"Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying , The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe , that observe and do ; but do not ye after their works: for they say , and do not." Matt 23:1-3 The primary characteristic of a Pharisee is that of hypocrisy. In fact, in this very chapter, Jesus Christ calls the Pharisees 'hypocrites' 6 times, in addition to calling them "fools", and "serpents" and "blind", and a "child of hell." It's quite a chapter, I assure you. He never once accuses them of having bad doctrine or being slack in their Bible studies. Quite to the contrary, he instructs people to do what they say, just not what they do. A Pharisee can be absolutely the most doctrinally accurate person out there, but their secret life is one where they "make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess". A Pharisee's hypocrisy reveals itself in an obsession with the outward appearance with a neglect to the inward condition, which causes Jesus to compare them to "whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." Everything looks fine on the outside, but "within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity". The issue here isn't whether or not your hair is short enough if you're a man, or long enough if you're a woman. The issue isn't whether or not you do or do not wear a suit. The issue is an inward one. You might be a Pharisee if you live a life of secret sin while appearing righteous.
"But all their works they do for to be seen of men : they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" Matt 23:5-7. The Pharisees were noted by Jesus to be virtually obsessed with position and recognition. Their pride had risen to the point where they gloried in their titles and considered themselves above the common rabble that they were to be ministering to. Modern day Pharisees continue this and glory in titles such as 'Pastor' or 'Deacon' and will insist on special treatment for the 'man of God'. Modern day Pharisees forget that, although not everybody in a church has the same position, there is no such thing as big Christians and little Christians. The New Testament church is made up of equals who are all serving in different capacities as the need arises, and the day we begin to erect a hierarchical structure , we cross over into Pharisee territory. We might even find ourselves like the fellow in Luke 18:9-10. You might be a Pharisee if you consider yourself above other believers, and glory in titles and recognition.
"And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat . And, behold , a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping , and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying , This man, if he were a prophet , would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. (Luke 7:36-39)" Having inflated themselves through pride, and elevated themselves among the brethren, the Pharisees then became intensely interested in what other people were doing for God. But their interest wasn't to rejoice with their fellow servant, but to cut down, and criticize "the competition". That's because the easiest way to lift yourself up is to knock somebody else down. Jesus sets them straight on this when he says "Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint : but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven ; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven , the same loveth little." According to Jesus, a critical spirit towards other believers is a manifestation of a lack of love towards God. They even tried this with Jesus in Luke 11 where scripture records " And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him. " You might be a Pharisee if you approach other people's service to God with a critical spirit.
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying , Repent ye : for the kingdom of heaven is at hand . For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying , The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matt 3:1-8). Pharisees aren't the type to shy away from religious services, in fact, occasions like this are their specialty. John is preaching, and here they come, but rather than be commended for their attendance, John attacks their motives. Their inward defense even in the midst of their contrition is to fall back on the deeds of great men who had gone before them. Abraham was the friend of God, and Abraham had done great things, but these people were not Abraham, and it made no sense for them to even try to ride Abraham's coattails as a means of their own righteousness. They try this stunt again in Matthew 15, and Jesus describes their behavior with "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me."
Modern day Pharisees will point to the past or church tradition as a way to explain their behavior. Modern day Pharisees will cite the works of past evangelists or missionaries or pastors as the authority for what they do now, as opposed to the scriptures. They will, perhaps, with noble intentions, use the 'old-timey way' as a plumb line, sometimes at scriptures expense. It's one thing to use that as an example, it's another thing entirely to use that as a justification or as a source of authority. You might be a Pharisee if you point to tradition or lineage as an authority.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment , mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done , and not to leave the other undone .Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." ( Matt 23:23-24) If I had a nickel for everything I had been discussing a scripture with someone , and they went off on some weird tangent, I'd have a lot of nickels. It's fairly common. Part of that is that there is so much packed into every word in the Bible that it is legitimate for two people to read the same thing and see two different but legitimate things. Part of this is that people don't read carefully, or thoughtfully, or prayerfully; we are all too busy planning our cleverly scathing response to even truly hear what is being said. You might be a Pharisee if you completely miss the point.
"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came , and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say , It will be fair weather: for the sky is red . And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring . O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed ." Matt 16:1-4 Despite his fulfillment of the prophetical scriptures, and despite his miracles, The Pharisees harped on Jesus to do one more thing in order to prove himself. That is one of the biblical definitions of railing, by the way. This goes on in my circles when people claim that unless you exhibit what they perceive as an appropriate amount of excitement or zeal or devotion, there must be something wrong with you. You might be a Pharisee if other people are expected to jump through hoops in order to prove their spirituality to you.
We could probably keep this up all day, but we'll do one more. In Matthew 12, the Bible says "And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear , and understand : Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended , after they heard this saying?" Sins of the mouth are sins of the heart in scripture. Your heart will eventually come out of your mouth, and when it does, it will reveal to everybody what you really are. Rather than diagnose that, a modern day Pharisee, just like his first century counterpart will not take a rebuke, he will instead become angry and lash out at the rebuker. Truth hurts. You might be a Pharisee if the truth makes you mad.