Mar 7:6 Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites,...

KJV Verse: 

Mar 7:6 Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honor me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

Isaiah did a good job foretelling your playacting at holiness when he said: This people honor me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me.

Hidden Meaning: 

This verse is a reference to Isaiah 29:13 where there was originally a bit of contrasting wordplay that is not part of the Greek here in Mark. This contrasting wordplay is in the Greek in Mat 15:8, (analysis here) which is why I tend to think Matthew is closer to the original words.

Christ may seem angry because he starts seeming calling names using the term "hypocrites", but the Greek word "hypocrites" has taken on in English the meaning of the Jewish word chaneph rather than the primary Greek meaning of a disparaging word for "actor," like we use the word "drama queen" or maybe "thespian." It literally means something like "beneath judgment" to the Greeks, but for Jews the term has even more word play.

Christ always used hypocrites to refer to the "holiness" of the Pharisees and scribes and their ideas of religious purity. Here is the joke: The linguistic base of hypocrites is crino, meaning "to separate," which is the Greek source of our word "critique."

What is the word play? "To separate" was the Jewish idea of "holiness." The literal meaning for the Jewish word "qodesh" that we translated as "holy" is "separate." So "holy" and "separate" had the same Greek base.

So for the Jews, the word connect "holiness" with "acting." Christ uses hypocrites whenever he hits Pharisees on their ideas of "holiness", that is, what is special or set apart of God. It is the play between separate and holiness that makes the term funny to use on Pharisees. Maybe saying something like: "You're holiness is so Hollywood!" would come close to how I read the Greek.

Christ loved to play on contrasting idea. He does that in the text he is referencing here as you can see in early post in Matthew. It seems unlikely he would have not used such wordplay when it was in the text he was referencing. In the original Hebrew, the contrast is near (nagash) and far (rachaq), the nearness of lips that honor with the distance of the hearts.

In Matthew's version, the contrast is between near (engizô) and far (apecho, "to be absent", porrho "at a distance"). Here in Mark, only the idea of distant and absence is preserved, not the contrasting idea of nearness.

Since we looked at the wordplay in the earlier discussion of Matthew, let us look at this verse from the perspective of Christ's use of symbols because it is also interesting in that regard.

Christ symbols refer to three aspect of our temporal lives: the physical, mental, and emotional. Hear, lips represent the mental and hearts represent the emotion. This follows from the idea that language and ideas form our mental world while our relationships with others form our emotional world.

Christ sees all three aspect of our temporal existence as important, but he describes life as a process that starts with the physical, moves to the mental, goes to the emotional, which ends at the spiritual.

Christ describes the problem of life as getting stuck in one of these areas, creating an imbalance in our lives and a lack of progress. Our lives become worth less when we get so attached to life's physical aspects (physical pleasure) or its mental aspects (conceptual ideas) or its emotional aspects (social praise) that we cannot move on another aspect of life. Of course, the idea is to prepare for the bigger transition from the temporal to the spiritual.

However, there is also the sense in Christ's words that our personal emotional relationships are closer to our relationship to God. We cannot really understand God with our minds. He is too far beyond us. However, we can understand God through our relationships. This is why Christ teaches the the "pure of heart" will see God.

This is the same idea using the same symbol of the heart for relationships. Of course, both Greek and Hebrew use the heart symbolically as the seat of emotions, though in Greek, it is specifically the seat of the feelings (courage, love), while the belly is the seat of the lower, more base desires (sex, food).

Vocabulary: 

Hupokrites (hupokrites) which is a great example of a word that has taken its English meaning from the Bible (especially the OT) and its religious interpretation rather than the original Greek. The word means "under separation," and is used in Greek to mean "interpreter" or "actor."

"Come near" is from the Greek engizô (eggizo) which means "to bring near", "to approach," and "to be on the point of" (doing someing). It is from the Hebrew, nagash, which means to "draw near" and "approach," but which is also used to describe sexual intercourse. Maybe combining "make advances" and "make love" into a single word might capture it.

"Honour" is from the Greek timaô , (timao) which means "to revere", "to honor," and "to value." In the original Hebrew, it is from kabad, which means "to be heavy", "to be rich," and "to be honored." Though the Greek word doesn't have the same sense of "weight" as the Hebrew, weight is often connected in Greek with value. In a commodity based society, value and weight were the same. We say that we give "weight" to an arguments in the same sense that the ancients would give "weight" to the rules of a leader or a God.

"Are far " is from the Greek, apecho ("to be absent") porrho ("at a distance"). The Hebrew is rachaq , which means "to be or become distant."

Related Verses: