NT Lesson 9: Hypocrisy in Matt 6-7
Posted by Robert C. on February 24, 2007
Per Cheryl’s request, here is a new post to discuss the meaning of hypocrisy in scripture, esp. as it pertains to Matthew 6-7. I don’t really have time right now to look into this all that carefully, so I’m simply going to summarize what I’ve found so far, and post a rather lengthy excerpt [*] for your reading pleasure from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament about the meaning and use of the term in the LXX and around the time of Christ. I will also post some rambly personal thoughts for which I apologize ahead of time.
What I find most interesting in the TDNT excerpt (I decided to post this in a Word document below, it’s about 5 pages of reading) is that religious usage of the term seems to have had a uniformly negative and somewhat broad connotation, whereas secular use of the term seems to have been oftentimes positive and generally more narrow, related to rhetoric and drama. This all suggests a very complicated and rich set of possible connotations for this word, though I think the TDNT discussion about the LXX usages should be taken as most relevant for understanding the usage in the Gospels.
Now for the rambly personal thoughts on hypocrisy.
I only managed to take two philosophy classes when I was a BYU student, both from Terry Warner (I regret not taking more now…). If anyone’s familiar with Terry Warner (perhaps most famous in Mormon circles for writing Bond That Make Us Free, available online via Meridian here), they know that self-deception is a big theme in his writing, and that Kierkegaard was very influential in thinking about this. Kierkegaard is the first philosopher that sparked a deep interest in me for philosophy (my previous exposure to philosophy had given me the impression that philosophers just sat around rehashing unsolvable arguments about whether we can really know that we see a chair before us or whether we just think we see a chair, etc.). One aspect of Kierkegaard’s writing that was easy to relate to was his discussion of the challenge of being a true Christian in Christendom–that is, a society where being Christian is socially acceptable, even advantageous. I think this situation is very applicable (I’m going to use the term “applicable” now as often as possible, just to needle Joe…) to those of us who live in areas where Mormonism is the dominant religion, like I was at BYU when I was studying Kierkegaard.
The challenge for us is that because it is socially advantageous to be good Mormons, this can prove to be a stumbling block to having pure motivations. Are we doing what we do out of a pure love of God or “to be seen of men”? This is why Kierkegaard talked a lot about self-deception, to help us recognize ways that we might be using to try to convince ourselves that we have a pure heart when in fact we don’t. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll make another plug now his short little book “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing” (the text is available online here), which I think is quite readable (at least by philosophy standards…) and very interesting.
In a larger sense, I think this is all very related to the guilt-complex that is such a prevalent problem among Mormons, in my humble opinion–or not-so-humble since this is a pretty judgmental statement. That is, I think there is a deep and intimate relationship between guilt and hypocrisy because both stem from impure desires. I should be less vague here about what I mean by guilt, but I’m not sure I can. An easy example to illustrate what I have in mind is being motivated by guilt: if I do my hometeaching more because I will feel guilty if I don’t, I think my hometeaching can be accurately described as hypocritical. That is, inasmuch I am motivated by guilt rather than a purer desire (e.g. love of those I home teach, a love for the Savior and desire to “feed his sheep” etc.), I am only (hypocritcally) pretending to be a truly concerned home teacher.
That’s all I have time for now. Thoughts, comments, suggestions? As always, feel free to hijack this thread to discuss anything related to SS Lesson 8.
I really don’t know the legal and ethical ramifications are for posting copy-righted material like this on a blog. Usually I like to keep excerpts small relative to the length of what I post myself, just to be safe. If anyone knows more about these issues, esp. if someone knows that I’m out of line in posting such a lengthy excerpt, please let me know and I’ll remove this material. The material I’m quoting is only about 25% of the full article on this word, so I’m hoping that makes my posting this kosher.... I felt uneasy about this (and concern was expressed), so I edited the Word.doc file by cutting some excerpts and summarizing more, and adding more of my own not-too-reliable thoughts about the passages from the TDNT. I think the document is now within the Fair Use guidelines (though it seems no one can really know for sure what Fair Use really means until it goes to court!).