Church History

Q/A Friday: Who Were the Pharisees and the Sadducees?


The Pharisees began around the 2nd century B.C., and probably evolved from a group called the Hasidim, who were leading revolts against the evil persecutor Antiochus Epiphanes, who many believed was the antichrist.

The word “Pharisee” means “separated one”. The Pharisees separated themselves from the spirit of the law, but not the letter of it. In other words, they knew God’s Law almost word-perfect. Many, if not all of them, had the Law memorized and even much of the O.T. Unfortunately, we know their familiarity with Scripture didn’t penetrate their heart, because Jesus condemned them for loving attention (Matthew 23:5-7). It wasn’t likely that you would find a Pharisee in an obscure town; he would be in the most public place and cities known by all for the attention.

The Pharisees often performed a physical cleansing to themselves at the end of each day because of the belief in defilement around them. They pridefully thought of themselves as a holy community for their commitment to the Law. They believed they were super-spiritual and the true Israel. When you think Pharisee, think legalist. They were loyal to themselves, their traditions, and their prestige.

The Sadducees began in the days of Solomon with a group referred to as the Zadokites, who were priests. They were not a religious group in Jesus’ day but a political group. They were friendlier to the Romans than the Pharisees and were usually wealthy aristocrats. They were the high and mighty in society.

The Sadducees cared little for doctrine; they denied the resurrection, the supernatural, and the existence of angels. They viewed themselves as more pragmatic than theological. The Sadducees discouraged talked of the Messiah, because they would lose their power; they didn’t like political threats and they viewed Jesus as a political threat.

The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ claims to be a salvific redeemer; the Sadducees didn’t like Jesus’ claims to be a political redeemer. Both groups disdained Jesus.

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Jacob Arminius, On John’s Calvin’s Writings

See the source image“After the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other…I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read. … For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca [writings] of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy [interpretation] in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, yea above all, … But here I add – with discrimination; as the writings of all men ought to be read.” (Jacob Arminius)

Thankful for Billy Graham

A few years ago, I read one of Billy Graham’s last books – Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. I hadn’t read much of Graham’s writings over the years, but a dialogue I was having with an acquaintance about whether Graham preached the biblical Gospel led me to read his latest conclusions of what the Bible teaches on salvation. So I read this book.

Image result for billy grahamIn the book, I discovered what I thought I would – a clear, simple articulation of the Gospel message. One of Graham’s strengths in writing and speaking was his modest explanation of truth. And I was touched by his humility as he considered his retirement from a busy preaching ministry, his old age, and the reality of entering heaven soon.

Graham was not without controversy. Some of his ecumenical tendencies and political pursuits certainly leaves one scratching their head. But what figure in church history has ever said everything right? Who has ever not made a rash statement or made a wrong interpretation of Scripture? We all have, and Graham would be the first to admit that he did as well.

It is near impossible to argue with the spiritual impact that Graham made in our world. Dozens of people I know came to Christ due to his preaching ministry. Dozens of men I know are in pastoral ministry because they were so stirred by a revival message he gave. And countless thousands – and maybe millions – have been changed for eternity because Graham preached the Gospel.

I am thankful for Billy Graham. I am thankful I got to hear him preach in person in Oklahoma City about 10 years ago. I am thankful on that night in Oklahoma City that he preached repentance and the Lordship of Christ. I am thankful that God gave him 99 years of life on this earth. I am thankful.


Last Words of the Apostle (or Disciple) Andrew

Image result for andrew crucifixion“Hail, precious cross! Thou hast been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad. Receive me with joy into thy arms, O good cross, thou hast received beauty from our Lord’s limbs. I have ardently loved thee. Long have I desired and sought thee. Now thou art found by me, and art made ready for my longing soul. Receive me into thine arms; take me up from among men, and present me to my Master, that he who redeemed me on thee may receive me by thee.”

Francis Schaeffer, On the Interdependence of Revival and Reformation

See the source image“Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speak of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is incomplete without revival.” (Francis Schaeffer, No Little People)

Simple and Profound – That Was R.C. Sproul

One of the reasons I prefer the “small church” to the “big church” is the opportunity both pastor and parishioner have to know each other on more than a casual level. It is healthy for members of a congregation to know their pastor well and for a pastor to know the “heartbeat” of his people. The best-case scenario is a pastor/parishioner relationship is when there is some kind of mutual knowledge.

But you don’t always have to know someone – or even have met someone – to consider them a pastor of your soul. Many of us read books from Christians authors we will never meet and, yet, we feel equipped, encouraged and guided by them. Many of us listen to preachers in other states or countries that we will never meet and, yet, we feel as if their messages address issues in our heart exactly when we need to hear them.

God is not limited in using men and women in our lives that we never have the privilege of knowing.

For me, R.C. Sproul has been a pastor of mine – even though I never met him.

My 1st exposure to his ministry was at a 1997 Ligonier Conference in Pasadena, CA where Sproul and John MacArthur debated infant baptism.

Sproul takes the pedobaptism position; MacArthur rejects it.

And while I agree with MacArthur’s position and think he “won” the debate with ease, I remember hearing Sproul’s presentation and thinking, “Woah! This man can teach!”

In my lifetime, the most gifted teachers of doctrine are these 3 men: Wayne Grudem, William Barrick, and R.C. Sproul. Each of them have the rare ability to take complex truth and communicate it in simple terms.

Where Sproul sets himself apart from these men is he adds the profound element that most lack. Sproul will “flat out” get you thinking. He never has to say, “Now, as I close I want you to think about ______________.” The way he can communicate and draw implications of truth is so excellent that you are already mulling it all over before he says, “Amen.”

One great example of this – and I would encourage you to take a listen – was this sermon entitled “The Curse Motif of the Atonement”, given at the 2008 T4G Conference (I was privileged to be there as well.”

This man was used in profound ways in building a love for theology and church history in my heart.

Someone tweeted Thursday that it is ironic that in a year in which we are commemorating the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation, we have lost a man who was more of a modern-day reformer than anyone else. I could not agree more.

Sproul is now in heaven, and whatever theology needs to be corrected (and that probably isn’t much), has being corrected.

Can’t wait to finally meet him there!

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