I’ve seen this term thrown around frequently on social media, and usually with the same shallow judgement that pharisees themselves use. Knowing the full content and connotation of a word is important before using it, especially to avoid using a condemnatory term frivolously. The term does fit many people, but it takes careful and thorough inquiry to apply it justly.
-seeks the glory of man, not the glory of God (Jn 5:44, Matt 23:5-7). Reputation is everything to the Pharisee, his core motivation behind all decisions he makes. His thinking and action are anti-Christ (Php 2).
-is a self-proclaimed “expert in Law,” yet is ignorant of the central demands, the substance of the Law (Matt 23:23-24). He knows only the outward forms of godliness, i.e. ceremonial and sanctimonious pretense. He is a pietist who cannot put up with sound doctrine, and has no idea what just-loving kindness is, always denouncing justice that his love for injustice will not be discovered. To him, the Law is a mere checklist for aggrandizing his reputation by mere outward show, not the guide to loving God and people that the Law and commandments truly are. When asked what he has done for “the least of these,” he can offer no evidence of true, persevering faith. He is no advocate of the oppressed, his “good works before men” being but a hollow show.
-in keeping with the above, has only the appearance of being just (Matt 23:25-26)
-refuses correction and rebuke because he cannot sacrifice his reputation for true justice and righteousness. He is the fool of Proverbs.
-is a shallow judge with shallow (evil) thoughts (Jam 2:4). He judges on external appearances, a paragon of favoritism. He will listen to ‘perspectives’ from fellow pharisees, but never require nor test testimony in order to thoroughly consider a matter. He deems his own time too important for such ‘frivolous’ matters.
-is unwilling to “inquire carefully” into a matter, as required by the Law (Deut 13:14, 17:4, 19:18). He is, unlike Moses and Jehosaphat’s judges, too important to judge a matter with the thoroughness required for just and true judgement. This in contrast with the Christ and His people (Rev 19), Moses (Ex 18), David (II Sam 23), Solomon (Prov 3:27, I Kings 3), and Jehosaphat (II Chron 19:5).
-in keeping with the above, he “condemns the innocent and aquits the guilty.” (Matt 12:7, Prov 17:15, Prov 24:24-25, Ps 94, Ezk 13:19)
-does not have eyes to see or ears to hear (Jn 5:38) He cannot understand the WORD because it is veiled to him (Rom 11:10, IICor 3:14-15, 4:3)
-makes a show of studying and knowing the Scriptures (Matt 23:5), but cannot embrace them with obedient action. His faith is dead, he being only regenerate in pretense, but ever dead.
-proclaims himself to be a shepherd (Jn 7:48), but is only a hired hand (Jn 10:12)
-arrogantly despises the ‘ignorance’ of the sheep (Jn 7:49)
-leads many astray into hell (Matt 23:15), for he would assert himself between God and man as an “expert in the Law” or–to put it in modern terms–an expert in and paragon of piety. He will block the revelatory light of Scripture with his own dark musings, even his very self.
-arrogantly exposes the nakedness of others, pointing to their venial sins which, though obvious and shameful, do not compare in depth and insidiousness to the pharisee’s sin of pride, the ultimate blasphemy against God. The pharisee loves to use the obvious sins of others to distract from his deeper, more damnable sins of pride, avarice, envy (invidia), and wrath (ira). Thus does God save repentant prostitutes and adulterers and condemn religious men and women who are proudly impenitent. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” If the apostle Paul’s rhetorical question, “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?” evoke protestation, how much more should the question, “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a pride and boasting?” expose the pharisee for who he is and provoke–like an emetic–a vomitous revulsion and loathing of him by the faithful (Ps 119:158).
-as a self-proclaimed saint, and a self-righteous shallow judge, he is blind to his own sin, and therefore blind to the essential nature of this life in the land of the dying, that God’s purpose in leaving the elect on earth after regeneration is the patient process of eradicating sin (“crucifying sin in the flesh”) as an oncologist eradicates cancer: by killing what is harmful, and restoring what is good.
The pharisee refuses to “strengthen feeble arms and weak knees,” and to “spur one another on to love and good deeds,” namely the call to strive together in a community to “purge the evil from among you,” and “outdo one another in showing honor.” Such a community must judge justly and truly in order to winnow evil from good, embracing the latter and rejecting the former. Dante’s Purgatorio provides a beautiful picture of this when the penitently hopeful, yet still afflicted men link arms and strive together to eschew encumbrance and press onward.
-is inconsistent in his application of forgiveness and justice. For he says, “all men are sinners” to rationalize his own sin without repenting, and highlights the sins of others to further rationalize his own. Having no hunger and thirst for justice, either for himself or others, he simply uses justice and sin as props to elevate himself above others through sophistry, double-rationalizing his own sin while condemning others more just than himself.
-in his sophistry, uses justification not to describe actual just men who live by faith and thereby fulfill the requirements of the Law, but to prop up himself and fellow pharisees as “spiritually mature” so as to be above the Law and immune to its measure. Yet he blasphemes here, for the Law is the windowing fork by which all men are judged: “whatsoever you have done to the least of these…” indicates that Christ is not fooled by those who falsely claim His righteousness and do not obey His commandments, especially the commands and precepts contained by the Law and Prophets.
-views the Law, not as a path of obedience that leads to fullness of life (Ps 16:11), but as a set of parameters that can be externally applied like a whitewash. He sees only the words of the law, ignorant of the intimate conversations between Moses and God which brought about the Law in the first place (Ex 33). He is thus a hollow man of manners, who can only see the law as an impersonal set of categorical imperatives, not the glorious expression of God it is because it proceeds from His mouth. His view of the Law is a contemptuous, arrogant view for he finds no joy in the righteousness of God (Mal 3:14-15), but only a rod for lording it over and beating his fellow men. In stark contrast, the Christ who gives the Sermon on the Mount gives it face to face, and expects the conversation never to end, for we are always living coram deo, in God’s presence.
-burdens (Matt 23:4) and harrasses (Matt 9:36) the people by substituting his own expectations for Scripture (he cannot abide sound doctrine), promoting institutional power over the welfare of the sheep
-is more concerned for the survival of temporal institutions than the welfare of men and women whose souls are immortal (John 11:48). He believes that men and women exist for institutions rather than institutions existing for men and women. This is why he loves to harrass people and even God on the Sabbath. He does not know that “the Sabbath was made for man.”
-As one who worships the things of this world, including the gold on the temple, the perks of leadership, and a conventional way of life, he is a worshipper of vanity. He is detestable to God (Lk 16:15), and is but a blade of grass that withers, while the WORD of God stands forever (Is 40). God, who not only opposes the proud, but laughs proud men and their institutions to derision (Ps 2) and destruction (Prov 1), intends to destroy him (Matt 23, Deut 29, Mk 3:28-30) and his achievements (Hab 2:13, Lk 21:5-6)
-grasps at equality with God by attempting to seize the office of teaching for himself (Matt 23:7), which office Christ surrenders to no man or woman (Matt 23:8, Jer 31:34, I Jn 2:27). He will also seize other offices that do not belong to man, such as baptism (Matt 3:11, Mk 1:8, Lk 3:16, Jn 1:33).
-by the previous vice, enforces the ‘rule of the expert’ on the people, using the sophistry of skepticism to tell them they cannot understand the Scriptures, while supplanting Scripture with his own teaching (the doctrines of men). He is the “expert in the Law” and–ironically–will rule it over others, contrary to the Law. His thoughts directly contradict I Jn 2:27, convicting him of blasphemy. Moreover, he uses this blasphemy to “shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces.” (Matt 23:13-14).
-is full of invidious thoughts, hating and despising others when they prosper in God’s word. He seeks others’ loss more than his own gain, and seeks his own gain that others may become miserable slaves in his shallow, self-imploding world.
-is a murderer (Matt 12:14, Jn 11:53, Jn 12:10)
-is ultimately the man of Deuteronomy 29: one who invokes God’s blessing on himself while ignoring Christ’s commands, putting himself at the center of all things, and refusing to be held accountable because he is “God’s man.” He is one whom God will “never be willing to forgive” (see also Matt 23), one whose blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is his impenitent assertion that his wisdom is better than God’s Wisdom, and strives, like the Adversary, to grasp at equality with God.