The first thing many people say when you tell them that you believe in keeping God’s commandments is, “You are a Pharisee”, or “You are a legalist”. The idea behind calling someone a “Pharisee” comes from the fact that the sect of the Pharisees as a general rule opposed Yeshua’s (Jesus) teaching. The concern that we not have the same wrong doctrines and attitudes as the Pharisees is a legitimate concern.
Being a Pharisee in itself is not necessarily a problem. The Apostle Paul said more than once that he was a Pharisee (e.g. Acts 23.6, Philippians 3.5). When you read his statements he was not saying that being a Pharisee was a bad thing, but that it was of no advantage either when it came to the knowledge of Messiah.
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were both Pharisees, members of the Sanhedrin, and followers of Yeshua.
So what exactly was the problem with the Pharisees as a sect? What did they believe that caused them to oppose Yeshua, and caused him to reprove them? Was it because they believed and kept the Torah (law) of God?
The answer to that is ABSOLUTELY NOT. It was not their keeping of the Torah that was a problem, but it was exactly the opposite that was the problem; they did NOT keep the Torah. Yeshua said:
Mark 7:6-9 TLV And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me. (7) And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (8) Having left behind the commandment of God, you hold on to the tradition of men.” (9) He was also telling them, “You set aside the commands of God, in order that you may validate your own tradition.
The problem was that many/most of the Pharisees held doctrines that they believed superseded God’s Torah. They believed that they could evade or circumvent God’s commandment by keeping their doctrines. They believed that they could actually change the Torah of God.
One of the examples Yeshua gave of their disobedience to God’s Torah was where the Pharisees allowed that a person could dedicate their money to God, and because they had dedicated it to God they believed that they were no longer obligated to financially support their parents when they had need. Yeshua reproved them for doing this because they set aside God’s commandment to, “Honor thy father and thy mother”, for the commandments and traditions of men.
One statement that is frequently made to prove that Yeshua was against the keeping Torah is the discussion in Mark 7 concerning the washing of hands. “See! Yeshua reproved the Pharisees for keeping the law!” This of course doesn’t prove that we should not keep Torah, but it shows the person’s ignorance of God’s Torah, because there is NO commandment in Torah concerning a person’s obligation to wash his hands before he eats. This was just another “Pharisaic” tradition of men.
The truly sad thing about the accusation that someone is being a “Pharisee” or a “legalist” when they try to keep God’s commandments is that the person making the accusation is actually the “Pharisees” by setting aside the Torah of God for their own traditions.
Romans 3:31 TLV Do we then nullify the Torah through faithfulness? May it never be! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah.