Chinese Translations: GB Big5

The Synoptics on Hypocrisy


Part of Jesus' ministry along with that of John the Baptist's was to make "every mountain and hill low". This meant humiliating the proud in order that the receptive may have the necessary humility to receive the good news. Jesus was very direct and even rude by today's standards in dealing with hypocrisy among the religious leaders. In Luke 11:37-54 we see Jesus being invited to dinner by a Pharisee, but at the meal said many rude things about his host and others present and people were insulted as it is written, One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." Luke 11:45 For he spoke frankly of their hypocrisy without regard to their face and dignity.

Yes, this is a part of Christian ministry, but in many cases has been discouraged by the same kind of elite religious hypocrisy among the hierarchy in the religious institutional establishments today as were present in Jesus' time. It is interesting that in speaking of hypocrisy, Jesus focussed primarily on the religious leaders, and not so much on the ordinary people. In fact both then and now there seems to be a strong correlation between positions of religious leadership and hypocrisy, though I don't mean to say that such is universal, but more of a propensity. Is it that such positions of leadership attract hypocrites or do they develop hypocrisy once in the role? Probably both, just as ambitious people seek high positions and high positions tend to invoke pride in people.

The root of hypocrisy is pride. Then again, the root of all sin is pride, in that all sin contains an element of putting ourselves in the place of God. But it seems in the case of hypocrisy, one's pride is based simply upon one's position or status. But logically there is no virtue in status or position alone unless such roles were earned through virtuous behavior. And people would like to be respected without earning respect. And leaders often focus on the priviledges of their role while ignoring the responsibilities that come along with the role.

To make up for this, such people use their position to define their own elitist scale whereby they measure the value of individuals, while giving themselves an edge. They make rules and regulations so as to make it easy on themselves but difficult for others. And because they are not good people at heart, they deal primarily with surface issues rather than getting at the heart of the matter. What are some of the characteristics of such hypocrites that Jesus points out?

  • Not practicing what you preach
  • Doing things for show in order to get praise from others
  • Exercising illegitimate authority
  • You must obey me, but I don't have to obey anyone.
  • Human dogma overriding the Word of God.
  • Majoring on the Minors. A holiness only on the surface. Shallow practice.
  • Identifying with other hypocrites

  • Matthew 23
    Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, You Hypocrites

    1  Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples,
    2  saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat.
    3  All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do,
    but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do.
    4  For they bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne,
    and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them.

    It seems practically reckoned a priviledge of leadership not to have to do the things you demand of others. But that is worldly leadership. Biblical leadership should lead by example rather than simply lording it over the flock. (1Pet 5:3) A Christian should not say, "Do what I say, not what I do"! Along the same lines, leaders should evaluate themselves with just as strict, if not more strict, standards than they judge others. One man who discipled me told me something that has never left me: "Be hard on yourself and easy on others."

    But all their works they do to be seen by men.
  • They make their phylacteries broad, enlarge the fringes of their garments,
  • 6  and love the place of honor at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,
  • 7  the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’ by men.
  • 8  But don’t you be called ‘Rabbi,’ for one is your teacher,
    the Christ, and all of you are brothers.
    9  Call no man on the earth your father,
    for one is your Father, he who is in heaven.
    10  Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ.
    11  But he who is greatest among you will be your servant.
    12  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
    and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
    13  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you devour widows’ houses,
    and as a pretense you make long prayers.
    Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

    14  "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

    Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men;
    for you don’t enter in yourselves,
    neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter.

    Luke 11:52 Woe to you lawyers!

    For you took away the key of knowledge.
    (Is 33:6 - The Fear of the Lord)
    You didn’t enter in yourselves,
    and those who were entering in, you hindered."
    Although there are many examples among the hierarchy within institutional Christianity of the kind of hypocrisy described in these sections, perhaps the most blatant violators can been seen historically in the Catholic religious hierarchy. They go about in special robes and are called "father". They sit in special exalted seats in the church. And they add on their man made rule for entering the kingdom - claiming to have authority to do so, which they don't have. But these also tend to be more subtly present among Protestant churches as well.

    One trait that is helpful for Christians to develop in avoiding such pitfalls is to develop an attitude of not caring so much about what other people think of you. This will help not only in avoiding such behaviors, but also free one up to walk as Jesus did in freely humiliating the proud.

    Majoring on the Minors

    15  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much of a son of Gehenna as yourselves.

    16  "Woe to you, you blind guides,

    who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing;
    but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’
    17  You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold,
    or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
    18  ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing;
    but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated.’
    19  You blind fools! For which is greater, the gift,
    or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
    20  He therefore who swears by the altar, swears by it, and by everything on it.
    21  He who swears by the temple, swears by it, and by him who was living in it.
    22  He who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God,
    and by him who sits on it.
    23  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.
    24  You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel!

    Majoring on minor points allows these people to excuse themselves from their major responsibilities. Let us not neglect the important things in life which our flesh resists by getting us caught up in trivial things. Today an example of this is when Christians get obsessed with eschatology while making little effort to actually prepare for His coming by doing what He said. And institutional churches often make too much of symbolic and ceremonial matters while neglecting the objective of Ephesians 4:11-16

    Outward Appearance vs. Inward Nature

    25  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter,
    but within they are full of extortion and unrighteousness.
    26  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the platter,
    that the outside of it may become clean also.
    27  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful,
    but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
    28  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men,
    but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
    [Luke 11:44  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you are like hidden graves,
    and the men who walk over them don’t know it."]
    Evaluating such people based on their fruits:
    Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit." Matt 7:16-18

    But this seems to be a paradox. For these hypocrites are clean on the outside! To resolve this we can say that evaluating fruit should not be a trivial thing based solely on surface appearance. Just as whether a fruit is good or bad should not be evaluated just upon what it looks like on the outside. For it could be rotten inside. Also in the parable of the Wheat and Tares, at first it was easy to be mistaken which was which until they matured enough to reveal what they were. So let's keep from being deceived by the outward appearance of such people.

    Who they identify themselves with

    29  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
    For you build the tombs of the prophets,
    and decorate the tombs of the righteous,
    30  and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers,
    we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
    31  Therefore you testify to yourselves
    that you are children of those who killed the prophets.
    32  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.
    33  You serpents, you offspring of vipers,
    how will you escape the judgment of Gehenna?
    34  Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, 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;
    35  that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth,
    from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar.
    36  Most assuredly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation.

    37  "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets,
    and stones those who are sent to her!
    How often would I have gathered your children together,
    even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!
    38  Behold, your house is left to you desolate.
    39  For I tell you, you will not see me from now on, until you say,
    ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’"

    Although claiming to denounce the misdeeds of their forefathers, yet they show themselves to be of the same spirit by their deeds. For they do the very thing they denounce in others, which is ultimately revealed in their crucifixion of Christ and persecution of his Church.

    A disturbing example of this has been the tendency of Christians leaders from the reformed theology camp to defend and mimic the atrocities committed by their theological forefathers, such as the murder of Michael Servetus  or the murder of many anabaptists (Menonites and such) by leaders of the reformed camp in the past. That's one of the problems of basing one's theology upon some post-Biblical human dogma, you end up carrying along the sinful tendencies of those theological leaders along with their dogma. But such is the case in many churches who hold a dogmatic theology. They tend to stumble where their leaders stumble.

    Human Dogma

    Luke 12:1
    Meanwhile, when a multitude of many thousands had gathered together, so much so that they trampled on each other, he began to tell his disciples first of all,
    "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

    Matthew 16:12
    12  Then they understood that he didn’t tell them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

    Notice the yeast of the Pharisees is equated with both their hypocrisy and their teachings. For their teachings themselves were hypocritical, overriding the Word of God with their own human dogma.

    An example of developing human dogma 
    to override the Word of God

    Matt 15:
      He answered them, "Why do you also disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition?
    4  For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and,
    ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’
    5  But you say, ‘Whoever may tell his father or his mother,
    "Whatever help you might otherwise have gotten from me is a gift devoted to God,"
    6  he shall not honor his father or mother.’
    You have made the commandment of God void because of your tradition.
    7  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
    8  ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth,
    And honor me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.
    9  And in vain do they worship me, Teaching as doctrine rules made by men.’"
    A modern example among the Christian institutional churches would be the development of divisive human dogma about the "Communion" service. Thus making what was meant for the communion and unity of the Christian community into a basis for illegitimate division. And there are other such examples even in the Christian community today in which dogma has made the practice of the Christian life contrary to the Word of God.

    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015