It isn’t uncommon to hear people referred to as hypocrites. What is really meant by the word, though?
According to dictionary.com, the meaning of hypocrite is:
a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.
One of the things we know about language is that it changes over time. So when the term is used in the Bible, in light of the fact that the Bible was written so very long ago, was the meaning the same? It is safe to say that the meaning was similar to how we use the word today, but not exactly the same.
The differences help us to know Jesus better, as should be seen. But first, what did the term mean 2,000 years ago?
The word hypocrite comes from both the Latin hypocrita and the Greek hypokrites. The word meant ‘actor’.
It needs to be understood that in Jesus’ day, the theater and specifically plays were an exceptionally important form of recreation and entertainment. Nearly every town had a theater. The importance isn’t unlike how movies and television programs are today, except that wealthy people were the ones most able to go to the theater. People who were affluent were the ones that knew the most about the theater and the plays. The actors, or literally hypocrites, were held in high esteem for their ability to pretend to be something they weren’t, in order to entertain the people.
It is easy to see how the modern definition came into being. The meaning in the bible isn’t much different, but knowing where the word originated from and how it was commonly used gives us a lot of insight, in a surprising way.
In Matthew 6:5,6, Jesus said, “5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrite, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.“
He again uses the word in Matthew 7:4,5: “4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Both passages from the NIV Bible.)
In the first case, Jesus was talking about prayer and how to pray. In the second, He was talking about judging others. Try reading both passages, substituting the word Actor for Hypocrite. You might notice that the meaning is the same, but the impact is even greater.
How does this let us know Jesus any better? The words in the passages above are His and He always chose his words carefully. The use of the term that referred to actors, though, is quite interesting. Jesus was using a word that showed how easily he could speak to the affluent and not just to the poor and downtrodden. The ability to speak to people of various castes or positions in life is a tremendous one, if a person wanted to bring a message of hope, joy and love to everyone, which Jesus obviously did.
This lets us see another great talent of Jesus while also letting us know that the message from the Bible was meant for all men. It wasn’t just intended for a small sub-group or even to a single country, but for all men.
There is powerful meaning in both of the above passages that we can use in our everyday lives. Beyond that, though, isn’t God awesome for intending for all people, everywhere, to benefit from the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus? God is Amazing!
Posted in Biblical meanings and tagged Bible, Gospel of Matthew, hypocrite, Jesus, meaning, theater by rextrulove with 2 comments.
There has been substantial discussion about the scriptural passage that reads, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:24 NIV]. The speaker was Jesus and the question people keep tripping over is what was meant by ‘the eye of a needle’?
Many people have said that the reference was to the east gate of Jerusalem. The gate is small, barely wide enough for a camel to fit through. Thus, they say that a loaded camel would need to be unloaded before it could pass through the gate. While it is indeed true that a camel would need to be unloaded before it could go through a narrow gate, there is no indication that the east gate of Jerusalem, or any other gate in Jerusalem, was ever called ‘the eye of a needle’ or ‘the eye’.
Other people firmly believe that the camel spoken about was mistakenly translated. They point out that in the ancient Aramaic language, the word for ‘camel’ was the same as the word for ‘rope’. Thus, they claim, the word should have been translated to rope, rather than camel. For a rope to pass through the eye of a needle, it would first need to be unraveled, which would be time-consuming and hard.
While the argument goes on, I can’t help but wonder why? The passage is about a rich man and the kingdom of God. It isn’t about the eye of a needle or a camel. I should say that there were indeed needles with eyes being used at that time and long before Jesus was even born, too.
The scripture, slightly rephrased, was also used by Mark [Mark 10:25] and yet again by Luke [18:25], so it is undoubtedly important. Still, I believe that the confusion comes from trying to decipher something that doesn’t need to be.
It wasn’t uncommon for Jesus to speak in parables when he was impressing an important point. For the greatest impact, he also frequently used conflicting terms that were ridiculous, much as we might say, “I am so tired I could sleep for a week” or “I could eat a horse”. Obviously, we are neither going to actually sleep for a week or eat a horse.
Just suppose for a moment that Jesus meant it to come out exactly as he said it; that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God? It is pretty easy to visualize trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, isn’t it? Jesus said it almost 2,000 years ago, but the saying still has clear meaning because of the ridiculous contrast.
There is no reason to debate what was meant, since if it is taken at face value, the meaning is plain. This is the problem with trying to over think something in an attempt to get greater meaning than what is right there and is as clear as glass.
Incidentally, Jesus also wasn’t necessarily speaking of someone who had material wealth, either. Several people, such as Solomon, were quite wealthy and were still favored by God. However, that is a different topic.
Posted in misunderstanding and tagged Aramaic language, camel, Eye of a needle, Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, New International Version by rextrulove with 2 comments.