THE ACCUSATION OF HYPOCRISY IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL

STEPHEN GREGORY PRICE, Marquette University

Abstract

In Matthew's Gospel the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders is presented more sharply than in the other Gospels, rising to a dramatic climax in Jesus' diatribe against them in Chapter 23. There, his denunciation is capsulized in his epithet (upsilon)(pi)(omicron)(kappa)(rho)(iota)(tau)(alpha)(iota) (usually translated "hypocrites") in the sevenfold "Woes" to the Scribes and Pharisees. In addition, he uses cognates of the word in seven other instances throughout Matthew. Scholars have passed too quickly over the accusation or have understood it in contradic- tory ways, particularly concerning whether Matthew's Jesus is attaching conscious dissimulation or an unconscious blindness. Instead, (upsilon)(pi)(omicron)(kappa)(rho)(iota)(sigma)(iota)(sigma) in Matthew refers simply to possessing the appearance of righteousness without the reality, and the charge has the function of explaining salvation-history in terms of a religious/ethical failure, and warning Christians from repeating it. A brief survey of the background of the (upsilon)(pi)(omicron)(kappa)(rho)(iota)(sigma)(iota)(sigma) term in the context of its uses outside the Synoptics reveals only Paul in Galatians showing a similar understanding. Matthew itself, when viewed as narrative, demonstrates the important function of the accusation in the plot, where it is defined apart from the leaders, and then applied, by Jesus alone, against them and those imitating their betrayal of righteousness. The specific instances of the term throughout Matthew, studied from contextual, rhetorical, and redactional approaches, demonstrate a reference to the appear- ance of righteousness without the reality. Conscious dissimulation and unconscious blindness are paradoxically combined in the (upsilon)(pi)(omicron)(kappa)(rho)(iota)(tau)(eta)(sigma). The leaders are ethical types, and not primarily realistic portraits of Jewish opponents or Pharisees. Matthew's particular usage of the accusation contrasts with its more incidental employ- ment in Mark and Luke, who have their own separate, though not contradictory, interests. The contextual usage and distribution of the central term (delta)(iota)(kappa)(alpha)(iota)(omicron)(sigma)(upsilon)(nu)(eta) ("righteousness") and its cognates in Matthew confirms its antithetical relation to (upsilon)(pi)(omicron)(kappa)(rho)(iota)(sigma)(iota)(sigma). Since Matthew preserves the psychological subtlety in Jesus' accusation and presents it as denouncing a betrayal of Judaism, charges of anti-Semitism against this Gospel are inappropriate.

Recommended Citation

STEPHEN GREGORY PRICE, "THE ACCUSATION OF HYPOCRISY IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL" (January 1, 1985). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8604961.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8604961

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