What is the Pharisee Church?
NO, NOT THE TOMBS OF THE PROPHETS!
This is the 8th century monastery of
Skelligmichael, a part of the massive
Christian legacy of St Patrick, the British man*
who was so instrumental in converting Ireland
The monastery is situated on a remote rocky
outcrop in the Atlantic off the west coast of
Ireland, the island of Skellig Major. Just visible
between two of the beehive dwellings - and
shown clearly in the middle ground of the
second photo below - is the sister island of
Skellig Minor. This gives a good idea of what
the site of the monastery is like - Major is a bit
bigger than Minor, but not much. In the hazy
background behind the island the mainland of
Ireland can just be made out.
I admire the tenacity of the monks who eked
out a spartan existence on this remote
outpost. At the same time I find myself
wondering, is this isolated lifestyle really what
God has called us to?
For more weird churches, click HERE
* Sorry to disappoint all those millions who believe that
Patrick was an Irishman, and each year celebrate his
anniversary in ways he might not entirely have approved.
Patrick was kidnapped from his home in what is now probably
Wales as a boy and sold into slavery in Ireland. There it was
that he came into the knowledge of God that was to sustain
him through his life. After a number of years of slavery he
escaped, and after many adventures was able to get himself a
monastic training in France and finally return to Ireland to
convert the Irish to Christianity.
What was the Pharisee Church?
In simple terms, it’s this.
In the first century AD, the time when Jesus lived and died, and the Christian church came into
existence, there were actually two ‘churches’.
There was the one that was founded by the Apostles, and grew out of the life, death, and
teachings of Jesus. And then there’s the one that arranged for the judicial execution of Jesus
Christ on the cross.
The first one is the Christian church, perhaps we could say the ‘true church’. The second I often
refer to as the Pharisee church.
Why do I call it that?
Easy. CHURCH just means God’s people, in the Christian sense. But in day-to-day life it
obviously gets used for those who really are God’s people, as well as for those who think they
are God’s people, call themselves God’s people, and yet aren’t, not really. In the first century,
these latter were (mostly) the Pharisees, as that was the largest single religious group around at
Let’s be clear here to avoid confusion . . .
I’m looking at this thing not in terms of Christianity as a ‘new’ movement that started around 33
AD and continued on from there. I’m looking in terms of God’s active interventions in the world
which goes right back to the start of recorded history (and presumably even before, but it’s not
written down) continuing through the life and death of Jesus, and onwards into the era of the
church as we call it today. It’s all church, from God’s perspective—perhaps we could call it the
‘BC church’ and the ‘AD church’, two variations on the same theme.
The actual, historical, Pharisees were only around for a couple of hundred years, say 200 BC to
100 AD. But what about their movement, their philosophy? What about the spirit that motivated
them, ‘Pharisaism’ in a broader sense? Jesus was pretty clear on this:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say,‘If we
had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood
of the prophets.’
Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.
Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and
crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.
And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of
righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple
and the altar.
(Matthew 23. 29-31, 34-38)
These words are taken from Jesus' diatribe against the Pharisees, the best-known version of
which is recorded in Matthew's gospel.
What's the point here?
The Pharisees, meaning those who actually called themselves by that name, lived for a couple
of hundred years round about the time of Jesus. Then the name died out.
But the principle is an ongoing, permanent one. It recurs in every generation, in every period
It was there to kill Abel, Jesus tells us. It was there to kill Zechariah (about 750 BC). It runs
through the whole of history, and it's here today, in new guises, posing the same threat that it
We need to understand it, recognize it and deal with it - as it was then and as it is now.