Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Just WHO Were the Pharisees?
Yeshua the Messiah said they "sat in Moses' seat." Yet he also called them "vipers, snakes, fools, and hypocrites." Who were these mysterious people? What authority did they possess? Where did they come from? What was their relationship with the Sadducees and priests? Who really controlled the "Temple" and its functions during the time of the Messiah, and set the dates for the annual holy days of YEHOVAH God? Let us take a candid look at what historical research and scholarship has revealed about the enigmatic Pharisees!
Just who were the "Pharisees," of whom Yeshua the Messiah had so much to say, anyway?
What was their primary function? Where did they come from? What role did they play in the religious life of the average Jew during the time of the Messiah? What affect did they have on the Temple, Temple services, rituals, and ceremonies, and on the annual holy days of YEHOVAH God? What authority or power did they exercise over the sacred calendar which originated with Moses?
Just who were these mysterious people?
Although Yeshua the Messiah often inveighed against their hypocrisy, wickedness, spiritual pride, and love of ostentation, he also declared concerning them: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. SO YOU MUST OBEY THEM AND DO EVERYTHING THEY TELL YOU. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Matt. 23:23, NIV).
This is a very important matter, because the Pharisees, history shows us clearly, observed Passover at the END of Nisan 14, slaying the Passover lamb in the late afternoon of the 14th, and eating the Passover "seder" during the early night of the 15th. They also observed Pentecost on the proper date by counting seven Sabbaths and "fifty days" from the wave sheaf, which they offered on the first day after the first annual Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath -- both of which fell on the SAME day.
"So what?" some may ask "What difference does that make?"
The plain and simple fact is that BOTH the Worldwide Church of God, and Church of God, International, observe what they call "Passover" at the BEGINNING of Nisan 14, virtually a whole 24 hours earlier than the time established by the Pharisees during the time of the Messiah and before. Both of those Churches also observe Pentecost by counting fifty days from a "weekly Sabbath" that is "separate" from the annual High Day instead of the combined annual Sabbath and weekly Sabbath. (The 15th of Nisan is ALWAYS both the first High Day of Unleavened Bread PLUS the weekly Sabbath!) That is, they both ignore the teaching of the Pharisees and follow the Sadducees and ancient Samaritans in reckoning Pentecost from the day after a "detached" weekly Sabbath. Thus they always observe Pentecost the wrong time!
Why do they do this?
According to them, it doesn't matter what the Pharisees did, since the Sadducees controlled the Temple services! The Worldwide Church of God claims, in their booklet Pagan Holidays Or God's Holy Days Which? --
"The Pharisees, who gained complete control of Jewish religious observances shortly after the middle of the first century A.D., figured (incorrectly -- that is, from the wrong starting point) beginning with the day after the first annual Sabbath.
"Before that time, however, the high priests of the family Boethus, who were Sadducees, had been in control of matters concerning the festivals in Jerusalem. The Boethusians always counted beginning with the morrow after the weekly Sabbath, the day we call Saturday, which fell within the days of unleavened bread."
This same booklet continues:
"This practice had been handed down among the priests from generation to generation. And their method of counting was done as long as they remained in control of the Temple and its rituals. Samaritans and Karaites (Jewish sect dating from the eighth century A.D.) have also continued to count from the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week" (page 25).
Who is telling the truth? Yeshua said the Pharisees sat in Moses' seat, or chair of authority, and commanded his followers to do what they said, to "obey them and do everything they tell you" (Mat. 23:3). Yet the Worldwide Church of God, and Church of God, International, claim Yeshua was wrong -- mistaken. Rather, according to them, we are to follow the teachings and practices of the Sadducees, the family of Boethus, and the practices of the paganized Samaritans, who tried to combine the teachings of Moses with their own Babylonian pagan beliefs and practices and calendar. They went so far as to even set up their own rival temple at Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, to worship, and had no dealings at all with the religion of the Jews during the time of the Messiah (see John 4:9). Yeshua said of them, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:21, NIV).
Should we obey the words of YESHUA THE MESSIAH? Or was he somehow mistaken, and should we follow the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God, who admit they follow the teachings of the Sadducees and Samaritans?
Is it true, as they fastidiously claim, that the "Sadducees" were in control of the Temple and its rituals up until the middle of the first century A.D., twenty years after the death of the Messiah?
New Light on the Pharisees
The apostle Paul, of course, was a Pharisee. He was in no way ashamed of this fact. In fact, he even boasted of it, claiming it was an important part of his spiritual make up and background. Notice! Paul wrote to the Philippians, "If anyone else things he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; IN REGARD TO THE LAW, A PHARISEE; as for zeal, persecuting the Church; AS FOR LEGALISTIC RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAULTLESS" (Phil. 3:4-6, NIV).
Consider such a statement! Consider such a man! Paul, an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah to the Gentiles, who wrote more books of the New Testament than any one else, had the nerve -- indeed, the audacity to say he was (not had been, but was) a PHARISEE! He was not a Sadducee, or a Samaritan! As for legal righteousness, and obedience to the laws of Moses, as a Pharisee, he said he was FAULTLESS -- blameless! He had NO FAULT! Yet, as a Pharisee, he observed the holy days of YEHOVAH God WHEN THE PHARISEES DID! He therefore observed the holy days as did the Jews, and not the Sadducees or Samaritans!
Paul said he had been taught at the feet of Gamaliel. Who was Gamaliel? Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us about this famous teacher among the Pharisees. When the high priest and the Sanhedrin called the apostles before them, after they had miraculously healed a man lame from birth, and had been miraculously released from jail by an angel, they pointed out to them that they had disobeyed their orders not to preach in the name of Yeshua. Peter boldly told them, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). At this point, the assembly was infuriated and ready to lynch or stone the apostles. But notice what happened:
"But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, WHO WAS HONORED BY ALL THE PEOPLE, stood up in the Sanhedrin, and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men....Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:34-39, NIV).
Notice! This eminent jurist of the law, this renowned Pharisee, influenced the more hotheaded Sadducees and others in the council to allow the apostles to leave safely, instead of being killed on the spot. Luke speaks well of him, the one who had trained Paul as a Pharisee.
Paul, in his defense before the Jews, after he had been apprehended by the Roman soldiers, cried out to them: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. UNDER GAMALIEL I WAS THOROUGHLY TRAINED IN THE LAW of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today" (Acts 22:3).
Later, standing before the Sanhedrin, being examined by them, we find that
"Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, 'My brothers, I am a PHARISEE, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead'" (Acts 23:6, NIV).
Obviously, Paul was not ashamed of his heritage as a law-abiding Pharisee. Nor did Yeshua rebuke the Pharisees for their teachings concerning the laws of Moses. Rather, he acknowledged that they "sat in Moses' seat," something he never said concerning the Sadducees or Samaritans. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, wrote concerning the Sadducees, "The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all" (Acts 23:8).
Yeshua never acknowledged the Sadducees as having any spiritual authority as interpreters of the Law. Rather, on one occasion when they accosted him, and questioned him, he replied with a very real "put down":
"You are in ERROR because YOU DO NOT KNOW THE SCRIPTURES nor the power of God" (Matt. 22:29, NIV).
Clearly, even the evidence from the New Testament itself shows we should be following the teachings of the Pharisees as those teachings relate to the laws of YEHOVAH God and the Torah -- not the paganized Samaritans who knew not what they worshipped, or the Sadducees, who did not even recognize the existence of angels and who denied the resurrection, and who Yeshua the Messiah said did not even "know" the Scriptures! With this understanding, then, now let us turn to the pages of history, and see what historians have learned about these mysterious Pharisees. Let us see just how the facts of history corroborate and substantiate and reinforce the teachings of Scripture, and he words of Yeshua himself, and Paul, concerning the Pharisees.
The Pharisees Revealed
As Ellis Rivkin points out in his book A Hidden Revolution: The Pharisees Search for the Kingdom Within (published 1978), the only legitimate sources for our knowledge of the Pharisees are Josephus, the New Testament, and the Tannaitic Literature. These are the only sources which can claim to be contemporary or nearly so. They derive from the time when the Pharisees flourished.
We have already discussed the mention of the Pharisees, to some extent, in the New Testament. The most important historical work about them, written during their existence, are the writings of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century. Josephus himself was a Pharisee; he was an observer of them on a day-to-day basis during and after the Jewish revolt against Rome; and he was a careful historian who drew upon other sources dealing with their past. Most of what we know about them comes from the writings of this eminent sage and historian
Josephus shows that sometime before the death of John Hyrcanus in 104 B.C. the Pharisees and Sadducees were already in existence. Josephus recorded the break which came between John Hyrcanus and the Pharisees, since it involved a high priest and ruler of the people, and its outcome ultimately was a violent civil war which lasted a whole generation. Josephus wrote in Antiquities of the Jews:
"As for Hyrcanus, the envy of the Jews was aroused against him by his own successes and those of his sons; particularly hostile to him were the Pharisees...And so great is their influence with the masses that even when they speak against a king or high priest, they immediately gain credence. Hyrcanus too was a disciple of theirs, and was greatly loved by them" (Ant. XIII).
However, a certain Jonathan, who was a Sadducee, convinced Hyrcanus that the Pharisees were really his enemies. Josephus continues:
"And Jonathan in particular inflamed his anger, and so worked upon him that he brought him to join the Sadducean party and desert the Pharisees, and to abrogate the laws which they had established for the people, and punish those who observed them. Out of this, of course, grew the hatred of the masses for him and his sons...For the present I wish merely to explain that the Pharisees had passed on to the people certain laws handed down by former generations and not recorded in the laws of Moses, for which reasons they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those laws should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by former generations should not be observed. And concerning these matters the two parties came to have controversies and serious differences, the Sadducees having the confidence of the wealthy alone but NO FOLLOWING AMONG THE POPULACE, while the PHARISEES HAVE THE SUPPORT OF THE MASSES."
When John Hyrcanus split with the Pharisees, and attempted to abrogate some of their laws, the masses grew to hate him, and a rebellion broke out. Clearly, the Pharisees must have had a large, dedicated and powerful following among the people, and were capable of "arousing loyalties to themselves and to their unwritten laws of such intensity that the people were willing to rise up against a Hasmonean High Priest and ethnarch" (A Hidden Revolution, p. 37).
This open revolt and rebellion is further described in Josephus' Wars of the Jews:
"The prosperous fortunes of John and his sons, however, provoked a sedition among his envious countrymen, large numbers of whom held meetings to oppose them and continued to agitate, until the smoldering flames burst out in open war and the rebels were defeated..." (Wars, I:67).
Clearly, the account in Josephus reveals the Pharisees were not mere academicians and teachers; they were also powerful legislators and lawmakers. These laws were distinctively theirs. But when John Hyrcanus became a Sadducee, and attempted to replace Pharisaic laws with Sadducean, rebellion broke out among the people. "In breaking with the Pharisees," Rivkin points, out, "John Hyrcanus was thus challenging the functioning legal system and replacing it with another. So drastic an alteration in the life of the people was bound to have traumatic consequences" (A Hidden Revolution, p. 39).
Although Hyrcanus put down the rebellion in his lifetime, and his son Aristobulus was spared armed insurrection, the hatred of the masses burst forth into rebellion once again during the reign of his son, Alexander Jannaeus. While upon his deathbed, Alexander advised his wife Salome, who would become queen upon his death, to reconcile with the Pharisees. Josephus relates:
"Thereupon he advised her to follow his suggestions for keeping the throne secure for herself and her children...And then, he said, on her return from Jerusalem as from a splendid victory, she should yield a certain amount of power to the Pharisees, for if they praised her in return for this sign of regard, they would dispose the nation favourably toward her. These men, he assured her, had so much influence with their fellow Jews that they could injure those whom they hated and help those to whom they were friendly; for THEY HAD THE COMPLETE CONFIDENCE OF THE MASSES when they spoke harshly of any person, even when they did so out of envy; and he himself, he added, had come into conflict with the nation because these men had been treated badly by him....Promise them also that you will not take any action while you are on the throne, without their consent. If you speak to them in this manner...you will reign securely" (Ant. XIII: 399-404).
Salome Alexandra did just as her husband asked, and the Pharisees became very friendly and well disposed toward her. As they spoke well of her to the masses, and were once again sharing the royal power, the Pharisees brought the masses to love their new queen. When the Pharisees even eulogized the dead king, who had been their enemy, and mourned his death, the masses followed their lead without question.
Alexandra then appointed Hyrcanus as high priest...and she permitted the Pharisees to DO AS THEY LIKED IN ALL MATTERS, and also commanded the people to obey them; and whatever laws introduced by the Pharisees in accordance with the tradition of their fathers, had been abolished by her father-in-law Hyrcanus, these she again restored. And so, while she had the title of sovereign, THE PHARISEES HAD THE POWER For example, they recalled exiles, and freed prisoners, and, in a word, in no way differed from absolute rulers" (Ant. XIII: 408-11).
After they regained power, the Pharisees began a systematic campaign to destroy and emasculate the power of their opponents. They acted with determined awareness and aggressiveness to consolidate their power and to eradicate the anti-Pharisee clique which had turned Hyrcanus and Alexander against them. In his book Wars of the Jews, Josephus adds this picture of the Pharisees and Alexandra:
"Beside Alexandra, and growing as she grew, arose the Pharisees, a body of Jews with the reputation of excelling the rest of their nation in the observances of religion, and as EXACT EXPONENTS OF THE LAWS. To them, being herself intensely religious, she listened with too great a deference; while they, gradually taking advantage of an ingenuous woman, became at length the real administrators of the state, at liberty to banish and to recall, to loose and to bind, whom they would In short, the enjoyments of ROYAL AUTHORITY WERE THEIRS.... But if she ruled the nation, the Pharisees ruled her" (Wars I: 107-14).
The Hasmoneans had lost the support of the masses because of their break with the Pharisees. When the monarchy made its peace with the Pharisees, peace and order were restored. "And there can be little doubt that the offenders against the sacred laws whom she removed from office were Sadducees" (Rivkin, p. 48).
The Pharisees became the real power behind the throne. They were noted for their piety, and for their exact, precise, or accurate exposition of the Law. Says Rivkin, "If, after a generation, all efforts at suppressing the rebellion by violence had failed and the Hasmonean dynasty was compelled to make their peace with the Pharisees, it is evident that the Pharisees tapped deep wellsprings of loyalty and devotion among the masses" (p. 49).
Pharisees at the Time of the Messiah
Writing of the time shortly after the birth of the Messiah, Josephus once again picks up the thread of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In describing the four main philosophies among the Jews, he writes:
"Of the two first-named schools, the Pharisees, who are considered the MOST ACCURATE INTERPRETERS OF THE LAWS, and hold the position of the leading haeresis [sect], attribute everything to Fate and to God; they hold that to act rightly or otherwise, rests, indeed, for the most part with men, but that in each action Fate cooperates" (Wars II: 162-63).
Josephus leaves no doubt that the Pharisees must have been scholars, and that they were regarded as the most precise, exact or accurate interpreters or expounders of the laws. These scholars, Josephus says, were friendly toward each other and the community at large. He writes:
"The Pharisees are affectionate to each other and cultivate harmonious relations with the community. The Sadducees, on the contrary, are, even among themselves, rather boorish in their behavior, and in their intercourse with their peers are as rude as to aliens" (Wars II: 166).
Rivkin translates the Greek of Josephus (Antiquities, Bk IVIII, 1, 3-4) with a newer, more modern English rendering than the customary text. I will quote it here:
"The Pharisees live modestly, forswearing luxury. They adhere devotedly to the good doctrines which have been transmitted orally to them, holding to and prizing their own teachings. They show great respect to their elders, refraining from rashly contradicting what these elders have taught....These views [of the Pharisees] have been so persuasive with the populace that WHATSOEVER PERTAINS TO PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ARE PERFORMED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE EXPOSlTION OF THE PHARISEES. Indeed, the city dwellers bear such testimony to the great virtue of the Pharisees that they emulate the nobility of the Pharisaic way of life and ADHERE TO THEIR TEACHINGS" (XVIII: 12-l7).
The traditional text here reads, in part, that on account of the Pharisees' teachings, "they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and WHATSOEVER THEY DO ABOUT DIVINE WORSHIP, PRAYERS, AND SACRIFICES, THEY PERFORM THEM ACCORDING TO THEIR DIRECTION..."
Clearly, this historical record shows beyond any doubt as to who was in charge of the Temple, sacrifices, and rituals, during the time of the Messiah! It was the Pharisees -- them and them only!
The multitudes of the Jews followed the teaching and practices of the Pharisees, and it was they who controlled the worship services and functions of the priesthood and the Temple.
What about the Sadducees, then?
Rivkin continues his translation of the Greek:
"As for the Sadducees...Indeed they reckon it a virtue to debate with the teachers of wisdom [namely, the Pharisees] whom they hound. Though FEW IN NUMBER, the Sadducees hold positions of esteem. YET THEY ARE POWERLESS. For even when they exercise authority, THEY SUBMIT, HOWEVER UNWILLINGLY, TO THE TEACHINGS OF THE PHARISEES, since otherwise the populace would not put up with them" (Ant. XVIII: 21-17).
How plain! Josephus tells us that the Sadducees were virtually impotent, powerless, and had NO CONTROL WHATSOEVER over the Temple, religious rites and practices, and the general population as a whole. Whenever a Sadducee did rise to some position of eminence, he was compelled to submit to the teachings of the Pharisees, lest he be kicked out of office and earn the enmity of the multitudes. In the debacle during the time of John Hyrcanus, and the following events of that generation, the Sadducees learned their bitter lesson never to publicly go against the dictates and doctrines and practices of the Pharisees!
Declares Rivkin, Josephus paints a very pleasing view of the Pharisees, here. "They have such enthusiastic support from the masses that their exposition of the laws REGULATES ALL PUBLIC RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES. They are beloved and praised by the cities because of the beauty of their lives and the excellence of their teachings. THEIR POWER IS SO GREAT THAT EVEN THE SADDUCEES, WHEN THEY HOLD PUBLIC OFFICE, MUST ADHERE TO PHARISAIC VIEWS. And this power stems from the fact that the people at large adhere to their teachings" (A Hidden Revolution, p. 5758).
Thus Josephus shows that the Pharisees were in power, and controlled the religious life of the people of Judea, the Temple functions, and exerted tremendous influence even when isolated Sadducees were named as high priests, or given other offices by the king. The people followed them. They did not allow any tampering with the Pharisaic regulations and laws concerning public worship, prayer, and sacrifices. They were in supreme religious control of the people from the time of Salome Alexandra, till the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 A.D. And when leading Pharisees supported that rebellion, they were once again looked to for leadership.
Josephus speaks of them as "the most accurate interpreters of the laws," and "unrivaled experts in their country's laws," and "the most precise exponents of the laws." Their fame and renown as the leading legal scholars of the laws of Moses and the unwritten laws was undenied and undoubted.
Why, then, do some churches today throw out the teachings of the Pharisees, when it comes to the question of YEHOVAH God's Laws, and imperiously reject them? Is that not like throwing the baby out with the bath water? Why do some insist on looking to the Sadducees for guidance as to the laws of YEHOVAH God? There can only be one answer: Satan the devil, who is that subtle deceiver of the entire world (Rev. 12:9), has once again triumphed over certain churches, and led them into devious error and human rationalization! Satan has attacked with his ingenious machinations and stratagems, and they have fallen for his subtle reasoning, hook, line and sinker!
When we know the truth about the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the teachings of the Messiah, who declared that the Pharisees sat in Moses' seat and had authority to bind and interpret the laws of YEHOVAH God, not the Sadducees, then ONLY A FOOL would willingly and knowingly follow the teachings and example of the Sadducees!
Let me repeat that!
Only a FOOL would WILLINGLY and knowingly follow the Sadducees!
In reading the gospel accounts dealing with the Pharisees, one truth becomes very obvious: The Pharisees exercised great power in Judea, over the people. Although they were not the political rulers (Herod was the king, and Pilate was the governor, during the time of the Messiah), they exercised the rulership of the religious sphere. Although Yeshua roundly scores the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, wickedness and sins, in Matthew 23, yet this very same gospel account makes the indictments all the more severe, because Yeshua introduces his negative evaluation of the Pharisees with the statement that they sat in Moses' seat and exercised authority from YEHOVAH God. Yeshua himself told his followers, in effect, that IN SPITE OF the heinous sins of the Pharisees, yet their religious office and authority concerning the laws of YEHOVAH God WERE STILL TO BE RESPECTED AND OBEYED!
To say this, it is obvious that Yeshua highly respected their God-given authority, as the custodians of the laws of YEHOVAH God, the Torah, and its interpretation.
In the gospel of John, interestingly, the Sadducees are never even mentioned. It is constantly the Pharisees who question, reproach, and argue with Yeshua, and finally, the high priests, who lead him to his trial and crucifixion. Writes Ellis Rivkin:
"John does not seem to know of any religious authority other than the Pharisees. Even the chief priests and the High Priests appear in a secondary role, as functionaries. The Pharisees are pictured as the religious leaders of ALL the Jews, as if there were no Sadducees" (p. 102).
John's gospel declares that, "Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God" (John 12:42-43, NIV).
The only religious group with the power to cast people out of the synagogues mentioned in the New Testament were the Pharisees. The Sadducees never controlled the synagogues. The synagogue was "EXCLUSIVELY a Pharisaic institution," writes Rivkin. Once again, therefore, we see the power of the Pharisees revealed, and the powerlessness of the Sadducees, of themselves. To John, inspired by the Holy Spirit of YEHOVAH God, the Sadducees were not even important enough to mention in passing! In his gospel, Judaism and Pharisaism were one and the same! He did not feel any need to differentiate between the Pharisees and the unimportant Sadducees, whose limited influence was not even worthy of mention.
Sadducees Feared the Pharisees
The relationship of the Sadducees to the Pharisees, even concerning the rituals of the Temple, is made very clear in the Tannaitic literature of the Jews. This literature, written over 350 years, includes the Mishnah, the Tosefa, the Tannaitic Midrash, and passages in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds.
"Our rabbis have taught, 'It is related of a Sadducee [High Priest] that he prepared [the incense] outside [the Holy of Holies] and then entered. When he came out he was extremely happy. His father met him and said to him, 'My son, although we are Sadducees WE FEAR THE PHARISEES.' He replied to him, 'My whole life I was troubled by the scriptural verse, 'For in the cloud I shall appear on the kaporet' [Lev. 16:13]. I said, When will I have the opportunity to fulfill the command of this verse? And now that the opportunity arose, should I not fulfill the biblical verse?'
"They said, 'Not many days went by before he died, and he was tossed in the refuse, and worms came forth from his nose'..." (Yom. l9b; cf. Y. Yom. 1:5).
In this instance, the father of this Sadducean High Priest reprimanded him for performing a Temple rite contrary to the injunctions of the Pharisees, admitting, "We fear the Pharisees." The record goes on to say this particular High Priest was punished by YEHOVAH, for his indiscretion, and soon died.
Does this historical incident sound like the Sadducees were "in charge and control of the Temple," as the Worldwide Church of God claims? No, rather it corroborates the power and authority of the Pharisees, of whom the Sadducees were AFRAID!
In another reference to this subject, we read:
"When he [the Boethusian-Sadducean High Priest] went forth [from the Holy of Holies], he said to his father, 'Your whole life you [and your fellow Boethusians-Sadduceans] used to interpret the verse [to mean that the high Priest prepares the incense outside the Holy of Holies], but you never followed through in action until I stood up and performed it [as the verse demands].' His father said to him, 'Although we interpret, WE DO NOT CARRY OUT THE INTERPRETATION IN PRACTICE but we listen to the words of the Sages [Pharisees]. I would be truly amazed if you will live [much longer].' Three days had not gone by when they set him in his grave" (Tosef. Yom 1:8).
Once again, we see that the Pharisees were in the supremacy, and the Sadducees, for all their complaining and arguing, were in the minority and did not dare to put into practice their own interpretations or ideas concerning the laws. Clearly, then, it was the Pharisees who determined the dates for observing Pentecost for the nation of Judea, and who regulated and controlled Temple services and Holy Day observances! The Sadducees did not resist or fight against the Pharisaic control over all these matters. They gave in continually, with nary a whimper, because of their fear of the Pharisees. They argued; but they capitulated.
The Origin of the Pharisees
Where did the Pharisees come from? They are nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. They are not mentioned as a class or group in all the Law of Moses. Nor are they mentioned in the time of Ezra the scribe or Nehemiah, although scribes and scholars of the laws of YEHOVAH God were in existence at that time.
History reveals that the Pharisees were born in a time of revolution. It was during the time of the Maccabees, when Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to destroy the laws of YEHOVAH God, and instill Hellenism throughout his empire, that a struggle for survival of the truth of YEHOVAH God ensued. During the Hasmonean revolt against Antiochus, it is recorded in the book of Maccabees, that a Great Synagogue was held of the priests, the people and the rulers of the nation. It was proclaimed that since wars had torn the country, and Simon the son of Mattathias, a priest of the sons of Joarib, and his brothers had resisted bravely the enemies of the Jews, and brought great glory to the nation, and rallied the nation in defense of the laws and the sanctuary, that Jonathan was proclaimed to be the High Priest, and when he died, Simon was made leader and High Priest.
Why was this deemed necessary? The lineage of the high priest could be traced from Aaron through Eleazar, Phinehas, and Zadok in an unbroken line (I Chron. 6:1-15, 49-3; Ezra 7:15). This line was not broken until Jason, during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, bought for himself the high priesthood, and Meneleus, a Hellenizer, sacrificed swine's flesh on the altar of YEHOVAH God, thus flagrantly violating the laws of YEHOVAH. Antiochus IV forcibly imposed Hellenism upon the Jews (175-163 B.C.). During this time a violent struggle erupted for control of the high priesthood.
Jason, a Hellenist, had the legitimate High Priest Onias III (185-170 B.C.) removed from office and introduced Hellenistic reforms. Menelaus, who bought the high priesthood after him, abandoned the laws of YEHOVAH God and the Pentateuch, and dedicated the altar of YEHOVAH to the pagan god Zeus. Thus during a space of thirty years, the nation witnessed the bankruptcy of their religious leaders, including those descended from Aaron. As Rivkin says:
"Jason, though a brother of the High Priest, had bought the office for himself and openly introduced Hellenistic practices. Menelaus, too, though belonging to the influential and respected family of the Tobiads, went even further when he flaunted law and tradition by usurping the High Priesthood for himself and when he used the High Priestly office to destroy the very source of theocratic power, the belief in a single God" (p. 214).
All Jewish society was affected by these struggles. After the Maccabean revolt, the nation needed new high priests. The family of Joarib was a priestly family, but not of the High Priestly family. Neither Jonathan nor Simon had a right to be the High Priest, since they were not lineal descendants from Zadok back to Aaron. The Great Synagogue, therefore, stated that the priesthood would be invested in the Hasmonean family until a true prophet arose in Israel.
This transfer of power was carried through and legitimized by a Great Synagogue of the scribes, rulers and people. This synagogue had to be the beginnings of the Pharisaical movement, since Josephus describes the Pharisees as already having power and being in existence during the time of John Hyrcanus of the Hasmoneans, a few decades later. The Great Synagogue invested Simon with the High Priesthood in 141 B.C.
The Pharisees thus were spawned during revolutionary times, and became the inheritors of the laws of Moses, the calendar calculations and the unwritten laws of the Temple services, sacrifices, and related duties. They carried them down through the years, from 141 B.C. till the time of the Messiah and up until the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135 A.D.
A brief history of the Pharisees would emphasize:
1. Birth of the Pharisees, which went hand in hand with the Hasmonean Revolt (167-142 B.C.).
2. The Pharisee-Hasmonean coalition (142-110 B.C.). The Pharisees supported and legitimized the Hasmonean High Priesthood (Simon from 143-134 B.C., and John Hyrcanus from 134-110 B.C.).
3. The split with John Hyrcanus and violent uprising against Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.).
4. The restoration of Pharisaic power under Salome Alexandra, and following her death, the continuous Pharisaic autonomy in the religious realm for their support for whatever civil authority ruled whether Hasmoneans, Herodians, Roman procurators (from 75 B.C. till 70 A.D.).
During the time of Yeshua, the Messiah himself acknowledged their authority, saying that they "sat in Moses' seat." But what does this term really mean?
"The Cathedra of Moses"
Writes Ellis Rivkin:
"But though their history be largely irretrievable, the shards which have survived leave us in no doubt that from the time of the Hasmonean Revolt till the destruction of the Temple in the year 70, when the term Pharisees became, with the dying-out of the Sadducees, irrelevant, the Scribes-Pharisees sat in Moses' seat. This was true even during the generation of bitter civil war under Alexander Jannaeus, for it is evident from this bitter struggle that the people at large looked to Pharisees, and not to the Hasmoneans, as their leaders" (p. 258).
This scholarly authority continues:
"The Scribes-Pharisees sat in Moses' seat DURING the Hasmonean Revolt, AFTER the Hasmonean Revolt, THROUGHOUT the years of the Hasmonean dynasty, and UNDER Herod, the procurators, and King Agrippa. Matthew was only uttering a commonplace when he had Jesus say, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you' (Matt. 23:2-3)" (ibid).
Rivkin points out, further, that "Most decisively, the Pharisees demonstrated their overarching authority when they, and not the Sadducees, determined the procedures the High Priest was to carry out on the Day of Atonement. Here the Pharisees were literally trespassing on the Holy of Holies, for if ever a ceremony was devised to focus on the role of the High Priest as the Grand Expiator, it was his entry into the Holy of Holies one time a year, on the Day of Atonement. Hence, whoever determined the manner of the High Priest's performance of this ultimate act was CLEARLY IN MOSES' SEAT. "
The Sadducees believed the High Priest should light the incense before entering the Holy of Holies. The Pharisees demanded that it be lit only after he entered the Holy of Holies. "Operationally, this meant that every time a High Priest entered the Holy of Holies without having lit the incense in advance, he was publicly acknowledging to the entire congregation of Israel that the PHARISEES SAT ON MOSES' SEAT and even the High Priest was bound to do as they commanded" (p. 261).
Mishnah Yom.1:136 tells us how carefully the High Priest was admonished and briefed by the emissaries of the Pharisees, the Bet Din, and made to swear that he would not deviate from any of the instructions given to him. And as we have already seen, once upon a time when some Sadducean High Priest did deviate, and defied the Pharisaical procedure, even the Sadducees themselves scolded the recalcitrant rebel, saying, "Although we are Sadducees, we FEAR THE PHARISEES!"
"This fear of the Pharisees is confirmed by Josephus when he assures us that the Temple worship was carried out in accordance with the expositions of the Pharisees and that whenever the Sadducees served as magistrates they followed the regulations of the Pharisees 'since the multitude would not otherwise put up with them'" (p. 262).
Proving their authority before the population, the Pharisees purified the lamp in the Temple following the Feast of Tabernacles, even though priests alone had come in contact with it. This was done, even though Sadducees laughed at the procedure. Nevertheless, it put the priests on the same level as the masses, showing they were not a class apart, and not necessarily pure themselves.
Furthermore, when the ceremony of the red heifer was to be done, Pharisaic procedures were followed. These meant the High Priest himself was rendered unclean; he had to take a ritual bath; the red heifer was burnt while the sun was still high in the sky. The Sadducees held that a ritual bath alone was not sufficient to dissolve uncleanness for all purposes. Therefore, by requiring the High Priest to immerse while the sun was still high, the Pharisees displayed to the people that their teaching, not that of the Sadducees, was authoritative!
Rivkin adds this vitally important observation:
"Of especial importance was the Pharisaic takeover of the calendar, which PUT THEM FIRMLY IN MOSES' SEAT. The Pharisees, and not the Sadducees, DETERMINED WHEN THE FESTIVALS AND THE HOLYDAYS WERE TO BE CELEBRATED. This is brought home to us in the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to when the omer, signaling the barley harvest, was to be offered up. And since the day of the omer determined when the festival of Pentecost -- forty-nine days following the waving of the omer would fall, it was of no little matter as to which view prevailed. To make certain that the Pharisaic reckoning and, by implication, the Pharisaic calendar, was the binding one, the Pharisees enjoined that a public ceremony should, year in and year out, proclaim that the day for the waving of the omer should be on the second day of Passover, and not, as championed by the Sadducees, on the morrow of the Sabbath following the appearance of barley" (p. 263-264).
What was this unique ceremony?
The Mishnah gives us the following fascinating insight into how they dealt with this problem, so the people would never become deceived:
"How did they use to do it [i.e., prepare for the cutting of the wave sheaf offering or omer]? The messengers of the Bet Din used to go out on the eve of the festival and make bunches while still attached to the soil, so that it would be easier to reap; and the towns nearby assembled there in order that it might be reaped in great pomp.
"When it grew dark, he [the reaper] would say, 'Is the sun set?' They [the people] would reply, 'Yes.' "Is the sun set?' and they would answer [again], 'Yes.' 'With this sickle?' They would answer, 'Yes.' With this basket?' And they would answer 'Yes.' With this basket?' and they would answer 'Yes.'
"On the Sabbath he would say to them, 'On this Sabbath?' and they would answer 'Yes.' 'Shall I reap?' They would answer, 'Reap.' 'Shall I reap?' And they would answer, 'Reap.'
"He used to call out for each of these three [questions] and they would thrice answer, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!'
"Why such concern? Because of the Boethusians [Sadducees] who used to say: 'The cutting of the omer is not to take place on the day following the festival' " (M. Men. 10:3; cf. Men. 65a-b, B.B. 115b-16a).
Rivkin concludes his analysis of the Pharisees sitting on Moses' seat, saying, that "the Scribes-Pharisees laid claim to FULL AUTHORITY OVER THE LAW; they subordinated the High Priest and cultus to their prescriptions; they proclaimed their unwritten laws to be absolutely binding on the community of Israel" (p. 269). He concludes his remarks, saying:
"Little wonder, then, that the author of Matthew 23 excoriates the Scribes-Pharisees as hypocrites and blind guides, and yet affirms that they sit on the cathedra of Moses as the authoritative teachers of the Law" (ibid.).
Pointing out that it was the Pharisees who devised the "proof text" methodology of substantiating arguments, using scriptural proofs to back up claims or exhortations, Rivkin shows that these very Pharisaic forms "underlie the Epistles of Paul, the Gospels, and Acts. Paul is forever citing Scripture in the Pharisaic manner," he notes (p. 273).
Ellis Rivkin adds:
"The Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles of Paul -- all attest to the hegemony of the Pharisees. The overarching framework of presuppositions, laws, and modes of communication was so Pharisaic that Jesus, Paul, and the earliest disciples could confront the Pharisees only with tools the Pharisees had devised and fashioned. Jesus was, like the Pharisees, a didaskalos, a teacher. He taught by word of mouth, and example, even as did the Pharisees. So like them was he that on occasion he is addressed by them as Teacher. He frequented their synagogues, read from the prophets on the Sabbath, indulged in their mode of exegesis, regarded all three divisions of Scripture as coequal, firmly believed in eternal life and resurrection" (p. 275).
The debt that true Christianity owes to the Pharisees is substantial. Even thought many of them became hypocrites, and fools, and blind guides, as Yeshua said, nevertheless, they and they alone preserved the laws of YEHOVAH God, the Torah, and the unwritten laws governing the calendar, the Temple, rituals, sacrifices, and so forth. They alone preserved the knowledge of the exact HOLY DAYS of YEHOVAH God, the annual festivals, and the methodology for computing the calendar new moons, months, and leap years.
Yeshua acknowledged their God-given authority when he stated without equivocation that they sat on MOSES' seat -- Moses, the giver of the Law, the one to whom YEHOVAH God Himself gave the Ten Commandments. This description was no small accolade or admission. It was given with the highest of respect, since Yeshua also told his disciples, "Obey them and do EVERYTHING they tell you."
Are YOU willing to obey the Messiah?
He said, for example, we should do what the Pharisees said. They said that Pentecost must be counted from the day following the first day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath, both of which fell on the SAME day. Thus said Pentecost must be observed now, fifty days later. If you obey them, then you are obeying Yeshua the Messiah, who commands us to obey them!
If you do NOT obey them, but choose to observe Pentecost on some other day, as the Worldwide Church of God and others do, and the Church of God, International, then YOU ARE DISOBEYING THE MESSIAH HIMSELF!
What could be plainer than that?
"This power of Pharisaism to so bind Jesus, Paul and the early disciples to the Pharisaic mode of thinking and teaching is explicable only if the Pharisees had been in Moses' seat for so long that no one could recall a time when they were not there. Matthew's plaintive plea that the Scribes-Pharisees were to be obeyed EVEN WHEN they hounded Jesus and his disciples because they, the Scribes-Pharisees sat in Moses' seat is explicable only if they had been sitting there since time immemorial. Otherwise, Matthew would have exposed their claims as fraudulent. Pharisaism was CLEARLY THE JUDAISM OF JESUS' DAY, adhered to by all but a handful of Sadducees, a smattering of Essenes, and by a minority, however growing and tempestuous they might have been, of malcontents who despaired of effective Pharisaic leader ship against the crushing weight of Rome" (p. 275-276).
This Is the TRUTH -- What Will You Do With It?
Foolish men, and evil seducers and deceivers, can go on and on, denying the truth of YEHOVAH God. Paul warned Timothy that, in our day, the "last days," that "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God -- having a FORM of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them" (II Tim. 3:15).
Paul goes on, describing these wicked teachers and ministers who claim to represent YEHOVAH God, and who profess to be His only true Church on earth: "These are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins, and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, ALWAYS LEARNING BUT NEVER ABLE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUTH."
Paul adds that just as evil men opposed Moses, "so also these men OPPOSE THE TRUTH men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are REJECTED. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone" (verses 8-9).
I realize that most members of the Worldwide Church of God, and Church of God International, and other small groups, will not pay any attention to the contents of this article. They will not heed or listen. They are deaf, dumb and blind to the truth of YEHOVAH God.
But what about YOU?
If you have read this far, then you have a momentous decision to make. Are you going to let certain "men" do your thinking for you, and follow them, even to death and even to hell itself? Or are you going to break off your disobedience to the laws of YEHOVAH God, repent of your sins in YEHOVAH's sight, and in complete humility and ashen-faced repentance, and fear of YEHOVAH God, BEGIN TO OBEY HIS LAWS -- and begin observing His holy days ON THE RIGHT DAY, AS HE COMMANDED?
YEHOVAH GOD commands us: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; CORRECT, REBUKE and ENCOURAGE -- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will TURN THEIR EARS AWAY FROM THE TRUTH and turn aside to MYTHS" (II Tim. 4:24, NIV).
Many ministers and leaders, today, in the Church of YEHOVAH God, are in the sad, and sorry state, of rejecting truth They have rejected the knowledge and revelation of YEHOVAH God. They have cast out the truth. They have cast out the messenger along with the message. They have heaped to themselves the wrath and anger and fury of the YEHOVAH GOD ALMIGHTY!
"The WRATH OF GOD is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who SUPPRESS THE TRUTH by their wickedness, since what may be known of God is plain to them, because God has made it PLAIN TO THEM" (Rom. 1:18-19, NIV).
Paul goes on,
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to RETAIN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity" (verse 29).
Such men ought to know better, and they will suffer the wrath of a righteous God. Paul warns each one of us, "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?"
Paul concludes, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God ACCEPTABLY with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:25-29, NIV).
Will you serve and worship YEHOVAH God "acceptably"? Where do you take your stand -- TODAY?
Where do you stand ................. Right Now?
-- Edited By John D. Keyser.
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!
Hope of Israel Ministries
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