What’s Wrong With: Christians Being Hypocritical?

Bloch-SermonOnTheMountNote: The contents of this page were originally on my Early Christian History site. It’s appropriate to host it here, though. So here are my remarks on “Hypocritianity”!

Many Christians know that they aren’t supposed to be hypocritical, but they often are, and need to be shown that their religion expressly and explicitly forbids any and all hypocrisy. Some go so far as to deny being hypocritical, even when their hypocrisy is pointed out to them; or else they insist that their particular brand of hypocrisy is acceptable in spite of the clear prohibition on hypocrisy. Unfortunately for them, Christian scriptures are explicit, and offer no caveats; hypocrisy is condemned in toto and not just in certain circumstances.

Gospels: Matthew

In Matthew 6, Jesus offers examples of hypocrisy common in his time, which he dislikes:

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. (verse 2)

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. (v. 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. (v. 16)

In chapter 7, Matthew quotes Jesus famously:

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. (v. 5; see Lk 6:42)

Chapter 23 of Matthew offers perhaps the greatest discussion of the problem of hypocrisy, both as Jesus saw it in his time, and as an impediment to perfection and salvation:

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. 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. 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. (v. 13-15)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, 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. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 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. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.[1] 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. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? (v. 23-33)

Gospels: Luke

In chapter 6, Luke repeats Matthew 7:5, slightly more eloquently:

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. (v. 42)

Luke’s chapter 12 again condemns hypocrisy:

You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? (v. 56)

Epistles: Romans

In chapter 12, Paul declares that love and hypocrisy are incompatible:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (v. 9)

Epstles: Galatians

In chapter 2, Paul tells how he confronted hypocrisy within the ranks of Christians concerning the necessity of circumcision:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas [Paul’s companion on this journey] 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? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” [2] (v. 11-16)

Epistles: 1 Timothy

In chapter 4, this epistle predicts future hypocrisy and asks his readers not to follow it:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. (v. 1-3)

Epistles: James

In chapter 3, James explains the nature of wisdom, which precludes hypocrisy:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (v. 17-18)

Epistles: 1 Peter

The author starts chapter 2 with this request:

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. [3] (v. 1-3)

Summary

None of these Bible passages permits hypocrisy at any time. There are no caveats, no “don’t be hypocritical except when” clauses. It is not permitted. It interferes with salvation, love, proper worship, and God’s wisdom.

Endnotes

  1. Note that this meshes with Mt 7:5 & Lk 6:42.
  2. This passage relates to the overall theme of Galatians, which is an effort to resolve the matter of whether Christians must be circumcized and obey Mosaic Law, or not; the final compromise is that gentiles do not, but Jews should.
  3. Follows the theme of Christians approaching God in childlike manner: see Mt 18:2-5, 19:13-14; Mk 10:13-15; and Lk 9:47-48, 18:15-17.

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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