Josephus, the first-century historian, suggests that the sect of Pharisees was a small fraternity with membership of about six thousand. They were all aware of the poor and politically powerless itinerate Rabbi named Jesus and His disagreeable doctrines.
The New Testament first mentions Saul at the martyrdom of Stephen, an event that likely occurred four or five years after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Though there is no written record, it’s certainly possible that young Saul was among the mobs of Pharisees that accosted Jesus on multiple occasions.
When a tax-collector named Matthew, a Jesus-follower, hosted a gala affair for Jesus, the Pharisees reacted with contempt. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). Was Saul in the background, watching and listening, or was he out front wagging his super-spiritual finger?
On another occasion, “Jesus passed through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick and eat some heads of grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath’ ” (Matthew 12:1–2). The Pharisee’s mantra was “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!... especially on the Sabbath. Don’t even pick a ripe head of grain as a tiny snack.”
Later the same day, Jesus went to the synagogue. “There he saw a man who had a shriveled hand, and in order to accuse him (the hyper-religionists) asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ ” (Matthew 12:9–10). Again, I wonder if young Saul, with his ever-increasing sense of superiority, was in the throng of Pharisees? If he was, he saw and heard Jesus beckon the crippled man. With doubting and defiant eyes, Saul might have wondered how Jesus performed the trickery. It looked real. Jesus simply spoke, “ ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out, and it was restored, as good as the other” (Matthew 12:13). Immediately, and with seething contempt, “the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill (Jesus)” (Matthew 12:14).
Fearlessly, Jesus refusing to be silenced, declared, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but gulp down a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness... Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:23–33).
Was Saul in the crowd to hear the so-called Messiah’s repeated condemnation? Seven times, Jesus’ judgment rang out, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” As the Pharisee’s animosity for the carpenter’s son continued to grow, “they conspired to arrest Jesus in a treacherous way and kill him” (Matthew 26:4).
Do you hear Saul’s voice in the raucous crowd? “Crucify him! ... Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:22–23). Maybe...