This the fourth post on the Pharisees, provoked as it was by comments I’m hearing about so-and-so being a “Pharisee,” will look at the meaning of “hypocrite” in Matthew 23.
Five observations, leading to a summary definition of what Matthew (Jesus) meant by “hypocrisy.”
1. Inconsistency between what one teaches and what one does (23:3-4)
2. Desire for prestige and power and congratulation (23:5-12)
3. Abuse of teaching authority through both false teachings and false practices (23:13, 15, 16-22, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28).
4. Overconcern with minutiae and lack of focus on the major issues (23:23-24, 25-26, 27-28): that is, moral myopia.
5. Inconsistency between appearance and practice (23:27-28).
Put together, Jesus accuses the Pharisees for “hypocrisy” because they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, not living according to what they taught, and for the desire for power. In addition, their teaching was a focus on minor issues to the neglect of major issues.
As I said yesterday, they flattened the Torah into a listing of God’s will while Jesus saw love of God and love of others as the center of that Torah. If the Pharisees saw love as one of the commandments, however important, Jesus saw love as central and everything as expressive of that love.
To be “hypocrite” is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to “contradiction between appearance and reality.”
Tomorrow, some reflections on how we could use the term “Pharisee” more accurately.