In the first century, one of the great theaters of the day was built in a town called Sepphoris. It seated between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Sepphoris was less than an hour’s walk away from… guess what small town? Nazareth!
In fact, there is a very good chance (most scholars will say now actually a probability) that a craftsman from Nazareth by the name of Joseph and his young apprentice son, Jesus, would have found work helping to construct the great building projects going on in Sepphoris. So from a young age Jesus would have been familiar with the stage and the term hypocrite.
I’ve always understood the term hypocrite to be a negative one used to convey a harsh judgment on a person’s behavior. But originally, it was simply used to describe how actors would assume a pose or play a role on stage.
It was Jesus who used the term as a stinging rebuke!
The term is used a total of 17 times in the New Testament, all by Jesus when He rebuked the religious leaders of His day. His use of the term is responsible for shaping our thinking about this whole issue of how the condition of the inner person doesn’t always match up with their outward behavior.
Stephen Nordbye writes, “At a recent annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Atlanta, 300,000 doctors and researchers came together to discuss the importance of low-fat diets in keeping our hearts healthy. But during the meal times, they consumed fat-filled fast food, bacon cheeseburgers and chili fries, at the same artery-clogging high rate as people from any other conventions would. One cardiologist was asked, ‘Aren’t you concerned that your bad eating habits will be a bad example?’ He replied, ‘Not me. I took my name tag off.’”