The Law of the Pharisees

The Pharisees and teachers of the law competed with one another in strictness. They had atomized God’s law into 613 rules and bolstered these with 1,521 emendations (Yancey 132). We can see the length to which this went from the following facts.

For many generations the Scribal Law was never written down; it was the oral law, and it was handed down in the memory of generations of Scribes. In the middle of the third century A.D. a summary of it was made and codified. That summary is known as the Mishnah; it contains sixty-three tractates on various subjects of the Law, and in English makes a book of almost eight hundred pages (Barclay 129).

The Law as originally given by God was based on the Ten Commandments. The 1521 emendations from the teachers of the law had reduced the commandments to a legalistic code that completely disregarded the principles intended by God.

A good example of this can be seen in the treatment of the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy. First, one of the things considered to be unholy on the Sabbath was work. Work had to be defined, and one of the things considered to be work was writing; but how much writing constituted work? Here is what the teachers of the law said: He who writes two letters of the alphabet with his right or with his left hand, whether of one kind or of two kinds, if they are written with different inks or in different languages, is guilty. Even if he should write two letters from forgetfulness, he is guilty, whether he has written them with ink or with paint, red chalk, vitriol, or anything which makes a permanent mark. Also he that writes on two walls that form an angle, or on two tablets of his account book so that they can be read together is guilty…But, if anyone writes with dark fluid, with fruit juice, or in the dust of the road, or in sand, or in anything which does not make a permanent mark, he is not guilty…. If he writes one letter on the ground, and one on the wall of the house, or on two pages of a book, so that they cannot be read together, he is not guilty (Barclay 129).

Contributed by: Troy Mason

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