Comparison between Catholics and Pharisees

The Pharisees in the Bible relied on tradition instead of God. They had market places in synagogues. I had a friend of mine who said that Catholics rely on tradition and the payment of indulgences in church were like market places and that’s why Martin Luther split from the church. He kept saying that Catholics are just like the Pharisees.

Is there anything that disproves this?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It explains everything.


We can’t disprove such a broad accusation. Your friend needs to provide more specific claims in order to refute them. Protestants have traditions of their own, and many require tithes, so they would also have to prove why they themselves aren’t Pharisees.


He said that both Pharisees and Catholics are traditions based. Moving away from God. He also said something about the market place thing in the Bible when Jesus was angry about merchants in synagogues. He said that Catholics in the Middle Ages sold indulgences in churches like the merchants selling products in synagogues.

The one making the claim needs to prove his point, you do not need to disprove it.


Instead of God? That’s an extreme exaggeration. Here’s an example of one of the those rebuked by Jesus. It doesn’t sound as though he denies God:

Luke 18:9-14 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. …

Note how he thanks God for his misunderstanding of doctrine.

They had market places in synagogues. I had a friend of mine who said that Catholics rely on tradition and the payment of indulgences in church were like market places and that’s why Martin Luther split from the church. He kept saying that Catholics are just like the Pharisees.

Martin Luther was wrong on many fronts, including his mischaracterization of indulgences. Here’s what Scripture says about buying your way into heaven:

Matthew 13:44Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Is there anything that disproves this?

  1. There’s no need to disprove something that hasn’t been proven in the first place…
  2. You can simply tell him that he’s wrong, Jesus Christ established the Church to Teach all that He commanded (Matt 28:19-20) and said that those who do not believe the Catholic Church should be treated as heathen (Matt 18:17)

The fallacy here is making tradition=indulgences.
Indulgence is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven. It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God. It does not confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin. An indulgence is not the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyer’s salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory.
Tradition is the living Gospel, proclaimed by the Apostles in its integrity on the basis of the fullness of their unique and unrepeatable experience: through their activity the faith is communicated to others, even down to us, until the end of the world. Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit who acts in the Church’s history through the mediation of the Apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience of the, origins. The Church transmits all that she is and believes, she hands it down through worship, life and doctrine.


I always thought it was weird when people compare the Catholics to Pharisees. I can tell you there are a lot of Southern Baptists, that do not play cards, do not drink any alcohol, even in moderation , and don’t want you to do it either, and think it’s wrong to dance. Do some Catholics act like Pharisees? Yes, but so do some other people.


Tradition was not the problem with the Pharisees, it was their hearts. Any person is capable of being like a Pharisee. It’s not a problem of tradition so much as misplaced priorities, pride or hardness of heart.

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There is a fairly good explanation of what indulgences are and are not, in post 6 you may want to copy it down as it is fairly long, if you plan to use it with your “friend” (I am likely to think they are not a friend, but rather an acquaintance).

However, if you are not skilled in apologetics, you may find you re either getting overwhelmed, or find you have a new area of study - and it is both wide and deep.

Meaning, a) your acquaintance is wrong; b) they likely have a long laundry list of objections to the Church; c) they may have no interest in finding out the truth, but would rather use the Church as their foil; and d) you should not forget the old saying: “one should never argue with a fool; an observer may not be able to tell who is and who is not.”

I do not mean to suggest not explaining; but beware of the quicksand which may be found.

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2 Thessalonians 2-15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle

The Tradition of the catholic church is the Tradition received by the Apostles


Nicodemus was a pharisee and he is a saint so only certain behaviors that the pharisees participated in are bad.


I am not Catholic and used to believe that Catholics were similar to Pharisees in the sense of having many more rules and regulations than my faith.

For example, the ‘no meat Fridays’, counting how much food you can eat on Good Friday, days of obligation, missing church without a good reason is a mortal sin, people on CAF quibbling over whether saying “Amen” when receiving communion is a sin or not, and arguments over seemingly trivial things in the mind of most Protestants made it look to Catholics focus on the details of religion (like the Pharisees) more than focusing on the Lord Jesus.

Now, I’ve come to realize that Catholics participate in more religious disciplines than most Protestants and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, engaging in healthy spiritual disciplines helps a Christian become more mature. I think Catholicism is a deep and more complicated faith that is better appreciated the more you become familiar with it.

It is easy but unfair to take potshots at Catholicism when you don’t understand it at a deeper level.


I don’t understand “relied on tradition instead of God”

Did you mean relied on tradition instead of the bible? Does your friend think the bible is God?

Catholics believe God speaks through tradition, written & spoken. Catholics have been gathering worshipping God long before there was a bible. It is from that worship that the bible came from.

I haven’t participated with every tradition out there, but I have participated with many. Baptist, Pentacostal, many variations of Pentecostal, Presbyterian… they’ve all had unique & novel approaches to fund raising. Maybe nothing as presumptuous as indulgences, but interesting none the less.

As far as Luther is concerned I remember 1 John 2:19

They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.

The Pharisees are known only from the New Testament, and the references are few, and critical. We do not have a full understanding of their views and practices. So there is no real validity in comparing anything to them. If your friend thinks the Church is wrong and you think it is right you should argue on the merits your argument, not by analogy. I sometimes think we need a religious rule along the lines of ‘the first one to mention the Nazis loses’ rule - ‘the first one to compare their opponent to a Pharisee loses’.


Key distinction there is " traditions of men". The tradition received from the apostles is to be held to, this tradition is the catholic church , traditions of men would be the protestant churchs invented by men 1600 years after the apostles.


Well now it is protestants selling “the prosperity gospel” on tv. That is a protestant tradition. There are abuses in protestantism with money just like there were abuses in The Church in the past. I would tell him that I dont call him a Pharisee for it but I could. I would point out that I could easily nit pick his traditions, that I am sure he is not even aware that he is following. Did he say a “sinners prayer” to get “saved” that is a non biblical protestant tradition. Does his church do “altar calls”? Also a non Biblical protestant tradition. Why does he celebrate Christmas when it was first a Catholic Tradition? Same with going to church on Sunday instead of Saturday. Lots of protestant sects are comparable to Gnostic sects from back in the day yet we dont go around calling all protestants “Gnostics”

I guarantee for everything he says is unbiblical in Catholicism, there is another branch of protestantism pointing the finger at him and calling him unbiblical in a few of his beliefs. I say this as a ex protestant. He is not above criticism. I would also ask him to be specific to what Catholic traditions he has a problem with instead of making broad, vague accusations.

And also St Paul.

The problem the Pharisees had was in recognizing Jesus and His new commandments - to Love one another and such.

This is one of those vague emotional arguments that it is very difficult to disabuse a person of if they are inclined to believe it.

Basically, a non-Catholic reads the New Testament, sees that Jesus condemns traditions of the Pharisees, observe that Catholics talk about tradition a lot, and then they start to simply substitute “Catholic” for “Pharisee” every time they read the Gospels.

Once you make that leap, it becomes very difficult to imagine that Jesus has anything but disdain for Catholics and the Catholic Church. This is exactly how anti-Catholic prejudice takes root in a person’s mind and heart.

In truth, there is a critical distinction that is missing in this “argument”: the distinction between the “traditions of men” (that Jesus condemns) and the “traditions of God” (that Jesus absolutely upholds). Jesus does not condemn all tradition without distinction. That would be incomprehensible to the Christian faith (and also the Jewish faith—and Jesus was a good Jew). Even knowing what books are included in the Bible is a tradition. Without tradition, each person would be starting from scratch in trying to determine who Jesus was, what writings about him are authentic, what the nature of God is, etc.

As for making the temple a marketplace, the Church does not sell indulgences. That is known as “simony” and is a sin. It has always been a sin. Grace is free and cannot be bought or sold. The fact that some people tried to do this at certain points in history is an abuse of the legitimate tradition of indulgences. Martin Luther was right to speak out against such a thing, but he took the wrong approach to fix the problem (i.e. breaking away and doing away with many other essential aspects of Christian teaching in the process).

You might try to make such points with your friend. But be sure to do so with love, and do not be surprised if he does not immediately change his mind. For those who have been raised to view the Gospels through this lens, it will take time for them to change their focus. Keep your friend in prayer.

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