"To care all about the appearance of a matter or a law, without paying attention to its meaning/spirit and essence"

Actually, I look for a suitable word for to express such meaning, and place it in this text:

The Pharisee Jews were so/very/too ................ . That is to say, they were paying attention to the appearance of religious orders, but they didn't care about the spirit of those orders at all. Jesus told them: "You argue about the uncleanness of a dish with one another, but you do not argue about what is earned through usury or a forbidden and unclean way, that you eat in the same dish?! You're okay with usury, but you judge on trivial matters, such as the egg that a chicken laid on Saturday (Jewish holiday)?!"

The words I have found so far are:

  • Formalistic


  • Superficial observer

Also im not sure about to choose among these:

1. Appearance of religious orders


2. Outward of religious orders

Please leave me any kind of improvements and changes you think works within the whole text.

  • 1
    The word usually used is 'legalistic'. May 12, 2020 at 14:06
  • For what it's worth, I'll note a few idioms in case they're of interest to you: The Pharisee Jews couldn't see the forest for the trees. The Pharisee Jews were down in the weeds. Both terms connote a failure to see the big picture. I'm sure there are many others. May 12, 2020 at 14:37
  • Is this not the same Question as english.stackexchange.com/questions/534073/…? May 12, 2020 at 22:33

1 Answer 1


The word usually used, at least in Christian theology, is legalistic.

Dictionary.com gives a fitting definition of the noun (the noun and adjective have closely corresponding meanings):

legalism noun

  • strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.


Lexico is more incisive in its definition, from a Christian perspective:

legalistic adjective

  • 1 Adhering excessively to law or formula.

    • ‘our conciliation process avoids an overly legalistic approach’
    • ‘narrow legalistic definitions’
  • 1.1 [Theology] Concerning adherence to moral law rather than to personal religious faith....

  • 1
    I know I'm not supposed to do this, but I like your answer. May 12, 2020 at 14:26
  • It's great when you're happy with what you're cut-and-pasting. May 12, 2020 at 14:44

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