Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the Scriptures induced Herod (i) to consult them concerning the time at which the Messiah was to be born. And our Saviour speaks of them as sitting in Moses's seat (k), which implies that they taught the law; and he foretold that he should be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the Scribes (1), and that they should put him to death, which shews that they were men of great power and authority among the Jews. “ Scribes,” “ doctors of the law," and “ lawyers,” were only different names for the same class of persons. Those who in the fifth chapter of St. Luke are called Pharisees and doctors of the law, are soon afterwards called Pharisees and Scribes; and he who by St. Matthew (m) is called “ a lawyer,” is by St. Mark (n) called “ one of the Scribes." They had scholars under their care, whom they taught the knowledge of the law, and who, in their schools, sat on low stools just beneath their seats, which explains St. Paul's expression that he was “ brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (o).” We find that our Saviour's manner of teaching was contrasted with that of these “ vain disputers;" for it is said, when he

had (i) Matt. c. 2. v. 4. (k) Matt. c. 23. v. 2. (1) Matt. c. 16, v. 21. (m) Matt. c. 22. V. 35. (n) Mark, c. 12. V. 28. (0) Acts, c. 22. V. 3.

had ended his 'sermon upon the Mount, “the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes (p).By the time of our Saviour, the Scribes had indeed in a manner laid aside the written law, having no farther regard to that than as it agreed with their traditionary expositions of it; and thus, by their additions, corruptions, and misinterpretations, “ they had made the word of God of none effect through their traditions (9).” It may be observed, that this in a great measure accounts for the extreme blindness of the Jews with respect to their Messiah, whom they had been taught by these commentators upon the prophecies to expect as a temporal prince. Thus, when our Saviour asserts his divine nature, and appeals to “ Moses and the prophets who spake of him, the people sought to slay him (r),” and he expresses no surprise at their intention. But when he converses with Nicodemus (s), (who appears to have been convinced by his miracles, that he was “ a teacher sent from God,” when he “ came to Jesus by night,” anxious to obtain farther information concerning

his (p). Matt. c. 7. v. 29... (9) Matt. c. 15. v. 6. (r). John, c. 5.

(s) John, c. 3.

his nature and his doctrine), our Lord, after intimating the necessity of laying aside all prejudices against the spiritual nature of his kingdom, asks,“ art thou a Master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?” that is, knowest not that Moses and the prophets describe the Messiah as the Son of God? and he then proceeds to explain in very clear language the dignity of his person and office, and the purpose for which he came into the world, referring to the predictions of the antient Scriptures. And Stephen (t), just before his death, addresses the multitude by an appeal to the Law and the Prophets, and reprobates in the most severe terms the teachers who misled the people. Our Lord, when speaking of “them of old time,” classes the.“ prophets, and wise men, and Scribes (u)” together, but of the later Scribes he uniformly speaks with censure and indignation, and usually joins them with the Pharisees, to which sect they in general belonged. St. Paul asks,“ Where is the wise ? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world (0)?” with evident contempt for such, as “professing themselves wise above what was written, became fools." ;

(t) Acts, c. 7.. (u) Matt. c. 23. v. 34. ru) 1 Cor. c. 1. V. 20.

II. IT

II. It will appear probable from the preceding account of the Scribes, that the principles, by which the Pharisees were chiefly distinguished, existed some time before they were formed into a regular sect. Godwin thought that the Pharisees arose about three hundred years before Christ; but the earliest written account which we have of them in any antient author is in Josephus, who tells us, that they were a sect of considerable weight, when John Hyrcanus was high priest, a hundred and eight years before Christ. Their name was derived from Pharas, a Hebrew word, which signifies separated, or set apart, because they affected an extraordinary degree of sanctity and piety. Their distinguishing dogma was a scrupulous and zealous adherence to the traditions of the elders, which they placed upon an equal footing with the written law. They were strict observers of external rites and ceremonies, beyond what the law. required, and were superstitiously exact in paying tithe of the most trifling articles, while in general they neglected the essential duties of moral virtue. They were of opinion that good works might claim reward from God, and ascribed an extraordinary degree of merit to the. observance of rules, which they had themselves

established

established as works of supererogation. Of this sort were their frequent washings and fastings, their nice avoidance of reputed sinners, their rigorous observance of the sabbath, and the long prayers which they ostentatiously “ made in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets." “ Trusting in themselves that they were righteous," they not only despised the rest of mankind, but were entirely destitute of humility towards God, which is inseparable from true piety; yet the specious sanctity of their manners, and their hypocritical display of zeal for religion, gave them a vast influence over the common people, and consequently great power and authority in the Jewish state. Dr. Lardner, in speaking of the Jewish sects, after quoting a passage from Josephus, in which he says, that “ the multitude was with the Pharisees,” very justly observes, that “ there is in this respect a complete agreement between the Evangelists and Josephus. The people, as clearly appears from the Gospels, very generally held the tenets and observed the traditions of the Pharisees, yet they are never dignified so far as to be called Pharisees; they were rather an appendage than a part of the sect, and always called very plainly, the people, the multitude, and the like. The title of Pharisee seems to have been

: almost

S

« PreviousContinue »