Some of the harshest criticisms Jesus delivered were to the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, whom He accused of being hypocrites. Today there are many people who are turned off by religion because they often consider church goers to be hypocrites themselves. The reason for this feeling is that they see people who profess a belief in Christ who do things that are unChrist-like. For example, they see Christians professing such high values as honesty, morality, kindness and love who then go about telling lies, being self-righteous, intolerant of others, immoral, or unethical. To many non-Christians, it seems only reasonable that if someone were truly a follower of Christ, their lives should reflect the noble attitudes and conduct which Jesus taught.

On the other hand, Christians lay no claim to being perfect and are quick to point out that perfection is a long, ongoing process and not something that happens in one swift moment upon conversion. However, to the skeptic, this merely seems like a convenient way for Christians to excuse their worldly behavior.

Who's view is correct?

Before we can answer that question, we first need to define the word "hypocrite." The word comes from the Greek `hypokrites' which means an actor or a pretender. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hypocrite as "a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion."

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word "hypocrite" as "a person given to hypocrisy." The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek `hypokrisis' which means "the act of playing a part on the stage." The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this as: "a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially: the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion."

By definition, then, a hypocrite is someone pretending to be something they are not. However just pretending doesn't make someone a hypocrite. If this wasn't the case, then every actor could rightly be accused of being a hypocrite. More than that, every time we tell a lie, we are pretending that something is true when it isn't. Since all of us occasionally tell "white lies" that means every person has, at one time or another, pretended to tell the truth so as to give a false appearance of virtue (honesty). And if that's our definition, then everyone is a hypocrite, not just insincere Christians.

But this is not the kind of hypocrisy Jesus strongly condemned. The behavior He spoke against is more than mere acting or pretending. It's the kind that concerns the intent of one's heart. Someone may ask, "But isn't pretending to be something you're not always a matter of the heart?" The answer to that depends on how fine or how broad we want to define the word hypocrite. In the board sense, all of us are hypocrites, but the more accurate definition is more specific than that.

To gain a better understanding of what constitutes a true hypocrite, let's compare several attitudes and actions.

A person who knows they are doing wrong but doesn't want to embarrass themselves by having others seeing their faults isn't pretending to be living a virtuous life. They just don't go around broadcasting their faults. Therefore, others assume the person is living properly. This is not the definition of a hypocrite.

A person who knows they are doing wrong but deliberately takes steps to hide their faults to keep from being embarrassed by their inappropriate behavior is only a hypocrite in the broadest sense of the term. This kind of person knows when they are doing something wrong and feels ashamed for not having the strength of character to do what is right. When their wrong behavior is discovered they usually have the courage to admit their faults.

On the other hand, a true hypocrite feels no sense of remorse for their inappropriate actions. When some unacceptable behavior of theirs is pointed out, they angrily defend their action, while displaying an attitude that they have done nothing wrong. Thus, a true hypocrite is one who thinks that no matter what they do, it is always right.

However, rather than boldly letting others see their real behavior, a hypocrite doesn't have the courage of their so-called "convictions." Therefore, they not only deliberately hide their unacceptable actions from the knowledge of others, but they also maintain an "I'm always right" attitude. As such, this is the highest form of pretending because they are actually deceiving themselves more than anyone else. Even worse, a real hypocrite is someone who also actively seeks the praises of others for living a virtuous life.

Furthermore, a true hypocrite is someone who condemns others for doing the very things they excuse in themselves. In their mind, it's okay for them to do the very thing they criticize others for doing. As such, a hypocrite is someone who uses a double standard. They judge the actions of others by a different set of rules than they use for themselves.

On the other hand, a person who is aware of their weakness uses the same standard to judge themselves as they do others. As such, they often tend not to condemn others because they are too painfully conscious of their own weaknesses and are aware that when they condemn others they are likewise condemning themselves.

With that understanding, let's a look at what kind of people Jesus accused of being hypocrites. The clearest example is found in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. "Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (versus 1-4)

Jesus told the multitude and his disciples that they should indeed do the things which the Scribes and Pharisees teach. But then He added that they should not imitate the things which the Scribes and Pharisees do. The obvious implication is that what the religious leaders say and what they do are two different things. More than that, Jesus was clearly indicating that the Scribes and Pharisees were not following the things they themselves taught about the Law of Moses, even though they sit in the seat of Moses. Continuing Jesus then explained how the Scribes and Pharisees made rules that were hard for the people to follow, while they themselves didn't observe any of these same rules themselves.

From just this alone we see that the Scribes and the Pharisees lived by a double standard. The people were expected to follow one set of rules, which, if not met, would result in them being condemned for not following God's way. Yet, at the same time, the religious leaders themselves lived by a less restricting standard while not suffering any criticism for their lack of faithfulness to God's laws. And when someone finally did have the courage to accuse them of inappropriate behavior (as Jesus did), they became extremely angry and sought every way to discredit Him. When that failed, they consulted together on how to have Him put to death.

Jesus further taught the people saying, "But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." (verse 5,6)

Everything the Scribes and Pharisees did was for the express purpose of showing off their righteousness. They wanted "to be seen of men" as being extremely righteous, pious and holy. One of the ways they did this was to wear broad phylacteries. The Bible dictionary describes a phylactery as "strips of parchment on which were written four passages of scripture (Ex. 13.1-10, 1-16; Dt. 6.5-9; 11.13-21), and which were attached to bands of leather worn (as an act of obedience to Ex. 13.9,16; Dt. 6.8; 11.18) round the forehead... The Pharisees wore them broader than other people in order to make them as conspicuous as possible."

When the Scribes and Pharisees attended a meal, they loved sitting in the important upper rooms of the feast, or the chief seats in the synagogues where they could "be seen of men" and recognized as being important. Even in the market places they loved to be greeted by the elevated title of "Rabbi." When they fasted they put on "a sad countenance" and disfigured their faces "that they may appear unto men to fast" (Matthew 6:16). When they gave alms, they did it "to be seen of them" (Matthew 6:1).

Thus, we see that the Scribes and Pharisees were not only living by a lower standard than what other were required to observe, but they went to great lengths to make themselves seem even more righteous than the common person.

Jesus then made a couple of analogies to illustrate what constitutes a hypocrite. He said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (verse 25-28).

What is important to a hypocrite is that which is seen of men. Thus, it is the outward appearance which means everything to a hypocrite. They want to be seen as being clean, white, beautiful, and pure while their hearts are full of iniquity and all manner of uncleanliness. It's true that all of us have faults and weaknesses that we would rather others didn't see, but a hypocrite is someone who then condemns others for their imperfections while trying to convince everyone else that they have very few shortcomings.

Jesus explained it this way: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).

The Biblical definition of a hypocrite is much more than someone being a pretender. It is someone who likes to appear righteous while condemning others for their faults. It is someone who is critical of the mistakes others make while ignoring or excusing their own shortcomings.

If this is so, then how can we tell when someone is being a hypocrite or when they're merely struggling with an embarrassing problem?

Jesus counseled us to "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). It's easy to understand what He meant by not judging a book by it's cover, but what does it mean to "judge righteous judgment?"

The apostle Paul counseled the early saints, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." (Galatians 6:1-3). As pointed out earlier, a hypocrite is someone who deceives himself more than he deceives others. Each of us has faults. When we think that someone else's faults are worse than our own, we're deceiving ourselves.

Righteous judgment is honest judgment. Righteous judgment is spiritual in nature and takes into account our own faults and weaknesses. Righteous judgment is not considering ourselves to be something we are not. Righteous judgment is bearing one another's burdens in a spirit of meekness and love.

The Lord told Joseph Smith, "Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts--let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds" (D&C 64:9-11).

This often quoted scripture is very familiar to most Latter-day Saints, and we are very much aware that the Lord commands us to forgive all men. But there is another important principle contained in these verses that is not often recognized. Not only are we "to forgive one another" but the Lord also added, "he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin."

When we couple that statement with the commandment that we are "required to forgive all men," there is no doubt that regardless of what sin someone else has committed, if we fail to forgive that person, we -- not them -- have committed the greater sin.

Most of us understand what it means to forgive someone, and, there are times, when that is a difficult thing to do. However, can we honestly say that someone who complains, criticizes, or condemns others for their faults has a forgiving attitude?

There is an easy test to answer this question. Do we want our Father in heaven to forgive our sins? Jesus taught, "if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14,15).

Perhaps there are some who might feel that forgiving someone and complaining about someone are two different things. If that is so, then there is another test we can apply. How do we want God to judge us? Would we want God to treat us the same way we treat others? In other words, would we be satisfied if God complained, criticized or condemned us using the same standard of judgment as we apply to others? Jesus also taught, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:1-2).

Peter once asked Jesus "how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" Jesus responded by telling a parable about a certain king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents. "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest" and would not forgive him his debt. When the king heard of this, he "was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him." Jesus concluded this parable by saying "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matthew 18:21,28,34,35 emphasis added).

Hypocrisy is an attitude of the heart. It's intent is to be critical and judgmental of others, thereby giving the complainer the false impression that they are somehow more virtuous than the person they condemn. So, how can we determine who is being a hypocrite and who is merely a weak sinner? When an attitude of complaining, criticizing, fault-finding or being unforgiving wells up inside of us, we need to look in the mirror and say to the person we see, "Thou hypocrite."

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