As every tween knows, a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another. So on the subject of, for example, prayer, a hypocrite would be someone who preaches about the importance of prayer but then does not pray. Which makes Matthew 6:5 somewhat surprising:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
That doesn’t fit the modern definition of a hypocrite, does it?
The Greek word hupokritai refers to those who are playing in a role–in other words, actors. That definition makes sense in the context of Matthew 6:5 and it would be interesting to translate it as:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the playactors are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
I think this distinction matters. An actor (1) is pretending to be someone s/he is not (2) for the benefit of other people. In Matthew 6:5, it presents a much higher bar than the modern definition of hypocrite.
I do a lot of foolish, sinful things, but I generally have the common sense to refrain from preaching to other people about the importance of those things. I do not, in other words, meet the modern definition of a hypocrite very often. (Not because I avoid sin, mind you, but because I avoid encouraging others to avoid my favorite sins.) But I can’t claim that I’ve never considered the social ramifications of (making public) a particular action or belief of mine. What’s particularly interesting to me about Matthew 6:5 is that the play actor is engaging in what is fundamentally a righteous action (=prayer), but only doing it for public display.
I’m far more likely to be counted among the hupokritai than I am to be a hypocrite.