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HYPOCRISY (ὑπόκρισις, G5694). The word in the NT applied to human conduct that was externally religious but insincerely motivated, the simulation of goodness.

Classical Greek.

In the classical authors, hypokrisis was a word without any evil connotation. The verb behind this noun meant simply “to answer.” The interpretation of dreams, the oratorical ability of a Demosthenes, the public recitation of poetry, and acting in a play could all be designated with this word. It was, however, esp. the part of an actor in a Gr. drama represented by this term that influenced its subsequent development. This background in Gr. drama and theater was totally unparalleled in the thought and the culture of the Heb. people. Because of this absence of correspondence of thought and situation, the RSV eliminated both “hypocrisy” and “hypocrite” from its tr. of the OT even though the KJV employed both.


By the time the OT was tr. into Gr., the word hypokrisis had become a word with an actively evil connotation. In Aquila’s famous revision of the LXX, the term became equivalent to “impiety,” “transgression,” “lawlessness.” The word had come to stand for something very evil, actively lawless, and impiously godless. The Epistle of Barnabas shows where the development revealed in the LXX eventually took this word. In the description of two ways of life it was noted,

you must not join yourself with those who walk in the way of death; you must hate everything not pleasing to God; you must hate all hypokrisis, and you must not abandon the commands of the Lord.

It would seem apparent that the word came to signify the most malignant and active evil. The Heb. root frequently tr. by the KJV with “hypocrisy” is (chaveph), but the RSV consistently tr. it by “godless” (Job 8:13; 15:34; Isa 33:14, etc.).

The NT.

No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy. The Pharisees were guilty at this point, and Jesus both summed up the case against them and warned His disciples against such conduct by use of the one word “hypocrisy.” He said “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Jesus did not charge all Pharisees with hypocrisy, nor did He mean that all hypocrites were Pharisees. He did indicate with these words that Pharisees were esp. prone to hypocrisy; it was the natural consequence of their teaching. They were play actors of the first order. The Pharisees had sacrificed truth to appearance; they were concerned more about reputation than they were about reality. They lost sight of reality in their deception of others to such a degree that they deceived themselves. God, however, was not deceived; He knew what was only pretense, which would be exposed in His judgment. Jesus consistently called for repentance from the Pharisees. Repentance required facing the truth, the very thing the Pharisees would not do. “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” said Jesus (Luke 12:2).

Included in Jesus’ warning to His disciples, is one aspect of hypocrisy that would threaten them in connection with persecution. When persecution came, Jesus warned His disciples, they would be tempted to save themselves by pretending not to be what they were. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (12:4).

The most graphic representation of hypocrisy was Jesus’ description of the Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt 23:27b, 28). The Pharisees were intensely religious in their outward actions, but inside their hearts were full of sin and wickedness. Their true motives were concealed under a cloak of pretense.

Hypocrisy was denounced also in the epistles. Paul in Galatians charged Barnabas and other Jewish Christians with playacting (hypocrisy) because they ate with Gentile Christians at Antioch, but only until the Judaizers came; then they refused to do so under the pressure of those strict traditionalists (Gal 2:11-21). Likewise those who practiced hypocrisy were denounced because they seduced men from the way of God in the name of religion. They persuaded men to listen to them rather than to God (1 Tim 4:2; 1 Pet 2:1).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

hi-pok’-ri-si, hip’-o-krit (choneph, chaneph; hupokrisis, hupokrites):

(2) "Hypocrisy," "hypocrite" are frequent in the New Testament, chiefly in Christ’s discourses in the Gospels. The word hupokrisis (primarily, "an answer," "response") meant generally, in classical Greek, stageplaying, acting, the histrionic art; hence, it came to mean acting a part in life, etc. We find hupokrisis in this sense in 2 Macc 6:25, the Revised Version (British and American) "dissimulation," and hupokrinomai, "to pretend," "to feign," etc. Ecclesiasticus 1:29; 32:15; 33:2, translated "hypocrite"; 2 Macc 5:25, "pretending peace," the Revised Version (British and American) "playing the man of peace"; 6:21, the Revised Version (British and American) "to make as if." Hupokrites (literally, "an actor") is the Septuagint for chaneph (Job 34:30; 36:13), equivalent to bad, wicked, godless, which is perhaps included in some of our Lord’s uses of the words, e.g. Mt 23:27 f, "full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (compare 23:29 f; 24:51); but, in general, the meaning is acting a part, false, deceptive and deceived, formally and outwardly religious and good, but inwardly insincere and unrighteous; the hypocrite may come to deceive himself as well as others, but "the hypocrite’s hope shall perish" (Job 8:13 the King James Version). On no class did our Lord pronounce such severe condemnation as on the hypocrites of His day.