Much has been taught within Christianity regarding how Yeshua was opposed to the Pharisees, correcting their false teachings and warning the world for eternity about their evil ways. However, unless someone studies the internal history of Israel, they would not be aware that the discussions between Yeshua and certain Pharisees are simply a small segment of a family argument that began long before he showed up and continued afterward.
Further, an objective look at the Gospels and the writings of the Pharisees reveals a different picture. Not only was there far less disagreement than is typically said, but we find a great deal of similarity between Yeshua and those he ‘argues’ with.
To begin, the gospels do not tell us the names of the Pharisees that Yeshua argued with or how many were involved. Thus, the idea that ‘all Pharisees’ are being addressed and ‘condemned’ has no basis. The New Testament even indicates that some ended up following him (i.e. Acts 15) but there are no conversations recorded with such, other than that with Nicodemus. (Who, by the way, is mentioned in a positive light in the Talmud.)
Examining the interaction between Yeshua and Pharisees in the gospels, we find few specific teachings of theirs that he disagrees with. Most of his comments are general ones about hypocrisy, arrogance, etc. When it does seem to refer to some sort of instruction, we don’t see these in the Talmud where the ‘doctrines’ and ideas of the Pharisees are recorded. The critiques in the gospels seem to be random and local to certain small groups.
Even the criticism of Pharisees you see from Yeshua regarding their attitudes and behaviors, is not exclusive to the gospels. We find the same issues mentioned by the Pharisees themselves in the Talmud (Sotah 22b). There we find a discussion of ‘seven types of pharisees’ of which five are bad, one is acceptable and only is good. These are Pharisaic comments, critical of ‘their own,’ and are virtually the same that Yeshua makes.
Intra-Pharisaic criticism was often very harsh, such as between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Their relationship is beyond the scope of this article – suffice it to say it was every bit as antagonistic as anything found in the gospels, in one instance one side calling the other, “sons of Satan.” (Again, it’s “all in the family.”)
There is also the matter of a peculiar text in one of the gospels is where John seems to refer to Yeshua as a Pharisee.
In John 1:24-26 we read,
“Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands one in the midst of you whom you do not know.”
Seeing his teachings mirrored theirs (see below) and they were very interested in his every word and action, it is not so far-fetched an idea. The Pharisees would likely not have given him the time of day if he was a Sadducee or truly felt he was a lunatic.
Further, we see in another gospel that there were Pharisees who worked to save his life. Luke 13:31 states,
“On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Why do they have his back like that, unless they had some type of bond?
Another point that is missed is that his arguments with his fellow Jews were not to show everyone how ‘evil’ they were and to condemn them. Rather, if he did fill a messianic role, the rebuke was for their benefit – out of love.
This is one of the teachings of what the messiah will do:
“Mashiach’s job is to bring everyone back to God, even the worst sinner. … “Proper rebuke thus strengthens the soul by The rectification for one who has sinned and weakened his soul is the ‘Voice of Rebuke’.” … “There is a garden where fragrant smells and fear of God bloom. For ‘The river flows from Eden and waters the Garden…’ (Genesis 2:10) ‘River’ represents the Voice of Rebuke as in Psalms 93:3; ‘The rivers have lifted their voice.’ This ‘voice’ which waters the garden (the sweet smells) stems from Eden, the source of the ‘Song of the Future’.” … We see then that the Voice of Rebuke is rooted in Eden, which corresponds to Keter, the source of Mashiach’s vitality. … Mashiach will possess this “Voice of Rebuke” because MaShiaCh is like MaSiaCh, “one who speaks.” Since Mashiach is bound together with all souls through his sense of smell (i.e., “the nose”), he will be able to rebuke everyone properly, to arose awe within them and draw them closer to God. His voice will be the flowing “River” from Eden, from which emanate aromatic fragrances, so that everyone will be drawn to the “savory smell” of Mashiach.”
Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?, Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem, pp. 60-67.
As with any group, there were different views and behaviors among the Pharisees. (We don’t hear about all the ‘good’ ones in the gospels, as they were doing their job.) There were some who were guilty of the accusations found in the gospels and Talmud.
There is the spiritual concept of the “erev rav” (“mixed multitude”) taught from Torah. These are individuals within the people of Israel in every generation, who not only give a ‘bad name’ to the Jews, but act in opposition to G-d.
This is from the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, a prominent teacher of the early-mid 20th century:
“The erev rav are like the leaven in the dough, for they are mingled in Israel like leaven in dough. The nations of the world are similar to chaff. The erev rav detain Israel in exile more than the idol-worshipping nations, as the sages said, “Who detains? The leaven in the dough detains.” This is so because the erev rav cling to Israel like leaven in dough, but the nations of the world are only like the chaff, which the wind carries.”
Based on this reality, consider these two verses together, inserting the above perspective of Yeshua’s own Judaism into the text:
Matthew 16:6: Take heed and beware of the evev rav within the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Matthew 23:13: Woe unto you, erev rav, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Lastly, when we look at specific teachings of Yeshua, they are the same as those found in the Talmud, some of which predate him. The historical and spiritual reality is they all drew from the same source — the oral Torah brought down through the generations of the Jewish people.
Below is a list from the gospels compared to the teachings of the Pharisees on the same issues.
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. – Mark 2:27
Rabbi Jonathan ben Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands. – Talmud: Yoma 85b
Insulting someone is like murder.- Matthew 5:21-22
He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood.- Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. – Matthew 5:28
One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.- Kallah, Ch. 1
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:45
Rabbi Abbahu said: The day when rain fails is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead,for the Revival of the Dead is for the righteous only whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked – Talmud: Taanit 7a
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. – Matthew 6:1
In the case of the recital of the Shema’, since everybody else recites, and he also recites, it does not look like showing off on his part; but in the case of the month of Ab, since everybody else does work and he does no work, it looks like showing off.- Talmud: Berachot 17b
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. – Matthew 6:3
What kind of charity is that which delivers a man from an unnatural death? When a man gives without knowing to whom he gives. and the beggar receives without knowing from whom he receives. – Talmud: Bava Batra 10a – 10b
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.- Matthew 6:7
If one draws out his prayer and expects therefore its fulfilment, he will in the end suffer vexation of heart, as it says, Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. – Talmud: Berachot 55a
Do not worry about where your food will come from tomorrow, or your drink. – Matthew 6:25-31
Rabbi Eliezer the Great declares: Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and Says. ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ belongs only to them who are little in faith. – Talmud: Sotah 48b
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matthew 6:34
A parable: [They were] like a man who was kept in prison and people told him: To-morrow, they will release you from the prison and give you plenty of money. And he answered them: I pray of you, let me go free today and I shall ask nothing more! – Talmud: Berachot 9b
Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. – Matthew 5:34-37
A righteous yes is a Yes; a righteous no is No. – Talmud: Bava Batra 49b
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. – Matthew 11:25
Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children. – Talmud: Bava Batra 12b
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. – Matthew 5:29-30
Come and hear what was taught: Rabbi Tarfon said, ‘If his hand touched the membrum let his hand be cut off upon his belly’. ‘But’, they said to him, ‘would not his belly be split’? ‘It is preferable’, he replied, ‘that his belly shall be split rather than that he should go down into the pit of destruction’. – Talmud: Niddah 13b
Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Messiah; and all ye are brethren. – Matthew 23:8
Shemaiah used to say: love work, hate acting the superior, and do not bring thyself to the knowledge of the ruling authority. – Mishnah: Avot 1:10
Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. – Matthew 24:44
Even as R. Zera, who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Messiah’s coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and a scorpion. – Talmud: Sanhedrin 97a
Yeshua taught in a parable that they can please the king (God) by pleasing one another. – Matthew 25:40; And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. – Matthew 25:40
Rabbi simeon said: if three have eaten at one table and have not spoken thereat words of torah, [it is] as if they had eaten sacrifices [offered] to the dead, for [of such persons] it is said, for all tables are full of filthy vomit, [they are] without the All-Present. But, if three have eaten at one table, and have spoken thereat words of torah, [it is] as if they had eaten at the table of the All-Present, blessed be he, as it is said, this is the table before the LORD. – Mishnah: Avot 3:3
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; – Matthew 5:43
They who are insulted but insult not back; who hear themselves reproached but answer not; who serve out of love and rejoice in their affliction–of them it is written in Scripture: They that love God are as the going forth of the sun in its might. – Talmud: Yoma 23a, Gitin 36b, Shabat 88b
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. – Matthew 5:23-24
If a man said, “I will sin and repent, and sin again and repent”, he will be given no chance to repent. [If he said,] “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement”, then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement. For transgressions that are between man and God the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow – Mishnah: Yoma 8:9
Given all of the above evidence, the relationship between Yeshua and the Pharisees, and their respective teachings has been misrepresented for centuries. They were just as much colleagues as they were ‘combatants.’