Without immediately getting to far into what the Pharisees were in their day I want to point out something to Christians in our day who use this term. The Pharisees were actually really popular in their time. The Jews highly esteemed them and the masses followed their teaching. They were far from the "crazy-legalist-uncle" persona we usually use this term for. Normally when we here the word "Pharisee" being used today we think of the guy wearing the dark suit and white shirt, pants pulled up to his armpits, sporting a tie, carrying his family Bible. He's the guy that uses his Bible as a weapon and constantly cries foul at anyone or anything that disagrees with his preferences. Certainly there are those kind of people out there but frankly that's not how people viewed the Pharisees in their day. It's important for you to understand who the pharisees really were especially considering the misuse of the word in our day today.
The Origin of the Pharisees
Throughout the initial portion of the Roman occupation of Palestine, two groups surfaced in reaction to the Roman attempt to Hellenize Israel: Hellenists, who preferred the implementation of Greek ideas, and Hasidim, who intensely opposed any influence of the Greek culture. While some Hasidim determined to continue to battle Hellenistic influence, others decided violence was not the answer. This group came to be convinced that God had allowed foreign oppression because of the failure of the people in that day to obey the Torah.
It is generally believed that this group was the Pharisees who followed in the line of the Hasidim (pious ones). The Pharisees emerged as a society for the stricter and more thorough observance of the rules of Levitical purity that they felt was being widely ignored among the provincials of that time. The very term Pharisees conveys the implication “separatist.” It is this devotion to the law that the Pharisees are best known for.
The Pharisees’ Dogma
The original pietistic character of Pharisaism developed most evidently in the rules that administered both admittance and expulsion. These rules resembled those recorded by Josephus for the Essenes.  Their intention was to protect the Jews from being influenced by the Hellenistic society and so they meticulously studied the five books of the Pentateuch and strove to submit to the very minutia of the law.
The Pharisees’ belief system is best understood against the backdrop of the Zealots. Distinct from the Zealots, the Pharisees taught to withhold from the application of armed dynamism. They believed that God controlled all historic destinies and it was the duty then of all devout Israelites to be passionately devoted to the Law and the traditions that had been engrafted upon it.
The Pharisees’ Influence in their day
In their day the Pharisees were considered the foremost interpreters of the law. Their goal was to protect the Torah but this goal was often misapplied and led to radical rules and regulations being placed on the people. The Pharisees declared not only the written Torah, but also declared the “oral law” developed by their scribes. This is why Josephus would write that the Pharisees had imposed upon the people many laws taken from the tradition of the Father’s that were not found in the law of Moses.  Even with their outlandish requirements for themselves and the people the Pharisees still held enormous sway over the common folk as the peoples primary teachers of the Torah.
How understanding the Pharisees helps us interpret the Scripture
Today the term Pharisee is the equivalent of hypocrisy and legalism, but this would not have been the assessment of most people in first-century Israel. The Pharisees were revered for their piety and devotion to the Law. The Pharisees’ goal was indeed a noble one: to maintain a life of purity and submission to the Law. In truth the problem with the Pharisees was not their pursuit of holiness but their saying of one thing and doing another, of raising interpretations of the Bible as being on the level of God’s commandments (Mark 7:8), and of becoming infatuated with the externals while neglecting the heart issues.  They “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”(Matthew 23:23-24).
Let's apply this to our current use of the word "Pharisee" today. The truth is that it is completely false to use the word "pharisee" to refer to a person who loves God and wants to keep his commands. There may be those who have strict rules they live by in an effort to become more like Christ. I don't see that as inherently pharisaical or legalistic. So long as that individual is living in the Spirit of God and not imposing those rules on everyone around him I see nothing wrong with his practice. Effort to become more like Christ is not legalism. It is when you compare your faith to another persons that you are the one acting like a pharisee.
While the group called the "pharisees" does not exist today, I believe that their spirit is still alive and well. However, I don't believe that modern use of the word is the spirit of the biblical pharisees. Those who call people pharisees are more like pharisees themselves. Think about it. Those who throw around the pharisee label are those who have their own opinions and practices that they have so elevated they cannot accept someone else disagreeing with them. We must all be careful not to allow our traditions or customs to become the barometer by which we judge spirituality, but this cuts both ways.
 Mark Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2007), 101.
 Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees, the Sociological Background of Their Faith (Philadelphia: Press of the Jewish Publication Society, 1938), 76.
 Ibid., 77
 Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1885), 10.
 Strauss, 134
 Ibid., 133
Posted by Caleb