The Leaven of Hypocrisy

Jesus identified in a very familiar verse, Lk 12:1, that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy.

 1In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

 2For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. (Luke 12:1-2, King James Version)

This warning is for us.  It is a warning that whatever we do will one day be revealed.  It is a warning that nothing can be hidden.  We cannot hide behind the mask of hypocrisy because one day the mask comes off.

As I wrote near the end of the article on Herod Antipas, Wikipedia says of “Hypocrisy”:

The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "Jealous" "play-acting", "acting out", "coward" or "dissembling". The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun associated with υποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση, "judgement" »κριτική (kritiki), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment, of that text.

Originally, the word simply meant acting in a play.  Greek players would use masks representing their character.  Simply put, the actors would appear to be what they were not.  The Romans, though, looked down upon actors, and thus we have the negative connotations that developed into the way the term “hypocrite” is used today.

The Pharisees hid behind a mask of righteousness.  Yet, Jesus said that they were like whitewashed tombs: Beautiful and clean on the outside, but full of corruption and death on the inside (Mt 23:27).

Can we be like that?  If not, why would Jesus warn us?

The Pharisees would have appeared to be the utmost in righteousness to the average man of Jesus’ day.  They rejected the Hellenization of Judaism that the Sadducees embraced.  The Sadducees emphasized the importance of the Temple for authority and sticking to the written word, while the Pharisees emphasized the Mosaic laws for authority and oral tradition.  It was shocking when Jesus said you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees, for the common perception was that they were the epitome of righteousness.

[Pharisees:]  Party representing the religious views, practises, and hopes of the kernel of the Jewish people in the time of the Second Temple and in opposition to the priestly Sadducees. They were accordingly scrupulous observers of the Law as interpreted by the Soferim, or Scribes, in accordance with tradition. No true estimate of the character of the Pharisees can be obtained from the New Testament writings, which take a polemical attitude toward them (see New Testament), nor from Josephus, who, writing for Roman readers and in view of the Messianic expectations of the Pharisees, represents the latter as a philosophical sect. "Perisha" (the singular of "Perishaya") denotes "one who separates himself," or keeps away from persons or things impure, in order to attain the degree of holiness and righteousness required in those who would commune with God (comp., for "Perishut" and "Perisha," Tan., Wayeẓe, ed. Buber, p. 21; Abot iii. 13; Soṭah ix. 15; Midr. Teh. xv. 1; Num. R. x. 23; Targ. Gen. xlix. 26).


However, Jesus condemned the Pharisees more than any others for hypocrisy because of their traditions.  People recognize that the Pharisees were legalistic, but they often do not use the word “legalism” correctly.  Legalism is not so much about keeping the Law.  Keeping the Law was required.  It has more to do with keeping nit-picky traditions.  Worse, Jesus pointed out that their traditions even broke God’s Law in various ways.  Yes, the Pharisees kept the letter of the law, but unfortunately it was a law they created in place of God’s Law.

Do we have a tendency to add things to Scripture?  Do we have a tendency to sometimes read into God’s Word what isn’t really there?  You know it happens, if you are honest.  We all do it to some extent.  The problem becomes when we start taking those passages that really aren’t there and start pronouncing “The LORD saith” when He said nothing of the kind (cf Eze 13:6).  When we stop reading the Scripture and pay attention to the deceit in our own hearts, that becomes a real problem (Jer 17:9).

When someone comes to you with either a “Thou shalt not” or a “Thou shalt”, ask them to point it out in Scripture.  Make them show it to you plainly.  The longer the explanation, the less likely it is to be true.

 20To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20, King James Version)

A word of caution, though: Hypocrisy is representing yourself as something you are not.  Hypocrisy is not someone struggling with some sin in their life.  If that’s the case, then we are all hypocrites.  We are all sinners before God.

No, struggling with sin does not make one a hypocrite, but to minimize our own sins and magnify the sins of others is what Jesus warned us against.

 1Judge not, that ye be not judged.

 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, King James Version)

Notice how Jesus doesn’t say to allow your brother to run around with a speck in his eye.  After all, he might fall into a ditch or lose his eye.  No, but we are to first get the 2×4 out of our own eye!

However, justifying our own actions, elevating ourselves, while looking down upon others, that is a form of hypocrisy.

Think about the judgmental attitude that underlies this.  Think about the accusatory nature that drives it.  Think about who the accuser of the brethren is, and ponder whose spirit we are listening to when we do this on a constant basis.

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