What does the Bible say about hypocrisy?

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Definition

Hypocrisy is pretending to be what a person is not. A hypocrite conceals his real character or motives especially when assuming a false appearance of religion (Proverbs 11:9; 23:7).

The Pharisees

In the Bible, the Pharisees were guilty of hypocrisy. For they acted to appear before people as righteous but they in reality lacked the purity of motives that springs from love to God and man (Matthew 23:4-7,25-28). They seemed to forget that God looks upon the heart and that if He should examine their hearts, He might find nothing there to commend them as obedient sons.

Their conduct was regulated by what they anticipated men would think of them more than by love for God. And they readily saw the faults of others but didn’t correct their own (Matthew 7:5). Also, they esteemed their own traditions as important as the Word of God (Matthew 5:17-48; Matthew 15:4-6), and even enforced their teachings on the people (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13).

These religious leaders professed absolute loyalty to the Scriptures, but failed to practice its principles. Their good deeds consisted in meticulous attention to ceremony and ritual requirements rather than to the “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 9:13; 23:23). Jesus referred to this tendency as straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). They gave great emphasis to man-made ordinances and to the external forms of law observance (Mark 7:3–13), but forgot almost completely the true spirit of the law itself—“Justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy

Jesus taught His followers not to look to men, but to God and to His will as set forth in the Scriptures. And He spoke against hypocrisy, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:5).

The Pharisees were not condemned by Jesus because they were too zealous about strict obedience to God’s will. They were condemned because “they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:3). Jesus taught that those who obey the law are those that really and truly love Him (John 14:15; 15:14). Many who speak against the rigid obedience to the law and avoid being “legalistic” are actually being unfaithful to God. And He warned His followers saying, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). In theory (“doctrine”) and in practice (“hypocrisy”), by principle and example, the effect of the Pharisees caused people to stray away from the Lord.

True wisdom

Peter was once guilty of hypocrisy. “And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him [Peter]; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation” (Galatians 2:13). But Paul helped him to see his mistake. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Verse 11). Christians are urged to be careful and not associate with the hypocrites lest they follow their example. “I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers” (Psalms 26:4).

At the last Day, God will judge the hypocrites: “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of,  and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:50,51). The prophet Isaiah describes that scene: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites” (Isaiah 33:14). Because the hypocrite’s hope will finally fail (Job 8:13), God calls his children to have the love that is “without dissimulation” (Romans 12:9) for this is true wisdom (James 3:17).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

This answer is also available in: Español

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