WHAT EXACTLY IS “HYPOCRISY?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
What exactly is a “hypocrite?”
The word appears 20 times in the “New Testament” Scriptures. Matthew 6:2 is the first occurrence: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Our English “hypocrite” is a transliteration of the Greek term, hupokrites (“under judge”). It was used to describe an actor under an assumed identity. He or she wears a costume, mask, and/or makeup to transform into someone else. To be candid, he or she is a pretender. It would do us well to look at these verses to see just what makes hypocrites so insincere.
Reading Matthew 6:2 again: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Here, a hypocrite gives alms (money/goods to the poor and needy)—not to help others or glorify God—but to be noticed and praised of men.
Matthew 6:5 mentions a second type of hypocrite: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” They pray—not to have fellowship with God or reflect upon His Word—but to be observed and praised by others.
Verse 16 features a third hypocrite: “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” The hypocrite here also seeks the attention and glory of men—they advertise their fasting by using their faces. They are not interested in true mourning, deep contemplation of their sin, and so on.
Just as someone would play another role on a stage, so the hypocrite “plays his part” for all society to give him a standing ovation.
Christ famously stated in Matthew chapter 7: “ Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” The hypocrite appears to promote righteous living. However, his lifestyle is far below the standard to which he holds others.
Jesus took what was true during the Prophet Isaiah’s lifetime and applied it to His own day 700 years later. He issued the following severe denunciation in Matthew chapter 15: “ Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias [29:13] prophesy of you, saying,  This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Israel abounded with pretenders. Outwardly, they prayed to “Adonai” (the Lord), recited the Mosaic Law, and sang the Psalms of David. Yet, their internal behavior was something else entirely. The Lord Jesus saw directly into their souls: while acting and sounding like worshippers of God, they had no faith/trust in His Word. It was just meaningless, worthless religion! They actually preferred their manmade traditions to His revelation. How do we know? Did not Israel shortly conspire with the Gentiles to kill Adonai’s Son on Calvary? Had they truly valued the Scriptures of Adonai and Moses and David, they would have believed Jesus was the embodiment and fulfillment of those very words! Alas, what hypocrites.
Our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry is winding down—Calvary is a few months away at most. For three years, He has performed miracle after miracle after miracle in the midst of His Jewish brethren, but has been overwhelmingly mistreated and ridiculed. Israel’s religious leaders have striven to demean and discredit Him at every possible opportunity. In Matthew chapter 12, for the first time, they plot to kill Him (verse 14). Shortly, He begins His parables and increasingly withdraws from public ministry.
As chapter 16 opens, those Christ-rejecting Israeli religious leaders approach Him. After disregarding His other miraculous deeds, and still wallowing in their unbelief, they feign themselves as genuine truth-seekers in verse 1: “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.” They are not interested in being converted to faith in Him; they are “tempting” or challenging Him, seeing if He will pacify them. “ 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?”
They prided themselves in studying nature to predict the weather, but how pathetically ignorant they were of more critical (eternally important!!!) matters. Discounting the earlier miracles, they had not recognized that Messiah (He Himself!) had arrived and they were outright rejecting their only chance at forgiveness of sins and eternal life! He chided them further: “ 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.” There are more hypocrites to come, and the Lord Jesus will soon address them with His most unpleasant words yet.
Most of the Bible’s acridest comments about hypocrites are found in Jesus’ final Temple sermon. Matthew chapter 22, verse 15: “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” They send allies in verses 16 and 17, “Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Verse 18, “But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” While playing like they were law-abiding citizens, they (like all Jews) had no interest in funding an oppressive Gentile government. Their only goal was to get Jesus in trouble with the Roman authorities.
Chapter 23 of Matthew is Christ’s censure of the pervasive corruption within this the ranks of Israel’s religious leadership. His words, while sharp, are necessary to expose Satan’s strongholds within the nation. The pretenders in Israel will now be uncovered for all in the Temple complex to see.
Verse 13, for example: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” Despite their pious appearance, they discouraged and intimidated any and all from participating in God’s will! Verse 14: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” In the name of religion, they stole large sums of money to “pray” for the dead!
Now, verse 15: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” They diligently sought converts to Judaism—not to teach them God’s Word and lead them to salvation—but simply to get new church members. Indeed, the hypocrites have infiltrated Israel. They have permeated the professing church today as well.
The Lord Jesus thundered in Matthew 23:23: “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.” They seemed to honor and follow the Mosaic Law, although they limited themselves. Consumed by tithing the smallest spices to obey Moses, they ignored God’s major commandments—judgment (justice), mercy, and faith.
Now, verse 25: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” This is formalism—emphasis on outward appearance—yet again. They painstakingly wiped (and wiped!!!) cups and platters (dishes) used in religious services. How attractive were those washed vessels! When God looked into the souls of those cleaning, He saw filth and ugliness. Their motives were greed and incontinency: they could not help themselves but take, take, take from the common Jewish worshippers to support that extravagant religion!
And, verse 27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Jesus employs a simile. These religious leaders are painted, decorated tombs… yet, innumerable corpses and utter impurity are hidden inside! Spiritual death personified!
Finally, verses 29-32: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.” They supposedly “lamented” their fathers killing God’s prophets of old. Nevertheless, ultimately, they will soon demand Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
Our Lord Jesus Christ issued the grave admonition in Luke 12:1: “In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” As “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9), Pharisaical hypocrisy throughly subverted Israel! (Its absurdity is described in Luke 13:11-17.)
Israel’s hypocrisy culminated at Christ’s barbaric crucifixion. Indeed, Calvary’s cross will forever be an emblem of God’s grace in spite of man’s sin. Yet, it will also always be a reminder of how opposed organized religion is to God’s grace. It was not thieves, drug abusers, drunkards, gangbangers, pimps, prostitutes, and atheistic evolutionary college professors who demanded God’s only begotten Son be crucified! No, it was the most “pious” people who ever lived! Religion was everything to them, and Heaven’s Best meant absolutely nothing to them! Mere hours after shedding His innocent blood, they, without one scintilla of remorse, held a religious feast—Passover!
James spoke of divine wisdom as being “without hypocrisy” (3:17). There is no deceitfulness with God; thus, the same should be true of His children. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17). If we have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ who is anything but a hypocrite, we should therefore behave like the people we are (Christians) and not the people we are not (unsaved)!
By the way, what became of organized religion? First Timothy 4:2 says, “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;….” Its proponents still masquerade as “truth-tellers.” They are non-dispensational—ignoring Pauline revelation (grace) and exalting everything else as “Christian” thought and behavior (see verses 1-16). Beware, dear friends, that ye be not hypocrites! Cast off the masks, makeup, and costumes! “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14)!