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Showing posts from March, 2019

Was Jesus’ Criticism of the Pharisees’ Ethic Its Legalism or Lawlessness?

The popular understanding of the Pharisees is that they were legalists.  This is not, however, Jesus’ criticism of their ethics, even though the charge of Pharisaic legalism comes from a (mis)reading of the Gospels.  The Pharisees are cast in popular imagination as the quintessential example of legalists, overly focussed on rules and promoting works in order to attain righteousness apart from God’s grace.  The latter view, that Judaism overall and the Pharisees in particular advocated works righteousness, has been loudly criticised in light of numerous texts in second temple Judaism, celebrating God’s grace in choosing the Jews, not self-righteous works.[1]  Be that as it may, the Pharisees have remained the foil to Christian ethics precisely over their purported legalism—a focus on unloving, unforgiving rules and regulations that also places norms above, purportedly, higher moral principles.  Jesus’ ethic is contrasted as an ethic of forgiveness, mercy, love, and God’s grace as oppos…