BEWARE OF THE LEAVEN!

Stanley L. Morris

ne time when Jesus and his followers were crossing Lake Galilee, Jesus made a comment which seemed strange to them: "Beware of the LEAVEN of the Pharisees and the Sadducees!" (Mat. 16:6). [1] Why did he say that? The disciples wondered what he meant. They knew what yeast was (leaven = influence), and what its religious connotations were, [2] but they misunderstood by taking the word literally. [3] So, Jesus used this situation as another opportunity to teach them a good object lesson. Jesus quickly corrected their misconception (Matt. 16:8-10), but he continued to ask: "Why could you not understand what I was saying to you? When I said, 'Watch out for the YEAST of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, I was NOT talking about bread." Then they understood that Jesus was not wanting them to stay away from yeast used for bread. Instead, he wanted them to stay away from the TEACHING of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (SEB, Matt. 16:11,12). Well, what were the Pharisees and Sadducees teaching that was so bad? What was so wrong with them?

Recently, after gathering more than 17 pages full of references with my computer, looking for every occurrence of "Pharisee(s)," "Sadducees," "herodians," "chief priest(s)," "scribes," "teachers (experts) of the law," "elders, "high priest," "Sanhedrin," "the council," "the, senate," "rulers," "synagogue ruler," etc., I was quite struck by an astounding fact a majority of the New Testament would NOT have been written the way it is had it not been for the Pharisees and other religious "leaders". Almost everything that Jesus said and did was some form of confrontation with the Pharisees, If you want to understand Jesus, you'd better understand the religious beliefs of the Pharisees! In some ways, we ought to thank them all for the problems they caused.

The pitched battle between Jesus and the Pharisees (in particular) is woven throughout almost every page of the four gospels. And, their indirect influence continues throughout the Book of Acts and on into many of the epistles. The question is: WHY were the most scathing words of Jesus reserved for the Pharisees and their Biblical scholars (cf. Matt. 23:1-36)? What can we LEARN from that? Only when you see what THEY did can you grasp what JESUS came to do (cf. Matt. 5:20).

THE RIGHT TIME

Jesus came into our world "at the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). Universally speaking, at the moment of Jesus' birth, everything dove-tailed in human history. There was a unified Hellenistic culture, a single language for commerce (Koine Greek), a stable political system controlled by the pragmatic Romans, a fine highway network, etc. Also a highly-developed religious system existed in Palestine (which had originally come from God). However, this Jewish hierarchy had been transformed by Satan into a very powerful religious machine (Pharisaism) which was poised to kill Jesus. In a sense, Jesus could not be born until the Pharisees and others like them had reached their zenith (Gal. 4:4). Deity incarnate had come to earth to confront incarnate institutional religion head-on! And, they could NOT coexist. The stage was set.

In order to better understand the clash described in the gospels, one needs to comprehend something of the historical setting behind the times: The Jewish nation collapsed around 600 B.C. and most were deported to Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar because they had turned away from the living God to idols and forsaken God's covenant. When this happened, and with the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, Israel ceased to be an independent nation and became a minor territory in a succession of larger empires.

Years later, they returned to their true roots by re-reading the Law of Moses (the Pentateuch, the Torah), the Prophets, and the Writings. They had neglected "Bible" reading too long. Gradually, as a people, they began to learn their lesson as to WHY they.had been delivered by God into captivity. They turned back to God.

Perhaps one of the best-known leaders of this "restoration movement" was Ezra, the "ready scribe (Ezra 7:6). He was one of the first ones to encourage the people to study Scripture. (They had not done much of that before this time.)

Then, under the benign policy of Cyrus the Persian, comes the time of the return to Jerusalem. A few thousand Jews were permitted and encouraged to return to re-populate their native land. They carried the precious scrolls of the laws of God with them. They now WANTED to live by these precepts. Every command MUST be obeyed. No doubt they exclaimed, "Never again will we worship idols!" Their religious zeal was once again intact. And so they came.

THE FIRST PHARISEES

Led first by Zerubbabel and later by Ezra, these people of God were very careful this time to separate themselves from the heathen tribes which surrounded them in Palestine. But, after a time things began to get lax again. Some of the enthusiasm died down. Therefore, within Israel, a group arose which was called "the Chasidim.' Loosely translated this means "the saints" (Ps. 116:15).They were like a holy club that was totally committed and devoted to the true God. They are mentioned in Malachi (3:16), "Those who revered Yahweh spoke to each other". These people had NOT yielded to doubts and cynicism, in the face of widespread complaints against God (vv. 14, 15). Instead, they sought mutual encouragement in fellowship and the Scriptures. Doubtless, a member of that post-exilic group wrote the very famous, acrostic, longest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 119) as a model of true piety.. They loved the Word of God. They believed that God inspired every word of it.

The 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament was one of ferment and change. This is known as the Intertestamental Period. Sometimes this time is called "the silent years", but they were anything but silent. The events, literature, and social forces would shape the entire world of the New Testament.

In the third century B.C., after Alexander the Great had conquered much of the world, the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria and Mesopotamia battled for control of Palestine for over a century. Hellenistic culture and Greek philosophy attacked the "old paths" of Judaism. Jewish people were told: "All that stuff about your 'Bible' is old-fashioned. Get with it. Be modern. Think Greek!" The Chasidim stood firmly against those incursions.

In 168 B.C., a Greek, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes (resembling Haman, a Hitler-like figure bent on genocide) attempted to exterminate Judaism altogether. He tried to destroy all copies of the Torah and required the Jews to offer sacrifices to the Greek god Zeus. He summarily sacrificed a pig on the altar of the Temple itself to show his utter contempt! This touched off the Maccabbean Wars (166-142 B.C.). The outraged Chasidim were in the forefront of the opposition. They were persecuted and martyred for their faith.

After the Jews won their independence for a few years some of the Chasidim began to get involved in theocratic politics. And, in 135 B.C., there was a major ideological split within the Chasidim ranks. Most went further off into secular Jewish politics, but the minority re-dedicated themselves that they would NEVER depart from the Word of God again. THEY would be God's true people! These patriots were nicknamed "Pharisees" (They never called themselves that!). We should be fair to them. The word today has come to be synonymous with "hypocrite." That is very unfortunate, because originally, as we have just seen in their early history, it referred to men of deep sincerity and great faith. The term "Pharisees" means "the separatists" (from the Hebrew word parash, "to separate"), a tag not unlike our "Campbellites".

They became the most honored, loved people in all Israel. They were held in awe. People said things like this: "If ever there was a saint, it's one of those people!" "Look, there goes a true man of God!" "If I could just walk with Yahweh, I'd be like a Pharisee!" "Surely the Pharisees are the closest ones to God?" The common people were led to believe that it was impossible to rise higher (in piety) than the Pharisees. They were considered to be the epitome of righteousness! The more complex the rules of the Pharisees became, the more the people admired them. Just think of it: How could they keep so many "righteous" rules? What a feat!

Gradually, the Pharisees came to think of themselves as spiritually superior to others, in fact, better than all those who were NOT in their closed group. In Luke 10:25-37, the Story of the Good Samaritan, the question was asked, "But... who IS my neighbor?" Jesus went on to define the term as "fellow-man," but the Pharisees did NOT consider anyone outside their association to be a "neighbor." They required up to one year's probation to seek membership, as well as much hard study before the candidate made his final vow to them.

Over time, they became more and more fanatical, observing every minute detail of the Law of God (as THEY saw it, Matt. 9:14; 23:15, 23; Luke 11:39; 18:12), all the while looking down their noses at anyone who did NOT conform to their "official," narrow interpretations. They memorized everything; they LOVED to "obey." However, it was beginning to get dangerous: They saw themselves as the ONLY true people of God - God's last hope on this earth -and they thought all others were phonies!

Though most Pharisees were just businessmen, every rabbi and all synagogues were strongly influenced by them. Each family in Israel knew of their presence. You couldn't miss them. THEY made sure of that; that was part of it. They dressed themselves in distinctive blue robes with extra-long tassels (Num. 15:38-40) on their prayer shawls. And, they had little leather boxes filled with Scripture verses (phylacteries, Matt. 23:5) tied to their foreheads and wrapped seven times around their forearms. They shuffled along in a special, holy walk. At the prescribed time of prayer, if they happened to be crossing a road, they would suddenly stop and have their "hour of prayer," while all the traffic backed up behind them. How could you miss that? What show-offs! Nevertheless, they were considered to be national heroes, because, in their past history, as THE resistance movement, they had suffered martyrdom.

WHEN JESUS APPEARED

So, by the time Jesus of Nazareth was born, the religious world was a boiling cauldron of suppressed, discontented Jewish "leaders" vying for as much political power as they could get.

The Pharisees were not the only Jewish "denomination" of Jesus' day. Though the word "Sadducees" occurs only 15 times in the New Testament, they were also a very potent force. The origins of this Jewish sect cannot be traced with certainty. They seemed to have been a loose confederation of wealthy, powerful men who adopted a pragmatic, secular, political position, rather than a purely religious ideology. They believed in a temple-centered religion, not the Pharisees' law-centered way of life. Their influence predominated until the end of Alexander Janneus' reign (76 B.C.), but, under Queen Alexandra (76-67 B.C.) the Sadducees lost their power and their numbers were greatly reduced. They did not fare well under Herrod the Great (37-4 B.C.). However, after direct Roman rule was imposed (6-66 A.D.), the Sadducees regained considerable power and prestige. But, after 70 A.D., the Romans had no use for them, a failed priestly aristocracy. And, the Sadducees faded into oblivion after that time.

The Sadducees consistently pushed for a strict and narrow application of the Law, unlike the Pharisees. They did NOT believe in the notion of a resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33), any rewards or punishments after death, or angels and spirits (Acts 23:7-10). They were the "deists" and "skeptics" of their day. They rejected all Jewish observances which were not explicitly taught in the five books of Moses. They must have seen Jesus as a very disturbing, destabilizing force in the delicate balance between their limited Jewish freedom and totalitarian Roman rule. They had nothing but contempt for Jesus' plea for repentance.

Though not mentioned in the Bible, the Essenes were the third major Jewish group which was contemporary with Christ. Like the Pharisees, they too had an overwhelming concern for ritual purity. The Essenes were merely one of several purity-conscious groups that flourished in Judaism before 70 A.D. Recent materials gathered from the caves which contained the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed some new light about the Essenes.

One thing is clear asceticism was a central trait of theirs. Many Essenes were devoted to the celibate ideal, though Josephus mentions one group who practiced marriage. Essenes avoided any article that would be considered a luxury (such as oil), and they avoided any unnecessary social or economic contacts with non-Essenes. Their highly-regimented life centered around prayer, rigorous work, frequent ceremonial bathings, and the study of the Scriptures. Essene life was also communal. Many if not all of their meals were taken together.

Josephus says that they believed in the immortality of the soul, a doctrine of pre-existence, and predestination. (Most of this has been corroborated by Qumran data.) Thoroughly eschatological in outlook, they thought of themselves as the true remnant of Israel living in the last days. They eagerly awaited the appearance of both a political messiah and an eschatological high priest. No doubt some early Christians were drawn from Essene ranks.

Concerning the Zealots [5] Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37) had rebelled as early as 6 A.D., and other revolutionaries like him were bitterly antagonistic toward the Romans, nursing the fires for revolt. In 66 A.D. the Jewish War began, first in Galilee, moving toward the south. Josephus was captured in the northern campaign and was later recruited by the Romans to record the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

THE JEWISH HIERARCHY

It is alleged that there were 83 high priests from the time of Aaron until Phannias (in 70 A.D.). Once hereditary (Num. 3:10) and an office held for life (1 Kings 2:27), the high priesthood had degenerated by the time of Jesus to little more than political appointments by the Romans on a temporary basis. Old Annas had been high priest from 7 A.D. to 14 A.D., and was deposed for several years, but he had managed to get five of his sons to be appointed as high priests, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was appointed in 24 A.D.

The Sanhedrin (a name first used by Josephus) was the Supreme Council of the nation of Israel. It had subordinate tribunals (see Matt. 5:21, 22) in the cities of Palestine (Matt. 10:17; Mark 13:9). The high priest was president of the Sanhedrin. It was also called "the Senate" (gerousia), "a counsel of elders". (This is the closest thing I can find to our term "eldership" today. Is this what we've "restored"? I wonder.)

In it there were three classes of men: (1) the chief priests (the heads of the 24 priestly courses (1 Chr. 24); (2) the scribes, teachers of the law, experts, and lawyers: (originally simply men of letters, students of Scripture who were skilled in the Mosaic Law, more jurists than theologians. They sought to evade some of their own precepts (Matt. 23:16ff; Luke 11:46, 52). Gamaliel, a doctor, was also a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34). Like Ezra, they were originally found from among the priests and Levites. (3) the elders, who were originally associated with Moses and conveyed the Word of God to the people (Ex. 3:16; 4:29; 17:5; 18:12; 19:7, 17; 24:1,11;Num. 11:16), and they represented the people in the presence of God (Ex. 17:5; 24:1; Num. 11:16). In the Promised Land the elders administered local government (Judg. 8:14; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:2), and had a hand in national affairs (1 Sam. 4:3), even after the monarchy (1 Sam. 8:4; 30:26; 2 Sam. 3:17; 5:3; 1 Kings 21:8). During the Babylonian Exile, they achieved new prominence (Jer. 29:1 ; Ezek. 7:1 ; 14:1 ; 20:1 ), and, after the return to Palestine were associated with both the governor (Ezra 5:9ff; 6:7 and with local administration (Ezra 10:14). They derived their authority and status by reason of their age and experience. It was during the Maccabean period that the title "elders of Israel" was used of the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was regarded (mistakenly) as having been set up by Moses in his appointment of the 70 elders (Num. 11:16ff). At the local level, a community of 120 or more people could appoint seven elders (The Mish-nah, Sanhedrin 1:6).

The Sanhedrin, as the highest court of Judaism, reigning supreme over everything ecclesiastical or civil (e.g. the beating of the apostles in Acts 5:40), could issue decrees which were binding upon ALL Jews, those in Palestine and outside the country. The Sanhedrin members usually met within the precincts of the Temple, in the Gazith hall, but also at the house of the high priest (Matt. 26:3)

JESUS AND THE PHARISEES

The Pharisees were not so much a sect as they were THE dominant party within Judaism in Jesus' day, especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. And, with respect to the cause of the Jewish War (66-73 A.D.), the Pharisees had been politically divided over the whole issue of Roman rule. While some were violently opposed to it and tried to forestall what turned out to be the inevitable, others wanted to revolt and did so. One of the apostles, Simon, was drawn from that persuasion (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). The Roman siege of Masada was the end of an era.

Though there were only about 6,000 Pharisees at the time of Jesus, they commanded the loyalty of the masses. Their distinguishing characteristics were their meticulous observance of their own laws of ceremonial purity and tithing. They were strongly committed to their traditional elaborations of the Law of Moses which made daily application possible. Moreover, they believed in the existence of spirits and angels (Acts 23:7-10), the resurrection, and the coming of a Messiah (but not the Jesus variety!). The vast majority of the Biblical scribes and lawyers espoused the Pharisaic ideology. They virtually formed one party with the Pharisees (Luke 5:21 ). They saw themselves as the guardians of the Law of Moses and the true interpreters of it.

This is the way each Pharisee thought: "Since I am going to observe the Law of God, how do I go about doing this EXACTLY." This is why they brought in the concept of theological "fences", i.e. THEIR rules and regulations to prevent people from even getting close to breaking the Law of God. They had more than 600 of these "PRE-laws"! They were not interested in KEEPING the Law as much as they concentrated on casuistry how NOT TO BREAK the Law, i.e. how to get around approaching it. After a while, they got so taken up with their man-made traditional interpretations that they forgot what the real commands of God were. And they failed to see any difference between their "fences" and the Word of God itself! It was becoming very complicated for ordinary Jewish folks. (Sound familiar? Are we "fence" builders? Do we spend all our time tending "fences"?)

They felt obligated to manipulate people (of course, they thought it was best for everyone concerned) by keeping them AWAY FROM the Law of God. In other words, the "laity" was not allowed to get close enough to the Law to break it. For example, one of the Ten Commandments of God was to keep the Sabbath day holy (Ex. 20:8-11 ). Actually, in the beginning, the people of God understood this command without difficulty because it was simple stay home with your family and teach them God's ways. It was supposed to be a fun time, but the killjoy Pharisees moved in with hundreds of their own arbitrary "laws" and dumped them upon the people. What a guilt trip!

This is the way they reasoned: "What would be considered to be 'WORKING on the Sabbath day'?" Example: plowing. Well, what is the definition of 'plowing'? Answer: making a furrow. Therefore, if you were to drag a chair across the dirt floor of your home on the Sabbath day, you would be dividing the dust you have PLOWED! So, you "WORKED" on the Sabbath day and, thus, broken the Law." This is one of the "fences" that the Pharisees erected to PROTECT the Law of God. Another example: women were not allowed to look into a mirror on the Sabbath day because they might be tempted to pluck a grey hair, which would be "work" and, thus, violate the Sabbath. And so on and so on.

Some Pharisees were friendly toward Jesus. They warned Jesus of a plot against his life (Luke 13:31 ). In spite of their strict dietary "laws," they invited him to their meals (Luke 7:36-50; 14:1 ). Some of them even believed in him (John 3:1;7:45-53; 9:13-38).

However, on the whole, Jesus was perceived by them to be a serious liability and/or political threat. He was certainly considered to be a dangerous rival and a "false" teacher. He openly ridiculed their so-called "laws" about ceremonial cleansing, tithing, and Sabbath-keeping as obligatory marks of piety(Matt. 12:2, 12-14; 15:1-12; Mark 2:16; Luke 11:39-42). They sought to destroy Jesus' influence among the people by any means possible, even execution.

On several occasions, Jesus unashamedly baited them. He went out of his way to "break" their "sacred laws" to upset them. He liked doing that. He openly scoffed at their "fences" (more about this later).

You wouldn't believe how many of the "laws" of the Pharisees that Jesus "broke" when, on a Sabbath day, he walked through a field with his disciples, rubbed a few heads of grain in his hand, and ate it (Mark 2:23-28). They pounced on him because of it. They called it "harvesting" and "grinding". Don't you think that Jesus KNEW they were watching him? Let them see! So what? Who cares if it offends them (cf. Luke 11:45)?

I'm sure the Pharisees meant well. They would say: "You never know where that might lead to. Oh, we know our tradition is not in the Scriptures PER SE, but shouldn't you play it safe? If you don't heed us, then it could lead to this, and this would lead to that, etc., and then you will have broken God's command!" So, they put up so many fences that, theoretically speaking, the people would never be tempted to disobey God.

FULFILLING THE LAW?

There were two radically different views of "fulfilling the Law" (Matt. 5:17) that of the Pharisees and that of Jesus:

(1) The Pharisee interpreted "fulfilling the Law" as complying with every detail by rigid obedience, showing by his actions that he was WORTHY to be one of God's chosen ones. The Pharisees had missed the whole point! What truly shaped Israel into the people of God was the presence of God Himself. He had revealed Himself to them time and time again. He entered into an intimate covenant relationship with them. One of the items which God gave them was His Law, but the main issue was the revelation of Himself. These Pharisees cut up the Law of Moses in such a way that God (the Person) didn't matter anymore. God's covenant didn't matter anymore. God's instructions didn't matter anymore. To them, the ONLY thing that mattered was THEIR codified, twisted interpretation of the Law of Moses. It was a form of self-worship, the ultimate idolatry.

(2) When Jesus said, "1 have come to fulfill the Law," he didn't mean what the Pharisees meant at all. No, he wanted to go past the external commands and get to the HEART of the matter (murder/hate; adultery/lust; ostentatious vows/no vows; stealing/greed, etc. Matt. 5:21-47). What was God's INTENT behind His law? What was God really saying? Jesus focused on the MOTIVE in the human heart. And, when your heart is filled with the love of God, it's amazing how everything else evens out.

There is a big difference between the wrapping paper and the chocolate piece inside. The Pharisees were throwing away the candy and keeping only the wrapper! What's underneath the commands of God? It can be summed up in one word LOVE (agape). Love, the royal command, is the FULFILLMENT of the Law (James 2:8; cf, Rom. 13:9, 10; Gal. 5:14). According to Jesus (Matt. 22:34-40), the entire Old Testament hung upon loving God (Deut. 6:5) and loving one's fellow man (Lev. 19:18). Love transforms one's entire life-orientation. That's the ESSENCE of the whole thing. Love, love, love--that was the whole message of Jesus!

Jesus said, "You are tired and have heavy loads. If all of you will come to me, I will give you REST." (SEB, Matt. 11:28). Jesus was offering the people RELIEF from the yoke of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus continued, "The duty I give you is EASY. The load I put upon you is NOT HEAVY." (SEB, Matt. 11:30) The Pharisees and Sadducees called everything "WORK", but Jesus' way was a VACATION from all that drudgery. People today, even as they were then, are sick and tired of contrived, dead religion! It's such a drag to constantly keep up with all those so-called divine rules and regulations. "Professional Christians" (the clergy) have turned the joy of being a simple Christian into a heavy burden. To listen to them, you can NEVER really please God. People almost wish they'd never known God! Some even give up in despair. You can't legislate righteousness. And, legalism debilitates and eventually paralyzes.

Jesus came and the winds of his love blew all that away. He was like a refreshing breeze; a welcome change to the suffocating rules of the Pharisees. Did you know that Jesus NEVER called anyone a "sinner"? The Pharisees did, but not Jesus. He referred to them as "lost" sheep, coin, boys (Luke 15). True righteousness springs from within, where Christ lives (Rom. 8:9-11; Gal. 2:20). Jesus promised us, "You will find out the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32). Freedom, not "fences". No fences? That's frightening! Who knows where that could lead to? We've gotta have fences! What would become of us if we don't have fences? Don't worry. Jesus, the very embodiment of love, comes to live inside of you. HE'S THE FENCE (the Supreme Restraint)! But ... but ... but we love our bondage so! We crave some THING (a creed, an institution, a clergy, etc.) to TELL us what to do. We've always got to have somebody sternly warning us: "You can't do that!" (Oh what a relief! Now we've got something to gripe about.) We abdicate our God-given privileges so easily. The risky part is that mature followers of Christ must be governed by an incentive WITHIN, not by rules on the outside. That's responsibility. We've gotta grow up. We'd rather NOT have to make difficult ethical choices. Just give us "canned" truth, truth that is already pre-chewed and pre-digested. We don't even have to study to find out if it's so or not (Acts 17:11), just accept it AS IS from religious "authorities."

The Pharisees had lost God in His Word. [6] Isn't that amazing? They had unwittingly gone back to a form of idolatry again, but, this time, they were worshiping God's BOOK instead of God! It was as if the Law of God had almost become a person that watched over every facet of their individual lives. The Law became THE way to God. If they could just keep it, they would go to God in heaven (see Galatians 2-3). Even today it IS possible to lose God in the Bible.

PHARISEES TODAY

Jesus stepped into the religious arena and ripped off their religious masks, openly exposing them as hypocrites. In effect, he was saying, "1 haven't come to offer this! Instead, I have come to give you ABUNDANT LIFE (John 10:10)!1 am utterly opposed to their ways!" Unless Jesus had said it that specifically, we would have tried to take his "abundant life" and make it operate within OUR religious system! (I know us, and I don't trust us!) Some of us think that way now. There's a lot of Pharisee still left in us.

I'm NOT just picking on a small Jewish sect which existed a long time ago. It's easy to push over a straw man. No, human nature really hasn't changed that much in the last 2,000 years or so. People from culture to culture, and language to language, have the same sort of problems, desires, needs, hopes, and fears, then as well as today.

The point is: PHARISAISM HAS NOT DIED! (It never does. Rule-makers abound. They'll always have the big crowds.) It is still very much alive and with us today. It merely masquerades under a different garb called "institutional religion." Once you begin to understand this fact, you will begin to see the New Testament documents in an entirely different light. Also, down through history, many valiant people since Jesus' time have had to rise up at key moments and challenge the strangle-hold of a given religion-political system (men like Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Soren Kierkegaard, Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, J.W. McGarvey, David Lipscomb, N.B. Hardeman, etc.) Personally, I do NOT agree with everything that these leaders have taught, but one must give credit where credit is due -each one of these men HAD to stand up for God's truth as THEY saw it, against the strongest opposition of the status quo. Like King David, these men did SOME of God's will during their own generation (cf. Acts 13:36).

The Pharisees despised everybody else. That's such an easy trap to fall into. Once you say: "I am the ONLY one who is keeping the Word; I ALONE follow God's true way; I live by the Book!" it's so easy to compare oneself with those who are NOT measuring up to YOUR "godly" standards and relegate them to lower categories, and NEVER to associate yourself with them (eg. John 18:28). Those who did not understand the Torah were "cursed" (John 7:49). The daily morning prayer of the Pharisees was: "1 thank thee, O God, that I am not as other men. I thank thee, O God, I am not a woman. I thank thee, O God, I am not a dog (Gentile?) I AM A MEMBER OF THE ASSOCIATION!" (cf. Luke 18:9-14). They thought they had a monopoly on the truth. Who has studied the Scripture more than we? We have ALL the truth, and it would perish if all of us died! Unless someone is a member of MY church, they CANNOT be saved! And, our "eldership" constitutes the ones who decide who is fit to stay in it!

CONCLUSIONS

Here are five things we should learn from the foregoing:

1. Control is always the key issue (cf. See my article, "EKKLESIOLATRY," in the July, 1990 issue; more properly, perhaps it should have been entitled "CHUR-CHOLATRY," because the main problem is NOT the Greek word ekklesia, but with the English word "church".) Follow only Jesus. Never follow followers.

2. Somehow the proper balance must be maintained between the individual's conscience and the solidarity of the religious group.

3. Don't lose the Word of God (Logos = Jesus Christ) in the Word of God. We are NOT under the rule of a book; we are under the control of the living Christ the Lord Jesus Christ. If you've got ONLY the Book, then you've lost the Word!

4. Never equate your own interpretation of the Bible with the Word of God itself and then try to force that upon other people.

5 When we, as human beings, fail to see what we all have in common, and try to make artificial distinctions, we are guilty of self-righteousness. There's so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, it's not worth mentioning. "Except for the grace of God, there go I!"

BEWARE OF THE INFLUENCE OF INSTITUTIONALISM!

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Mark 8:15 also mentions the followers of Herrod Antipas, a political group of the day.
[2]Ex. 12:15, 19, 20, 34, 39; 13:3, 7; 23:18; 34:25; Lev. 2:11; 6:17; 7:13; 23:17; Deut. 16:3, 4; Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21 ; cf. also 1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:6.
[3]The text says that they had forgotten to bring along some bread, Matt. 16:5. However, Mark 8:14 mentions that they did have one loaf with them.
[4]The name"Essene" never appears anywhere in Qumran literature. Some think they were another religious group (not Essenes), at least not all of them. The history of the Qumran community may not accurately reflect the history of Essenism as a whole.
[5]The equivalent Hebrew and Aramaic term is "Cananean" (Matt. 10:4), which is derived from qana (jealous, i.e. zealous for God's Law). It is not connected with "Canaan", as the King James Version's "Canaanite" implies.
[6]Jesus said that eternal life was NOT to be found merely in the searching (John 5:39). Studiousness is not the essence of the quest.

[I am grateful to M. Smith for much of this material.]