Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees


It’s always fun to get mail, until it isn’t.

On Wednesday I was heading out to prepare to lead music for our church’s Christmas Eve service, when my wife handed me a letter that had just arrived in the mail. On the envelope was a name and address I didn’t recognize. As I opened the letter, I speculated with great excitement that it might be a holiday greeting from a reader; perhaps a Christmas gift or some token of appreciation, maybe a heartfelt thank you for some meaningful ministry I’d done.

It was not.

What it was, was a two-page handwritten letter from a total stranger, notifying me of my deceptive, heretical, false teachings, and calling me to immediate repentance.

As I poured over her neatly-written, well-articluated, polite-yet-condescending jabs at my suggested lack of Biblical knowledge and sin-coddling ways, I really wanted to be angry, but what I immediately became was sorry.

I was not sorry for the writings she was criticizing, or the points she attempted to make, or even that she had taken the time to do this on Christmas week.

I was sorry for her confidence.

She spoke from a place of absolute certainty and moral superiority. She wrote with a self-assurance that assumed total correctness; as if the words she’d composed had been dictated by, (or at least skimmed and signed-off on) by the Creator Himself.

It was delivered in the kind of judgmental tone that your parents had when they corrected you as a teenager, or when an elementary teacher chastised you during recess; the one that claims to have all of the answers, to know every angle, to predict every possible argument.

She wrote to me as a religious expert who had the market cornered on the Truth, one who was here to protect it from someone who had bastardized it.

In the Bible, those people were called The Pharisees.

The Pharisees usually get a really bad rap from most pastors, preachers, and professors. In the four Biblical biographies called The Gospels, they often butted heads with Jesus, and so that’s the easy road to take when you want to preach lazy and make simple black and white moral points.

In the old western film of the Jesus story, the Pharisees are often painted as the sneering black-hatted villains; the clearly defined baddies, there as easy foils for the benevolent, white-hatted, heroic Jesus.

But the truth is, the Pharisees weren’t bad guys at all. In fact, they were some of the most faithful, wise, God-fearing people in all the Scriptures.

They were steeped in the ancient texts, zealously devoted to preserving the faith of their people (both they and Jesus were Jews), and passionate about defending God in a changing culture that seemed not to care about morality.

They were also consistently wrong.

Over and over and over in the Gospel writings, we see the Pharisees do what so many would-be gatekeepers of the Kingdom still do today. They allowed their perceived understanding, their religious pedigree, and their good intentions to lead them to a place of self-righteousness that decided they had all the answers.

They were intelligent, Biblically* knowledgeable, pious—and they missed God in their midst. They failed to see the new, incredible thing that was being done right in front of them; their heads so stuck in the letter of the law, that they lost the spirit of the lawgiver.

The problem for the Pharisees, (and for my poison pen pal), is that this kind of certainty when speaking of God is almost always a recipe for horrible failure. Thinking you’ve figured out an unfigureouttable God is very dangerous ground, especially when trying to morally look down on other people from it.

In fact, many times in the Gospel stories, Jesus is hanging with disreputable characters, healing on holy days, forgoing the religious purity practices of the day, and saying stuff that sounds like absolute heresy. All the while the Pharisees are so ticked-off and bloated with outrage, that they’re flat-out blind to all that Jesus is trying to show them about the radical scope of his love.

In what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly teaches with the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” It’s Jesus, outlining the way he’s calling the faithful of the past, to deeper, wider, more nebulous places.

He reminds his listeners that adultery is a sexual act, but it’s also an inner lust cultivated in the mind. He condemns murder, along with an anger that would wish another dead. He speaks of a deeper love, that extends beyond simply one’s beloved, but to one’s enemies. So while he instructs about things that we do, Jesus also challenges the stuff we think and feel.

The Pharisees wanted a clearly drawn God of the do’s and don’ts. They could wrap their minds and theology around that kind of God. They could enforce that kind of black and white religion.

The tough thing for any of us who seek God and desire to do what’s right, is that we almost never assume for one second that we could possibly be the Pharisees. We never court the idea that we could be faithful, and earnest, and knowledgeable… and wrong.

I try hard to court that idea every single day. Heck, most days I don’t have to try very hard.

Sure, I may have extremely strong opinions about what I believe, and may feel like I’ve done my homework (reading, studying, praying, listening), but I strive to never let that yield a Pharisaic self-righteousness; the kind that so easily calls people I disagree with “heretical”, or the kind that would lead me to write letters or post comments that imply that I’ve figured God out.

I’m always quite willing to believe that I could be wrong.

Just as it was back then, the Pharisees never are. They always have Truth pegged. They’ve shrunken God down, until He’s become small enough to fit into the traditions, and rules, and the neat and tidy answers that they’ve decided settle things for them and for everyone.

Then Jesus comes along and up-sizes God for them.

Maybe my letter-writer is right, and maybe she isn’t. But for her, maybe isn’t even an option, and that’s what worries me about her and about so many Christians in the world today.

Faith is a wonderful thing. The seeking of Truth, the desire to discover God, and the act of translating that belief into a nuts-and-bolts of life are all precious pursuits.

I’m just not satisfied that absolute certainty is ever part of the deal.

Christian, as you seek to live out your religious convictions, be very careful if you begin to think you’ve contained God, or that you speak for Him. Before you write that letter, or post that comment, or feel that moral superiority over another; pause.

You may indeed be absolutely right, but you may also be the Pharisee; devoted and faithful, but wrong.


*The Pharisees were of course, well-versed in the Old Testament writings, which at that time comprised the Scriptures. The New Testament books had yet to be written.

0 thoughts on “Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees

  1. Are you kidding? You progressive smug liberal “we know better than all the generations who came before us” theologians are the biggest Pharisees there are. Just because you don’t follow time tested lifestyles, and reject the teachings of the past *merely because they come from the past and you don’t like them*, does not mean that you aren’t being just as judgmental and hard headed as the Pharisees of Christ’s day, as you criticize heterosexuals for breeding and Catholics for wanting to protect the unborn.

    • “… you criticize heterosexuals for breeding and Catholics for wanting to protect the unborn.”.

      Gonna have to ask for a quote, describing where I said these things in any fashion… I won’t hold my breath.

    • Actually Ted. I think John hit the nail right on the head with his post.

      Time-tested lifestyles:

      “Boys and girls may not swim in the same water together. Water molecules that have touched the penis may inadvertently float over and touch the vulva, thus resulting in long distance “faux intercourse” outside marriage which is an abomination before the….who?

      Get a life Ted.

  2. God bless you, John and thanks for this and all of the other postings that I have read. And I have discovered that you are in the Raleigh area. I am a resident of Alamance County (Burlington/Graham) and my daughter is a nurse at Wake Med in the new-born nursery.

    I am a member and a Ruling Elder at Hawfields Presbyterian Church. I follow The Christian Left, Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented, and The God Article by Mark Sandlin of Greensboro. I do not recall what posting that I saw recently and found your webpage and signed up to get updates. I did share your post on Homesickness and got a like from a friend.

    I look forward to your upcoming posts. Keep up the good work!!!

    Grace and Peace!

  3. Thank you for your writings, I’ve been reading them for several weeks now. This one in particular sums up the atmosphere which was a big part of my upbringing, very black and white in its thinking. It’s so nice to read your blogs, you seem to “get it” in a way that I’ve found to be very rare. I actually wish I could sit and chat with you in person, but in lieu of that, I’ll say thank you and please continue your good work!

  4. John,

    Have you read Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer”?

    A man [or woman] is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business. — P.23

    It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle not baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. — P.76

    When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism. We merely prevent its leaking out at a certain point, with the likely result that it will leak out at some other point. — P.127

    And this one sums it up,

    To know a person’s religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.
    — Eric Hoffer, “The Passionate State of Mind”, P. 215

    • Thx 4 this. Your share helps me understand many things about ppl caught in the trap of religion addiction and cults. I am recovering from suffering spiritual abuse and cult experiences myself and need to be patient w/ myself and others who are still suffering. I think it is a privilege to be helped to move into a place of having empathy for ppl still trapped and in thrall. It is grace to not carry resentment for what happened to me. I still have some resentment but not as much. I still have flashbacks from p.t.s.d.& am thankful that even this is diminishing as I work daily for my reprieve.

  5. Wow. On the one hand, it’s hard for me not to applaud the effort she took to hand write a two-page letter, which you just don’t see very much these days. So I guess you could feel slightly proud that your words stirred her enough to do that? That’s what friends told every time an anonymous person on the internet would comment on the columns I wrote for my college newspaper and go one for paragraphs about how I should never write again.

    I have no idea if your ideas are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but I don’t know if that’s the point, and that’s not why I read your blog. I admire anyone who is bold enough to believe something strongly yet not be afraid to examine the difficult aspects of it. So on that front, Blogger I’ve Never Actually Met, you have my respect.

  6. Pingback: Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees | Happy God

  7. John Pavlovitz writes an extremely thoughtful blog. As I read this post the question that came up for me is: In what areas am I a Pharisee? Where do I know that I have the right answers? Is it in politics, in race relation questions, in what and how schools should teach, in how our government should be run, or so many other areas? If you are religious pharisee read this blog carefully, it says some important things. If you are not, read it a second time and ask yourself in what areas it describes you. I know it applies to me.

  8. Well said, John! As a former “Pharisee” it’s a struggle everyday to see the real Gospel, the real Jesus and emulate him in how I live and not follow my old list of rules. May God bless you to be relevant in our world that desperately needs to see Jesus for who He was and not who “we” think He was.

  9. Oh how true! I recall the moment 7 years ago when I realized I was a Pharisee. I cried for days. They were not who I had always thought. It’s exactly as you said. And I was one of them. It changed my life!

  10. You have made me weep in relief…so well articulating what I have tried to and failed, still riddled with cuts and bullet holes from similar letters, emails and phone calls.

    Bless you brother…and may our Precious Holy Spirit deliver us always from this heinous insidious deception, keeping us close to a bloody side…

    Charissa Grace

  11. Reblogged this on Charissa's Grace Notes and commented:
    Constance…my friend whom I have never met but know well from our shared spiritual DNA has done it again. Back in the fall there were some dementors that haunted Grace Notes for awhile and occasionally still show up to smear their excrement on my face if I am smiling too broadly or breathing too freely…

    I sought to write about that, how they purport to speak in God’s Name, and alas as usual, my writing was intricate and convoluted and likely left you stranded in the maze. Sigh.

    Thankfully, Mama has connected me with John’s blog…and once again I am reblogging is post, which simply says it all.
    Thanks, John.
    Love, Charissa

  12. Maybe you’re both wrong. You are to me, what your “Pharisee” is to you…it’s all relative, isn’t it? I guess we’ll all know the truth eventually, but I am offended by anyone that insists on telling me that there even is a god, and that I will be damned to their eternal hell if I refuse to accept their beliefs. So many lives wasted over this useless concept of there being some invisible magic dude in the sky that watches over us, and how much trouble I’ll get in if I refuse to accept him. Much like your Pharisee, you truly believe that you are correct, but you most certainly cannot know that.

    • You cannot know I cannot know that! It’s an inside job that works it’s magic on the outside changed attitude and behavior. Its simple. It’s magic to recognize the magic of love and empathy. You can’t fake patience, tolerance & love. Likewise I think it’s not possible to ignore when I was kicked to the curb for not agreeing w/ a status quo on the extreme ends of the spectrum of belief/unbelief. I am fortunately one of the marginal ppl & its like groucho Marx said: ‘I wouldn’t join a club that would have me for a member!’

  13. I had a guy tell me a few years ago that because he had taught Sunday school for 20+ years he knew everything there was to know and he didn’t need to do Bible study anymore. smh…

  14. body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}

    Dear John, I don’t know if you see these replies … but just in case, again I have to say AMEN!!! I don’t know much about you except what I’ve read on your blog here. And, honestly, I’m not even sure where I first saw your words … I thought Facebook – but I haven’t seen you on there, so not sure (senior moment memory loss). But I’m so glad I did; and just have to say every so often (I’ve replied before …) that you are the first Christian I’ve ever heard that hits my heart and soul every single time you “speak” …  My older sister was a “rebel” Baptist pastor for a few years and played a large role in my own Christian experience … But people like the lady you are responding to in today’s blog have played a sad role in my own church life. You, on the other hand, bring me such relief and joy to know that there are others on this earth who love God and believe in Jesus but don’t but them in a tiny little box and create an impossible scenario for living with them for all eternity; and in this life as well, for that matter! Thank you!! God bless you!! Looking forward to every future edition of your blog. Thank you. Prayers and blessings.  Karen McDonnell – Beaverton OR (67 year old newest fan!!)

  15. Spot on. It is the Pharisaical arrogance of, I am absolutely right, that produces denominations, conflict, hurt and distress within the body of Christ. The longer I have been a Christian (coming up on 48 years) the more I realise that I could be wrong about many things. Took a long time to get to this point though: about 38 years!

  16. I read a post you had written pertaining to how the reason people were leaving the church these days was not because of the changing times but because of how, in your words, what the churches these days were presenting was so thin in content and thick on showmanship that it didn’t carry very far once the performance was over. The post was placed on Facebook by a former pastors wife from the last church we attended. We left there and are between churches right now because we got tired of the usual one maybe two family ruling of the church. They ran our pastor off because he tried to be everybody’s pastor not just the chosen few.
    I had never read any of your writings prior to this so I followed your link to this blog. The blog I read was about a lady who had hand written a letter to you informing you of how wrong you were about so many things. You said she had done it in a very polite manor not overly hateful. By this I take it that she was attempting to draw your attention to something she hoped you would sincerely take to heart. Forgive me for somewhat agreeing with her but I must admit as a first time reader that is the same impression I got. I couldn’t help but feel that some how you had come across one of your own blogs and unknowingly wrote that letter to yourself. The letter you referred to described the initial article of your own that brought me to this blog to a T. Condemning of everyone else but yourself. Telling how all other churches were doing every thing wrong except I’m assuming your own.
    I’m reminded of a small somewhat seemingly insignificant but very powerful in my opinion passage which evades me now from the new testament where the deciples had questioned Jesus about a group of people who were going about preaching the gospel on their own. They asked Jesus to rebuke them for not falling in line behind them and Jesus said to leave them alone. In other words don’t condemn others for not doing just like they thought it should be done.
    I refer to the parable of the wheat and the tares. I realized one day that the tares in our churches firmly believe they are the wheat. I also realized that I been the tares at times myself. Anyone who thinks they never have been before are sadly mistaken. I thank God that he chose to leave the tares until his chosen time because I would hate for him to pull up the wheat at the very moment that I was the tare.
    Forgive me but I felt this was just things that needed to be said.

  17. I found a great saying on Phylicia Delta’s blog – “Pharisees come in every color.” Just like on the Sermon on the Mount, these were the people who thought they were doing it right. It is so, exponentially important to remember that, even today, “Pharisees come in every color.” Someone who thinks they’re helping, a church elder, a friend – they are there.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  18. The attitudes expressed in the anonymous letter you received are the attitudes that have pushed me away from the church and God. Your blog invites me to turn toward God and maybe the church again. In fact, your blog is my church right now. I thank you for that.

    • I have found this to be true for me as well. These blogs are a life line and life saving. I’ve been seriously depressed fore over a year and wondering where I fit in to the body of Christ. This is church for me. W/ out the fellowship here I mite be in a hospital or worse.

  19. This is assuming that YOUR viewpoint is the right one. Are you the arbiter of what is “right” and “wrong”? Who is to say that YOU aren’t the Pharisee in question? Jesus was the God of the Old Testament, the one that gave out such “black and white” laws in question. So trying to differentiate him from the Old Testament isn’t a very fruitful exercise. HE gave the original law.

    • Yes. But Jesus gave that law to the Jews ONLY, and He gave it to them for the express purpose of learning that they would be unable to follow it—and would need something better, more reasonable, and more loving to replace it. Jesus came to end the old covenant by fulfilling it and to make a new covenant with ALL people. The Old Testament law has passed away, including the moral law and the 10 Commandments. It has been replaced by a new covenant based on grace, love, and general spiritual principles—and the grace is for when one fails as all humans do. Real faith is not about “certainty.” Real faith is not about, “I know that I know that I know that I am saved.” If you are “certain” and you “know,” then faith plays no role because you “know.” Real faith is embracing all the ambiguity and uncertainty of life in faith that Jesus is there, that He cares, and He is sufficient. If you need “certainty” and “absolutes” to make it through your life, then those two things have become your gods.

      I know. I know.

      “Well, there is just so much uncertainty and ambiguity in life—and so much I don’t understand—and things around me are changing so fast and swirling even faster from one day to the next. Why, it all just makes me dizzy. One of the reasons I became a fundie is because it gives me an inerrant Bible that is absolutely factual and true in all respects—you know—like a maintenance manual. Whenever I have doubts about something, I just look it up and know what to do.

      I’ll give you an example from New Orleans and Katrina. I was working as a guard to protect a city block from looting. There was this black woman with a sick child about 1 year old in her arms. The child was covered with feces, badly dehydrated, and near death. Well, her momma picked up a loose brick and busted out the glass door of a convenience store. Just as I rounded the corner on my patrol, I saw her coming out of the store with two bottles of grape-flavored Pedialyte in her hands. In a flash, the absolute and infallible words of the inerrant Bible came into my mind “Thou Shalt not Steal.” There it was. Clear. Absolute. Final. So, I pulled out my Ruger and blew that sinful black bitch away.”

      And this is precisely how the Scribes and Pharisees failed. Using the Old Testament law in this way is how you can be legally right—but morally and spiritually wrong as rain. It is not wise to use the Bible in this manner, and this is what the Matthew 23 Jesus rant was all about.

      • That was very good, Dover1952, how you explained that when Jesus came the old law passed away, and the New Covenant came into being. Very eloquently stated!!

      • You make a good point with the Katrina example, and how the needs of some seem to outweigh the right and wrong of the situation. That story really does tug at the heart strings and makes one think of what they would do in that situation. I can believe that the first part of that story is true, but the second half, that’s questionable. I doubt that you just blew her away but rather used that as a emotional caption to prove your point. Besides, if you are truly a follower of Christ today, I doubt that someone would tell the story in a manner that shows such callousness towards another.

        I can see several different areas where love could have been shown without the violence of a killing and or without breaking the law.

        First off, there was a need, no question there. The woman with the baby had an urgent need. One in which she saw fit to destroy property and steal to fill that need. Could she have asked someone for help? Did she even try to ask anyone for help?

        What about your part in all this? You were hired as a security guard. Were you authorized to use lethal force to protect the area you were assigned? Or were you hired as a roving body that was just supposed to deter looting? I don’t know where you were spiritually when this all happened, but, could you have covered this woman’s wrongs by notifying the store owner and possibly paying for the broken window and the stolen goods? Granted that you couldn’t cover all that area by yourself, but could you have covered her from her wrongdoings, by making things right between her and the story owner? What did you end up doing?

        I see one major flaw in all this and that is that if the story is construed to show others how you loved this woman by allowing this incident to happen (I’m assuming that you didn’t blow her away as your story depicts), it lacks one thing. There was no sacrifice on YOUR part.

        Love covers a multitude of sin. (1 Peter 4:8 and Proverbs 10:12)

        Christ covered everything himself, he never stole from someone else to cover our own debts. He sacrificed himself completely.

      • Edward. I never said that this story is true and that I was part of it. Notice the quotation marks. It is a parable made up to illustrate a point. You Know. Jesus. Parable. Parable. Jesus.

        The thing I find amazing in your response is the precise Pharasaical attitude and perspective you present, which I would expect of a fundie like you to whom law is everything. The Scribes and Pharisees spent a great deal of their time sitting around and discussively torturing through issues like the various options that the mother could have taken to turn this desperate theft into a nontheft—the process which created the Mishna traditions of men that Jesus railed against in Matthew 23.

        The thing people like you do not understand is that the baby was near death and needed help immediately. There was no time to submit this issue to a committee of Pharisees down at the IFB for several days of discussion on the issue, whiteboard brainstorming about alternative pathways to make everyone’s actions perfectly legal, and then a committee vote on the best course of action to avoid breaking the law. The baby needed Pedialyte right then and there.

        Jesus made that some point in assorted parables. When the need for love conflicts with keeping the religious law—screw the law because the love is the most important thing.

        I once bought a book at a fundie religious bookstore. One of the chapters had this pastor torturing himself to death about a terrorist situation. It was on a hijacked airplane, and a terrorist had a gun to his wife’s head. The terrorist had demanded to know who did something to unravel part of his plan when he was not looking. It was indeed the pastor’s wife who did it. The terrorist asked the pastor if his wife did it. If he said “yes,” the terrorist would blow his wife’s brains out. If he said “no.” the terrorist would leave her and everyone else alone, calm down, and watch over his plan a little better. After extensive mental and emotional self-torture, the pastor concluded that because the Old Testament law is everything, he cannot lie to the terrorist. Therefore, he must tell the truth to the terrorist even though the terrorist would certainly splatter his wife’s brains all over the cabin. This too was a parable—one the pastor constructed to show that a good fundie must adhere extremely tightly to Old Testament under any and all circumstances—even if doing so would certainly result in death, mayhem, and all kinds of evil engulfing innocent people as a result of that adherence.

        So Edward. I will ask you the same question Jesus asked of your kind Eddie:

        You snake. You viper. How will you escape being condemned to Hell when the New Testament makes it clear that your behavior on such matters is no different from that of the Scribes and Pharisees?

      • Dover,
        Parable? “I was working…” Most people would start off with something more to the parable style like “there once was a young man…” type thing, but to each his own.

        God’s throne in heaven is established in righteousness. I doubt that his Son would be a law breaking hell raiser. If Jesus broke the law in order to show love, cough up some references to that affect, please. Here is your chance to teach this old dog some new tricks.

        I love the terrorist parable. That’s a good one! Too bad it is poorly constructed though. Most likely the terrorist has a mindset of one of two different possibilities, either hold everyone hostage alive and hope to get whatever he asks and live long enough to enjoy it, or kill everyone and die along with them. If he kills the wife for her husband being honest, then you have your second hostage situation and you might as well get it over with sooner than later. If that is the case then, honesty really isn’t going to save you then is it? Your life is in God’s hands all the way then. If the terrorist doesn’t kill the wife when the husband is honest, then the terrorist is the liar and he appears weak and you know what his motives are from that point on. Good news for everyone.

        Now if you do lie about it, what do you have then? You really don’t know what you have in that situation. You may have prolonged the situation, but that’s about it. Ever been in court when someone lies about something? All it does is prolong the inevitable, the truth always comes out sooner or later. The matter really falls into the state of mind of the terrorist and what he has planned from the beginning.

        In all honesty though, I would be temped to lie about it. I think most people would considering the gravity of the situation, the stress and the other lives at stake. But as you can see in this situation, honesty is the best policy, whatever the situation.

        About your last question, I have an answer, as you knew I would.

        Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

        Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

        Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

        9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

        It’s not me that gets me to heaven, it’s Him.

      • Edward. Try the first verses and paragraphs of Matthew 12. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. However, it was indeed against the Old Testament Law to gather grain on the Sabbath and to take sheep out of pits. The point Jesus is making is that loving his disciples by satisfying their hunger was more important than keeping the Old Testament law just because it was the Old Testament law. Likewise, using the Sabbath to save the life of a prized and beloved sheep who had fallen into a pit was an act of love that overruled the requirement of the law not to do farm work on the Sabbath. The life of the sheep was more important to Jesus than keeping the law just for the law’s sake alone.

        Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals rant and rave about the evils of so-called “situational morality. ” The thing they forget is that JESUS INVENTED SITUATIONAL MORALITY with his “love over law” religious principle, and he did it in the Bible too.

        Now, I know you fundies probably have some bullshit, smoke n’ mirrors two-step to get around that basic fact. However, I would remind you that the Jews even today maintain that Jesus Christ broke the Old Testament law by advocating such acts of love on the Sabbath. If you cannot see or understand this “love over law” principle that Jesus himself established, then what you have to understand is that you are misunderstanding scripture as you read it in your old age. You are most likely misunderstanding scripture because the Holy Spirit is not dwelling within you to rightly divide the word and show you that “love” takes precedence over “law.” You need to take a close look at your salvation experience. If you were saved at age 6 like so many fundies claim, chances are you were not really saved because a child that age cannot truly understand and appreciate their guilt under Old Testament law. If you were much older and walked the aisle at the altar call simply because you were scared of God and afraid of what he might do to you in Hell, then you came in fear rather than in love. Your focus was on saving your skin rather than on loving Jesus. In other words, it was all about YOU and not at all about the Holy Trinity.

        I feel so sorry for you Edward. You are old now. You could die in your sleep tonight. What are you going to do if that happens? A really good Christian knows that God is going to dip your eternal soul in never-ending gasoline and light you up like a torch for all eternity—simply because you refuse to accept the command of Jesus that love takes precedence over the law.

        (Just thought I would dish out a little bit of the same medicine to you that you people dish out to other people.)

    • The New Testament does not claim that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament.

      No matter how threatening, the greater good can be served by demonstrating that the doctrines of ‘orthodoxy’ are unscriptural, and fatally distort the New Testament teachings.

      For instance, the New Testament claims that Jesus was a man who, from a position of the greatest weakness, challenged the values of those in the greatest authority, and paid the penalty for so doing.

      This Jesus was a man with whom we can all identify, with whom we can share suffering, with whom we can empathise. This Jesus is the man we are expected to emulate.

      The doctrines of ‘orthodoxy’ present us with exactly the opposite scenario – a god-man possessing from the very beginning a divine character impossible to emulate, whereas the message of the New Testament is that the Kingdom of God on earth can be established by universal emulation of Jesus’ character in action. If it is possible for one man, then it is possible, and expected, of all men and women.

      In this age of universal access to knowledge, very few reasonable persons are willing to accept the reason-defying doctrines of orthodox Christianity. So Christianity as we know it is slated for extinction if the unscriptural doctrines of Virgin Birth/Divinity/Trinity are not fearlessly jettisoned in favour of an honest appraisal of what the New Testament teaches about the man we claim to follow.

      After all, these doctrines have absolutely no basis in the New Testament and are a pagan product of the Hellenist/Latin inclinations and teachings of the Church Fathers who knew nothing about Jewish thought, terminology, or modes of expression.

  20. Extremely well said. It’s pretty easy to become like the Pharisees when we first come to know Christ, or have studied and known Him for some time. Unfortunately, individuals who feel that righteousness, never do as the song by Casting Crowns says “Jesus, friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.” The Pharisees in their time were the holders of the law but as you said, Christ came and up-sized God. It’s the upsized God we need to know today. We need to let go of the rules of religion and go back to the time of the Ecclesia where the only rule was bringing people to the salvation of Jesus. I hope and pray your letter writer, and those that feel “above” the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, will find their way to the true love of God in His son Jesus.

  21. Hi John, how have YA been?

    In response to your post about the “not necessarily wanted hand written letter”, I think it fair to ask for the contents of her letter ( keeping all names out of it).

    After all, what we will have to go on is whether or not she was sharing:

    1. Truth couched in Mercy. (The way ‘truth’ must always be presented. )

    2. Truth hit across the face in an unkind manner. Too many are hurting people this way. Truth here is misapplied to whip and cause suffering. Very bad! – the devil’s delight!

    3. Lies and partial or twisted truths couched or presented in love. -Here we have a growing trend of false teaching, and unbiblical interpretations of Scripture leading many to darkness and eternal peril. This is how some cults form usually from a strong personality to lead, draw, and then control others. But now, even some main line denominations are taking up the banner of love and acceptance and even a celebration of and promotion of sinful, destructive practices.

    4. Lies and partial or twisted truths presented harshly with a sense of judgement and punitive condemnation from a “holier than thou” heart. This is on the rise, say in the last 15 years. We have people purporting what they feel is true and right, disregarding the full, uncompromising authority of God’s Holy, infallible, and inerrant Word, the Bible. And… they are chiding conservative, fundamental Christians saying they are:

    – Intolerant
    – Judgmental
    – Bigoted
    – Homophobic
    – Sexist
    – Hateful
    – Self-righteous
    – Like the “know it all” Pharisees
    – trying to control a woman’s choices regarding her own body. (Abortion)

    Question: Can’t civil people agree to chat, discourse, and share different and apposing well defended ideas and positions without name calling, anger, and rejection? I certainly trust we can.

    Yes, my new pen pal friend, Scripture can be used by the devil, or by hurtful, arrogant people to try to square you away, to manipulate, or to simply stamped “Condemned” on you.

    Also, well intended people may improperly translate certain verses, or completely ignore other Bible passages all together to push their non-God Honoring agenda… All the while “packing em into the pews.”

    But , if a Christian, with sincerity, and a tender, yielded heart full of “1Corinthian 13” mercy, humbly seeks the Lord and then rightly divides the Word of God …

    (2Timothy 2:15) -“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

    … Then it would be wise for any of us to humbly listen.

    Please share the letter anonymously so we can decide for ourselves if what she writes is in category 1, 2, 3, or 4.

    Please back up your complaint with Scripture … our final and absolute authority.

    God bless you, John. You are a gifted writer like few I’ve read. I look forward to your response. Until then, have a restful time during these few days leading to the New Year.

    Take care!

    Ephesians 4:32

    Jim Grunseth, Rev., MA-CP, CRU

    • Translation: John is an awful, heretical sinner. I know that. Everything the young woman wrote to John was true, but she probably failed to present it in the right way. However, if I come on coy and reasonable to John here, I may be able to save the day by presenting John’s errors to him in the “right spirit” and thus get him to understand his great error, repent, and be truly saved.

      I cannot speak for John. Only he can do that. However, speaking for myself alone, and at the same time being in the same frame of mind as Jesus in Matthew 23, my recommendation Reverend is for you to:

      “Find a little honesty in your life instead of trying to be coy and clever—blow your recommendations above out your rear end.

  22. Very well written and excellent points. I feel this is all part of our own persecution and our “participation in the death of Christ”. 2 Cor 4:10 I too have felt this type of attack and it comes from some of those closest to me. You are obviously further along than I am because you didn’t get angry. I am not yet there and I sometimes write back responses in my own blog attacking the “religious” mindset and a few times the person. I am a “death in progress”. However, isn’t this what Jesus did too? I can’t help but think that at some point he will use us who are alive to stand up and speak the truth boldly to the “Pharisees” who insist on trying to live under the law. But, how does God administer his wrath (to those who insist on living under law), gracefully? I haven’t been able to reconcile this. Could God use our own “death” to administer words of wrath to those who insist on living under the law in self-righteousness? God bless.

    • I try to take it one day at a time, loving one person at a time & listen to the still small voice for immediate wisdom in everything I do. Also in a.a we say it’s none of my business what other ppl think of me!As

  23. I have to agree with John on this one, although I enjoyed reading ALL the comments. What makes me go along with John on this HUGE and often confusing subject? These words:

    “I’m just not satisfied that absolute certainty is ever part of the deal.”

    This is where I am in life. Whenever I think that I’m certain about something in the Bible, I am suspicious of that certainty. I’ve been a believer in Christ for many, long years. But……..getting older does NOT necessarily guarantee getting wiser. And, I think if anyone believes it does………..I pray they step back and take another look………or two……or three. I’m still learning and not too proud to say I’m still in first grade.

    • When being right and certain is more important than another human being and doing violence to that human being something is amiss. Sacrificing you at the alter of one’s certainty is not cool. Please love her John. No need for reaction, just love. Blessings.

      • Will love say nothing to correct a blind Pharisee or will it speak the hard (and yet truly loving) words of truth that could convict the person and cause them to repent? We are all part of the true circumcision having our outer (false) man being cut off by the “two-edged” sword of truth. One side cuts them and the other us. I used to think “love” was soft and wimpy. You know, fresh warm bread, and unicorns. Now, I believe TRUE love often speaks harsh-sounding words of pure truth in the best way possible. These are true words of life are they not?

    • I pray those that have been hurt by people espousing truth in an unkind or unloving manner (we will take John’s word for it that this letter is an example of that) will not equate every form of certainty with Pharisee-ism of the negative kind. The Scriptures presuppose certainty is not only possible but is even the goal that they exist. We presume I hope that Luke didn’t have an improper goal in writing his gospel. Listen to his goal in Luke 1:4 below:

      ​ With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught Luk 1:3-4

      I notice amongst many there is an appeal to uncertainty-in-everything as a solution to the maladies of mean, self-righteous people pretending to know everything, but even those who believe in uncertainty-in-everything can be ironically certain about their position and mean as well. We think sometimes uncertainty is a sign of humility however I believe Luke can meet his goal and by doing so produce more humility in the one who truly understands and is certain than before the Scriptures were read and understood. The fact that there are differing opinions and proud people holding them does not mean certainty in a truth and humility can’t exist together in holiness. I believe Scripturally they not only can co-exist but must co-exist.

      From Luke’s introduction, he clearly was writing (by the Spirit’s will and desire) that the reader would be “certain” of the things that has been taught. Certainty according to the Scriptures is not evil in and of itself nor is it a tell-tale sign of pride. On the other hand, the person who thinks He has all of God figured out has not considered this passage:

      The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law Deu 29:29

      The person who thinks nothing is certain does not understand that the things revealed (not conjecture) are so that we will be certain, not always doubting which is never a Biblical virtue. Faith is the assurance of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

      Sometimes certainty rises from seeing as well (from the same gospel of Luke):

      They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Luk 24:37-39

      Jesus wanted them to be certain he was not a ghost but rather had flesh and bones. They were wrong about what they thought and Jesus wanted them to be both right and certain. If being right and certain means they must be proud, then Jesus was leading them into sin by doing this. God forbid. It could never be so.

      Certainty is definitely part of the deal as far as Scripture goes and it can, no must co-exist with humility, or else God is opposed to the person who claims certainty in anything. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Part of that grace is certainty. Jesus demonstrates that here – He is full of grace and truth.

  24. John, echoing what some people have already commented, at what point do you address the content of what someone says versus their tone?

    Ideally, love without truth is sentimentality, truth without love is judgmentalism, and somewhere in the middle is the balance we should strive for. But are we humble enough to look for the truth in something when there is no love apparent? Maybe there is something that I missed. Maybe my own attitude to that person is condescending… I can honestly say that some of the truest criticism of myself has been said in harsh, no uncertain terms. It took me a while to hear it but I am glad I did.

    Just a thought. The “maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but…” attitude may be just an excuse to not examine something deeper. It’s easy to rabble rouse, but it’s a lot harder to be on the receiving end of it.

    • This is very well put Excelsior. I too have received criticism and because of how it was delivered was tempted to brush it aside. Many times what was actually said was true upon deeper examination and I benefited greatly even if it was shared in a wrong manner.

      Sometimes we find firmness is necessary, especially when it has to do with the gospel:

      When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned Gal 2:11

  25. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27,

    “Therefore I run thus, not with uncertainty. This I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

    It’s seems to be a common practice for John to not post scripture chapter and verse to support his stance and understandings of Gods Word on most all of his blog posts. This is very disconcerning and frankly, a poor way to present God and His life principles to readers. I know, the premise of this blog is about saying what John thinks needs to be said, but Christians (which I assume John is) are commanded to speak the oracles (scripture) of God (1 Pet 4:11). Scripture text must be spoken to get Gods points across because it is only the written and living Word that penetrates and convicts people to how God wants us to be wherever we are at in our walk, our race to the prize. Those who hear and are called will listen and change. Those who don’t, oh well, its their choice. If we start down the road of opinion and feelings and beliefs on our own wisdom and understanding, we will never be pleasing to the Lord for there is no power within our words (1 Cor 2:4-5). You are shooting blanks and quite possibly leading souls astray into a “soft gospel” which is running rampant today. Christians are not Christians to please themselves. They’re Christians only to please God ( 1 Thess 2:4). He does not tolerate human wisdom and I can say that 100% knowing God is in agreement. This isn’t Pharisaical, its Gods Word. Here, read it for yourselves friends – 1 Timothy 4:12-16ff. If our progress in the race isn’t evident to all as Paul is exhorting here, lets keep on running the race. If your walking process is evident, then praise God for you, teach others. But lets not trade the Word of God for human wisdom and opinion.

    Doctrine – doctrine – doctrine…

    I would agree with a previous post in this thread that if there are going to be observations and judgments made by Mr. Pavlovitz’s of the letter writers comments to him, and he chooses to share his thoughts about them to the whole world online, he should at minimum post the letter here for those who wish to comment or don’t bring it up. Its only fair. There very well may be some solid food and truth’s we can “know” by the letter writer, and there may not as well. But we observers by John’s inferred open invitation ought to be the ones to decide if certain entries are Pharisaical or not. As it stands what I see here is an invitation and temptation by John whether godly or not, to continue the propagation of feeding readers “spiritual milk” instead of the meat of Gods Word as I assume he is fully aware being a pastor and in leadership roles in the church (Heb 5:12-14). The way I see it, this post really adds nothing to the edification of the Lords people in any way (Rom 14:16-19). Its just additional stuff that needs to be said content God isn’t paying attention to. How do I “know” this? If you truly have the Spirit of Christ within you, ask Him. You will “know” in about 5 seconds.

    Blessings, Eric
    2 Timothy 3:16-17

    • God gave you a brain to think—not to sit on your duff with it turned off and set on automatic record before silly rural preachers with plum-colored suits and TV news anchor haircuts.

      I think you really meant to say: Bible-Bible-Bible

      News flash!!! The Holy Spirit exists. He has power. He lives within us today. He communicates directly with us. The trouble with you fundies is that you have spent the past 11 decades trying to kill him off. Your biggest “kill off” stroke was when you tried to corral him and issue the “wrong doctrine” that his only power in this world is to translate scripture properly for fundie Bible readers.

      The truth of the matter is that the Holy Spirit is too big to be locked up in your hat closet. He does much more than you think possible in this world, and He does whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants, and wherever He wants—and He doe not give a flying copulation about what you or the other folks down at the IFB church think about it.

      The Earth is more than 6,000 years old. If the Holy Spirit lives within you, and He is telling you the Earth is about 6,000 years old when you read the Bible, then your so-called “right doctrine” is really “wrong doctrine” because something other than the Holy Spirit is telling you what the scripture means. He and I both know the Earth is billions of years old, and the Holy Spirit is not a liar and neither am I on points like this.

      By the way, when Jesus was 12 years old and sneaked off to the temple to discuss things with the priests and teachers there, I hope you are not so stupid as to believe that they were throwing out-of-context Bible verses at each other all day—as people like you do. There is a long Jewish tradition of looking deeply into scripture and the nature of human life—and discussing them in the manner that John Pavlovitz does here on his blog. Jesus is not nearly as small and stupid as you apparently think He is.

      Now. Let’s get in some practice. Repeat after me:

      “He will not hear right doctrine. He will not hear right doctrine. He will not hear right doctrine.”

  26. Hi John,
    As always, your posted thoughts make me think about how I apply my faith in my interactions with others. The importance of the law is to provide a minimal norm for the way people in a society treat each other. A guide for human interaction. The failure of the law is it’s inflexibility. Without wise judges a society, based only on law, soon becomes inhuman. The root of inhumanity is not cruelty, it is lack of love. Love cannot be dictated by law, it must be taught by example and kindness, and is often best shown as a response to unkindness.

    It seems to me that preaching the gospel may be necessary, but demonstrating it through acts of love is more effective. And that loving the unloveable is a clear message of the gospel. You challenge me along those lines each time I read your posts, and you encourage me as well. Even one as unloveable as I am is loved. Our God is outrageously forgiving, and eternally loving.

    Thanks for letting him demonstrate that through your acts and words do love.

  27. I will not be printing a private letter’s contents here, though I will be responding personally to her soon.

    The point of the piece, (for those who have intentionally or unintentionally missed it), is that certainty (even doctrinal certainty) is something that can become a stumbling block to even the most faithful, good hearted person.

    I see no need to have a Bible-quote battle with other Christians, as these things simply devolve into using Scripture sound bites against Scripture soundbites to try and prove one has the better take. It’s not only wasted energy, but it’s exactly the reason the Pharisees ran into problems with their own hearts.

    The Pharisees HAD doctrine. They HAD the Scriptures. They HAD the correct theology, and yet they still missed Jesus, because they were unwilling to think differently and to trust in the sovereignty of God.

    I’m perfectly fine with people disagreeing with me or my ministry (as evidenced by thousands of comments throughout the 200 posts here), But when anyone claims they have God figured out, I simply can’t allow it. It’s a delusion.

    As I stated in the post and in numerous previous ones, I may not be correct in the ways I interpret Scripture, understand God, and hear Him speaking to me, but all I can do is respond accordingly.

    Glad for all the responses here. As I said in the piece: read, study, pray, reflect, and respond in integrity. None of us have it all figured out.


    • John,

      I appreciate the ability you have to cause self-reflection regarding the possibility some of us are Pharisees in the true Biblical sense and we should all self-reflect knowing the heart is deceitfully wicked by nature apart from God’s help. However, your comments are self-contradictory here in regard to correct theology and the associated certainty we should have of it. As such a piece like this can have a devastating affect for those who don’t see that while connecting with the emotional aspects of your response above. You said:

      “The Pharisees HAD doctrine. They HAD the Scriptures. They HAD the correct theology, and yet they still missed Jesus, because they were unwilling to think differently and to trust in the sovereignty of God”

      You can’t have correct theology and still miss Jesus. Correct theology, by definition and by Jesus’ own words, doesn’t miss Jesus.

      What you have done in this piece (either “intentionally or unintentionally”) is undermine correct theology and certainty (both are always virtuous and right in the Scriptures) and are never a burden or wrong (see comments on certainty from 12/30 above). Certainty is undermined by planting the seed it may not be “part of the deal” (original post above) and “correct theology” is undermined by redefining it so that one can supposedly have it and still miss Jesus.

      I think you can see that by definition seeing Jesus (God) rightly is part and parcel of having good theology. Jesus said as much. My comments in parens:

      If you had known me (i.e. not missed Jesus), you would have known my Father also (i.e. would have had good theology that knew the “theos” part of the word theology) Jn 14:7

      Knowing the Father is correct THEOlogy. Knowing the Father is knowing Jesus and vice versa. Notice the poor theology of the Pharisees here:

      You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life Jn 5:39-40

      Jesus is telling them they have poor theology because they are rejecting the Scriptures witness about him (i.e. rejecting correct interpretations of the Scripture).

      After undermining the Scriptural virtue of certainty and redefining good theology as being powerless to see Jesus/God (that doesn’t make sense), you connect them with the people in Scripture that no one wants to be like and you have created an emotional straw man (false picture/theory of reality) that you then knock down and some others say Amen.

      Meanwhile you have written this in such a way that it makes anyone who has ever been hurt by a self-righteous prickly person self-promoting their theology to resonate with your writing at an emotional level perhaps not realizing what is happening to their own theology (“you can have right theology and miss Jesus”) and doctrine of epistemology (certainty) in the process.

      I am all for self-reflection but we can’t undermine or redefine Biblical virtues in the process, especially two virtues that are foundational for the Christian life. It is ironic that had the Pharisees truly had good theology and were certain about it, they would have not crucified Him because they would have seen him for who he was.

  28. John,

    Thank you for the gift of this post. I was written a similar letter earlier this year and it simply broke my heart. The woman, who claimed to be my friend, was bothered by a post on my blog: and told me God would never use such means to reach out to His children. I was hurt not only by her judgement of me but also her judgement of Him.

    When we stuff God into a perfectly-wrapped box, we limit His power, presence and blessings in our lives. He decides how He is manifest to and within us. I knew that then. But truly Know it now.

    With thanksgiving,

    • A number of fundies, Charles Stanley in particular, seem to feel that knowledge of God can be used by humans to control God and get him to spit up whatever humans want out of him.

      No one controls God in any way, shape, or form. I like that fact. God is God—and I am not. Okay all you fundies. Let’s say it in unison:

      “You are God—and I am not.”

      “You are God—and I am not.”

      “You are God—and I am not.”

      • I used to be such a huge fan of Dr. Stanley……..haven’t watched him in many, many years now. I know he’s a good man. But, he’s part of all that I’ve left behind me now. I have no animus for him or the others, such as Osteen and Myers…….but, I have moved on.

  29. John, you’re in my head bro. Just earlier today I hit this part of Derek Flood’s book “Disarming Scripture” and have been pondering it:
    “Jesus, in contrast, understood faithfulness to Scripture as embodied in acts of compassion—even when that meant that he continually appeared in the eyes of the religious leaders around him to be breaking God’s laws. The question we must consider is this: Are we in fact interpreting the Bible in the way of the Pharisees, or in the way Jesus did? In order to answer this we will need to take a deeper look at what characterizes these two opposing approaches to interpreting Scripture. Here it is helpful to think of these two approaches to Scripture in the following categories: The Pharisees are representative of the way of unquestioning obedience, and Jesus is representative of the way of faithful questioning.”

    • Should we not be interpreting the Bible as Jesus did? After all, he was God’s actual son………and the Pharisees were not. I’m all for following Jesus’ way of living.

    • It is not just unquestioning obedience. It is not just obeying the law because God made the law either. It is obeying the law blindly for its own sake with no care whatsoever for who or what gets hurt in the process. This is why Jesus refers to the scribes and Pharisees as “blind guides.” They have their eyes so honed in on honoring the cellulose cells in the trees that they are not even aware of the forest.

      Here in East Tennessee, some of the locals pronounce the phonetic long “i” as an “o,” so “blind guides” becomes “blonde gods.” Thor?

  30. Thank you for sharing. You share without condemnation – without judgement of the writer of the letter. Maybe the content of the letter, but not the writer. That to me reflects Christ. And then you go into a great teaching on “Pharasee-ism”. I am very thankful I was led to this page. Plus, it eased my own heart on statements I’ve received about my music. I hope and pray you continue to pour out the love of God. Thanks!

  31. Pingback: A Perfect Example Of Cultural Relativism | Deal of Theology

    • In the posts you criticize, I clearly admit several times that I may be wrong and believe that no one, (including myself) has ultimate authority, so you use a lot of words to attack something that I never claim and positions I do not hold. However, if that helps you feel more justified in your lofty position, that’s fine. My blog is my perspective, my opinion. Your blog is yours. Neither is the Truth, I’m sorry to inform you.

      Ultimately you believe you have the market cornered on Truth, which is great. The Pharisee believed such things too. I’ll never make that claim. I’ll willing to admit the greys and I’m fine admitting that some questions don’t have neat and tidy answers. Glad you have everything wrapped up.

      As for your vehement, angry reaction to the challenges I make to the modern day Pharisees, who have the great hubris to think they along speak for God: Me thinks thou doth protest to much.

      Thanks for reading.

  32. I am sorry sir, you do not properly represent what a Pharisee is, and your response to this woman is totally invalid. If you are going to respond to someone who accuses you of being deceptive and teaches heresy, you ought to specifically address their points, and not merely say that they are a Pharisee for being discerning. Pharisees disobeyed God’s law; they did not uphold it.

    • Incorrect. The Pharisees were the conservers of the Law. Their desire was to protect it. They may have missed Jesus, but their intent was policing the people of God.

      • Incorrect, they were hypocrites and made the law null and void through their traditions. They heaped so much false doctrine unto the law, themselves, and the people that we have an account in Matthew 5 of correcting some of the teaching of his contemporaries. A Pharisee in the New Testament is equivalent to a hypocrite that prevents someone from truly obeying the law, not a picture of pious individuals who were intense about making righteous judgements. Pavlovitz’s analogy is wholly invalid and his response is invalid.

        • Their hypocrisy did not alter the fact that their form of Judaism, their doctrine, was correct. The other main faction, the Sadducees, were doctrinally wrong. Yes, the Pharisees did tend to treat the oral law (early Talmud) as if it were scripture, which was an error. But they knew the Law of Moses thoroughly, believed it, and taught it. Of the religious leaders of first century Judaism, it was the Pharisees who stood as doctrinally correct. Doctrinally, Jesus was a Pharisee, as was Paul. This primarily indicated that they believed in resurrection of the dead, in angels and spirits. Sadducees believed in none of that.

          • “Their hypocrisy did not alter the fact that their form of Judaism, their doctrine, was correct.”

            No it wasn’t. Jesus corrected it and showed that they nullified the law (the doctrine) of God through their traditions:

            “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:13).

            Sure they believed the resurrection and whatnot, but they were not doctrinally correct on a variety of issues. In fact, Jesus told them that they did not believe the scriptures, so your claim that they believed it is incorrect:

            “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”” (John 5:46-47).

            This proves that most of the Pharisees, except those like Nicodemus, did not believe scripture but substituted their own ideas, and these vain traditions, NOT the Word of God, they pushed upon other people to obey.

            As a result of all of this, Pavlovitz’s disregard of the woman’s letter and calling her a pharisee is an invalid analogy since the Pharisees abused God’s word and heaped up traditions. If the woman was merely calling Pavlovitz to repent, about whatever the issue may be, exhorting him to correction according to the teaching of God’s word, this has nothing to do with the Pharisees described in the Bible.

            • God does not leave Himself without a witness. If we were to go by you, when Jesus arrived on the scene, the entire Jewish nation was in apostasy. That wasn’t the case. There is no question that the oral law, the traditions, were not good, and did indeed nullify the word of God in the lives of those who followed them. That’s not in question. But putting aside their Talmudic additions, their basic understanding of the Tanakh was correct, if incomplete. (A more complete understanding might have allowed them to recognize that Messiah’s first coming was not the glorious one yet to come, but a more humble, simple arrival.)
              The level of their belief is questionable, not just for the Pharisees, but for many today. I’ve met many a Christian, including ministers, who fully know, understand, and stand for correct doctrine… but in their own lives, they live as though they don’t really believe. They may claim to believe, but their own actions belie that claim. But it’s unlikely the Pharisees were completely devoid of belief in the word. Even the most decadent and unlikely persons showed some belief. King Herod, upon hearing of the birth of Messiah, clearly believed, and responded in a manner that showed he believed (even though that response was negative). Paul perceived that King Agrippa also believed the prophets. And yet, neither of these kings were the image of Jewish piety, nor had either dedicated his life to the service of God. The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, were a different matter. Where they demonstrated disbelief was perhaps in their failure to differentiate between God’s word, forever settled in heaven, and their own traditions from earlier centuries. Not seeing the distinction, they felt justified in placing their traditions on a par with, and in practice, above, the word of God. That in and of itself, of course, didn’t make them hypocrites; just confused. (There are some denominations of Christianity today that place tradition on a level with scripture, and in some measure, most of Christianity does, continuing practices that are traditional but not scriptural. Is that an error? Yes, but that’s a different topic.)
              The Pharisee’s hypocrisy was no different than many today who profess correct doctrine, or what they believe to be correct doctrine: They enforce it strictly on others, but tend to do the opposite themselves, or look for loopholes, etc., to get around the rules. The Pharisees had correct doctrine… but it was leavened with hypocrisy and tradition. The truth was still in there… even though nullified in their own lives by their additives. The Sadducees were no different in their tradition and hypocrisy… but they didn’t even have a proper doctrinal background under it.

              • “God does not leave Himself without a witness. If we were to go by you, when Jesus arrived on the scene, the entire Jewish nation was in apostasy.”

                The vast majority, of course.

                “But putting aside their Talmudic additions, their basic understanding of the Tanakh was correct, if incomplete.”

                Which basic understanding might I ask? We are losing sight of my original critique of this blog post. However, John 5, which I have already quoted, proves that the Pharisees did not believe Moses. They were apostates with bad doctrine. They were hypocrites. Therefore, to apply a label which refers to hypocritical deniers of God’s revelation to a woman who is merely concerned about proper doctrine (as Paul was in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and everywhere else), is a false analogy and a careless disregard for what is very possibly a valid criticism. Those who critique others are not Pharisees by merit of critiquing others. If this were the case, the only people who wouldn’t be pharisees would be those that have no thoughts at all.

                “The level of their belief is questionable, not just for the Pharisees, but for many today.”

                I’m not going with you down this rabbit trail. I am asserting that Pavlovitz’s “Pharisee” accusation is facile and invalid. If you want to talk about other things then go ahead, but I do not care to hear it in this context since it is off topic.

                “But it’s unlikely the Pharisees were completely devoid of belief in the word…King Herod, upon hearing of the birth of Messiah, clearly believed, and responded in a manner that showed he believed…Paul perceived that King Agrippa also believed the prophets.”

                This is called equivocation.

                “Not seeing the distinction, they felt justified in placing their traditions on a par with, and in practice, above, the word of God.”

                Exactly, and Pavlovitz must demonstrate that this is what the woman was doing who was criticizing him in order for his objection to be valid. As of now, it is not valid because he just calls her a Pharisee for attempting to discern correct doctrine.

                “The Pharisee’s hypocrisy was no different than many today who profess correct doctrine”

                This is wildly irrational. Everyone who claims to believe correct doctrine is a hypocrite? You’re claiming to be right by claiming that those who claim to be right are hypocrites. Therefore by your standard you are a hypocrite. Luckily your statement is not true; it is self refuting.

                “They enforce it strictly on others, but tend to do the opposite themselves, or look for loopholes”

                Pavlovitz has not demonstrated that the woman who wrote him the letter possesses this character, therefore his calling her a pharisee is still invalid.

                “The Pharisees had correct doctrine”

                They didn’t have correct doctrine, or if they did then you need to explain which parts of their faith were correct and why these insignificant, secondary matters are not arbitrary. They crucified the messiah and Jesus told them in John 5 that they did not believe Moses. This is not correct doctrine… Appealing to the fact that they believed in one God or the resurrection ignores the fact that they were apostates who replaced scripture with their traditions and were sons of hell who rejected Christ and did not believe Moses.

                If it was true that they had correct doctrine but it was merely tainted with false doctrine through their traditions, in what meaningful way can you call their doctrine true? If “The truth was still in there… even though nullified in their own lives,” how to they have truth and good doctrine when it is nullified…? This is a self-contradictory sentence.

                And I don’t care about the Sadducees in this context; I am talking about Pavlovitz’s invalid “Pharisee” name calling. How he dealt with the issue and wrote a blog about her was invalid and extremely facile. He did not address her concerns but merely said that he might be wrong and might be a heretic.

                  • I’m getting “worked up” because Pavlovitz’s response is invalid and self contradictory, his pharisee name-calling is careless, and he concludes that he might be a heretic. What else is there to say? If being a pharisee is telling others that their position is incorrect, then Pavlovitz is a pharisee for calling someone a pharisee, but this is not what a pharisee is. If Pavlovitz doesnt want people to make confident claims, like how he doesnt want the woman he is talking about to make confident claims, then he shouldnt confidently claim she is a pharisee. Pavlovitz does exactly what he irrationally criticizing the woman for doing.

                    • My explanation of what a Pharisee is, is completely reflected in the words of Jesus throughout the Gospels. If that angers you, I’m sorry, but the heart of the post is that anyone who claims religious pedigree, moral correctness, and that they speak exclusively for God; is in danger of being in the same self-righteous, but spiritually blind place that the Pharisees found themselves. You aren’t above that place either, I would caution you.

                      I clearly state in the piece that I often question my own rightness, that doesn’t equal me being a heretic, but simply human.

                      If that gets you worked up, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make you any more correct.

                      Thanks for reading and commenting.

                    • I’m not worked up. I’m just showing you the flaws of your reasoning.

                      “My explanation of what a Pharisee is, is completely reflected in the words of Jesus throughout the Gospels.”

                      It’s not the definition reflected in the Gospels because Jesus constantly describes Pharisees as hypocrites (Matthew 23, Mark 7:6-13) who tell other people to do what they themselves do not do; Pharisees are not people who obey the law, since they tell other people to obey they law while they do not obey the law themselves. If you can’t show that this woman is being hypocritical for merely calling you to repent (of whatever it may be), then you have given us no reason to think she is a Pharisee. A Pharisee is not someone who merely calls others to repentance, otherwise John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles would all be Pharisaical which they obviously weren’t. If that angers you I’m sorry.

                      “but the heart of the post is that anyone who claims religious pedigree”

                      You didn’t quote her, so you haven’t offered us any reason to think that she thought she was better than you, and therefore your claim is invalid. Furthermore, you cannot demonstrate that calling others to repentance is claiming moral pedigree because the apostles called people to repentance. Calling people to repentance is not claiming moral pedigree by merit of calling others to repent. Jesus says not to hypocritically call others to repent of something that they themselves are doing in Matthew 7, but he goes on to command the people to pluck the speck out of another’s eye after having first repented of that since themselves. Since Jesus commands us to remove specks from our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes, this woman is merely obeying scripture if she is merely trying to take a speck out of your eye. But since I do not know what the issue is, and since you haven’t quoted her, we cannot know unless you provide us with the information. Until then, all you are doing is invalidly calling someone a Pharisee for calling you to repent of something. This is not what a Pharisee does. Once again, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles called people to repentance also. It doesn’t make them Pharisees.

                      “moral correctness”

                      Are you morally correct or incorrect by asserting nobody is morally correct? If this is incorrect, then you are wrong, but if it is correct that no one is morally correct, then you are still wrong since you couldn’t be correct either. If by this statement you mean that anyone who claims that they are sinless is wrong, then this would be correct, but you haven’t quoted anything this woman has said, so you give us no reason to think that she was claiming moral perfection merely for claiming to be correct on a single doctrinal issue. If no one can claim to be correct on any single doctrinal issue, then you cannot claim to be correct either, and therefore you cannot claim that she is wrong since you would be claiming to be right, which you seem to think no one can be. This is either self-contradiction or it means that your claim is still invalid, since you have presented no evidence that a woman who calls you to repent is a Pharisee merely for calling you to repent. Also, if you are saying you might be wrong, as you do at the end of your post, then why are you trying to argue anything at all if you think you may not be right? Shouldn’t you be sure about something before you make a claim like the Pharisee claim that you have made? And if you do not think that one ought to be sure before making a claim, then are you sure about that?

                      “and that they speak exclusively for God”

                      So making a truth claim about the Bible is claiming to speak exclusively for God? If making truth claims about the Bible is the same as claiming to speak exclusively for God, then why are you speaking exclusively for God by saying that you can know what a Pharisee is? In reality you and this woman have done the exact same thing; you have both made truth claims about God and the Bible, but whereas the woman claims it is possible to understand what God has revealed to us, you contradict yourself by saying that anyone who claims to know what the Bible says is wrong while you simultaneously claim to know some of what the Bible says. You criticize this woman according to things that you yourself do. You contradict yourself without realizing it. However, if she was literally claiming that she spoke directly for God, wouldn’t this mean that she denies scripture? If she claimed to possess the sole revelation of God, this would mean that she would deny that the Bible is God’s revelation. Obviously if she is backing up her claims with scripture she isn’t claiming to speak exclusively for God because she holds that the Bible speaks for God, and therefore everyone who claims to obey scripture out to submit themselves to it. But once again, you do not quote her, so no one can know for sure whether she really is a self-refuting megalomaniac, or if you are merely misrepresenting this woman in order to give an excuse to not repent of whatever it is that she is calling you to repent of. I suspect the latter.

                      “is in danger of being in the same self-righteous”

                      If people are self righteous for claiming to know anything about the Bible and to know some of the things that God has commanded, then you are being self righteous for claiming that you know that the Bible teaches that being a Pharisee is bad (even though you do not properly define what a Pharisee is: a hypocrite). But again, none of us know if this woman was being self righteous because you don’t quote her, and once again, if people are self righteous for claiming to possess some knowledge of the Bible, then you are self righteous for claiming that you know the Bible better than her. If you back up and say you are not claiming to know the Bible better than anyone, then why are you disregarding the exhortation of a person that might know the Bible better than you?

                      “but spiritually blind place that the Pharisees found themselves”

                      You haven’t shown this woman is spiritually blind because you haven’t addressed her concerns or refuted her; you’ve only called her a Pharisee merely for claiming to know anything about the Bible and merely for calling you to repent of something. These qualities do not reflect spiritual blindness: claiming that it is evil to calmly exhort others to repentance and claiming that believing one

                      “You aren’t above that place either, I would caution you”

                      You would caution me for saying that your Pharisee charge is invalid? So I’m wrong merely for saying that you are wrong? How is this statement not the epitome of self contradiction? What are you cautioning me against? Are you cautioning me against having the audacity to believe that I am right? If I ought not believe I am right, then why do you think you are justified in thinking that you are right for cautioning me against thinking that I am right?

                      “I clearly state in the piece that I often question my own rightness, that doesn’t equal me being a heretic, but simply human”

                      You said that you think you might be a heretic. This is not equivalent to addressing the woman’s claims. Furthermore, it’s fallacious to accuse everyone who believes that they are correct on a single issue to believe themselves to be right on every issue. It’s self contradictory to think that people ought not claim to be certain about anything, since that itself is a claim of certainty. You have not offered a valid critique of this woman’s letter, and you have given us no reason to think that she is incorrect since you pride yourself with uncertainty. Critical thinking is not beginning with the belief that we cannot be certain about anything, but about logically evaluating claims, which you didn’t do. Instead you offer up name-calling, but you do not even define “Pharisee” correctly in order for this name calling to be valid, and you do not quote us anything the woman said, but prefer to misrepresent her by accusing her of claiming to speak exclusively for God when she’s really applying a standard of scripture to you which she probably applies to herself also. Virtually nothing that you have said is logically valid since it is filled with self contradiction, you have twisted Biblical terms, and you have disregarded a call to repentance merely on the basis that it is a call to repentance, and then you caution me against claiming to be right or sure about anything which you are quite certain are bad qualities. What’s left to be said? I am not saying this to be a jerk; I’m just pointing out the flaws in your reasoning and that your response to this person, if you are to give any response at all, is wholly insufficient. Have a good day.

      • Reverend Carey. Jesus taught us how to deal with people like Blake when He advised us not to cast our pearls before swine. You have been turned on and rended. The proper response to Blake is the one I am going to give him, which is to ignore his existence. He looks diseased to me.

  33. Pingback: Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees | Ponderings.

  34. After going to church and living as a believer for fortysomething years there’s at least ONE thing I know with 100% certainty that I’m right about: being loving is always the best response.

  35. Hi John, love your insightful posts – it’s hard for people to try and “think outside” their box of faith – some of us are like CS Lewis’ “Dufflepod” characters – the one footed naive but PROUD little creatures – can’t remember which book they were from but they literally couldn’t see the forest for the trees. In a way we can’t blame people because there are times when it is “thrilling’ to know that “YOU” definitely KNOW that you are right and that “you” believe wholeheartedly that you have “cracked the code” to God’s over all intentions for mankind. (Just like getting A’s on an exam – you have to click the right answers in order to score high) One can confidently relay these intentions to the rest of us who are not so certain. “You” can ultimately trust in the belief system you have developed – and you are so sure that you have the answers of the universe because really, “life should be that simple”. The religious and scientific communities can admit to having them – the “You’s” who are so completely assured of what they know – then someone comes along and challenges, disagrees, some even can disprove what they absolutely know – and “Bam” the defenses and the self righteous bow get set up and the arrow is released – there could be no possible way that they could be wrong EVER. It can be “crushing” to be proven that you are WRONG. Personally, I think it’s part of our nature – whether it’s fallen or not – the nature of our species has a tendency to “want to be assured” of what it believes to be true – proof or no proof – our inner convictions are pretty hard to break away from especially if they have served us well. I used to be so assured of what I thought I knew with regards to God, the Gospel and the idea of Heaven and Hell – then, I stumbled across the work of Dr. Michael Newton and all these people who have had NDE’s and “boom” all that I thought I knew – wiped out – not completely but almost. And even with the stuff I am learning – there isn’t anything certain about it. It too requires, some degree of faith that there is more to us and our existence than meets the “eye”. Somehow, I don’t think God is upset with me – I think He/She/It understands that I am just venturing and searching other places of the “spiritual forest”. We are so much more complex and complicated then we could possibly ever know (in my opinion). I cannot lay claim to “knowing” everything there is to know about God and I most definitely can not claim to “speak on His behalf” – I simply just do not know, but I have faith, that whatever God wills for us it is all good even when things are looking very bad. I have faith that He will travel with us as we try to humbly “flesh out” our salvation or connection with Him in whatever form that comes. Hoping your letter writer, and although I am sure her intentions are well meaning, albeit her words are harsh in her delivery, that one day she can come to a place whereby she can at least “respect” (no one says she has to to “like”) the views and inquiries of those who don’t see through the same “lense” that she does. Keep up with your work – I find your words to be very healing and filled with empathy and understanding -which are very much needed now. Blessings, Amanda:)

  36. stop tearing the Old Man down from up past the heaven and down through the old road start churning through grain into the ground roll a new leaf over in the middle of the night there’s an old man treading around in the gathered rain hey mister if ur going to walk on water drop a line my way Omaha somewhere in middle America get right to the heart of matters its the heart that matters more think u should turn ur ticket in get ur money back at the door!!!

  37. I enjoy the read, Mr. Pavlovitz, and hope this not to be much of a criticism. I notice in your own words and strong convictions that you also speak with what feels to me to be authority and from a position of confidence in the soundness of your words and ideas. Your post in response to this female correspondent does seem to be a clever way of dissipating some small bit of anger that may have crept into your heart because it has a tone, at least to me, of the same medicine she was dosing out. In some of the posts here, people have taken an opportunity to be quite judgmental and even harsh. I wonder if there is more room for love and listening from all of us and from you. I know that in your post regarding why people are leaving the church, you call for those very things and I agree with you.
    Blessings to all,
    Byron K. Smith

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