The Pharisees were, according to the Bible, which was written by their enemies, Jews who were sticklers for religious laws and rules. Jesus was said to criticize them because they did not address real life circumstances. When the Pope seeks to lighten up on Catholic rules because they do not fit life’s circumstances, there is an avalanche of criticism that sounds quite like the Pharisees. The Pope cleverly points that out.
What were the Pharisees really like–how did they actually see their enemies? And, who are really the “Pharisees” today? Critics of the Pope see him as following his own set of rules instead of their so it is the Pope, critics say, who is really today’s “Pharisee.”
This silly argument is not limited to Catholics. It is going full steam among Protestants. Conservative Protestants have decided what the Bible says about gay marriage, even though the Bible does not say it, and proclaims to honor gay marriage is to violate the written code of the faith.
The Pharisee argument is best raised against those who take the Bible literally. Places like the Moody Bible Institute come to mind. There is a big dispute going on right now at Moodys, however, as to what is meant by taking the Bible literally.
While arguing back and forth about who are the Pharisees, critics or followers of the Pope, is entertaining, it makes a point. The point is that most everything in religion is too vague to know exactly what it meant to those who wrote it.