Why Do Disputes with the Pharisees Take Up So Much Space in the Gospels?

Large portions of those sacred books can, at times, seem like little more than a series of unpleasant encounters with the existing religious authorities—not most people’s idea of inspirational reading. To the casual student, Jesus almost seems to be deliberately antagonizing them, arranging times and circumstances for his miracles that were certain to provoke not just debate but opposition.

In Luke’s Gospel, our Lord chooses the twelve apostles, then sets out immediately on a veritable crime wave of lawbreaking (or what certainly seemed to be lawbreaking in the eyes of the scribes and Pharisees). While healing a leper,“he touched him”(Luke 5:13),which an ordinary Hebrew holy man would not have done; touching lepers was against Moses’ law.

At one of the synagogues, he encounters a man with a withered hand,“and the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath”(Luke 6:17), an act that they judged to be“work”on a day when, according to the Third Commandment, no work must be done.

So why would Jesus set up such ugly clashes over Moses’ law? And why do these questions loom so large in the Gospels? The answer is actually pretty simple: he did it because all of the old rules were changing now—and changing because of his arrival.“The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist],”as Jesus informed the irate Pharisees;“since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently”(Luke 16:16).

Many commentators have interpreted this notoriously difficult final phrase to mean“with upheavals,”with“wrenching readjustments.”Those who seek to enter Christ’s new messianic kingdom must, in other words, not expect the change to come easily.

Did you enjoy this excerpt from These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles Eyes? Order your copy today!

Mar 7th 2022 Rod Bennett

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