Its Definition, Deceit, and Defeat

The Apostle Peter acted hypocritically when he refused to eat with the Gentiles (Gal. 2:13). Later, that same apostle would write to many: “Put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). We must come to realize that even as Christians we are not immune to any sin. Every sin in the encyclopedia of sin is still present in our hearts – even the sin of hypocrisy. 


As a child, my parents would sometimes take me to the local doughnut shop in our downtown plaza. It was a quaint storefront without much room to dine but had just enough for the old men who gathered for their morning coffee. Upon entering, one was welcomed by the ding of a bell, pale yellow walls, and grease-spattered floors. But filling the rather dull atmosphere was the aroma of freshly fried doughnuts and an array of spectacular colors that uniquely coated each pastry in the baker’s rack.

On one particular day, I noticed a plate of doughnuts on the front counter–each made and styled to perfection promising to satisfy the appetite of a young boy. I energetically informed the baker that I wanted the cake doughnut with white frosting and a multitude of sprinkles. With a perceptible grimace, he told me that the doughnut was for display purposes only and was actually made of plastic. With child-like anger I realized I had been deceived–this doughnut, promising so much, was a fake and a phony. Oh, the hypocrisy!

Of course, setting aside the childhood scandal, this type of hypocrisy is found all around us. Things that purport to be something they are not: two-faced politicians hobnobbing with their constituents, duplicitous words from a coworker, and people hiding under a facade of friendship. No one likes a fraud! And when the outward appearance gives way to the inward reality, we are often left angered, frustrated, and hurt. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of Jesus’ most severe and infuriated censures fell upon hypocrites.

The Definition of Hypocrisy

The New Testament word for “hypocrite” comes from a word that means “an actor under an assumed character.” Or, more literally, it means “an interpreter from underneath.” In this sense, you can think of a stage play and an actor who hides under a mask pretending to be someone they are not–they play the role of another. Biblically, hypocrisy has nothing to do with theater but with assuming a religious character that is not one’s own. Jesus spares no words for the leading hypocrites of his day, the Pharisees.


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