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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament



‘Hypocrisy’ (ὑτόκρισις, ‘hypocrite’ (ὑτοκριτής), ‘act the hypocrite’ (ὑτοκρίνομαι). In the NT the verb appears only in Luke 20:20; ὑτοκριτής only in the Synopp., but fifteen times in Mt. alone; ὑτόρισις once in Mt. (Matthew 23:28), once in Mk. (Mark 12:15), once in Lk. (Luke 12:1), and also in Galatians 2:13, 1 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 2:1. The root meaning of the word is to distinguish between things. From this it early came to mean to answer, and to interpret, dreams. By what link of association it came to be applied to declamation is less easy to determine. In this sense it is used by the Attic writers of orators and rhapsodists as well as of actors. Soon it was restricted to declamation on the stage, and then, by a process repeated in other languages, was used for acting a part, and so for acting a part for a base end, for giving oneself out to be what one knew one ought to be, but had no intention of becoming.

In the Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] the word is found in this sense of acting a part, of feigning, and with varying shades of moral obliquity. In 2 Maccabees 6:21-25, Eleazar is urged to eat his own meat while feigning to eat the swine’s flesh appointed by the king. Though the deception is urged as legitimate, Eleazar’s reply shows that the word already had bad associations. Similarly 4 Maccabees 6:17. In Sirach 32:15, as the opposite to fearing God and seeking the law, it is used almost exactly as in the NT. The LXX Septuagint uses the word in Job 34:30; Job 36:13, to translate חָנִף. In the first passage, it is an impiety which lays snares; in the second, it is an impiety of the heart which cherishes an inward bitterness against God. Here we have the true ancestry of the NT usage, which always includes the idea of impiety, of shutting out God and resolutely living in the darkness apart from Him. But the NT usage is also influenced by חָלַק, though the LXX Septuagint translates that word by δολιοῦν or δολοῦν. From the root idea of smoothness it came to be employed for flattery, and so for all kinds of evil deception. The kinship of the two words חָנֵף and חָלַק may be seen in Daniel 11:32, where those who are basely disloyal to the covenant expose themselves to the danger of being led into a false position towards God by smooth deceits.

Yet the conception of this vice in the popular mind of His time, to which our Lord appealed, was less determined by any particular Hebrew word than by the general teaching of the OT. The hypocrites speak with a double heart (Psalms 12:2). They have smooth lips, and their profession is far beyond their performance (Psalms 12:3). They imagine that wickedness can be shut up in the heart. They are brazen towards God, and deceitful towards men. They cease to hate evil and take to planning it (Psalms 36:1-4). Above all, they attempt to deceive God (Psalms 78:36) Hypocrisy is a thing God cannot tolerate (Job 22:16), and which He is continually exposing (Job 5:13). Idolatry is a sort of hypocrisy from which a man can keep by being perfect, i.e. whole-hearted, with the Lord his God (Deuteronomy 18:13). The classical passage for a hypocrisy that practises the ceremonies and knows none of the duties of religion is Isaiah 1, but nearly every prophet has occasion to speak against the evil. All false prophecy was hypocrisy—the saying of the thing that pleased, and not of the thing that was true. The person most deceived was the hypocrite himself (Isaiah 33:14-15, Job 27:8), but he was also a danger to the society in which he lived (Job 15:34). To all the true prophets he was the supreme danger to the State.

The Talmud lays the same stress upon hypocrisy, as the opposite of faith in God. ‘There are four who cannot appear before God—the scoffer, the hypocrite, the liar, and the slanderer’—all vices of falsehood. ‘God hates him who speaks one way with the mouth and another way with the heart.’ ‘A society which has hypocrites for its members is abominable and falls into exile.’

Hypocrisy was plainly no new vice in our Lord’s time, but an ancient heritage into which the Pharisees entered. How, then, are we to account for the sudden prominence to which it is raised? No vice is held up to such unenviable notoriety in the Synoptics, no other combated with the same direct denunciation, while in John τὸ ψεῦδος is a conception only a little wider than ὑπόκρισις, and has the same condemnation. First of all, just because it is a sin of deception, it is mercilessly exposed, as if our Lord would give a practical demonstration that there is nothing hidden that shall not be made known. A sin which glories in misleading an opponent by smooth flatteries (Matthew 22:15), which goes about in long robes and seeks to be reverenced by public salutations, which takes its honour for granted and cloaks oppressive avarice with long prayers (Mark 12:38-40), which cleanses the outside of the cup and platter while leaving them full of extortion and wickedness, which makes men hidden tombs, fair without and foul within (Luke 11:44), is met, as no other sin can be, by exposure.

Then the sin which lives by corrupting the conscience has cut itself off from the usual appeal of holiness and love by which our Lord seeks to win men from other sins. It substitutes traditional practices for living duties (Matthew 15:6); it uses minutiae of ecclesiastical rule as a substitute for judgment and the love of God (Luke 11:42); it cannot receive the truth, because its eye is on man and not on God (John 5:44); it makes inquiries not in order to believe the truth, but in order to refute it (John 9:27-28); and it is chained to its error by a confident assurance that it alone is right (John 9:41). The only way of appeal left is direct denunciation.

Further, sin is, in a pre-eminent degree, the foe of all truth. The hypocrite is in a special sense the child of the father of lies (John 8:44). Hypocrisy is not a mere sin of impulse, but is the opposite of everything by which we may lay hold of truth and be delivered. As surely as faith reaches out towards truth, hypocrisy struggles against it. Not being able to live with truth, it can defend itself only by persecution. ‘Ye seek to kill me because my word hath not free course in you’ (John 8:37). The same spirit made their fathers kill the prophets as a natural consequence of rejecting their message, and it is only another hypocrisy which makes the descendants repudiate their fathers’ deeds while cherishing their fathers’ spirit. The justification for the terrible assault on the Pharisees in Matthew 23, is that, sitting in Moses’ seat, they show a spirit with which truth cannot dwell. The deep shadow is always in the bright sunlight, and the deep corruption is always in the place of opportunity. The Pharisees neither enter the Kingdom nor suffer others to enter. They are abundantly zealous, but in a bad cause. They pervert truth, debase it, fight against it. No appeal can touch them, and in the end their house is left to them desolate.

Then the evil of hypocrisy is more than negative. It does not stop with pretending to need signs, while it pays no attention to the evidence it has, and would be convinced by no evidence (Matthew 16:3-4). Hypocrisy is also an active leaven—a dangerous assimilative principle—against the corruption of which no warning can be too ample. It is more than the shadow of truth, the absence of faith. It definitely works to debase the whole man, just as faith works to regenerate him. In addition to refusing to enter in, it takes away the key of knowledge (Luke 11:52). Against everything connected with the Kingdom of Heaven it is actively hostile.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1 ff.) hypocrisy is set over against the Kingdom of Heaven as its opposite and its negation. In the realm of hypocrisy appearances meet every requirement; in the Kingdom of Heaven all is judged by the heart. Christ says, the issues of life are out of the heart alone; hypocrisy says, they are mainly out of ceremonies. Of the whole standard of the Kingdom of Heaven hypocrisy is the daily practical denial—its broad result being the external righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, without exceeding which we shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. So alien is the whole unreal pretence of religion, that there is a good secrecy at the other extreme from it. Deliberate care must be taken that one’s righteousness be not done in the public eye. Not only is no trumpet to be sounded before us in the street; our praise is not even to find an echo in our own heart. Not only may prayer never be used for show; true prayer is with ourselves and our Father in secret alone. Not only may we not fast with a sad countenance; the head is to be anointed and the face washed as on a day of festival. Hypocrisy is the opposite of that singleness of eye which fills the whole body with light; it turns the light that is in a man to darkness. It attempts to serve two masters while serving none. It sees motes in its brother’s eye while ignoring beams in its own. It is in sheep’s clothing without, and a ravening wolf within. It is the shadow of the light, the enemy of the truth. It is most of all hostile to the Kingdom of Heaven, just because that is the fullest light and the highest truth. Nor is that all. Hypocrisy, as the opposite and negation of the Kingdom of Heaven, is as ready to corrupt Christianity as it was to corrupt Judaism. Even Christ’s name it is capable of turning into a substitute, not a synonym, for the will of the Father.

From all other vices men are delivered by the life of faith. For this reason our Lord never directly assails vices of impulse. The publican and the harlot He treated as the lost sheep He had come to seek. For them He set wide the door of the Kingdom. But the door, He knew, could never be made so narrow that the hypocrites would not at least appear to enter. The new hypocrisy will be to come in Christ’s name, saying, ‘I am he’ (Mark 13:6). Under that guise it will hide itself so dexterously as almost to deceive the elect; and it will use its opportunity, as hypocrisy has always done, to strangle truth by persecution. Just because hypocrisy is thus an enemy in the camp poisoning the wells, our Lord deals with it openly, directly, negatively, by the method of denunciation, as with no other form of evil.

The supreme evil of hypocrisy, as the negation of the life of faith, appears still more clearly in what our Lord says about the eternal sin. In John unbelief is spoken of as the abiding sin. ‘For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’ (Mark 8:24). Yet, from the context, it is apparent that the abiding evil is not the act of unbelief, but the absence of all love of the truth, of which the unbelief is the evidence. Christ came that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed (Luke 2:35), and those who had cherished evil were as conspicuously displayed as those who had cherished good. The publican and the harlot who had secretly thirsted after righteousness came to be shown to have faith, though all appearances were against them; the Pharisee who had used his religious position to cover worldly ends was shown to want it, though all appearances were in his favour. While the publican came to the light, the Pharisee hated the truth and sought to repress it, and to do so sought to destroy Him who spoke the truth. Thus he showed himself of his father the devil, who from the beginning was a murderer as well as the father of lies. Here in John then we have juggling with truth, hypocrisies before God and the world and one’s own soul, set forth as the cardinal sin which relates us as certainly to the spirit of evil as faith does to the spirit of good, and which works in hate, as surely as goodness works in love, and which leaves men to die in their sins, because it is hostile to all that could lead to penitence and pardon.

All this is in essential agreement with what the Synoptics say of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:22-37, Mark 3:20-30, Luke 12:1-12). The Pharisees had reached a turning-point in their opposition. They believed in miracles, they looked for signs. The miracle could no longer be questioned, but they could call it a sign of Beelzebub. Though unable to deny either the power or the beneficence of Christ’s work, being resolved not to accept the practical consequences of belief, they call light darkness and good evil. The actual sin against the Holy Ghost, therefore, is possible only when face to face with the highest thing in religion and its clearest evidence, but the danger of coming to that point is present in all hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is ever an overweening pride, denying to other men the right to truth, and to God His power to see; and the eternal sin is only the finished result of what is always present in it. This connexion is most evident in the narrative of Luke, which begins with a warning against the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy. Nothing, it is said, can be covered, and the hypocrite has power to do only one great evil—to associate others in his spiritual destruction. Faith in the God who cares even for the sparrow can alone preserve from this fatal vice, a clear indication that hypocrisy is the negation of faith, or at least that faith is the negation of hypocrisy. The natural outcome of faith is confession before men, and the accompaniment of that is Divine protection until the day of the final award. On the other hand, to follow hypocrisy is to go the road that leads to the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost—the state of mind that has so juggled with good and evil that good has no power over it, the sin which no change of dispensation, or perhaps nothing in eternity any more than in time, can modify. This may be most apparent in Luke, but in Mark and Matthew also the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and the sin which is eternal is not an act of oversight or passion, but an irremediable state which could be reached only by a finished, proud, and tyrannical hypocrisy. See Unpardonable Sin.

In every form of evil, as Martensen rightly affirms, hypocrisy is present in a partial form. All sin is egoistic, yet every man depends on society—the sinner not least. Under some pretence of goodness alone can the egoist enter society. The seducer must swear false oaths, the deceiver feign friendship, the tyrant profess care for the commonweal. A finished life of wickedness would be one great lie, which would be the only ultimate form of atheism. And just because a God of truth cannot for ever be denied, hypocrisy conies to be more and more a spirit of hatred and opposition to truth. Thus it is, more even than habit, the cumulative element in devotion to evil. It is not only the greatest practical denial of God, it is also the greatest practical alienation from God. To be reconciled to God is primarily to be restored to truth. Wherefore hypocrisy may be taken not only as the negation of all Christ taught of God, but also as the negation of all Christ did to reconcile men to the Father, the negation of His work as a Saviour as well as of His work as a Revealer.

Throughout all the Christian centuries, wherever there has been a lively sense of the reality of Christianity, there has also been a lively sense of this shadow following the sun. The classical example of lying to the Holy Ghost found its occasion in the first flush of the Church’s faith and love (Acts 5). The first great division of parties arose through the same vice, and arose almost with the Church’s beginnings. The extreme bitterness of the Judaistic party was nourished by that external view of religion which could regard a ceremony as essential, and hatred as if it were godliness. Even Barnabas was almost carried away by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:13), showing how the vice seeks to deceive, if possible, the elect; while their attempts to suppress Paul were limited only by their power and never by their scruples—showing that it is a vice which always persecutes as well as perverts. All the errors which cause men to fall away from the faith are, already in the NT, ascribed to the hypocrisy of men that speak lies (1 Timothy 4:2). Regarding this root of error in moral falsehood, and not in mere intellectual mistake, much might be said, but it must suffice to mention what Augustine says of Manichaeism. Long his difficulties seemed to him intellectual perplexity about the origin of evil. When, however, he saw that wickedness was no substance, but a perversity of the will, he discovered the true root of the error. ‘They preferred to think Thy substance did suffer ill, than that their own did commit it’ (Conf. vii. 4).

That, as our Lord predicted, hypocrisy has continued to work under the New Dispensation as under the Old, may be seen from the state of things in the Eastern Church as pictured by Eustathius, in the Western as drawn by Dante and Chaucer, and in later times as reflected in a literature too abundant and familiar to require to be named.

Literature.—Hamburger, RE, 1884, art. ‘Heuchelei,’ vol. i. p. 515; Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Wörterbuch3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] p. 527; L. Lemme, Die Sunde wider den Heiligen Geist, 1883, and art. ‘Heuchelei’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] : J. M. Schulhof, The Law of Forgiveness as presented in the NT, 1901, pp. 43–48; Martensen, Christian Ethics, 1st Div. ‘Individual Ethics,’ 1881 [English translation], pp. 114–118; Eustathii Opuscula, ed. by Tafel; Exiles of Eternity, by J. S. Carroll, 1903; Mozley, Univ. Serm. Serm, ii.; Seeley, Ecce Homo, 116 ff., 253 ff.

John Oman.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hypocrisy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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