Who Is a Hypocrite? -- By: I. Howard Marshall

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 159:634 (Apr 2002)
Article: Who Is a Hypocrite?
Author: I. Howard Marshall

Who Is a Hypocrite?*

I. Howard Marshall

* This is article two in a four-part series, “Four ‘Bad’ Words in the New Testament,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 6–9, 2001.

I. Howard Marshall is Honorary Research Professor of New Testament, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

This article on another negative concept in the New Testament examines a group of Greek words that are compounds of the prepositional prefix ὑπό with the root κριν-. Although this root has the sense of judging, the prefix transforms the meaning radically, and the English nouns “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy” derive from the resulting Greek words ὑποκρίτης and ὑπόκρισις. The corresponding verbs ὑποκρίνομαι, found in the New Testament only in Luke 20:20, and συνυποκρίνομαι, in Galatians 2:13, have no equivalent verb in English and periphrastic constructions like “to play or act the hypocrite” must be used. A negative adjective ἀνυπόκριτος means “sincere.”

The word group is found predominantly in the Synoptic Gospels, where it occurs twenty-one times (fourteen times in Matthew, twice in Mark, and five times in Luke), and ten times elsewhere,1 making a total of thirty-one times in the New Testament. This is much less frequent than the other major word groups being considered in this series. However, the material for consideration is enhanced by a number of texts that convey the concept by using other words.

In this word group one of the main problems is that of meaning. Some Bible students wrongly assume that the English words derived from the Greek ones are much the same as the original words, or that if one knows the meaning of the English word “hypocrisy,” this tells what the Greek word meant. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as “simulation of virtue or goodness; dissimulation; pretence,” and “hypocrite” as a “person guilty of hy-

pocrisy; dissembler, pretender.” This definition seems to imply that hypocrites are people who deliberately pretend to be virtuous or good whereas in fact they are something else, and that the pretense is carried out in the interests of some evil plan. It follow...

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