from Toogood Reports

National Death by the Pharisees

Paul E. Scates
November 20, 2002

So you…outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:28

Most people know who the Pharisees were, at least in a limited context. They were the Jewish religious leaders who were instrumental in condemning Jesus, leading to His crucifixion. But how could they have helped kill their own Messiah? The answer to that question holds some important lessons for us in the U.S. today.

The Pharisees were a major Jewish sect from the second century BC to the second century AD. While the Sadducees were mainly the conservative and aristocratic priestly class, the Pharisees tended to be middle class and open to religious innovation. Since they were not of priestly lineage, their achieved their power and influence within Judaism through their teaching in the synagogues. While they were known for their strict external observation and adherence to Mosaic Law, it was their interpretations of that Law that they observed so scrupulously, instead of the Law as originally given. They also gave equal authority to the oral traditions that had begun during the Babylonian exile. That is, they put man's words and wisdom on an equal par with that of G-d, one reason Jesus rebuked them.

The name Pharisee derives from the either the Hebrew word perushim , meaning 'separated ones,' or the word parosim , meaning 'specifier,' which fits with their assumed function of interpreting Mosaic Law (i.e., specifying what it meant and how it applied).

The Pharisees are credited with having 'democratized' Judaism, opening positions of authority to those previously barred by their lack of priestly lineage. Also, some of their interpretations relaxed the standards of the Law, especially regarding women, gaining them favor over the strict, letter-of-the-Law priests. Practically, their interpretations gradually supplanted the written Law of the Torah, and are the basis of the Judaism that was preserved after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

That's enormously significant: instead of G-d's own Word, given to and written down by men under His guidance, the Judaism that survived is, in large part, man's words and ideas. It's feasts and festivals, its rituals and beliefs, and its focus on worship in the synagogues (rather than the Temple, under the leadership of Levitical priests) all are heavily influenced by the Pharisaism that replaced the beliefs and teachings of the Sadducees, the priests who held to a strict interpretation of G-d's Word (the 'fundamentalists' of their day).

Now the state of Judaism today isn't my concern. But the similarity between the impact of the Pharisees on established Judaism and the impact our own political Pharisees on American Founding principles is striking, and informative.

The American republic is a unique political system grounded on written principles and documents, just as Judaism was. In our case, instead of the Torah, we have the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But we also have writings by the authors and contributors to those documents, in which they explain clearly and definitively the meanings of the various elements in those documents, and even their intentions. In that sense, we have a national political 'Bible,' the authoritative explanation of the Founding principles.

But our own Pharisees, of the political kind, have 'interpreted' those principles and documents in such a way as to fundamentally alter their original meanings and effect. When the Pharisees altered the religion of the children of Israel from that originally established by G-d, the ultimate result was that they killed their own Messiah. What will be the result of altering the meaning of the Constitution and the Founding principles of this nation?

That interpretation of the Constitution according to circumstances, situations and ideological beliefs, as 'living Constitution' proponents support, rejects the notion of what some call 'first principles,' unchanging standards that apply to men in all eras, regardless of cultural or technological changes. But the 'living Constitution' I learned about in school was based on exactly that – the idea that there are standards that are timeless, that they apply to every generation of people regardless of material conditions. No one is suggesting that we should ignore modern medicine or new technologies, but moral and ethical principles do not change with scientific discoveries or technological progress. But foundational truths about man's behavior can't be exchanged for situational ethics and self-serving interpretations unless we deliberately intend to do away with the moral standards and liberty those truths make possible.

Such impermanence and changeability puts the culture at the mercy of man's constantly changing ideas and limited understanding. In case you're not aware of it, some men are so passionate (and arrogant) about their own wisdom and understanding that they'd risk everyone's freedom just to see their idealism realized. The Soviet Union and its satellite states, after all, were not an evil empire by intention; socialist rhetoric rivals our own in promising the fulfillment of man's dreams and desires. The difference lies in the real-world results. By that measure, big government socialism has earned the dread and disgust of all free men, and certainly from those who have endured it…if they survived.

Political Pharisees in the U.S. have ignored the spirit of our Founding documents and principles, just as the original Pharisees ignored the spirit of G-d's Law, even while claiming strict obedience to it. Our Pharisees claim for themselves the ability to 'interpret' the Constitution in ways clearly never intended by its authors. The result has been a chipping away of the very foundations upon which our nation achieved great prosperity, freedom and morality. They have replaced that foundation with modern man's questionable wisdom, his fickle emotions and his self-serving heart. The America that has resulted, like the Judaism of the Pharisees, is a corruption of what was originally established.

The Pharisees rejected G-d's plan for man's, and our politicians reject the Founders' system for a 'new' one. Yes, the Founders were men, too, but they clearly and continually acknowledged their dependence upon and homage to the Creator G-d of the universe, and to His unchanging principles. Men today 'worship' instead themselves, or the power they achieve through their rhetoric about the benefits of a political system proven again and again to be bankrupt morally, oppressive politically and deadly to human liberty.

It is not 'progress' to abandon the moral and political system that enabled greatness in every area of the human experience for the amoral fantasies of men who see security as more important than freedom, predictability and control more valuable than opportunity and hope, and enforced sameness (in the guise of 'diversity') more desirable than the great variety of expressions by free, moral individuals.

Limited government is one of the foundational truths of the American system; but few in politics today, either on the local, state or federal level, believe in such an 'outdated' concept. Modern politicians' remedy for every problem is more and more government, resulting in less and less freedom – individually, economically, spiritually, and in every other way. But are more government agencies – like those that failed to prevent 9/11 – truly the answer to any of our problems?

Equality before the law once protected Americans from the vagaries of wealth and power, but today it is the government that decides who can exercise their freedoms and to what extent, and even what those freedoms are. Constitutional amendments designed to guarantee our freedoms have been abrogated by legislation and judicial fiat, supposedly for our benefit. For example, the continual assault on the Second Amendment by thousands of local and state laws…yet federal officials and politicians still seek to further demolish the right to bear arms.

The right to life, without which no other right is possible, has been summarily taken from 40 million – 40,000,000! – helpless infants, in the name of a 'woman's right to choose.' Can I then 'choose' to euthanize an ailing and helpless parent or grandparent? Or a severely retarded or debilitated child? Where in the Constitution is this non-existent 'right' to commit murder? Even the scurrilous judges who claim to have 'discovered' that right can't point to it, muttering instead about 'penumbras' and such foolishness. Did all the great legal minds of the past 200 years simply overlook it?

Life and liberty, two of the inalienable rights of the Declaration, have been either taken from us or are under constant threat by those who claim a greater wisdom and understanding of our foundational principles. The Pharisees made such claims, too…and they and those who followed them helped kill their own Messiah.

Like the man who killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, must we destroy this republic before we recognize the timeless value of the Founding principles, that they – and not government! – are the source of the liberties and opportunities we've enjoyed? For this nation, there'll be no resurrection from the death our Pharisees are leading us to.

Toogood Reports contributor and "Best of the Web" award-winning writer Paul Scates is a Constitutional Conservative and a Christian who offers his commentary to 'we, the people,' who bear the ultimate responsibility for the actions of our elected representatives, and for preserving our Constitutional liberties. Paul served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, his interests include history, government and cultural issues.
You may e-mail Paul at

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20 nov 2002