Answer to how Matt 23:3 uses the term hypocrite as "playacting"

Lee Jenkins asked about how Matt 23:3 fits into the idea of
hypocrisy as playacting rather than insincerity since verse 3
seems to contain more of the "modern" idea of hypocrite rather
than the Greek theatrical term.

This requires a little bit of thought, and is probably the
reason why no one has ever explored the Greek term hypocrite
more carefully (the english idea seems to fit so well with
a first reading of Matt 23:3 it gets us started on that
direction and we never stop that train of thought to get off).

The difficulty which we then face is that Jesus is not being fair
to the Pharisees we know from history.  They were, I think, very
sincere, devotedly religious, pious, upstanding fellows who were
very concerned that Israel keep the law.  They were the religous
conservatives of their day, and do not seem deserving of the
charge of insincerity.

And that is exactly the point in clarifying the two definitions of
the term hypocrite.  They were not insincere, they simply were not
perfect in their striving to keep the law.  The concern Jesus had
against the Pharisees was that they said, "You need to keep the
law Perfectly" and they sincerely believed this.  But in their
actions they did not perfectly keep the law, because perfectly
keeping the law is not in outward actions (playacting) but in
a righteous heart from which flows outward actions.

Read Matt 23:3 in this light and you can see that both the
Greek theatrical usage of hypocrite and the modern usage involves
saying one thing and doing another, but the content of what is being
said and what is being done is different in each case, and the
conclusion of Jesus' theology is different as well.  Furthermore,
this means that one can be completely sincere in their devotion
to keep the dictates of righteousness, and still be a Pharisees.
That is, the spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well in many
modern churches among sincere people today.

It wasn't that the Pharisees did not practice what they preached
(remember Paul as a Pharisees was according to the law found blameless).
They said "You must keep the law perfectly", and "Keeping the law
involves doing A, B, C, D, and E"  They sincerely believed these
things and strove to do A, B, C, D, and E.  BUT keeping the law
also involved being the type of a person on the inside from which
would flow naturally A, B, C, D, E, and Q, P, S, T, Z, and a host
of other actions from one whose priorities and character were the
priorities and character of a righteous God.  The Pharisees ignore
these other things because although they playacted the part of being
righteous, they really were not righteous.  Hence Jesus could say,
"observe all that they tell you to do", but do not use them as a
role model for righteousness, because they do not keep the law
from the heart, and it shows, even when they are keeping the outward
parts of the law perfectly.

All of this was intended by Jesus to "raise the standard" of
righteousness so that everyone would stand condemned, and in need
of God's grace.  Knowing our need, we were then ready to consider
God's mercy.  And that explains why "your righteousness must surpass
that of the Pharisees"  But whose could! No ones, without casting
ourselves upon God.  Who recognizes their own need?  The humble and
broken and poor in spirit.  In that case, "The harlots and the
tax gathers are entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees.

All this is a long way of trying to say that I think Matt 23:3 can
easily fit in an interpretation which takes the term hypocrite in the
manner of the Greek theatre rather than insincere.

What do you'all think?  Is this interpretation compelling?
Looking forward to more feedback,

David John Marotta

David John Marotta, Medical Center Computing, Stacey Hall
Univ of Virginia (804) 982-3718 wrk INTERNET: djm5g@virginia.edu
Box 512 Med Cntr (804) 924-5261 msg   BITNET: djm5g@virginia
C'ville VA 22908 (804) 296-7209 fax   IBM US: usuvarg8