The Greek words for hypocrite and hypocrisy, HUPOKRITES, ‘υποκριτης, and HUPOKRISIS, ‘υποκρισις, respectfully, come from the same root word HUPOKRINOMAI, ‘υποκρινομαι, that means, “to answer, reply, to answer on a stage, to pretend.” None of them are used in this passage, but the principles apply.
The Word HUPOKRITES means, “one who answers, an actor, one who plays a part, one who pretends to be other than what he is, a hypocrite.”
The word HUPOKRISIS primarily means, “an answer or response, playacting or hypocrisy.” Generally, in classical Greek, it means stage playing, acting, the histrionic art; hence, it came to mean acting a part in life, etc. So, the meaning is acting a part. Later it was used for that which is “false, deceptive, and deceived,” and then it was used for “formally and outwardly religious and good, but inwardly insincere and unrighteous.”
This definition seems to imply that hypocrites are people who deliberately pretend to be virtuous or good; whereas, in fact they are something else, and that the pretense is carried out in the interests of some evil plan. It follows then, that for the hypocrite, the means to the end is itself evil. As such, the hypocrite may come to deceive himself, as well as others.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines hypocrisy as, “simulation of virtue or goodness; dissimulation (i.e., hide your real thoughts, feelings, or intentions); pretense; and hypocrite, (a person guilty of hypocrisy; dissembler, (the one who hides his real thoughts, feelings, or intentions; or pretender.)”
The Louw and Nida Greek-English Lexicon, says, “The key words “hypocrisy and pretense” convey the meaning to give an impression of having certain purposes or motivations, while in reality having quite different ones, i.e., “to pretend, to act hypocritically, pretense, or hypocrisy.” Thus, the sense is to pretend to be one thing while actually being (or doing) another. In a number of languages, ‘υποκρινομαι and ‘υποκρισις are expressed in idiomatic ways, for example, “to have two faces, to have two tongues, to be two people, have a double standard, or to have two hearts.” Psa 12:2 says they have a “double heart.” And Psa 119:113; James 1:8; and James 4:8 says, they are “double-minded.” That is the hypocrite.
In regard to the actor playing a role, R.B. Thieme Jr. notes, “In the fifth century BC, they had large audiences for their dramas. They usually had three, sometimes four, actors. They had very powerful voices and strong bodies. They put on a very large wax mask designed for the particular drama. Each actor had maybe half a dozen wax masks — for when he was supposed to be happy, to be sad, etc. So, an actor was someone who spoke from behind a mask, and that is the Greek word here. It means to speak from behind a false face or to speak from behind a false front or to be a hypocrite. In other words, a hypocrite is someone who has two faces, his own and the one he puts on.”
Using the term in this way thus came to express the idea of a person acting in a role that was not his or her own. Later the term was used more generally to refer to a person who pretended to be what he or she was not and to convey the idea of hypocrisy or dissimulation, (i.e., to hide your real thoughts, feelings, or intentions). Thus, hypocrisy is a lie that gives a false impression regarding oneself. This usage involves a pretense that is evil, because it serves an evil purpose.
Therefore, the contrast between the true self and the role of the actor led to the idea of HUPOKRISIS as pretense and deception. But it also seems to have led to the simple contrast between what a person really is, and their behavior that is inconsistent with that, or between behaviors that seems to represent one motive, but in reality represents another.
Psa 12:2, “They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.”
Prov 7:21, “With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him.”
Rom 16:18, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
I. Howard Marshall notes, “HUPOKRISIS is usually concerned with inconsistency between actions, or between (hidden or partially hidden) motives and (overt) actions. Generally speaking, the inconsistency is between something that can be regarded as good and something else that can be regarded as evil. Several times the aim of the outward actions seems to be simply to gain applause, but in a significant number of cases, it is fair to conclude that there is an element of deceit, in that a person pretends to be doing something when he is really doing something else, or is doing something that is apparently good but that springs from false motives, such as the desire to gain human applause rather than Divine approval, or to take advantage of other people by acquiring a false reputation for trustworthiness.” (I. Howard Marshall, Honorary Research Professor of New Testament, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, “Who is a Hypocrite”)
Therefore, HUPOKRISIS generally characterizes a form of behavior that shows a clash either:
a) Between a person’s professed desire to please God and behavior that is inconsistent with it, or
b) Between a person’s hidden evil intentions and his or her appearance of holiness or virtue.
Both may in fact intend to secure a wrong or evil end, which may include gaining human approbation rather than giving glory to God. And in some, but not all cases, the wrong end may be achieved by a pretense or deception.
Hypocrisy then, can be inconsistency that is deliberate, or it may be a matter of blindness and self-deception, or even a willful refusal to obey God in specific ways while professing to obey Him. The Pharisees were criticized because they did virtuous acts but with the motive of gaining human approval. They were people who sought to please God, and their desire for human approbation was inconsistent with this.
In addition, hypocrisy can be due to deception, which occurs when believers are deceived by plausible, false teachers, or more seriously, live inconsistent Christian lives. And finally, hypocrisy occurs when believers act for the sake of gaining human approval for their apparent godliness.
1 Thes 2:3, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”
Old Testament Usage:
There is no distinct Hebrew word for hypocrite or hypocrisy in the Old Testament, the concept does appear though, primarily in terms of insincere worship.
- We see its appearance when the Lord rejects sacrificial offerings and temple attendance, Jer 7:4-11, when worshipers have no intimate knowledge of Him or genuine love, Hosea 6:4-6; Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-24.
- Hypocrisy manifests itself in an inconsistency between external religious activity and religious profession, Isa 1:10-17.
- The root idea in the Old Testament is that the hypocrite has a godless heart, Job 36:13, (where the LXX translation uses hypocrites for the Hebrew CHANEP, “godless or profane”), that rebels against God’s laws, Jer 7:21-24; Hosea 7:13-16; 8:1-2; cf. Jer 6:19-20, and generates wrongful acts, including injustice and oppression, Isa 58:2-7; 59:2-4, 13-15.
- The hypocrite is also an ungodly rebel who flatters and deceives with his or her tongue, Psa 5:9-10; 12:2-4; 78:36-37; Dan 11:21, 27; cf. Psa55:20-21, to promote godlessness, Dan 11:32, 34, (hypocrisy is CHALAQLAQQOTH the reduplication of CHALAQ meaning, “smooth or smoothness.”
Prov 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
- In contrast, the true worshiper must come before the Lord with a pure heart, Psa 15:2; 24:4.
Psa 15:2-4, “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”
Psa 24:4-5, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. 5He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
New Testament Usage:
The New Testament seems to combine the Old Testament concept of the godless rebel and the Attic Greek HUPOKRISIS, “stage-playing or acting.”
- The Greek idea of “play-acting,” the HUPOKRITES, seems paramount where Jesus warns against religious performance to impress men. As such, the hypocrite makes an outward show of their religion and beliefs, whether in giving offerings, praying, or fasting, Mat 6:1-2, 5, 16, 18.
- The concept of hypocrisy as failing to practice what one preaches is found in Mat 23:3-4.
- The hypocrite is self-deluded by his or her own pretension, which does not fool anyone else, and leads him to wrongly judge others, Mat 7:5; Luke 6:42.
Mat 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
- Hypocrisy involves a failure to discern spiritual truth, Luke 12:54-56; 13:15; cf. Mat 12:7; 16:3; 23:13-29; Luke 11:39-44, or even a willful blindness to spiritual matters.
Mat 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”
- The hypocrite pretends goodness, but beneath a religious veneer is a malicious or deceitful heart scheming to entrap the righteous, Mat 22:15-18; Mark 12:15f; Luke 20:20f; Luke 12:1; cf. 1 Peter 2:1.
1 Peter 2:1, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
- Though hypocrites justify their religious activity, their hearts are not true to God, Mat 15:7-9, 18-19; Mark 7:6; cf. Isa 29:13-14.
- The hypocrite has a discrepancy between his outward conformity to God’s Word and the true state of his heart, Mat 23:25-30; contrast Matt 5:8. Thus, the term “hypocrite” can be used as a synonym for an unbeliever, Mat 24:50-51.
Mat 24:50-51, “The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Such hypocrites hinder others from coming to Christ, and even make converts to their godless lifestyle, Mat 23:13, 15; cf. Dan 11:32, 34.
Mat 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
- Or they deceive others into doctrinal error, 1 Tim 4:1-2. In 1 Tim. 4:2, the term conveys the sense of an evildoer or apostate.
1 Tim 4:1-2, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.”
- Many times, hypocrisy causes a herd mentality, where they all run off the cliff together in apostasy, Gal 2:13. When Peter changed his practice on the arrival of envoys from Jerusalem, he was not just trying to deceive the envoys, nor act in contradiction with himself; but he was falling away from the truth of the gospel, which with the doctrine of justification by faith, implies equality of Jew and Gentile.
- Thus, hypocrisy is implied as one of the evidences of earthly or demonic wisdom, James 3:13-17.
- The absence of hypocrisy, (i.e., genuine faith and sincere love from a pure heart), is a mark of godly character, 1 Tim 1:5; 2:5, 7; cf. Psa 15:2-5; 24:3-5; 2 Cor 6:6-7.
1). As believers who truly apply AGAPE Love toward others, we are to operate “without hypocrisy,” ANAUPOKRITOS, Rom 12:9-13.
Rom 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good…”
2) Sincere love is from the heart; it rests on your new birth and the word of God, 1 Peter 1:22-23.
3) Opposed to the demonic wisdom of false teachers, the pure wisdom of the truth of God’s Word is marked by sincerity that leads to Divine Good Production, James 3:17-18; cf. 1 Thes 2:5-8. In contrast, heresy is immoral; it is “hypocrisy.”
James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
1 Thes 2:5-8. “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”