Many Christians, when they hear the word “Pharisee” immediately think hypocrite, primarily from that which is written in the New Testament about some of the Pharisees who opposed the long-awaited Messiah. Some of the Pharisees of that time were hypocrites because they didn’t always “practice what they preached.”
Surprisingly however, there was another Pharisee who also didn’t always practice what he preached, but he was no hypocrite. The apostle Paul, a Pharisee who never stopped calling himself a Pharisee (“I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” Acts 23:6 NKJV), a true man of God who was given to write much of what became the Christian New Testament, struggled, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live up to what he was given, by God, to teach. The Pharisees who were hypocrites were so because they failed to live up to their own traditions and philosophy (“Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” Mark 7:7 NKJV), while Paul was not a hypocrite because he was yet unable to meet God’s perfection that he taught and preached.
The Pharisees Who Were Hypocrites
The Pharisees who opposed the Christ were hypocrites; that is what the Messiah plainly said they were. They were hypocrites for two reasons. The first was that they self-righteously condemned the behavior of others while doing worse things themselves:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV)
The second reason was that they knew that Jesus Christ was the Messiah (“we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” below), but some of them opposed Him anyway, for their own political reasons:
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:1-2 KJV)
But even after they knew, some of them (not the above-mentioned, who thereafter became a believer, and to whom was given the famous “born again” teaching – made an absolutely blasphemous statement against the Son of God, telling the people that He was of Satan:
“And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” (Matthew 12:23-24 NKJV)
The Pharisees Who Were Not Hypocrites
As proven by Nicodemus, not all Pharisees remained antichristian. But all remained sinners, not out of unrepentance, not out of moral laxity, not out of defiance to God’s Law, not out of hypocrisy, but because, despite their always doing the very best they could, they remained trapped in a carnal body of sin, a captivity that will not end until humans are truly born again (see the link above).
Paul taught the Truth, he lived his life in obedience to God as best he possibly could, he “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). But there were times when he fell short of God’s perfection that he taught, not because he was a hypocrite, not because he was like those who have since perverted his God-given writings to claim that the “law is done away” but because he was a struggling human – a struggle that is made more of a struggle the harder one tries to obey God in what is still Satan’s world because Satan’s attacks will also increase proportionately, “warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (see verses below). Nothing makes Satan more angry than people who strive to obey God, rather than him. Satan doesn’t hound those who please him, he hounds those who strive to please God.
“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.””If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:14-24 NKJV)