N.T. Wright: Who were the Pharisees?

After a very long discussion in PFG (80-196), Wright summarizes succinctly the worldview of the first-century Pharisees:

Living somewhere on the spectrum between the extreme and possibly violent zeal of the ardent Shammaite and the extreme and possible flexible caution of the ardent Hillelite, the Pharisee was passionately concerned about the ancestral traditions, particularly the law of Moses and the development of that into the oral law, and about the importance of keeping this double Torah not simply because it was required, or in order to earn the divine favour, but because a renewed keeping of the law with all one’s heart and soul was one of the biblically stated conditions (as in Deuteronomy 30) for the great renewal, the eschaton and all that it would mean. It was what constituted the appropriate and faithful response to the faithfulness of Israel’s God  . . . The Pharisaic worldview was about the whole business of being human; of being Jewish human; of living in a Jewish community; of living in a threatened Jewish community; of living with wisdom, integrity and hope in a threatened Jewish community; of living with zeal for Torah, the covenant and above all Israel’s faithful God within a threatened Jewish community (195-96).

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  • Jeff Martin

    I don’t know about that non-violent aspect – Jos. Ant. 17 – ). These are those that are called the sect of the
    Pharisees, who were in a capacity of greatly opposing kings. A cunning sect
    they were, and soon elevated to a pitch of open fighting and doing mischief.
    Accordingly, when all the people of the Jews gave assurance of their good-will
    to Caesar, and to the king’s government, these very men did not swear, being
    above six thousand; and when the king imposed a fine upon them

  • The most important point that we should take from Wright is that while “Pharisee” is a term of derision in our minds, it was not so in the minds of 1st-century Jews – even among 1st-century Jewish Christians.

    In fact, the best analog we have in our time to “Pharisee” as understood in Jesus’ time is “Evangelical.”

  • Kyle

    I’m not sure why Wright keeps saying that Pharisees didn’t obey the law to gain God’s favor. Is there really a wide gap between obeying the law to gain God’s favor and obeying the law to usher in the great renewal? Considering that Wright consistently reframes salvation as the great renewal begun through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection it seems he bridges that gap quite nicely.

  • Cakouros

    Wright says a lot of things that flatly contradict the plain meaning of scripture. He is not worth reading.