiah, the Son of David. This of all things was what the Pharisees did not wish to happen. They saw clearly by this time that the conception of the Kingdom held by Jesus was subversive of Pharisaic theology. Jesus taught that the King-Messiah was non-political, and offered no hope to the Jews of freedom from the Roman yoke, but only a vague spiritual rule of God in the heart, for which the rabbis did not care, without the political hope of place and power. The charge as stated here is: 'This man doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.' There is probably a slur in the use of 'this man' (outos), and the negative form of the statement discounts it as far as they can. He is only able to do what He does because He has the help of Beelzebub. The demons in reality receive orders from their chief, whose agent Jesus is. This whole subject of demonology is difficult, but there was no doubt on the part of the Pharisees as to the existence of the devil and his demons. The recent war in Europe makes it easier for modern men to see how the devil and demons may still have power over men. But the charge springs out of spite against Jesus, and is meant to ruin His power with the people by prejudicing their minds against Him in spite of His power to work miracles. The reply of Jesus exposes their blindness, for the devil would not destroy his own work. Satan does not cast out Satan, and is not divided against himself. This retort left the Pharisees without an answer, and the multitude evidently saw the force of the reply of Christ. By and by some of the Pharisees themselves will be so impressed that they will ask: 'Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?' (John 10:21). And yet many of the Pharisees at Jerusalem had become so angered with Jesus, that they had in a rage said the two meanest things that they could think of for the moment: 'Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?' (John 8:48) That combination to the Pharisee was the acme of shame in this world and the next. Neither epithet was true as applied to Jesus, but the use of them both relieved the feelings of the Pharisees. Many of them repeat the accusation after the allegory of the Good Shepherd, in which the Pharisees are described as thieves and robbers, and say: 'He hath a demon and is mad' (John 8:20). It was charitable to treat Jesus as insane. Some modern German critics have called Jesus a paranoiac.(70) The same charge of demoniacal agency is given by Luke (11:14-38), and belongs to a later Perean ministry if Luke's narrative is not merely a duplicate of that in Matthew and Mark. It is not improbable that the Pharisees should repeat this charge. Indeed, we have seen that the Talmud makes precisely the same explanation of the signs wrought by Jesus. It shows how malignant the Pharisaic leaders have become in their resentment and anger.


(6) A Regular Sabbath Breaker (John 5; Matt 12:1-14; Mark 2:23, 3:6; Luke 6:1-11; John 9; Luke 13:10-21, 14:1-4)

We have only to recall the Pharisaic rules for the observance of the Sabbath to see how sensitive the Pharisees were on this subject. Thomson (Int. Stand. Bible Encycl.) thinks that the Pharisees at first hoped to win Jesus over to their side. They would have been only too willing to accept Him as Messiah with all His miracles and popular favour, provided He would conform to the Pharisaic pattern for the Messiah. This involved the acceptance of the teachings of the scribes and the practice of the Pharisees. Thomson interprets the invitations from the Pharisees to dine as an effort to cajole Jesus into compliance with the plans of the Pharisees, 'which was going far upon the part of a Pharisee toward one not a chabher (associate). Even when He hung on the cross, the taunt with which they greeted Him may have had something of longing, lingering hope in it: "If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on Him" (Matt 27:42).' Some of the Pharisees who demanded signs may have secretly hoped that He would do the spectacular signs which the rabbis had outlined as proof of the Messiah, so that the Pharisees could with better grace hail Him as the Messiah of Pharisaism. But this critical attitude that lingered with some Pharisees was not shared by the leaders, who quickly, as we have seen, became distinctly adverse. The conduct of Jesus on the Sabbath day and His justification of His conduct exasperated the Pharisees exceedingly. The matters of detail were so obvious and so public that there was no escape from a clash if the Pharisees held their ground on this subject. They had to criticise Jesus or stultify themselves in the eyes of the masses. The first instance of healing on the Sabbath created astonishment, but called forth no protest from the Pharisees so far as the records show (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37). But this was in Galilee, and the Pharisaic campaign against Jesus had not yet begun in that region. But when Jesus healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, a storm of protest arose when the poor fellow told the Jews that Jesus had made him whole, and had bidden him to carry his bed (pallet, krabatton, bed of the poor) on the Sabbath. For this cause did the Jews persecute Jesus, because He did these things on the Sabbath' (John 5:16). This was the first occasion when the Jews began to persecute (ediokon, inchoative imperfect) Jesus, but He already had the habit of doing (epoiei) these and like things on the Sabbath. Hence the violence of the explosion of Pharisaic wrath on this occasion. Besides, it was in Jerusalem, near the temple and possibly at a passover. The enmity of the Pharisees was already 'settled' (Westcott in loco). The defence of Jesus made it worse, for it was a virtual claim of equality with God and the Son of God in a sense not true of others. He deserved, they held, to be stoned as a common Sabbath-breaker, and all the more so since He made such blasphemous claims about His peculiar right to violate the Pharisaic Sabbatic laws (John 5:17f). It is a bit curious to note that the rabbis had been puzzled over the fact that Jesus here cites the continuous activity of God on the Sabbath in spite of the Pharisaic rules on the subject. 'Why does not God keep the Sabbath? May not a man wander through his own house on the Sabbath? The house of God is the whole realm above and the whole realm below.'(71) The pious Israelites told of a Sabbatic River that flowed six days and rested on the seventh.(72) Josephus(73) makes this river flow only on the Sabbath day. The rabbis even taught that the damned in Gehenna had rest from torture on the Sabbath day.(74) They drew up a catalogue of thirty-nine principal works with many subdivisions under each, for which the penalty for violation was stoning. The Pharisaic wrath toward Jesus on this score was like a pent-up Utica, and blazed forth like a volcano of fury.

It is not perfectly clear how to relate the two next incidents in the Synoptic Gospels with that in John 5, though they probably follow immediately.(75) If so, it is quite possible that some of the Jerusalem Pharisees followed Jesus back to Galilee in blind rage to see if they cannot find further proof against Him. Either this is true or the Pharisees in Galilee burst into spontaneous indignation against Jesus, perhaps after hearing of the incident in Jerusalem (John 5). The occasion of the complaint about plucking and eating heads of wheat on the Sabbath seems to us too trivial for reality, but the Talmud again reinforces the Gospels on this score, as we have already seen. The Pharisees regarded it as a most serious matter. The plucking of the heads of grain was reaping and rubbing the grain out was threshing, two kinds of labour on the Sabbath, of which the disciples had been guilty in the presence of Jesus and of the Pharisees. On this occasion Jesus took pains to make a prolonged argument on the subject in defence of the disciples and of Himself. He appealed to the example of David in eating the shew-bread (a case of necessity). He cited the conduct of the priests who work in the temple on the Sabbath, a conflict of duties where the higher prevails. He even claimed to be greater than the temple. He showed how Hosea interpreted God as preferring mercy to formal ritualistic sacrifice, a plea for works of mercy. He asserted His lordship as the Son of man over the Sabbath, with the right to make His own rules for its observance as opposed to those of the Pharisees. Jesus maintained that the Sabbath was made for the blessing of man, not for his bondage. Hence the day must be interpreted and observed in view of man's spiritual and physical welfare. This view of Jesus is one of the commonplaces of modern life. Indeed, to many who are used to the absolute license of modern continental Europe, reproduced, alas! in America, the views of Jesus seem needlessly strict, and even narrow, for they wish no restrictions of any kind, but a day of pleasure and revelry without any regard to man's moral and spiritual well-being.

On another Sabbath, possibly the next (these three Sabbaths may even come in succession), Jesus is in a synagogue in Galilee, and this time 'the scribes and Pharisees watched (pareterounto, descriptive imperfect, with an air of expectancy) him, whether he would heal on the Sabbath: that they might find how to accuse him' (Luke 6:7). There we have the whole story in a nutshell. The Pharisees have now come to look for these Sabbath healings, a number of which Luke records (being a physician). 'Spies,' Plummer (on Luke 6:7) calls them, who are here ready for any emergency and anxious to make a case against Jesus that will stand. Perhaps they looked sideways (para) out of the corner of their eyes. Matthew (12:10) adds that they finally asked: 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?' Thus they made a formal challenge before Jesus healed the man with the withered hand. Jesus accepted the challenge, made the man stand forth before them all, demanded whether it was 'lawful' (their very word) to do good or harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill it (they were at that moment full of murderous thoughts towards Jesus), 'looked round on them with anger' (Mark 3:5) in righteous indignation at their perversity, and then made the man stretch forth his hand healed and whole right before the Pharisees. It was an intolerable affront to their dignity as well as one more violation of their rules. They stalked out of the synagogue in a towering rage ('filled with madness,' Luke 6:11), and straightway conferred with the Herodians, whom they despised, in sheer desperation to find some way to destroy Jesus.

The next scene of this nature is pitched in Jerusalem again (John 9), and is a rich and racy narrative of pith and humour. The Pharisees are unable to untie their own theological knot, quite of a piece with those so finely twisted in the Talmud. If Jesus were of God, He would not have healed the blind man on the Sabbath. And yet the man was healed on the Sabbath. Finally, they are willing to agree that he was healed on the Sabbath, provided the blind man will agree that the glory belongs to God, and that Jesus is a sinner for doing what adds glory to God and makes Jesus a sinner. The blind man has merry sport over the dilemma of the Pharisees, who in a rage turn on him: 'Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.'

In Judea (probably) Luke (13:10-21) describes the pathetic case of the hunch-backed old woman, whom Jesus made a point of healing on the Sabbath in a synagogue. The ruler of the synagogue flew into a passion over this desecration of his synagogue, by such unholy deeds as healing the old woman instead of observing the Pharisaic ritual of worship. It was as undecorous as a soul's conversion would be in some churches under some sermons. The rebuke of the ruler by Jesus is withering in its irony and sarcasm.

Probably in Perea Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to dine (breakfast) and the Pharisees 'were watching him' (esan parateroumenoi, Luke 14:1), according to custom, even though His host was a Pharisee. But Jesus took the initiative, challenged them for an attack, healed a man of the dropsy, and told them stories in illustration of the attitude of the host and the guests. Jesus was complete master of the occasion. But all these Sabbath controversies rankled in the hearts of the Pharisees.


(7) Utterly Inadequate Signs (Matt 12:38-45, 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16-32)

Men to-day are troubled by the wealth of miracles attributed to Jesus, not by the paucity of them. Our scientific scruples call for a minimum of the supernatural. But the Pharisees were not content with the splendour of the signs wrought by Jesus. Jesus represents Abraham as saying to Lazarus in the parable: 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead' (Luke 16:31). The miracles of Jesus did induce belief in the claims of Jesus, and some of the multitude asked: 'When the Christ shall come, will he do more signs than this man hath done?' (John 7:31). But the Pharisees, when they heard the multitude murmuring these things concerning Jesus, sent officers to take Him. The raising of Lazarus from the dead persuaded many to believe in Jesus, but the scribes and Pharisees simply determined to put both Jesus and Lazarus to death (John 11:45-53, 12:9-11). The Pharisees had preconceived ideas as to how the Messiah was to come with supernatural manifestations from heaven. Satan, as already noted, seems to appeal to this popular Pharisaic theology when he proposed that Jesus be seen failing from the pinnacle of the temple as if dropping out of heaven (Matt 4:6; Luke 4:9f). We see the Pharisees repeatedly coming to Jesus, and demanding a sign in spite of the multitude wrought by Him. 'Master, we would see a sign from thee' (Matt 12:38), as if He were a miracle monger. They were too particular in their tastes for signs, and Jesus would give them only the sign of Jonah, His resurrection from the dead. Even after the feeding of the five thousand the Galilean crowd the next day in the synagogue say: 'What then doest thou for a sign, that we may see, and believe thee? What workest thou?' (John 6:30). They even suggested something on the scale of the manna in the days of Moses. They had punctilious ideas even about miracles, and were hard to please, these miracle tasters. Finally the Pharisees demand 'a sign from heaven' (Matt 16:1; Mark 8:11), 'tempting him.' On this occasion the religious authorities (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians) combined against Jesus, as they had done against John the Baptist. But they do it under the guise of a friendly inquiry. They make the point (Plummer on Matt.) that the miracles of Jesus were on earth. Assuming that He is the Messiah, He must, according to Pharisaic theology, adduce signs in the heavens and from the heavens, if He wishes to satisfy popular expectation and be hailed as Messiah with proper credentials. It is no wonder that Mark (8:12) adds that 'he sighed deeply in his spirit.' This obstinate stupidity caused a sigh to come up (anastenaxas) from the very depths of His soul. But they were familiar with the Bath Qol (Swete), and even the ministry of Elijah had heavenly attestation (1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10ff). It is not certain whether the similar request for a sign in Luke 11:16-32 is different from the incident in Matthew and Mark or not. It is not intrinsically improbable that in Perea, as in Galilee, the Pharisees should press this point against Jesus. Indeed, Jesus Himself said that at His second coming for judgment, the eschatological aspect of His reign, they would see 'the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory' (Matt 24:30). But that 'sign' is not to be had as proof of His Messianic mission. When the Pharisees and Sadducees have Jesus on trial before the Sanhedrin, He boldly defied Caiaphas and all the rest and said: 'Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven' (Matt 26:64; Mark 14:62). Then Jesus will be the Judge of the Sanhedrin who are now judging Him. Then they shall have the sign from heaven which they so eagerly clamoured for while on earth.


(8) Insolent Defiance of Tradition (Matt 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Luke 11:37-54)

Perhaps in no single incident do we see the contrast between the Pharisees and Jesus to better advantage than in the first conflict over the necessity of washing the hands before meals. M'Neile (Matt. in loco) thinks that the attack was made in Judea 'where the points at issue between the Rabbinic schools would be more likely to be brought up for discussion than in the north.' But Swete (Mark in loco) rightly observes that the Pharisees from Jerusalem have already (Mark 3:22) been seen in Galilee, watching the teaching of Jesus. Swete also suggests that the opportunity for the disciples to eat bread with 'defiled' or common and unclean hands arose during the passage through the plain of Gennesaret after returning from the feeding of the five thousand the afternoon before (Mark 6:35-46). The disciples had had a stormy night, and were hungry, and may have eaten of the twelve baskets full which they had preserved (Mark 6:43). The Pharisees would be quick to notice this lapse from ceremonial purity and challenge Jesus with 'their old policy of insidious questioning' (Swete). Other instances of attack by questions are worth noting. This method was pursued by the Pharisees in regard to the failure of the disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). So also by question they challenge His conduct and that of the disciples in the matter of Sabbath observance (Mark 2:24; Matt 12:10). It was thus that the Pharisees attacked Jesus with the problem of divorce, 'tempting him and saying, 'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?' (Matt 19:3, cf. Mark 10:2). On this subject also the schools of Hillel and Shammai took opposite views. The hope here was to inveigle Jesus into a position that would injure His popularity, not to obtain a charge against Him. In the series of queries on the last Tuesday of Christ's ministry a similar course is pursued. First the Sanhedrin (probably representatives) ask for His authority for His conduct in the temple. Then the Pharisees send some of their brightest disciples to 'catch him in his talk' (Mark 12:13), and these raise the dilemma about tribute to Caesar, hoping to entrap Him in treason to Caesar, or to make Him unpopular with the people. The Sadducees next ask about the resurrection, with one of their stock conundrums on the subject which had discomfited the Pharisees. Then a lawyer in a formal way inquires about the great commandment of the law. This was a favourite method with the rabbis in their academic discussions, as we see abundantly illustrated in the Talmud. But it was more than academic as used by the Pharisees with Jesus, though M'Neile (Matt 15:12) holds that Jesus is treated as 'the leader of a Rabbinic "School," who might have a right to his opinion on a detail of "tradition."' Probably so as to the form in which the query is raised, but not in the spirit that prompts the 'tempting' so often mentioned. Buchler(76) holds that the Pharisees who attack Jesus about His disciples eating with unwashed hands must have been priests who had recently joined the ranks of the Pharisees, because of the strict views advanced about these rules of purification, designed to safeguard levitical purity, since the rabbis expounded these laws, but did not observe them. But these rules for those not priests probably arose from a practice already going on.(77) It is probable (M'Neile) that we are not to press Mark's words (7:3) too far: 'For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the traditions of the elders.' Certainly the 'Jews' who 'al'l cherish 'the tradition of the Elders are not the masses, but the strict and orthodox minority who supported the Scribes ' (Swete). The mass of the common people probably did not know these details, and yet religious purification was found in religious households (Westcott on John 2:6). Jesus may have been used to it in His own home as Peter had been (Acts 10:14). Jesus does not here resist the custom, but the effort to make it essential (Hort, Judaistic Christianity, pp. 29 f.). The Pharisees probably endeavoured to force their notions of cleanness upon all who would accept them, and had contempt for the common herd who knew not the law and did not care about these pious punctilios. Twelve treatises in the Mishna are devoted to the complicated amplifications of the rules for ceremonial purity which tradition had added to the law. We have seen already that the rabbis placed tradition (oral law) above the written law, and claimed Divine origin for it. Rabbi Aqibah used to say: 'Tradition is a fence to Torah.'(78) In this instance it is Halachah, not Haggadah, and Mark rightly presents the question of the Pharisees: 'Why walk not (ou peripatousin like halachah) thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders?' It is not a light matter of opinion, but a serious point of conduct that is raised. Montefiore thinks that the practice of washing hands 'was only instituted by Hillel and Shammai,' and hence (quoted by M'Neile) argues that there could have been no 'tradition' on the subject. But the custom probably antedated the teaching. One instance of the dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai on the subject occurs in the Mishna(79): 'If any one places vessels under the pipes (which ran into the plunging bath), they make the bath unsuitable (because it then counts as drawn water). According to the school of Shammai, it is all the same, whether they have been placed there or forgotten; according to the school of Hillel, they do not make it unfit, if they were only forgotten.' The disputes on these rules of ceremonial cleansing added by the elders were only on petty details of a pettifogging nature. But Jesus was not to be caught in this net of minutiae. He turned upon them with vehemence and keen irony for their whole miserable attitude of subordinating the commandment of God to tradition: 'Full well do ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your tradition.' They would probably have admitted the charge and even gloried in it. When the commandment (entole) and tradition (paradosis) clashed, tradition was supreme (M'Neile), because the written law was originally oral, and this fact gave the oral law precedence (Plummer on Matt.).(80) The meaning of corban we shall leave to the next chapter, the discussion of Christ's indictment of the Pharisees. Jesus here stung the Pharisees with the word 'hypocrites.'

Luke (11:37-54) records the invitation of Jesus to breakfast from a Pharisee (probably in Judea), which was not a plot to get evidence against Him, since he seems to have been taken by surprise that Jesus had not bathed (his hands, at any rate) before the meal (Plummer in loco). The Pharisees had evidently expected Jesus to conform to Pharisaic custom, since He was a guest in the Pharisee's house, and had been with the crowds and was unclean from the Pharisee's standpoint. It must be kept in mind that the objection of the Pharisees was not on grounds of hygiene. They were not familiar with the germ theory of disease. Plummer thinks that Jesus, knowing that the Pharisees laid so much stress on the necessity of ceremonial purity in connection with meals, purposely abstained, as a protest against these trivial rules. That is possible, but it is also conceivable that Jesus meant to make no point of the matter at all till the Pharisees manifested such intense amazement at Christ's lack of scrupulosity in the matter. Edersheim(81) gives a picture of the etiquette at a feast as given in the Talmud.(82) 'As the guests enter, they sit down in chairs, and water is brought to them, with which they wash one hand. After this the cup is taken, when each speaks the blessing over the wine partaken of before dinner. Presently they all lie down at table. Water is again brought them, with which they now wash both hands, preparatory to the meal, when the blessing is spoken over the bread, and then over the cup, by the chief person at the feast, or else by one selected by way of distinction.' Probably at this breakfast the ceremonies had not proceeded very far before the clash came. It is interesting to note what sticklers people are for table manners, which vary in all ages and lands, but which are considered marks of good breeding. The Pharisees bluntly thought Jesus ill-bred, and undoubtedly showed it in a way that brought embarrassment all round. The severe reply of Jesus (to be discussed later) thus had sufficient occasion.


(9) An Ignorant Impostor (John 7:14-30; Matt 27:63f)

This attitude toward Jesus is implied in all the charges made, but it comes out with clearness during Christ's visit to the feast of tabernacles six months before His death. It is reflected in the criticism of a portion of the Galilean multitude before Jesus comes to the feast, who said in reply to the defence of those who called Him 'a good man' these blunt words: 'Nay, but He leads the multitude astray' (ou, alla plana ton ochlon, John 7:12). In spite of all that the Pharisees had done Jesus was still a popular idol with many in Galilee. The Pharisees marvelled at this strange success, while they did not admit His irregular claims (Westcott on John vii. 15). The people who followed the Pharisees rather than Jesus accepted their interpretation of His success. He was merely a 'self-taught enthusiast' without real culture, without credentials, without moral convictions, without spiritual power. The secret of His apparent success lay in the gullibility of the ignorant populace. This is the explanation of the temporary success of many a pretender beyond a doubt. False prophets (Zech 13:2) had already arisen in plenty. It was common enough for false claimants for the throne to appear. Josephus(83) tells how in the disorders during the rule of Archelaus one man, Athronges, an ignorant man with no claim by descent or culture or power, 'yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king.' The Pharisee Gamaliel actually reminded the Sanhedrin of the fate that befell Theudas and Judas of Galilee, in their false claims to be 'somebody,' as a reason for patience with the apostles of Jesus. Let God and time deal with them (Acts 5:33-42). Jesus will warn the disciples of 'false Christs' (pseudochristoi) who will come and lead astray if possible, even the elect, by saying: 'I am the Christ,' or 'Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there' (Matt 24:5,23f; Mark 13:21f). It is even probable that some of the leaders of the Zealot revolts had already claimed to be Messiahs. Certainly some 'persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God' (Jos., Ant., xx. viii. 6). H. M. Hughes (Exp. Times, Jan. 1916) suggests that Barabbas was one of these Zealots who laid claims to being a political Messiah. There seems proof of Zealot activity from the N. T. itself. Cf. the Galileans slain by Pilate (Luke 13:1), the Egyptian the assassin in Acts 21:38. The Assumption of Moses (7-30 A.D.) is decidedly anti-Zealot. Josephus calls the Zealots 'robbers.' False claimants will make use of the name of Jesus.(84) In our own day we have seen two men claim to be the Messiah, and one woman set herself above Jesus as the revealer of God. The masses of the Jews welcomed each hero as he appeared,(85), John, Jesus, or Bar-Cochba (the son of a star). Curiously enough the great Rabbi Aqiba in his old age, during the reign of Hadrian, threw himself into the camp of the Messianic Pretender, Bar-Cochab (Barcochba), when he appeared before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin condemned Jesus as a blasphemer for claiming to be the Messiah, and hailed with joy this wild enthusiast because he raised the standard of revolt against Rome. Aqiba said to the listening people: 'Behold, the Star that is come out of Jacob; the days of redemption are at hand.' Aqiba died a martyr to this 'ignoble cause.'(86) If Jesus had only dared to raise the standard of revolt against Rome, the Pharisees would have hailed Him with joy as Messiah. But they had no patience with a merely spiritual Messiah who left the Jewish nation under the Roman yoke. The Pharisees evince a fine literary scorn for Jesus, in spite of His skill in debate and power as a teacher. 'How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?' (John 7:15). He is bound to be ignorant, since he had not studied in either of the two great theological schools in Jerusalem (Hillel and Shammai). The marvellous acumen and clarity of His thought counted as nothing with the Pharisees, for it did not bear their stamp. Since He did not go to their schools, He had simply taught Himself. Therefore His opinions had no scholarly weight. They were supported by no great rabbis of the past. He was not worth listening to. Jesus admits the fact of His lack of Pharisaic training, but denies the conclusion that He originated His ideas. There is a peril in all self-taught men, the danger of conceit and over-emphasis upon their own originality, because of lack of contact with the great minds of all ages. Jesus sees that and claims God as the source of His teaching, and suggests how the Pharisees can put to the test this claim for His teaching. Doing the will of God will qualify one to judge of God's teaching (John 7:17). It is sound psychology. Those who bring their wills in harmony with God's will are competent to pass on the character of God's teaching, and so of Christ's claims (Westcott in loco). Rabban Gamaliel (Aboth, ii. 4) is quoted in the Talmud as saying: 'Do His will as if it were thy will, that He may do thy will as if it were His will.' The Pharisees made no reply to this defence of Jesus, but they reveal their attitude of scorn when the officers sent to arrest Jesus return without Him: 'Are ye also led astray?' (John 7:47). None of the rulers of the Pharisees had believed on the upstart from Galilee. The accursed ignorant multitude did not count. They could hardly believe that the Roman soldiers had fallen victims to the spell of the deceiver.

One of the charges made against Jesus was, that He bore witness of Himself, and hence it was not true (John 8:13). Jesus had recognised the need of witness outside of Himself and had offered it (John 5:31ff). But He contends for His right to testify concerning Himself, and He tells the truth even if these Pharisees refuse to accept it (John 7:14). Nevertheless He appeals to the witness of His Father, whereupon the Pharisees imply that He is a bastard: 'Where is thy Father?' (8:19). We have seen that in the Talmud it is repeatedly asserted that Jesus was the son of a paramour of Mary.

Matthew (27:62-6) records the precaution of the chief priests and the Pharisees, to have the Roman seal placed on the tomb of Jesus, and a Roman guard stationed to watch over it. They said to Pilate: 'Sir, we remember that that deceiver said' (ekeinos ho planos eipen). They would not call His name to Pilate, but they fear Him though dead, and would like for 'that deceiver' to be His epitaph. Their contempt for Jesus was shown to the man born blind (John 9:29) by saying: 'But as for this man, we know not whence he is,' an unknown upstart of a nobody. But with all their pride of victory they are afraid that 'the last error (he eschate plane) will be worse than the first' (Matt 27:64). The first error (plane) about the deceiver (planos) was to accept Him as Messiah. The second will be to believe in His resurrection. The Pharisees had more ground for their fear than they knew. 'That deceiver' did rise from the dead, and the last error has revealed the hollow emptiness of the Pharisaism that killed Him, and has become the acme and goal of truth for all the race with Pharisaism as the dead husk. Justin Martyr (Dial. 108) charges the Jews with describing Christianity thus: 'A certain godless and lawless sect (heresy) has arisen from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver.'

Herford (Pharisaism, p. 143) says that it was 'inevitable that they should regard him as a dangerous heretic.' They surely did. It is pleasing to note a more kindly temper toward Jesus by the modern liberal Jews, like Montefiore, who gladly acclaim Jesus as one of the greatest of Jewish prophets, and who advocate a study of the New Testament, but this new temper does not alter the historical situation in the first century. W. J. Sparrow-Simpson ('Liberal Judaism and the Christian Faith,' Quarterly Review for October 1915) calls this new attitude of reformed Jews toward Jesus 'a revolution of the first magnitude,' but the problem of the person of Jesus is evaded.


(10) Plotting to Destroy the Temple (John 2:19-22; Matt 26:61; Mark 14:58; Matt 27:39f; Mark 15:29)

When the Pharisees first challenged the authority of Jesus, He gave the sign of His resurrection in symbolic language—'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up' (John 2:19)—that they did not understand nor did the disciples then. It was treasured against Him as a threat against the temple. The Jews had been very suspicious about the work of Herod the Great on the temple, and only allowed him to change it a piece at a time. He began it about B.C. 19, and died B.C. 4, and the temple was not yet finished A.D. 27. It was a fresh ground of distrust when these words were turned against Jesus at His trial. It was a sort of last resort, to be sure, after other lines of attack before the Sanhedrin had failed. The Sanhedrin had brought Jesus before the court without an indictment and with no witnesses. They were to be the judges of His case, and yet 'the whole council sought witness against Jesus to put Him to death' (Mark 14:55), 'false witness' Matthew (26:59) adds, 'and they found it not, though many false witnesses came' (26:60). The Pharisees share with the Sadducees the responsibility for the legal irregularities connected with the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, in spite of modern efforts to blame the Sadducees for the whole proceeding. Montefiore(87) pictures Jesus going to Jerusalem 'bearding the Sadducean priesthood and the antagonistic high authorities in their very den.' But the Pharisees cannot escape their leadership from the start, and that finally enlisted the Sadducees against the common enemy of corrupt Judaism. This is not the place for detailed discussion of the illegalities in the trial of Jesus. They have received ample treatment at the hands of skilled lawyers.(88) It is pitiful special pleading when Rabbi Drucker(89) endeavours to show that conspiracy of the high priest turned Jesus over to Pilate against the wishes of the Pharisees and the Jewish people who hailed Him as a hero. He argues that the illegalities shown in the Gospels prove that the trial before the Sanhedrin did not take place. He professes to show this 'from Jewish sources,' but it is all a priori and unconvincing. The false witnesses, probably suborned as in the charges against Stephen (Acts 6:11), failed to agree and misrepresented what Jesus had said: 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.' The case fell through as it stood, but this charge was hurled in the teeth of Jesus by the wagging crowds who passed along the highway as Jesus hung on the cross: 'Ha! thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself and come down from the cross' (Mark 15:30). It is hard to stop a slander, once it is started. Hired false witnesses will one day testify against Stephen: 'For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us' (Acts 6:14). Herford (Pharisaism, p. 127) says 'That the Pharisees knew why they distrusted, feared, and finally helped to destroy Jesus is plain enough.' The reasons that they gave seem to us wholly inadequate, but at bottom they felt that they had to destroy Jesus or be destroyed by Him. It was a sort of primal instinct which they could not clearly analyse. It comes out in the meeting of the chief priests and the Pharisees after the raising of Lazarus: 'If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation' (John 11:48). This is a remarkable confession for candour in putting 'place' before 'nation,' pocket before patriotism. Westcott (in loco) puts it mildly thus: 'They look at the hypothetical catastrophe from its personal side as affecting themselves.' It is pertinent to add that they did kill Jesus, and all the same as a punishment therefor, as Jesus later predicted (Matt 21:43), the Romans in A.D. 70 came and took away both their place and their nation. The temple whose fate Jesus foresaw, because Jerusalem had rejected Him, was destroyed, but not at the hands of Jesus. The customs of Moses and the traditions of the elders were preserved by the Pharisees, who came to dominate the life of Judaism. But in the struggle between Christianity and Rabbinism in the thought and life of the world Rabbinism has been hopelessly outdistanced by the power of the very Jesus whom they rejected, and thought that they had destroyed.


(11) High Treason against Caesar (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-19:15; Matt 27:17-25; Mark 15:9-14)

The Sanhedrin did not at this juncture have the power of life and death (John 18:31) and were not willing to relieve Pilate of His responsibility in the case, for they wished the death of Jesus, not His punishment, still less His acquittal. It is significant that the Sanhedrin failed to inform Pilate that they had already tried Jesus, and had condemned Him to death on the charge of blasphemy. Instead of asking him to endorse their action, they remained silent on the whole subject, and brought the case to Pilate as a new action. One is at a loss to understand why they took the trouble to have the ecclesiastical trial, since they knew that it was useless after all. Perhaps they did it as a relief to their own feelings of exasperated indignation, shown in their conduct after the vote when some of the members of the Sanhedrin spat in the face of Jesus, blindfolded Him, buffeted Him, mocked Him, and said: 'Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that struck thee' (Matt 26:67f; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-5). Perhaps also the Sanhedrin wished to go through the form of the trial as a protest to the loss of real power at the hands of the Romans. At any rate, they seem to be more at ease in making charges before Pilate, than they had been in securing witnesses against Jesus before the Sanhedrin. With all their malevolence, it was only the confession of Jesus that supplied the Sanhedrin with the technical charge of blasphemy when all other charges had fallen through for lack of evidence. But they bring a political accusation before Pilate, for he would consider none of their theological verbosities any more than Gallio would in the charges against Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:12-16). The Sanhedrin 'began to accuse' (Luke 23:2) Jesus with three accusations (sedition, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, assuming the title of king), but they were all of a piece, and doubtless the 'many things' mentioned later (Matt 27:13; Mark 15:3) were simply expansions of these three. The charge of sedition or 'perverting' (diastrephonta) the Jewish nation was a matter of opinion, but a specious one, because of the great excitement caused by the ministry of Jesus. In particular, the Triumphal Entry was a striking instance. But the Pharisees knew perfectly well that Jesus had discouraged any effort that hinted at insurrection (John 6:14f). He had in plain words advocated giving tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:25) when the Pharisees and Herodians endeavoured to catch Him with this question a few days before. These two charges were simply made to prepare for the third and really serious one: 'We found this man' (touton euramen), as if caught in the very act by the zealous friends of Rome (the Pharisees) in their eager search to uphold Roman rights, 'saying that he is Christ a king' (legonta eauton christon basilea einai). Here they do use the term 'Messiah' or 'Christ,' for claiming which title the Sanhedrin had already condemned Jesus for blasphemy, but they added 'a king,' by way of definition, in order to give a political complexion to the charge. The Sanhedrin knew that Pilate would be compelled to take notice of this charge, as he did. All Four Gospels record the question put by Pilate to Jesus within the palace as Jesus stood before the governor: 'Art thou the king of the Jews?' (Matt 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). To make a claim like that was in reality high treason, the gravest crime against the state. The Synoptic Gospels all represent Jesus simply as confessing it in the words 'Thou sayest,' but John has a more extended report of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, in which Jesus explains what He means by claiming to be king. 'My Kingdom is not of this world,' He said. 'To this end am I come into the world, that I may bear witness unto the truth.' The supercilious question of Pilate, 'What is truth?' shows clearly that he saw no conflict between the unworldly realm of truth and the rule of Caesar. At best Jesus was a harmless enthusiast. Jesus had tried to explain that 'as a spiritual king He was open to no accusation of hostility to the empire' (Westcott). Pilate had discernment enough to see that, and went out and said to the Sanhedrin: 'I find no crime in him.'

But what shall we say of the motive and spirit of the Sanhedrin in making this accusation? To begin with, the Pharisees expected a political Messiah, who would set up a world empire and drive out the Romans. Later, as already noted, they rallied around Bar-Cochba in this very attempt. They did not consider it a heresy or a crime for the Messiah to claim to be a political king. Besides, they knew very well that Jesus did not pretend to be a political Messiah or an earthly king as a rival to Caesar's rule. What Jesus had explained to Pilate was precisely what the Pharisees knew that Jesus taught about Himself. Indeed, it was the very refusal of Jesus to be a political Messiah of the Pharisaic type, and to lead in a revolt against the Romans, that angered them most of all. In their desperation, therefore, the Pharisees twist the words of Jesus about being 'Christ a king' (King Messiah) into meaning precisely the opposite of what they knew to be the truth. At first they leave Pilate to place his own construction on the words, knowing that, of course, he would take them in a political sense. But at last, in spite of all their chicanery, Pilate saw through their envy (Matt 27:18) and, impressed afresh by the personality of Jesus, was about to release Him even after having given formal consent to the crucifixion, because the Sanhedrin had in their moment of triumph tried to give a salve to the conscience of Pilate by explaining that by 'Messiah a king' Jesus 'made himself the Son of God' (John 19:6-12). Thus the Sanhedrin had robbed the charge of its political colour and really had no case in Pilate's court, for he had no jurisdiction over ecclesiastical and theological disputes. True, Caesar did receive divine worship as god, but Pilate was not disposed to champion that aspect of the matter, or to treat Jesus as a divine rival to Tiberius. The Jews were quick to see that they had made a terrible blunder, and sought to retrieve it by repeating the political charge with a direct threat to Pilate: 'If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend: every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar' (John 19:12). This was an appeal to Pilate's fears. The Sanhedrin knew that Pilate knew of his misrule, and that they would be able to make many charges against him. Pilate was more afraid of Tiberius than he was of Jesus. It mattered little that the charge against Jesus was untrue. Jesus had confessed to the use of the term 'King,' and Tiberius would not overlook Pilate's negligence on that subject. In order to carry their point the Sanhedrin actually posed as the special champions of Caesar against Pilate, who was trying to shield the usurper Jesus. 'We have no king but Caesar' (John 19:15), the chief priests (Sadducees) answered this time, but the Pharisees let it pass. The Sadducees had already given up the Messianic hope, and had made peace with the world as it was. So now at the end of the day the Sadducees proclaim the abnegation of the Messianic hope and the Pharisees make no protest, so eager are they to put Jesus to death. 'They first rejected Jesus as the Christ, and then, driven by the irony of circumstances, they rejected the Christ altogether' (Westcott, John in loco). Jewish hate against Jesus had won. And yet the victory was worse than any defeat that the Jews ever had. It was indeed 'The Hebrew Tragedy' (Conder). Jesus came unto His own home-land (eis ta idia) and His own people (hoi idioi) received Him not. The legend of the Wandering Jew tells the sad story of the ceaseless round of this strange and wonderful race whose glory is that Jesus was a Jew, and for whom together with the Roman soldiers Jesus prayed as He hung upon the cross: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34).


This book has been edited.
Copyright © 2011 JCR
All research and online books are
original to this site unless otherwise noted.