Scribes & Pharisees Call Out the Church

Mark 2:1-3:6 contains a series of five episodes in which the scribes and Pharisees raise questions about Jesus’ behavior. In four of the five episodes, they direct their questions to Jesus. But in vv. 15-16, they question the disciples.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

In terms of how this episode works on audiences of Mark’s gospel, something subtle is going on. The disciples throughout the gospel stand in for the church, so the scribes who are questioning the disciples are really challenging church audiences.

Think of films or plays in which characters break the fourth wall, departing from the narrative and speaking directly to the audience.

All Are Welcome

Sieger Köder, “All Are Welcome”

It’s as if the scribes pause the narrative and turn to church audiences to ask their question.

“Hey, church, are you paying attention to what Jesus is doing here? Do you see him eating with all the wrong people—the notorious sinners and those we consider traitors? These are the sort of scum upon whom God will surely rain down his judgment! Why is he spending time with them, running the risk of being seen to endorse them by eating with them?”

“And why is he so different from you? Your communities seem to be specially ordered to make sure you never run into these people? You’re so tidy and clean! Can you really claim to be a community loyal to this person?”

It does no good for us to answer that we truly do care for sinners but we just want to see them repent before we hang out with them. This is precisely the posture of the scribes and Pharisees. They long to see repentance and restoration on the part of sinners. But their method is to shun them into repentance, avoiding their contaminating presence.

Jesus doesn’t merely desire their repentance. He goes to them, walks among them, sits and eats with them. If God’s people are not among sinners and other marginalized people, the question must be faced, “why does Jesus eat with sinners and tax collectors when his disciples want to have nothing to do with them?”

4 thoughts on “Scribes & Pharisees Call Out the Church

  1. Matthew Perri

    Do you believe that Jesus was being “too exclusive” at the “Last Supper”?
    This was the height of His ministry over 3+ years, and there were thousands of marginalized strangers who would have been very happy to come “hear the Gospel” from Jesus if there was free bread, fish, and wine. Jesus had a track record of providing these free of charge to thousands of people – The wedding at Cana, 5000+, 4000+.

    Yet, instead Jesus chose to have an exclusive dinner party, invitation only for His 12 closest friends – and THEY had to prepare the dinner, not Jesus..,,, So it would appear that for Jesus, all are not welcome to everything they want, anytime anywhere with anyone…… Although Jesus will accept anyone who will come to Him, on His terms, seeking first the Kingdom of God, and will never drive them away.

  2. Allen Browne

    You’re right, Tim. My default position (having grown up in church all my life) is closer to the Pharisees than it is to Jesus. I love what he does, but I’m not good at it yet. I need to be more like the one who was the living sculpture of the God who can’t be seen any other way (Col 1:15a).

  3. Matthew Perri

    Many self-professed “Bible-believing Evangelicals” won’t follow the example of Jesus of the Gospels, because they are too busy trying to “be like Paul”, follow Paul’s example, and listening to Paul’s teachings. They won’t listen to the words of Jesus, because they are brainwashed through reciting their “mantra” – “all scripture is God-breathed.”

    This “Evangelical Mantra” has been accepted by the collective subconscious mind of “The Evangelical Church” without thought, question, reflection, or even 2 witnesses from the Scripture itself. It’s based on a misinterpretation, out of context, of one verse in one letter written by one man, Paul the Pharisee, who was unfamiliar with the personal ministry and teaching of Jesus.

    But, “Once an idea has been accepted by your subconscious, it remains there and it governs your behavior until it is replaced or changed.” [ as a pastor named Bishop Dale C. Bronner observed in one of his sermons]

    (Definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.) Mantra (noun) (Hinduism.) A sacred formula believed to embody the divinity invoked and to possess magical power, used in prayer and incantation.

    When cult members repeat their mantra, it makes them deaf to the voice of God, unable to hear God. Instead, it puts their focus on their one “special man” above all others – his personality, words and teachings, character, life example, feelings, experience, intentions, mind, will, emotions, etc. Their cult leader is their hero – he is always right, could never be wrong about anything specific, and he must be obeyed in all things and never questioned. He will give himself a special title, write at least one special book, and claim special authority, with no need for a second witness to back him up.
    Here are 3 examples.

    .1) Fuhrer. The title of Adolf Hitler as the leader of the German Nazis, author of “Mein Kamph”. Mantra: “Heil Hitler.”

    .2) The self-appointed Prophet Muhammad, author of The Koran. Mantra: …..”and Muhammad is his prophet.”

    .3) Paul the Pharisee, the self-appointed Apostle to the Gentiles, whose 13 letters comprise one third of what, today, we call the “New Testament.” (The first, original “New Testament” was composed by the second century heretic Marcion, and he coined the term “New Testament.” His new “book” contained nothing except 10 of Paul’s letters and an abbreviated Gospel of Luke. There were no other “New Testament” books, and the Hebrew Scriptures were the “Old Testament” which was irrelevant, according to the heretic Marcion.) Mantra: “All Scripture is God-breathed….”

    I got my Masters Degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was attracted to the school because they put Paul’s mantra of “All Scripture is God-breathed” above everything else, and I wanted to heed Paul’s command and “Preach the Word” like Paul….

    This mantra is a misinterpretation out of context of 2 Timothy 3:16. It ignores the previous verse, 2 Timothy 3:15, which clearly indicates that Paul was NOT referring to his own letters when he wrote the words “All Scripture.”

    Paul was probably making reference to some of the Hebrew Scriptures, quite likely including the Law and the Prophets. We cannot be completely certain exactly which “Scriptures” Paul meant in “All Scripture”, and what Paul meant by “God-breathed.” Why can’t we be certain?

    Because we must establish a matter by the testimony of two or three witnesses, especially something as important as “What is the Word of God.” No one else in the pages of the Bible besides Paul ever said anything like “All Scripture is God-breathed”. And Paul only said it here, one time, in the middle of a personal letter.

    The Apostle Peter made reference to “Prophecy of Scripture,” not “All Scripture,” and no it’s not the same thing at all. Jesus never said anything like that. And no one, not even Paul, ever said that all Scripture was equal.

    I remember the general approach to the Bible at Dallas being that “every word in the 66 Books is the Word of God”….. and we should interpret it based on “the intended meaning of the author in the historical grammatical context.”

    That is the basic idea of the heavy-duty seminary language we were being trained in. It sounds so right, so intelligent, so professional, so “godly”….. but it is fundamentally flawed.

    When we look at Paul’s teachings and testimony about himself, (in his letters that make up 1/3 of the New Testament,) we should NOT immediately ask ourselves; “what did Paul say, what did Paul mean, and how does this apply to my life?” The fundamental question is NOT “what was in the mind of Paul?”

    Before any of that, the FIRST question to ask is; “does Paul agree with Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets?”

    Paul contradicted himself, and his teachings and testimony about himself don’t harmonize with the teachings of Jesus (or with Luke’s record of his life.) Let’s not waste our time with endless debates about “what Paul really meant” with his wacky teachings about “baptizing the dead” or “there is neither male nor female.” Paul was wrong. Jesus reminds us from The Law “at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.” [Matthew 19:4, Genesis 1:27]

    As to the question of “whether the Bible is ALL truly Gods WORDS”…

    The underlying unspoken assumption is that “The Bible” (66 Books) was given to us by God as “one book” and it’s all “equal” in level of authority, priority, and importance. This comes from unconsciously believing Paul’s mantra, the “Evangelical Mantra”, that “All Scripture is God-breathed”, and falsely assuming Paul was referring to every word in the 66 Books of the Bible. Yet even here, not even Paul, not even once, ever said that “All Scripture is EQUAL” in authority, priority, and importance.

    No one in the pages of the Bible ever said or wrote that “all Scripture,” or “the Bible,” is “all truly God’s words”. Jesus never said anything like that, and Jesus did not see it that way. Jesus did not see even the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the “Old Testament”, as a whole unit or book that was all equal or “all truly God’s words.” Jesus spoke of The Law, or The Law and the Prophets, holding these 2 sections of the Old Testament above the third, least important sections the “Writings.” And Jesus held the Psalms, the first book of the “Writings” section, above the other books in the “Writings” section in importance, since some parts of some Psalms are prophetic.

    Obviously, the New Testament Scriptures were not written when Jesus was walking the earth. But if we want to get closest to The Source, Jesus himself, it makes sense that we should look first to the eyewitness testimony of two of His appointed Apostles who walked with Him faithfully for over 3 years, Matthew & John. (Also to other eyewitness testimony, recorded by Mark and Luke.) This is more accurate, important, and authoritative than personal letters written by Paul the Pharisee, who never knew Jesus personally, had no part in His ministry, and had no eyewitness testimony.

    We should follow the Jesus of the Gospel writers. We should not follow the “jesus” of Paul the Pharisee or Muhammad or any other man, who had their own ideas of who “jesus” was and what He did.

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