Hypocrisy in Jesus’ Time
Hypocrisy in Jesus’ Day
by Lonnie Lane
Q. Dear MV, I read an article of a seemingly well meaning Christian in which the author said that in Jesus’ day “the Israelites were mostly hypocrites,” that it was “part of their culture.” He also said their “spirituality was far from real.” This troubled me. Would all those people who followed Jesus be hypocrites? What would you say about this statement? Thanks for answering.
A. Dear Puzzled, Your instincts are good ones. You’re right. This isn’t a true statement any more than you could make a blanket statement about the spirituality or character of mostly all Americans or even all Christians. This assessment of Israel as “mostly hypocrites” at the time, or any time, is just not true. It was birthed out of 1800 year old writings which have fostered both blatant and subliminal anti-Semitism in the church since. The author was probably repeating what he had heard so often he accepted it as valid without thinking it through.
One cannot get an accurate picture of 1st century life or history from the New Testament alone, as much as we rely on it for truth. But there is enough in the New Testament that provides a different picture than just that of hypocrites. Yeshua’s comment about hypocrisy was not meant for ALL of Israel, but said specifically to the leaders who were planning his demise. But the general population were mostly trying to follow God as best they knew how.
For instance, Zacharias and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Yeshua called Nathanael a man “without guile” (falsehood.) Anna and Simeon living a pristine life in the Temple were not likely to have been hypocrites. I expect that these people were not the only persons in all of Israel following God in earnest. The many who followed Jesus around may have been ignorant of God’s Kingdom ways but they were not all hypocrites, doing what they knew was not godly or speaking doctrine they themselves were not following. I doubt a leper or a cripple would have been a hypocrite any more than all the rest of us — just more desperate for help.
While admittedly “the highest priestly leader(s)” were hypocrites, the Bible records that many of the priests did come to the Lord. Nicodemus is reported to have come to Yeshua with questions. There seems no arrogance in him which would likely be the attitude of those we could accuse of hypocrisy. The courage of Gamaliel, “a teacher of the Torah and respected by all the people,” to stand up before the entire Sanhedrin and say, “Don’t fight this or you could be fighting God,” would not seem to be the words of a hypocrite.
My assessment of the people who followed Jesus around is that they are not those whom I would identify as hypocrites but more likely as folks trying to get a drink of living water for their deep God-thirst from Yeshua.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.