Hypocrites Defined: What About Hypocrisy in the Christian Church?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Hypocritical Christians?

In the Sermon on the Mount of Olives, Jesus talked a lot about people who were hypocrites. In fact, the topic of hypocrisy took up a major amount of Jesus' preaching. So, why is it that those who claim to follow Him are so often hypocritical?

Rich Deem

One of the major complaints non-believers level against Christianity is that the churches are full of hypocrites. This page examines what Jesus and the Bible have to say about hypocrisy among those who claim to be Christians.

What is hypocrisy?

The dictionary definition of hypocrisy is:

hy·poc·ri·sy [hi-pok-ruh-see]
  1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
  2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
  3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.
Etymology: Middle English ypocrisie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrisis, from Greek hypokrisis act of playing a part on the stage, hypocrisy, from hypokrinesthai to answer, act on the stage, from hypo- + krinein to decide1

So, a religious hypocrite is, by definition, a non-believer, since he is only pretending to be an adherent of the faith. A hypocrite is not a person who commits some sins on occasion (all people commit sin occasionally), but someone who practices those sins on a routine basis. The truth of the matter is that hypocrisy has been a problem for those who claim to follow God for a very long time. In fact, God challenged Cain (the first son born of Adam and Eve) on his hypocrisy when he submitted an inferior offering to Him.2

What did Jesus say about hypocrisy and hypocrites?

By far, of all preachers and prophets of the Bible, Jesus had the most to say about hypocrisy and hypocrites. Since He didn't mince any words on the subject, but directly confronted the religious hypocrites of His day (the scribes and Pharisees), they hated Him intensely - eventually having Him arrested on trumped up charges. Here is a list of some of the hypocrisy that Jesus spoke against:

Jesus indicated that those who practiced hypocrisy would be sent to hell,16 indicating that they were really non-believers. In other books of the New Testament, the writers associate hypocrisy with such things as evil,17 lying,18 perverting the gospel,19 envy and slander,20 and jealousy and selfish ambition.21 James contrasts the evil of hypocrisy with the "wisdom from above," which is characterized as being "pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering."21

Modern day hypocrites

Is the Bible Intolerant? Sexist? Oppressive? Homophobic? Outdated? Irrelevant?The news media loves to make a big deal when a "Christian" preacher commits some sort of sexual sin, with the most recent example being Ted Haggard, who rabidly preached against homosexual practice, while he himself was involved in it on a routine basis. Everybody loves to hate a hypocrite. It is not surprising that there are hypocrites today, as there were in Jesus' day. The Old Testament prophet Daniel even predicted that there would be more hypocrites in the end times, as the cost of faith could well be your life.22 Jesus also predicted that many would fall away23 although they would claim to be His disciple at the judgment:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' " (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christianity should not be judged on the basis of those who claim to be its adherents, when, in reality, they practice the opposite of what it teaches.

Atheist hypocrites

Yes, hypocrisy is not just limited to those who believe in God. When I first started reviewing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion I expected to find some pretty crazy atheists' arguments, but did not expect to find any intentional misquoting. However, like some of the creationists he detests for misquoting, Dawkins, in his defense of atheism, used the exact same tactic - not just once or twice, but a bunch of times.24 It's good to know that even atheists can be hypocrites.

Conclusion Top of page

Christians are often accused of being hypocrites. However, the Bible clearly indicates that those who practice hypocrisy really aren't Christians at all, but will be judged to be non-believers and sent to hell. If you are a non-believer, this is a good reason to consider the Christian faith, since you don't want to end up in hell with all the hypocrites. Having attended many Christian churches, I can assure you that the pretenders are few and far between. One should judge Christianity not on the basis of what the fakers do, but on the basis of what Jesus taught and how He lived.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)



References Top of page

  1. hypocrisy. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 25, 2007, from Dictionary.com website.
  2. Cain and Abel (his younger brother) brought offerings to God. However, God did not have regard for Cain's offering, since it was inferior in some way: "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7) So, Cain was being a hypocrite by pretending to love God by bringing an offering to Him. However, Cain was probably just trying to keep up with his brother, whom he murdered after God called him on his hypocrisy.
  3. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:2)
  4. "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:5)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Matthew 23:14)
  5. "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:16)
  6. "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." (Matthew 7:5)
    "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:42)
  7. "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" (Matthew 15:7-9)
    And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. (Mark 7:6)
  8. But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?" (Matthew 22:18)
    "Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." (Mark 12:15)
  9. "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." (Matthew 23:13)
  10. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Matthew 23:14)
  11. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)
  12. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23)
  13. "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." (Matthew 23:25)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)
    "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:28)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous... Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city" (Matthew 23:29, 34)
  14. But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? (Luke 13:15)
  15. "You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?" (Luke 12:56-57)
  16. and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:51)
    "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41-42)
  17. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)
  18. by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, (1 Timothy 4:2)
    Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, (1 Peter 2:1)
  19. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:13-14)
  20. Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, (1 Peter 2:1)
  21. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:14-17)
  22. "Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:34-35)
  23. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
  24. "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:9-14)
  25. See examples Nixon v. Northern Local School District Board of Education, John Adams quote, James Madison quote.