What is a Christian Pharisee?
Doctor Luke records a curious line when writing about the early church. He says “…some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees…” That means some Christians were also Pharisees, a Christian Pharisee. How strange. Isn’t that a contradiction?
Judaism at the time was comprised of two main groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had vastly different theologies about the same God and for that reason they didn’t get along too well, but they did manage to coexist within the same religious and societal context.
Most all of the original followers of Jesus (that is, early Christians) were Jewish. That implies some of them would have backgrounds as Pharisees and others, backgrounds as Sadducees. They maintained much of their culture as they grew in their new faith. While some of their practices needed to be re-examined, they could sustain other aspects. Clearly, some retained their identity as Pharisees.
For them, becoming a Christian occurred within the context of Judaism; it was not so much a conversion, but a transformation. In fact, there’s the implication that, for a time, some considered the early Christian movement, also called “The Way,” as another sect of Judaism.
What if the idea of a Christian Pharisee continued, comingling Jewish tradition with Jesus faith? For some it has and the results are Messianic congregations (Messianic Judaism). It’s certainly something to contemplate, connecting—or perhaps reconnecting—Judaism with Christianity.
[Read more about the book of Acts in Dear Theophilus, Acts: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church now available in e-book and paperback.]