Posted on December 2, 2018


Jesus preached frequently against hypocrites, largely because they were self-serving and ignored the truth.

I suspect every one of us has engaged in the old sin of hypocrisy at one time or another. In today’s political world clubbing us with self-serving lies and making a mockery of the truth, we need to see clearly what we are doing to each other.

For example, there is not a politician today who has not claimed at one time or another that what they were saying or doing was for the good of the whole, when so much of what is said or done is near classic hypocrisy done or said to edify, sustain, defend, and promote one’s self, not the whole.

What is hypocrisy?

One definition is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense,” (dictionary, Google Chrome) while Merriam-Webster’s says : “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.” Like in “his hypocrisy was finally revealed with the publication of his private letter” and “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”

Hypocrisy was derived from the Greek word for actor, hypokrites, which means an actor or stage player. A good actor can feign the truth and play the part he or she desires to project. Hence, a hypocrite.

Jesus called his Pharisee critics hypocrites for obeying the letter of Judaic law but neglecting the spirit of it. He had good examples of how Old Testament prophets dealt with hypocrisy.

The prophet Isaiah condemned the hypocrisy of his day: “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men’” (Isaiah 29:13

Jesus addressed various forms of hypocrisy in his Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

The Pharisees felt the brunt of much of Jesus’s teachings on hypocrisy and sanctimony, which is simply hypocrisy in a religious context. The Puritans, for example, tended to sanctimony. They came to the New World to establish a pure form of Christianity around the shining city in the Wilderness, the new Jerusalem, and they firmly believed in the freedom of conscience. But when someone strayed from their rigid thinking, it was off to the gallows or exile from their New England community. That was sanctimony.

But before the Puritans, there were the Pharisees. They were among the religious leaders of Judaism and if the leaders were hypocrites, they were deeply flawed, and of course then misled their followers. Jesus, on the other hand, was the Good Shepherd, who tended to his flock of followers (John 10:11) with love and his embrace of salvation and protection.

Pharisees lorded it over their followers and demanded obedience to them and the law of the Hebrews. It is little wonder that perhaps the greatest of the Hebrews in the Old Testament was the shepherd boy David, who rose to be a hero and leader, and even a poet and philosopher (the author of many of the Psalms). But he too sinned grievously by his lust for Bathsheba, and while extoling the virtues of his God, hypocritically committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Taking a stand against sin is not necessarily the same as hypocrisy. It is not hypocritical, for example, to condemn drunkenness as a sin, unless the one pointing the finger at the drunkard gets riotously drunk every weekend.

We don’t have to be self-appointed finger pointers at hypocrites, or so self-righteous as the Pharisees. But we do need to be wary of the modern hypocrite who condemns all she believes is wrong and evil, while extoling their own virtues and practicing many of the same vices they see in others. It is not only ugly and sinful, but also subverts one of our most cherished values of civilization–civility in discourse, argument, and learning.

Published as”Hypocrisy subverts our civility” in The Tuscaloosa News, Nov. 4 2018,

Posted in: words