Who were the Pharisees really?
April 5, 2023
church hymns, praise and worship, hymnal, songwriter
Our rich inheritance: a plea to keep the “old” hymns
June 17, 2023
Pharisees, Lawlessness, Trial of Jesus

Have you heard It taught that legalism was the chief fault of the Pharisees? Is this the reason they missed the Son of God in their midst?



Legalism is defined by the dictionary as


Excessive adherence to law or formula.

“this petty legalism encouraged more to flee”


dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.

“stress obedience apart from faith and you produce legalism”

But was this really the heart of the matter concerning this religious sect that opposed Jesus?


In my previous post, I listed 23 characteristics of the Pharisees spelled out in the Gospels. Their true nature, collectively, was manipulative, vicious, authoritarian, and outright murderous.  Jesus called them “children of [their] father, the devil.”


For this reason, we should exercise caution before labeling fellow believers who disagree with our position, “Pharisees.”    For while there are preachers and teachers with whom we would disagree, even strongly on particulars,  if they profess Jesus Christ as the only way to God and have refused to call sin “holy,” are they not joints heirs;? To dub them Pharisees is to accuse them of a fundamentally antichrist nature.


Moreover, I believe when we go after our brothers and sisters with accusations, we miss the true villains, those spiritual authorities in high places, who conduct their evil through flesh and blood human beings in this present age.



The common notion of the pharisees as legalistic is challenged by the scriptures themselves.  Consider,



* Jesus told them, “you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28).

* Stephen called them out for receiving the law ordained by angels but failing to keep it (Acts 7:53)

* Jesus also rebuked them for neglecting the most important matters of the law while only keeping what didn’t cost (Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” – Mathew 23:23)

*Similarly, Ellicott expounds on Luke 11:52 saying, “The ‘woe’ in this case is uttered against those who were, by their very calling, the professed interpreters of the Law. Its form rests on the fact that each scribe or ‘doctor of the law,’ in the full sense of the term, was symbolically admitted to his office by the delivery of a key. His work was to enter with that key into the treasure-chambers of the house of the interpreter, and to bring forth thence “things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). The sin of the ‘lawyers’ of that time, the ‘divines’ as we should call them, was that they claimed a monopoly of the power to interpret, and yet did not exercise the power.

Moreover, inYeshua, the Life of Jesus from a Jewish Perspective, Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes that the Pharisees and Sanhedrin broke 22 of their own laws in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and sentencing.



Lawlessness, not legalism, stands out as the chief sin of the pharisees. Legal matters were only invoked so far as It suited their narrative in the moment.  They had their own two-tiered justice system: one for their opposition and one for themselves.


It is important to understand too that lawlessness is worse than simply breaking the law


At their zenith, the Pharisees revealed who they really were in the mob rule chant calling for the release of a convicted murderer in preference to someone who they couldn’t prove had done anything wrong, but had instead threatened their political structure.  And when they said “we have no king but Caesar” they despised their Abrahamic covenant and showed that they preferred the slavery of Roman rule, if it meant they might keep their own hierarchy intact within it.



The devil is a legalist?


In the same manner, it has become common today to hear the phrase “the devil is a legalist.”  The father of lies is a legalist in the same way that the pharaoh sees were legalists:  The law mattered only when it suited their agenda.  If they might use it as a snare for their opponent and to pervert justice, they will not cease to bring up God’s law. Apart from this, the devil and his offspring operate entirely outside the bounds of the laws of God.  (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the devil is a trial lawyer?).


Why Paul?


Had the pharisees really been legalists, diligently studying the law, they may have indeed seen Moses as a type of Christ, and the entire Passover celebration as a foreshadowing of His appearing.  They may have also connected the dots of so many prophecies He fulfilled.


Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, stands out as a pharisee who truly was committed to his disciplines: he was legalistic and yes, he carried out his convictions with the commitment of a terrorist. Yet of all the bad apples listed in the accounts of the Pharisees,  Saul went on to become Paul, zealous for the Lord and repentant of where he’d missed it – to the point that he gave his life to the gospel of Jesus Christ and saw himself as chief among sinners. Why?


Why Paul and not most of the other pharisees?


Paul himself testified under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that it is God who decides who has their eyes opened. And yet we also know He desires that none should perish. It appears that despite Saul’s gross shortcomings and even Violence toward the early church, there was something in his spirit that truly desired God and was zealous for adherence to truth. One infers that he was not a Pharisee purely for political power and to exploit his position to rule others, but truly had a passion for God’s law (Philippians 3:5).


 What does it matter?


It is critical that we see things for what they are: spiritual entities and how they play out in the battlefield of the human experience. No longer must we content ourselves to live as medieval peasants, relying on clergy for knowledge of God and revelation of the scriptures, when we have full access to The Bible, to the original Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and we enjoy the liberty to study them.


This is particularly true because of the lateness of the hour and the end of the age coming to a close. Deception is rampant.  Most of us have been propagandized for years in government schools, through godless television programming and the arts, through a corporately controlled monolithic media, and even recently through a corrupt medical system that works in tandem with powerful financial interests.  We should be more enlightened than any other generation, not because of our opportunities only, but because we have a full history to learn from of authoritarian, anti-Christ governments and movements that murdered millions of people.


And yet, many are content to look the other way in the face of this unprecedented existential threat and point fingers and echo the same rhetoric the puppets masters have conditioned us to believe.


It ought not be.  Let us study the word of God intently, test narratives against scripture, and pray that we not miss heaven like the Pharisees.



Emily Tomko
Emily Tomko
Emily writes with fierce compassion and a deep desire to see people freed from the miry clay of this world and walking in the truth. Emily is available to minister at women’s retreats and youth functions, college fellowships, and business women meetings.


  1. Gregory Booker says:

    The religious zeal of the Pharisees is quite apparent. Determined to do the right thing in the eyes of the people. They constantly produced controversies and contradictions to their religious practices.Nicodemus saw this and called his one council being lawless or a kinder word would be forming illegal charges with self righteous opinions. This indeed becomes the sin of sins that put Jesus on the cross being falsely accused by it. Fear of Jesus of being a threat to their Jewish traditions and practices they caved in to the devilish scheme to defeat him or so they thought they defeated him. Jesus response to their fear was simple, accurate and very powerful to this day. Our nature of self preservation is on trial. God is simply showing us what we already are.

    Jesus stated in Matt 15:1-7 Then the Pharisees ask Jesus” Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? And Jesus replied “why do you trangress the commandment of God because of your traditions?” Then he declares in vs 6 “you have made the word of God of no effect by your tradition! This to me is the root cause of falling away from God’s Word. Tradition of itself is not a bad thing. However, it can get in the way of the Word and its intention and power to see Gods perspective. I see this even in our generation within christianity traditions and practices overwhelming love, compassion and even truth by God. The danger of God word being of none effect leads head on into self righteous behavior and thinking we do God a favor by our reasoning. When we are dead wrong as the Pharisees was. Israel is our example but I dont think we are learning righteousness true aspects as God has warned about. Preferring a sense of christian pride that sounds good but must “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added.: Matt 6:31-34

  2. Gregory Booker says:

    Your article was right on point and is a subject that certainly needs more comments from the pulpit. I believe the keyword is “righteousness”which is often pronounced in sermons but seldom if ever explained to it fullest. And you did just that. The gospel refers to righteousness as meat as opposed to milk which many prefer over and over again. Ultimately can we say it is the creation threathened by the creator, to the point of persecuting him in his flesh and yet the creator wins and so we have His grace! It is no wonder the book of Revelation is there to show the final result upon Christ return. The foreknowledge of God will once again be on display but this time Christ will prove a greater point. First the Jew now the Gentiles! We tend to forget our side of the equation in their unbelief even on American soil.

  3. Gregory says:

    There is a reason that we have before us the words by the Spirit in Romans 11:25 ” that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come.” Who knows when that will occur. However, the words are there to remind us reality ( God demonstrated) exceeds our theology (man’s legalistics habits and traditions). Isn’t that what Saul of Tarsus saw on the road to Damascus? What are we seeing on our road?

    • Emily Tomko says:

      Yes, that verse in Romans has been on my mind a lot lately. Thanks for your thoughts, Greg, especially: “reality (God demonstrated) exceeds our theology (man’s legalistic habits and traditions”) – profound!

  4. I have received your book and will give it a read, soon. I am finding how cerain theological concepts based on 1st and 2nd century scholars as well as church founders in America especially pre 1948 who based there thinking on the belief that Israel would never return. Do many now, have difficulty understanding the new wine that God is pouring now that Israel is literally back exactly where ancient Jerusalem is located. There is much wisdom from the Word of God on this reality. First and foremost it allows the words of Jesus to be realized in a literal way magnifying his reality against all those who choose unbelief. In Romans Ch 11:28 it is written “For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness. And the Lord will make a short work upon the earth. Is the work finished? Was it finished during the seize of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Romans? Some may think so but I don’t think so. Tha is unbelief on both sides of the table. Gentiles are warned not to be jealous, envious, conceited, or boastful. Yet the issue in this powerful chapter offers salvation by grace to a nation call Israel that has not happened yet. Is our religious position blinding us to the point of blindness by the self righteousness among the Gentiles? Could the foreknowledge of God be at work before us as his second coming nears as it was in the Jews blindness with Jesus first coming? Is righteousness a form of fairness or equality of trial and in its most simplest action means first the Jew now the gentiles of all the nations to be tested as Israel was? Legalism is a form of self righteousness will be the fuel for their is plenty of unbelief sad to say in many churches and let us not forget those who are never to be found in the churches! Is this prophecy in our day?

    • Emily Tomko says:

      Hi Gregory, thanks for commenting and also for taking a look at my book. The timing of your thoughts is especially interesting in light of what has just happened over the last couple of days in Israel. We talked this morning in our family devotions about Romans 9-11 and how a rose bush or apple tree can be grafted in to another, and what this means for the gentiles. Many blessings!

  5. Hello Emily, thanks for your words of encouragement. Romans 9-11 is what seems like a forgotten or ignored section of scripture. But I am called to examine it. For God Word lives! Ch 11 is aka ” OliveTree” Parable which does illustrate the grafting of plants. Calling out the critical Root and then due to attaching other plant growth you get stronger branches from the growth of the better root. But there is far more in ch 11 than just planting. The theological name given sums it up as a parable. However, it never calls itself that instead in verse 11:27. The Spirit tells Paul about how God can cut off the branches ( falling away church) and restore the Root and in this case it is Israel rebirth in 1948. But notice what God calls this illustration… 27 “This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins. Its a covenant is the key point! This is in direct conflict with a false theology by calling it a parable. The reality is clear to me for it is time for our eyes to be opened. The Middle East is not just about Arabs or Islam but it is about unbelief on every soil, even America. For the whole earth is the Lord and before the Kingdom comes down Israel must be redeemed. Romans CH11 is very prophetic, for it explains to Paul and to us all God’s dispensational exercising His will and how His grace will save Israel as the enemies mount at the appointed time. God Himself is before men as Jesus prepares for the Battle of Armageddon. What a mighty God we serve!

  6. Gregg says:

    Please delete the post above since I could not edit it.

    Many gentiles forget how we became adopted into the promises of the kingdom of God. Did we receive it by Grace or by our works/goodness? We received it by grace by the error of Christ crucifixion by the Jews. Such grace will return to Israel due to gentiles error in judgement as well and as warned. Salvation is for those that repent and accept the offer of forgiveness of our sins. “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and (then) you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38 Our world today have many gentiles of all persusaion and many refuse the offer and opportunity believe it. Acts 3 speaks about the “times of restoration”. Romans CH 11 indicates the very same grace under a “covenant” that has been buried by time, selfishness, fingerpointing and poor theological thinking on the subject of rregafting the original root. Perhaps, it took the return of Israel to consider the question in order to receive an answer from God. Gentiles have never had the test of Gods Word working before them like the Jews had with Jesus. But we do now with Israel rebirth in 1948, after 2000 years of absence as a nation. We’ve head the true words, there is no difference between Jew or Gentile for salvation. But there is a difference when it comes to redemption….still and it may be based on the unbelief of a world of gentiles! And there can be no exception for what is fair and right by God as ithis would reflect the very essence of His righteousness and I try as I may could not refuse it. Zion the Deliverer is Christ and He will deliver the Church as God prepares to demonstrate the moment of reality. First the Jew now the Gentile in all fairness. This is the other side of the coin just flip it and tell me what you see?

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