In the Bible — Were the Pharisees Narcissists?

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2016-07-09 by Object of Contempt

It is not entirely uncommon to hear Christian narcissistic abuse survivors refer to the Pharisees as being narcissists. They are seen as harsh devotees to a law that is a cruel burden and impossible to keep. I think that perception of the law is somewhat skewed (but that is for another blog post). The Pharisees added to the law. They ignored its “weightier matters”. They thought their salvation was in those scriptures instead of in the One they were about. But, were they narcissists? Let’s take a look at the issue by thinking about John 10:34. The context can be found by reading from about verse 29 until verse 39.

For quite a while, I found John 10:34 quite confusing. The Pharisees accused Jesus of making Himself equal with God, but Jesus didn’t respond with, “well, of course I am God!” That type of response would have avoided the opportunity to illustrate how and why the Pharisees were twisting the situation, and ignoring the truth. Instead Jesus responds by quoting from The Psalms, where God seems to be calling men gods. I was fairly young at that time, so although it helped a little to read those eight verses in Psalm 82, I knew I was still missing something.

When I got older I considered that God’s communication might be a little more “free” than the translators’ wordings indicated. (I studied Linguistics in college. I really did think about those things.) I don’t mean that they should have been loose and careless! Consider the weight of the job! Sometimes the translators are trying to be careful to the degree that they don’t always allow for the possibility that God might use humor or be facetious in His expression. This can make some passages somewhat “stiffer” and a little more difficult to really dig into. Changing that perspective made this passage come alive to me.

So now, when I read Ps.82, I see a group of the “mighty” ones, rulers, sitting together exercising power to judge the people, and chatting, colluding, slapping each other on the back…. but they are doing a tremendously awful job! They are being unjust, failing to vindicate the weak, failing to do justice to the afflicted, failing to rescue the weak and needy, and failing to deliver those people out of the hand of the wicked. And…. then God surprises them by showing up in their midst.

God walks in and stands in His own congregation and what does He see there? A bunch of puny little “gods”! God was understandably angry because they were sitting in His place, and supposedly doing His work that He wanted done, but they were wickedly abusing God’s people. They were cruddy pretenders. In Ps.82:6 God facetiously refers to them as gods (and everyone knew there is ONLY ONE GOD), but in the next verse He tells them that they are going to die like men. Their pretense, their grandiosity, their grab for power and control will not save them from the wages of their sin — death.

There is more to that passage to be learned. But think — when Jesus quoted from that psalm, of all people they must have known that Jesus was actually equating them with rulers who were lousy and wicked and pretending to be gods themselves. It’s as if He said, “Oh… it offends you that I claim to be the One God?? Well, it’s My assembly, and all I see here are a bunch of risible little gods who are lousy pretenders.”

The Pharisees were sporting a tremendous, grandiose false self. They were arrogant and hypocritical. They were controlling and merciless — no justice and no empathy there at all. Those are some of the main characteristics that victims of narcissistic abuse have to endure. Jesus cares deeply about the injustice and abuse they caused the weak, fatherless, and afflicted.

But, let me say something that will sound somewhat self-contradictory. Narcissism is a description of a set of characteristics in a single person. Painting the entire group that way is not only unfair to people like Nicodemus (see John 3), it is a dangerous habit. Besides, it isn’t the label or the disorder that is wicked; it is the actual thoughts and acts that are wicked and cruel. I think we will do well if we focus less on the label, and focus more on the verifiable acts the way Jesus did. He called them out, not on being narcissists, but on being arrogant, hypocritical, cruel, unjust, and their inherent blasphemy of trying to take over God’s place. For those who repent, as Saul/Paul did, Jesus takes the full weight of the punishment on himself. For those who cling to that life, one day Jesus will measure out the ultimate justice.

There will be relief, healing, justice, vengeance, mercy, and — vindication. I am tired of waiting for it, but there is not a single person who is more worthy to wait for, because He is never treacherous or unjust. He is trustworthy.

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2 thoughts on “In the Bible — Were the Pharisees Narcissists?

  1. katiesdream2004 says:

    This was beautiful and I have wondered about that passage. There will be a day and it won’t be long when account is giving by those that abused power. Ezekiel spoke of God’s displeasure with people in leadership that exploited their power. Later in the chapter he speaks of fat sheet bullying the thin ones so, not only those in leadership but those sheep to sheep. those that abuse others will be held accountable
    Ezekiel 34
    2 Son of man, preach against Israel’s shepherds! Speak directly to the shepherds and tell them this is what the Eternal Lord has to say: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel whose only concern is to protect and nourish themselves! Isn’t a shepherd’s job to look after the sheep? 3 Yet you exploit them in every way. You devour their fat, make soft clothes and blankets out of their wool, and slaughter the best sheep for your table. Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. 4 You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty! 5 They had no real shepherd, so they have scattered; the entire flock was prey for wild beasts.

    Liked by 1 person

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