(1) Theological tenets: (Buttrick, 778)
The Pharisees were seen as a progressive or rationalist group that sought to reform Judaism to be more forward looking than traditional Jewish orthodoxy (as supported by the Sadducees). This reformation movement of sorts was fueled they acceptance of the Hebrew prophetic writings and the writings (wisdom literature) in addition to the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) (Buttrick, 777). The Pharisees were known and admired for their “accuracy” in the interpretation of the law; however, it was their accuracy which “led to the development of the elaborate system of legal traditions handed down orally 'from the fathers,' which came to be regarded as the main feature of historical Pharisaism.” In short, these lay-interpreters of the law created a legalism that built a “fence” or “wall” around the Torah that no one other than a Pharisee could breach. The rigorism with which they went about enforcing these strict codes (especially purification and separateness) created a type of caste system to distinguish the members of their exclusive sect and “to minimize or remove ritual uncleanness contracted in the unavoidable intercourse of daily life” (Buttrick 776). Those who were attempting to achieve “perfectionism in purity and purification of the Levitical code” enforced the exclusiveness, especially from the common people, seen throughout the New Testament. The famous parable of the Good Samaritan exemplifies the extremes this strict group went to avoid ritual contamination and by extension those considered unclean.
When Christ came, He shared much in common with the Pharisees and Scribes while also defying much of their understanding. Christ's mission was indeed to announce and usher in the Kingdom of God, but Pharisees such as Nicodemus were “still living and thinking on the plane of natural, transitory human experience” when Jesus was speaking of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit within the heart of a person “that is mysterious and beyond human comprehension” (Howell, 43). Sadly, doubtfully few Pharisees besides Nicodemus were ever able to grasp Jesus teachings of the Kingdom and the birth required to enter it since their reasoning was stuck in the flesh. “In fact, their failure to understand even 'earthly things,' such as the raising of the temple of his body, disqualifies them from receiving the 'heavenly things' of his doctrine of the new birth (Howell, 44).