Although no distinct Hebrew word for hypocrisy occurs in the Old Testament, the concept doesprimarily in terms of insincere worship. The Lord rejects sacrificial offerings and temple attendance (Jer 7:4-11) when worshipers have no intimate knowledge of him or genuine love (Isa 1:11-17; Hosea 6:4-6; Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-24). Hypocrisy manifests itself in an inconsistency between external religious activity and religious profession (Isa 1:10-17).
The root idea in the Old Testament may be that the hypocrite has a godless heart (Job 36:13 — LXX hypocrites for Heb. hanep [חָנֵף], "godless, profane" ) that rebels against God's laws (Jer 7:21-24; Hosea 7:13-16; 8:1-2; cf. Jer 6:19-20) and generates wrongful Acts, including injustice and oppression (Isa 1:10-17; 58:2-7; 59:2-4, 13-15; Jer 7:5). In contrast, the true worshiper must come before the Lord with a pure heart (Psalm 15:2; 24:4). The hypocrite is also an ungodly rebel who flatters and deceives with his or her tongue (Psalm 5:9-10; 12:2-4; 78:36-37; Dan 11:21, 27; cf. Psalm 55:20-21) to promote godlessness (Dan 11:32,34).
The New Testament seems to combine the Old Testament concept of the godless rebel and the Attic Greek hypokrisis [ὑπόκρισις], "stage-playing or acting." The Greek idea of "play-acting" seems para mount in Matthew 6:2, 5, 16, where Jesus warns against religious performance to impress men (vv. 5,16,18 cf. Matt 23:5). Hypocrites make an outward show of religion, whether in giving alms, praying, or fasting. The English concept of hypocrisy as failing to practice what one preaches is rarely found (Matt 23:3).
The hypocrite is self-deluded by his or her own pretension, which fools no one else (Matt 7:5; Luke 6:42). Hypocrisy may involve a failure to discern spiritual truth (Luke 12:54-56; 13:15; cf. Matt 12:7; 23:23) or even a willful blindness to spiritual matters (Matt 23:17,19,23-24,26).
The hypocrite pretends goodness, but beneath a religious veneer is a malicious or deceitful heart (Matt 22:15-18; cf. 1 Peter 2:1). Though hypocrites justify their religious activity, their hearts are not true to God (Matt 15:7-9, 18-19; cf. Isa 29:13-14). As in the Old Testament a discrepancy exists between outward conformity to religious ritual and the true state of their hearts (Matt 23:25-30; contrast 5:8). Thus, the term "hypocrite" (Matt 24:51) can occur as a synonym for "unfaithful/unbeliever." Such "hypocrites" hinder others from coming to Christ and even make converts to their godless lifestyle (Matt 23:13, 15; cf. Dan 11:32, 34). Or they deceive others into doctrinal error (1 Tim 4:1-2). Thus hypocrisy is implied as one of the evidences of earthly or demonic wisdom (James 3:13-17).
The absence of hypocrisy (genuine faith and sincere love from a pure heart) is a mark of godly character (1 Tim 1:5; 2:5, 7; cf. Psalm 15:2-5; 24:3-5; 2 Col 6:6-7).
Greg W. Parsons
Bibliography. U. Becker and H.-G. Link, NIDNTT, 2:467-74; H. L. Ellison, New Bible Dictionary, p. 502; D. A. Hubbard, EDT, p. 539.