1. Etymology: Hypocrisy – judgment, sentence or power of distinguishing or a decider, judge or behind. The common usage in antiquity was ‘an actor on stage’. In popular understanding the term denotes metaphorically persons who pretend to be someone they are not.
2. There is no equivalent word in OT – The author of 2 Maccabees used some other form of the same word to describe Apollonius as one pretended to be a person of peace after entering Jerusalem, when Sabbath day arrived he ordered the he ordered the troops to attack the Jews (2 Macc 5: 25), The agents of Antiochus tried convincing Eleazar to pretend as if he were eating the flesh of sacrificial meat (2 Macc 6: 21).
3. In the N.T this word is used only in negative sense. Hypocrisy occurs in the Gospels (Mt 23:38; Mk 12: 15, Lk 12: 1) and in three other places in NT (Gal 2:13, 1 Time 4:2; 1 Pet 2:1). In synoptic the term appears mostly in Matthew. In Mark it is mentioned once, in Luke it is thrice and in Matthew it is 14 times. Paul charges Barnabas and other Jewish Christians with hypocrisy for joining Peter in their table fellowship practices excluding Gentiles.
4. Today’s passage is the part of the seven woes Jesus pronounces against the Pharisees. Today’s gospel deals with fourth and fifth woe. Fourth woe concerns rulings about ‘trifles’. Deut 14: 22-23 prescribes tithes of grain, wine and oil. The Rabbis in building up the law added vegetables, fruits and nuts in the command. Jesus thinks it is absurd to spend in the tithing of trifles.
5. The fifth woe concerns the ruling about cleanliness. God looks at the heart. How can one clean the inside of the cup? Through confession, slaying of human pride and a turning from our evil ways takes place. By trust in the mercy of God made we are made clean in Christ.
All of us are hypocrites in one way of other. The persons who crave for freedom and rights are the ones who persecute their subjects when they are in power. Most of the strict teachers who punish the students very badly are the ones who were naughty themselves when they were students. We are liberal with regard to the issues concerning us and our interest but when it comes to the issues of others we become extremely strict and start talking about laws and rules. Let us become little more considerate towards people who are under our power and authority.
The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible- Emerson B. Powery
The Interpreter’s Bible