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The Leaven Of The Pharisees

November 15, 2009

Jesus said that their hypocrisy made the Pharisees a leavening agent for their religious community. By saying one thing and doing another, they corrupted the position of authority that they held, and set an example of corruption to the common people. Traditional, man-made doctrine corrupts the purity of God's word, causing chaos and confusion among the people.

Bernie Parsons

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The Leaven Of The Pharisees


By Bernie Parsons


Presented to Globe church of Christ on 11-15-2009


Luke 12:1 “In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”


Leavening spreads quickly throughout the entire batch of dough to cause it all to rise. A little produces a large piece of bread or a cake. Jesus observed that the leavening of the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. Why would He teach His disciples this? Because, since they were the religious teachers, their hypocrisy had infected the entire Jewish community.


Jesus had few criticisms of the ordinary people He reserved the most and harshest criticism for the religious leaders. One of His chief criticisms was their hypocrisy. What is hypocrisy? According to Merriam-Webster online, it is:


1 : a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion

If a religious person pretends to be one thing, but is another, or pretends to believe a certain thing, but believes another, he or she is a hypocrite. Unfortunately, the majority of the Jewish leaders in the time of Christ were hypocrites.


Luke 11:37 “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat

38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.

39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.

40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?

41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.”


The Pharisees were shallow, making their religious hypocrisy obvious to casual observation. The Law of Moses contained no commandment about washing hands before eating. Washing was only commanded for health reasons, such as when one handled the sick or a dead animal, or when the priests prepared to offer sacrifices. The Jews’ tradition had been turned into doctrine.


Because that they ignored God’s deeper intentions, replacing them with their own made up rules, Jesus pronounced a serious of woes on them. A woe is an instance of calamity or terrible trouble.


Luke 11:42 ”But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”


Tithing was demanded of the Israelites, so there was nothing wrong with that. However, the Pharisees were so finicky about the tithes that even the small herbs had to be tithed. Yet, when it came to determining the facts in cases brought before them, they fell short. Furthermore, when it came to the love that God expected of them, they were lacking. It makes no sense to split hairs over the technical aspects of what God wants us to do, and then ignore the spiritual depth of His expectations. They kept the letter of the Law of Moses, but missed the intent.


Matthew 23:24 “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”


Matthew related those words of Jesus in connection with the above. God’s teachers must not strive over small things and exclude the larger aspects of godly living.


Luke 11:43 “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.”


Instead of serving the people, the Pharisees lorded over them. They loved the prestige, the honor and glory of men.


Matthew 23:5 "But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."


Luke 11:44 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”


Matthew went into more detail on this, which also corresponds to what we read in Luke 11:39.


Matthew 23:27 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”


While giving the illusive appearance of righteousness on the outside, inside they were unclean. They were like whitewashed tombs that glistened cleanly outward, but hid all manner of decay and disease within. Spiritually, these religious leaders were decayed. They had lost touch with the spirit behind the laws that God had given the Israelites.


Luke 11:45 “Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.”


The Pharisees were similar to church elders today. They provided leadership to the people, interacting with them face to face, answering their questions. The scribes, or lawyers, studied the word of God to determine what it actually taught. This lawyer was offended by Jesus’ words, because they were an indictment of the leadership class and the scribes who backed them.


Luke 11:46 “And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.”


The lawyers fed their determinations of the law to the Pharisee leaders, who laid the burdens upon the people. The lawyers had apparently descended into the minutiae of the law, emphasizing minor details and incorporating their traditions into the doctrines. However, according to Jesus, they did not think it important to keep the very rules that they advocated.


Luke 11:47 “Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.”


That generation apparently constructed tombs for the dead prophets, yet their very own ancestors had killed those prophets. By building those tombs, it was as if they condoned what their forefathers had done.


Luke 11:49 “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:

50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;

51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.”


Jesus knew that the very same people who were obsessing over minute details of the law and injecting traditions as doctrines would soon be trying to murder His apostles and teachers. Not only that, but they would be killing the son of God Himself!


Luke 11:52 “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”


John 5:39 “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”


John 1:11 “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”


Jesus pronounced a calamity upon the lawyers because they had the education and the knowledge, yet had abused it. While quibbling about technicalities and traditions, they overlooked the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Not only did they reject Him and the kingdom of God, they were an obstacle to those who did try to receive Jesus and enter it.


In this way, the leavening of the Pharisees was spread to the populace at large.


We have a similar problem in our time. Today, too many preachers and students of the Bible obsess over the technicalities and the small details. They often use their own thoughts as doctrine. Or, many times, they use someone else’s made-up doctrine that has been handed down from generation to generation. This tradition is often taught as doctrine and held as sacred, even if it contradicts what the Bible actually teaches.


Just like the self-righteous Pharisees, they want to be admired as Master teachers of the Bible, claiming to possess all of the truth. Yet, because of this haughty stance, they also block others from learning the actual truth by insisting that they are always right.


2 Timothy 3:2 "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3 Without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

4 Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.

9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest to all men, as their's also was."


Always studying, digging, quibbling, arguing, quarreling – but never able to understand the truth. Unfortunately, they can, and do, lead others astray.




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