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Why Pharisees Were Pharisaical

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and [piously] said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’"1

The Pharisees or religious leaders of Jesus day were notorious for their rigid, legalistic, and authoritarian demeanor and attitude. Many of their rules were man-made and kept people in hopeless bondage. In essence they loved their rules more than they loved people and used them as a means to control people. In the case where they brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they were using her and their incredibly devious use of rules in an attempt to catch Jesus so they could have him condemned and killed because they were intensely jealous and extremely critical of him. Jesus, of course, brilliantly caught them in their own trap and exposed them for what they truly were by agreeing with them and saying, “[However] let the one who has never sinned be the one to cast the first stone!” The result? One by one they vanished from the scene.

So why were the Pharisees so legalistic and rigid? What made them this way? People who are theologically or religiously rigid are like this because they are emotionally rigid. Their pious religiosity has nothing to do with spirituality. In fact it is a defense against genuine spiritually. They are very much into denial about their true emotions and inner self. They are afraid of knowing themselves and for being known for whom they truly are, so they hide their true self behind an outer mask of super-spirituality, outwardly pretending to be something they are not on the inside. When they do this long enough, they end up unhappily believing that their outer mask is their real self. Consequently, on the inside they die a little every day as an authentic and loving person.

Furthermore, the more rigid, legalistic, authoritarian and self-righteous they are, the more frightened and insecure they are about facing their own reality. They are living a lie and are phony to the core. This is why Jesus condemned them. This is true not only of the religious Pharisees of Christ’s day but also true of rigid, legalistic, and authoritarian people today—be they religious or otherwise. They are blind leaders of the blind. Avoid them like the plague. If you follow their leadership you, too, will die a little every day as an authentic and loving person.

Only honest, genuine, and real people have real authority. Like Jesus, they speak with authority, but are never authoritarian.

Suggested prayer: “Dear God, please confront me with my reality and in so doing help me to become genuine and authentic and never hide behind any kind of false mask. I ask for this so that my manner of life and witness for You will have authority, and so I will readily be able to discern any phony leader be he/she religious or otherwise. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’s name, amen.”

1. John 8:3-5 (NIV).


All articles on this website are written by
Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise stated.