Review – The Pharisees and Jesus: The Stone Lectures for 1915-16, Delivered at the Princeton Theological Seminary

Posted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@gmail.com.

T. Robertson (1863-1934) was a paragon of excellence in Bible scholarship—fully committed to biblical inerrancy, thorough in his research and study, and clear and readable in his writing. He stands even today unrivaled in his mastery of the New Testament.

Because these lectures were prepared for and presented in a seminary setting, they are more academic than “popular,” compared with most of Robertson’s other writings, but not excessively so. Robertson presents the history and views of the Pharisees in their first century context, as documented in ancient Jewish literature (Josephus, Philo, Mishnah, Talmud, etc.), and discussed in the secondary literature. He also exhaustively presents and analyzes the many contacts, encounters and confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees as reported in the New Testament. The book has extensive bibliography, and is thoroughly indexed.

This little volume is simply outstanding in every way. Used copies as well as print-on-demand editions are readily available.

Quotations from The Pharisees and Jesus

The Pharisees and Jesus: The Stone Lectures for 1915-16, Delivered at the Princeton Theological Seminary by A. T. Robertson. London: Duckworth & Co., 1919. 189 pp., hardback.

“[Albert Schweitzer, in his Quest for the Historical Jesus,] has tried to overthrow ‘the modern Jesus’ of theology by the ‘true historical Jesus,’ but he is so confused by the dust of his own learning that he cannot recognize Jesus when he sees him.” p. 4

“Certainly, true Judaism was not hypocrisy, but it is remarkable the Psalms of Solomon (a Pharisaic book), the New Testament and the Talmud (the Pharisaic Bible) all give hypocrisy as the chief sin of the Pharisees.” p. 23

“This oral teaching of tradition of the elders was held to be authoritative. Rabbi Eleazar of Modin says: ‘Whoever interprets Scripture in opposition to tradition has no part in the future world.’ Once more we read: ‘the voice of the Rabbi is as the voice of God’ (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Erubin, folio 21, column 2), and ‘To be against the word of the scribes is more punishable than to be against the word of the Bible’ (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 11:3). Surely Jesus does not strain the point at all when he says with fine irony: ‘Full well do ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your tradition.’ In time the rabbis came to say this: ‘Moses received the (oral) Law from Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue.’ They either read all the oral law into the written law (eisegesis) or twisted it out of the written law (exegesis) in ways wonderful to behold.” p. 30

“Undoubtedly the rabbis thought that the Halachah [i.e., rules and regulations in the Law of Moses] as interpreted by them was the will of God.” p. 31

“I cannot pose as an impartial witness, but I have never read a book so dull as the minutiae and hair-splitting tortuosities of the Mishnah and Gemara [i.e., Talmud exposition of Mishnah]. One opens almost anywhere and it requires a positive effort to go on.” p. 34

“In the Jewish Prayer Book we read: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a heathen. Blessed art thou … who hast not made me a bondman. Blessed art thou … who hast not made me a woman.’ The Pharisee thus has pride of race, of position, of sex, and of laborious personal purity by attention to the formulae for righteousness, by doing which he gained salvation. In all this he thought that he was doing the will of God.” p. 47

“Farrar notes that the name of Jesus appears only about twenty times in the unexpurgated editions of the Talmud, the last of which was published in Amsterdam in 164.” p. 53

“The Talmud does speak a deal about repentance, but as ‘only another form of work-righteousness,’ and ‘Rabbinism had no welcome to the sinner’ til he had cleansed himself ceremonially before God and man. Indeed ’the last word of Rabbinism is only a kind of Pessimism.’” p. 77 (quoting A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, pp. 509, 513)

“Fasting with Jesus is an individual act for a real reason, not a stated function for empty show.” p. 82

“Religious controversy is a calamity, but it is often unavoidable, unless one is willing to give error a clear road to victory. Loyalty to truth demands that one speak the truth in love for those in error.” p. 110

“There is today many a scholar who has lost his way, and is unable to find God.” p. 113

“The Pharisees were the shining example of wasted spiritual privilege.” p. 118

“The Pharisees at any rate pretended to a holy life, and often attained it in externals.” p. 126

“Jesus accuses the rabbis of placing the Halachah above the Torah, as the Talmud plainly does… . ‘He who transgress the word of the scribes throws away his life’.” [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berachoth, folio iv, column 2], p. 130

“Jesus is the test of love for God. He reveals God to men and also reveals men to themselves.” p. 154

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.

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josh p's picture

Really interesting thank you. I don’t know much about Pierson. I’ll have to look into picking this up.

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