Hypocrisy, a term and idea that is primarily limited in the Bible to the New Testament writings. The Greek word transliterated into English as ‘hypocrite’ was used to denote an actor, one who performed behind a mask. Thus the popular understanding came to be that of persons who pretended to be something that they were not. It is interesting to note, however, that hypocrisy does not appear to be so limited in meaning in the New Testament. The term can sometimes denote general wickedness or evil, self-righteousness, pretense, or breach of ‘contract.’

The best-known passage in the New Testament describing hypocrisy is Matthew 23, where self-righteousness and pretense are both in evidence (cf. also Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 24:51; Mark 7:6; Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15).

In Gal. 2:13, Paul accuses Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians of hypocrisy (Revised Standard Version: ‘insincerity’). Although the term does not occur in Acts 5:1-11, the story reflects the seriousness with which the early church regarded hypocritical behavior. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this sin is that one can enter the state of hypocrisy and not realize it (Matt. 7:21-23).

Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row.