The Pharisees

July 1, 2012


(Article from ‘Archaeological Study Bible’)

The Pharisees were an influential political and religious sect during the Second Temple period. During this time of increasing foreign influence, they promoted the faithful observance of Jewish law at both a national and an individual level. The exact meaning of the term Pharisee remains uncertain. The noun derives from the Hebrew verb meaning “to separate” or “to distinguish.” The title appears to have been applied originally in a negative sense when the Pharisees were expelled from membership in the Sanhedrin under John Hyrcanus (135—104 B.C.), though it was later understood in a positive sense either as “those who separated themselves” from all sources of ritual uncleanness (see Mk 7:1-23; Gal 2:12-13) or “those who interpreted the law precisely” (see Ac 22:3; 26:5).

The Pharisees believed that God was the sovereign Creator, who expressed His will to humanity through Scripture. Moreover, He granted humanity the gifts of responsible moral choice and reason in order to apply the Scriptures to this life in preparation for the resurrection, judgment, and the life to come (Ac 23:6-8). Members of this sect carefully observed the Mosaic Law, systematically interpreting and adapting it to the conditions of their own time in order to maintain a sense of purity among the populace (Mt 23:2-3). This system of interpretation and way of life were transmitted by generations of teachers and became know variously as the oral law, the tradition of the elders (Mk 7:3-5; Gal 1:14), the works of the law (Ro 3:20-28; Gal 2:16-3:10) or simply the Halakhah (from a Hebrew word meaning “walk”; Halakhah is traditional Jewish teaching that governs behavior and religious practice).

The Pharisees saw themselves as the heirs of a vast body of interpretative tradition that enabled them to function as reliable guides for the Jewish people during a tumultuous era (Ro 2:17-20). Although some Pharisees came to believe in Jesus as the Christ (Ac 15:5; Php 3:4-11), the majority justified their opposition to Him on the grounds that Jesus ostensibly taught on His own authority (Mt 7:29; Jn 3:1-3; 8:13), as well as on the basis of His interpretations of various issues that were of vital concern to them.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees on the grounds that, for all their commendable observance of rules and traditions, they were fundamentally unrepentant, neither knowing God nor loving people (Mt 23).


Baptism in the Ancient World

June 27, 2012

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Article from ‘Archaeological Study Bible’

Ritual immersion in water, or baptism, represented a powerful and frequently used religious symbol in ancient Judaism. This sacramental ceremony was enacted to symbolize purification and the removal of sin or was sometimes used as an initiation rite to consecrate a change of status or a conversion.

• In the Old Testament, rites of immersion were associated with maintaining ritual purity, especially for priests (Lev 15; 16:4,24).
• During the New Testament period, water itself and immersion in water functioned as the primary means by which ritual impurity was removed within Pharisaic Judaism (Mt 15:2; Jn 2:6).
• Baptism was practiced by the Essene community at Qumran as a symbolic act by which one was “made holy by the waters of repentance.”
• During the first century A.D. certain groups within Judaism began to practice proselyte baptism, a rite that required converts, in addition to circumcision, to undergo immersion in a ritual bath prior to their full reception into the community.
• Purification through immersion in ritual baths was required for all Jews in order to preserve that state of purity without which they could neither enter the temple nor participate in its services during major festivals (Nu 9:10; Jn 11:55; Ac 21:24-27).
• A number of Jewish ritual baths, or miqvaot (singular miqveh), have been excavated in Jerusalem, Jericho and elsewhere. By rabbinical law these had to hold at least 60 gallons of water and be deep enough to completely immerse the body.

Within emerging Christianity the rite of baptism acquired fundamental importance. Baptism in water defined the central symbolic act required by John in the course of his preparatory preaching in the wilderness (Mt 3; Mk 1:4). It is precisely this act for which he was divinely commissioned and later received the epithet “the Baptist (Mt 3:1). John summoned his hearers to be baptised in light of the imminent advent of God’s judgment upon the earth (Mt 3:5-6; Lk 3:17). His baptism thus evoked prophetic images of cleansing with water for forgiveness, purification and the repentance that would characterize the Messianic age (Jer 31; Eze 36:25; Zec 13:1).

The gospels present the baptism of John as a necessary precursor to the public ministry of Jesus, who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt 3:11; see Mk 1:8; Jn 1:31). The risen Jesus sanctioned this sacramental act as an important aspect of conversion, requiring baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Other New Testament texts record slight variations in the wording of the baptismal formula, such as “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Ac 2:38; 10:48), “into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Ac 8:16; 19:5) or simply “into Christ” (Gal 3:27). The place of baptism within early Christianity occasioned sustained reflection by various New Testament authors upon the meaning of this symbolic act. Within the New Testament canon baptism is viewed as the symbolic identification of the belliever with the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ro 6; Col 2:12), through which the believer becomes “clothed…with Christ (Gal 3:27), as well as a clear expression of repentance before God (1 Pe 3:21).