At the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, one of the facts expounded upon was the differences between the religious groups in Jesus’ time. Apparently, the Pharisees were the least legalistic of the bunch, with the Sadducees, Essenes, and others demanding much stricter adherence to temple laws and rules for community living. The Pharisees “looseness” with the rules is what made them so popular with the people, which in turn gave them their base for political power.

I never realized this! I always have thought of the Pharisees as epitomizing legalism, and Jesus being the stark contrast to that. Like black and white.

But what if it wasn’t like that at all? What if it was more like light gray and white? That changes my understanding of Jesus and the biblical accounts of His interactions with the Pharisees.

For example, what was really angering the Pharisees was not that He was directly countering everything they stood for, but that He was more popular with the people. Here they were the “freedom” party, but then this guy shows up and tosses out even the basic rules that they upheld. He better encapsulated what they thought they stood for than they did.

This also sheds insight into why the Pharisees were always trying to figure Jesus out, trying to stump Him up, trying to copy Him, or explain away His power/teachings/etc. If they could figure out His secrets, they could adopt them as their own and again claim their place as the party for the people.

And it also explains more why they were so ticked at Him. When they couldn’t figure Him out, it pushed them into a corner where they had to start acting differently and changing their ways to justify their behavior. Like any of us, when they got convicted they had two choices: repentance or recalcitrance. They chose the latter.