Hypocrites, Actors, and Holiness

"Hypocrites" in the NT is the Greek hypokrites, which means "an interpreter", "an actor", "a stage player," and "a dissembler."The Greek for "the hypocrites" is a great example of a word that has taken its English meaning from how it is used in the Bible rather than the original Greek. The primary meaning during Christ's era was "an actor."

Jesus always used hypocrites, "actors" to refer to the "holiness" of the Pharisees and scribes and their ideas of religious purity. This was a kind of a joke or play on words.

The linguistic root word of hypocrites is krino, meaning "to separate."This word also means "to judge." The prefix to this root is  hypo, which as a preposition means  "under" both in the sense of moving under, being under, and being under different forms of compulsion.  So the literal meaning of hypocrites is, in a sense, "beneath judgment." The verb form of the word means "to uses the statements of another to justify what you want to do," which means "pretend," "to dissemble," or "play a part."

What does this have to do with "holiness?" "To separate" (krino) was the basis of the Jewish idea of "holiness." The literal meaning for the Jewish word qodesh that we translated as "holy" in the Old Testament is "separate." What was dedicated to God was separated from everyday usage by people. So "holy" and "separate" had the same base concept.

So for the Jews, the words connect "holiness" with "acting." Jesus 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 Jesus's use of the Greek.

Do not be mislead by the KJV use of the English hypocrites, in translating Old Testament Hebrew. The word the KJV translated as hypocrites in the OT is  chaneph, which means "godless" or "profane." However, the Greek speaking Judeans of Jesus's era did not use the Greek hypokrites to translated this concept. More recent Bible translations do not make this mistake, translating chaneph commonly as "godless."