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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


(hih pahc' rih ssee) Pretense to being what one really is not, especially the pretense of being a better person than one really is. The word is based on the Greek hypokrisis, originally meaning to give an answer. A hypocrite in classical Greek could be an interpreter of dreams, an orator, a reciter of poetry, or an actor. Originally a neutral term, “hypocrite” gained the negative connotation of pretense, duplicity, or insincerity.

In the Bible the negative meaning prevails. Often hypocrisy refers to evil or sin in general, not pretense in particular. In the Old Testament, “hypocrite” was used by the King James Version whereas later translations (e.g. RSV, NIV) often use “godless” or “ungodly” (Job 8:13; Job 15:34-35; Job 17:8; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 33:14 , etc.). This “godless” person was totally opposed to God or forgetful of God. The Hebrew word often translated “hypocrite” referred to pollution or corruption. Although the Hebrews were concerned about pretense or insincerity (Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 12:2 ), there is no one Hebrew word exactly equivalent to “hypocrisy.”

Hypocrisy in the narrower sense of playing a role is highlighted in the New Testament, especially in the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus criticized hypocrites for being pious in public (Matthew 6:2 ,Matthew 6:2,6:5 ,Matthew 6:5,6:16 ). They were more interested in human praise when they gave alms, prayed, and fasted than in God's reward. Hypocrites were also guilty of being judgmental of others' faults and ignoring their own (Matthew 7:1-5 ). Jesus often called the Pharisees hypocrites because of the conflict between their external actions and internal attitudes (Matthew 15:1-9 ). Their true attitudes would be revealed (Luke 12:1-3 ). The hypocrites could interpret the weather but not the signs of the times (Luke 12:56 ). They were more concerned about the rules for the Sabbath than a woman's physical health (Luke 13:15 ). Luke noted that the religious leaders pretended to be sincere when they asked Jesus about paying tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:20 ). Probably the most famous discussion of hypocrisy is Matthew 23:1 . The religious leaders did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3 ). Jesus compared them to dishes that were clean on the outside and dirty on the inside and to whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:25-28 ).

Hypocrisy is a concern throughout the New Testament. Although the term does not occur, it was part of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11 ). Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy for refusing to eat with Gentile Christians in Antioch (Galatians 2:12-13 ). Paul warned Timothy about hypocritical false teachers (1 Timothy 4:2 ). Peter included hypocrisy as one of the attitudes Christians should avoid (1 Peter 2:1 ).

Six times New Testament writers stress that sincerity (without hypocrisy, anupokritos) should characterize the Christian. Christian love (Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22 ), faith (1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5 ), and wisdom (James 3:17 ) should be sincere. See Lie; Pharisees; Sin; Truth .

Warren McWilliams

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Hypocrisy'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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