Print This Page

There are two Greek words used to translate the word “hypocrite” or a form of it in the New Testament.

hupokrisis (Strong--5272), an actor under an assumed character (stage-actor) or dissembler (Webster--to conceal under a false appearance; disguise; to pretend).

hupokrites (Strong--5273), acting under a feigned part; deceit.

The following is taken from Wycliffe Bible Dictionary (Editors--Charles F. Pfeiffer, Howard Vos, John Rea), and is a contribution by J. Harold Greenlee, Th.D., Missionary, OMS International and Allan R. Killen, Th.D., Professor of Contemporary Theology, Reformed. Theological Seminary, Jackson, Miss.

      HYPOCRISY, HYPOCRITE. In the context of Gr. Drama the term hypocrite was applied to an actor on the theater stage. Since an actor pretends to be someone other than himself, hypocrites was applied metaphorically to a person who “acts a part” in real life, pretending to be better than he actually is, one who simulates goodness. In secular Gr. Literature, therefore, hypocrites may be either neutral or undesirable. In the NT, however, it is always undesirable, signifying one who works a deception by feigned piety.

      This concept of pretended goodness was foreign to OT thought. The Heb. Root h-n-p, translated “hypocrisy” or “hypocrite” in the KJV, was translated in the LXX [Septuagint--Greek translation of the Old Testament] by anomos, “lawless,” “criminal,” or “godless,” parallel to poneros, “an evil doer” (Isa 9:17); and by asebes, “godless,” “irreverent” (Isa 33:14).

      In the book of Job it is clear that the hanep is one radically opposed to God, one who forgets God (Job 8:13; 15:34-35; 20:5; 27:8). The verb hanep means to pollute or corrupt (cf. Num 35:33; Ps 106:38; Isa 24:5; Jer 3:1). Theodotion’s translation of Job, later incorporated into the LXX, rendered Heb. hanep as hypocrites in two verses (Job 34:30; 36:13). Thus it seems that Greek-speaking Jews were employing hypokrisis in another sense in addition to its metaphorical meaning of feigning to be what one is not.

      This background in the OT indicates the broader sense in which the term is used in our Lord’s ministry. “Hypocrite” occurs 18 times and “hypocrisy” twice in the words of Jesus. He warned His disciples of “the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). He diagnosed them as appearing righteous to men, but being full of hypocrisy and iniquity within (Mt 23:28). That He accused the Pharisees of more than mere pretending is suggested by the parallels to the reading “their hypocrisy” in Mk 12:15. In Mt 22:18 it is “their wickedness” or malice, and in Lk 20:23 it is “their craftiness.” Only in Lk 20:20 does the verb hypokrino retain the original Gr. meaning of pretending: the scribes and chief priests, attempting to arrest Jesus, sent spies “who pretended to be sincere” (RSV).

      Outside the Gospels hypokrisis occurs three times. Paul rebuked Peter for “dissimulation,” his deliberate inconsistency of first eating with Gentile converts at Antioch and then, fearing the circumcision party, refusing to associate with them further (Gal 2:13, verb and noun)--and this following God’s vision to Peter prior to his visiting Cornelius (Acts 10). Paul reveals that in the last times there will be those who follow evil spirits and doctrines of demons and speak lies in hypocrisy (1Tim 4:1-2). The Christian himself is warned to get rid of all hypocrisy in his life (1 Pet 2:1).

      There are six occurrences in the NT of the verbal adjective anupokritos, “without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17; also Rom 12:9, “without dissimulation”; and 2 Cor 6:6; 1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 1:5; 1 Pet 1:22, “unfeigned”).

The uses of various forms of the word, “hypocrite,” in the New Testament follow.

hypocrisies 1 Peter 2:1
hypocrisy Matthew 23:28
Mark 12:15
Luke 12:1
1 Timothy 4:2
hypocrites Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13, 14, 15, 29; 24:51
Mark 7:6
Luke 11:44; 12:56

The uses of “without hypocrisy” are already covered in the Wycliffe quote above.


The meaning of the words, “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy,” as used in the Bible by our Lord Jesus Christ (primarily directed toward the “religious” leaders of the day) implies more than a “simple pretense” or “acting out as a stage-player.” It embodies a purposeful intent, which stems from a deep-seated core of evil. More than this, it suggests a determined effort to enforce a standard of conduct upon others, which conduct the enforcer knowingly and deliberately refuses to apply to himself--hence, action born of full knowledge and evil intent. It is not merely the failure to live up to a holy standard--a condition applicable to every believer on any given day. It is the condition of a person who is controlled by the sin nature to the end-desire of having power over other human beings by imposing on them a set of rules, which he himself intentionally disregards. It is a condition applicable to either an unbeliever or a believer, i.e., a believer who is outside God’s will and under the influence of the sin nature.

Need to Look Something Up?       CLICK HERE

HOME | Core Doctrine | God's Plan of Salvation | Systematic Bible Study | Topical Bible Study
Etymology Studies | Bible Study Resources | Directory of Churches | Editor's Corner | Feedback