Calling other believers “Pharisees” is a very serious matter. An examination of Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees shows why you should beware of doing so.
Jesus’ Rebuke of the Pharisees
Mark 7:1-13 records an incident when Jesus sternly rebuked the Pharisees. The incident began with the Pharisees asking Jesus why His disciples did not follow certain traditions:
Mar 7:1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
Jesus responded initially by using Isaiah 29:13 to rebuke them for their hypocrisy:
Mar 7:6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
He continued His stern dealings with them by charging them with neglecting God’s commandments in order to follow human tradition (Mark 7:8). He then rebuked them further for their invalidating God’s Word through their tradition (Mark 7:9-13).
A Closer Look at Jesus’ Response
Jesus did rebuke the Pharisees for following certain human traditions instead of keeping the word of God (Mark 7:7), but He did so based on His knowing that their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6b). He had the supernatural ability to know their hearts, and thereby exposed them as hypocritical and vain worshipers of God.
He thus made known that they were not holding to these human traditions because they thought that they would help them honor God; they knew in their hearts that they were dishonoring God with what they were doing. Moreover, Jesus later explained to His disciples the solemn truth about the true condition of these Pharisees:
Mat 15:12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?
13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Jesus revealed that these Pharisees were not planted by His Father—despite their religiosity, they were unbelievers.
Only Someone Who Can Know the Heart Can Legitimately Call Another Believer a “Pharisee”
When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their following human traditions instead of God’s Word, He did so knowing that their hearts were far from God. He had the supernatural ability to know the true condition of their hearts and thereby excoriated them for being hypocritical unbelievers.
Because no believer has the ability to know the heart of another believer the way Jesus did, it is unrighteous for him to call another believer “Pharisee.” Before you call another believer a “Pharisee,” you should think carefully about your inability to know the heart of that person.
Beware of calling other believers “Pharisees”!