A person who pretends to be what he is not; a person whose actions are out of harmony with his words.
Although words from the Hebrew root cha·nephʹ are rendered “hypocrite” or “hypocrisy” in some translations, such as the King James Version, Douay, and Leeser, other translators have variously rendered these words “profane” (Yg), “impious” (Ro), “godless” (RS), and “apostate” (NW). According to A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Brown, Driver, and Briggs (1980, pp. 337, 338), cha·nephʹ, when used as an adjective, may be defined as “profane, irreligious . . . , godless”; or, as a verb, “be polluted, profane . . . , inclining away from right.” In the Scriptures cha·nephʹ appears in parallel with those forgetting God (Job 8:13), the wicked (Job 20:5), evildoers (Isa 9:17), and it is used in contrast with the upright and innocent ones.—Job 17:8; see APOSTASY.
The Greek word rendered “hypocrite” (hy·po·kri·tesʹ) means “one who answers,” as well as meaning a stage actor. Greek and Roman actors employed large masks with mechanical devices for amplifying the voice. Hence, the Greek word hy·po·kri·tesʹ came to be used in a metaphoric sense to apply to one playing false, or one putting on a pretense. The same word appears in the Greek Septuagint at Job 34:30; 36:13. Hypocrites are “unfaithful ones” (compare Lu 12:46 with Mt 24:51), and “hypocrisy” (hy·poʹkri·sis), as used in the Scriptures, may also denote “wickedness” and “cunning.”—Compare Mt 22:18; Mr 12:15; Lu 20:23; see also Ga 2:13, where hy·poʹkri·sis is rendered “pretense.”
Jesus Christ identified as hypocrites persons who make gifts of mercy with showy display, who pray and fast to be seen of men, and who pick on the strawlike faults of their brothers but do nothing about removing their own rafterlike faults. Christ classified as such those who claimed to be God’s servants but who failed to discern the significance of the time in which they were living and the events that were occurring, while readily drawing conclusions from the appearance of earth and sky as to what the weather would be like.—Mt 6:2, 5, 16; 7:1-5; Lu 6:42; 12:54-56.
Not only did the Son of God while on earth denounce the religious leaders of Israel as hypocrites but he also stated his reasons for doing so. They rendered mere lip service to the Creator, making the word of God invalid because of their traditions. (Mt 15:1, 6-9; Mr 7:6, 7) Their actions were out of harmony with their words. (Mt 23:1-3) The scribes and Pharisees not only deliberately refused to avail themselves of the opportunity to enter the Kingdom of the heavens, but they added to their sin by trying to hinder others from doing so. They put forth every effort to convert someone, only to make him twice as much a subject for Gehenna as they were. They were sticklers for the little things of the Law but disregarded the weightier matters of it—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. As hypocrites, they possessed only a seemingly clean outward appearance; inside they were full of immoderateness. Like whitewashed graves, outwardly beautiful, they appeared righteous to men, but inside they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” They built the graves of the prophets and decorated the memorial tombs of the righteous ones, claiming that they would not have shed the blood of such ones. However, their course of action proved them to be just like their murderous forefathers. (Mt 23:13-36) The teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees was actually hypocrisy.—Mt 16:6, 12; Lu 12:1; see also Lu 13:11-17.
A striking example of a hypocritical course was that followed by the disciples of the Pharisees and the party followers of Herod when approaching Jesus on the tax question. First they resorted to flattery, saying: “Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth.” Then they posed the catch question: “Is it lawful to pay head tax to Caesar or not?” Appropriately Jesus referred to them as hypocrites, since they were not really desirous of getting an answer to their question but merely raised it with a view to trapping Jesus in his speech.—Mt 22:15-22; Lu 20:19-26; PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 544.
A hypocritical course cannot be concealed indefinitely. (Lu 12:1-3) Hypocrites are condemned by God as unworthy of life everlasting. (Mt 24:48-51) Therefore, a Christian’s love and faith must be without hypocrisy. (Ro 12:9; 2Co 6:4, 6; 1Ti 1:5) The wisdom from above is not hypocritical.—Jas 3:17.