Phariseeism: A Paradigm of Narcissism

Part One

According to Greek mythology Narcissus was a very handsome young man who while on a hunting trip in the woods saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with it. He stayed there staring about himself until he died of thirst. In the spot where he died grew a beautiful flower known as the Narcissus.

Today, a narcissist is someone who becomes so infatuated and obsessed with themselves they become self-worshipers. 2 Timothy 3:2-6 warns, “For people will be lovers of self”.

The Bible includes several such egotistic men and women who could be classified as narcissists, such as, Diotrephes (2 John 9-11); King Saul; Haman; and the scoffer in Proverbs. Perhaps the greatest example of narcissism is found in the Jews sect called the Pharisees. They represent a paradigm of narcissism. Paradigm is not two coins equaling twenty cents. The term “paradigm” means “an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype” according to Merriam-Webster. The Pharisees represented most of the characteristics of narcissistic behavior.

  • Egotistical Attitude of Superiority

The narcissist suffers from an exaggerated sense of self-importance. He may even go so far as to have a god complex. Herod bought into this idea of himself, and it cost him his life (Acts 12:21-23). “A self-made man who worships his creator.” The Pharisees create rules for the little people which they did not follow themselves. Rules are for their inferiors; they are superior to their own rules. Jesus warned, “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:3-4). They would even exalt their man-made rule above the teachings of the Bible (Matt.15:7-9).

  • Egocentric Reality

Jesus condemned the Pharisees from being blind to reality. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:23-24). No less than five times are they called “blind men” or “blind guides” in this chapter. They are blind in that they are unable to see life as it really is. Narcissists have created a reality centered around their ego. Their value system is based on what they deem as important. This blindness leads to self-deception. They can only see their greatness and everyone else’s faults.

  • Exaggerated Success

A narcissist will put forth a fantastical image of success even when they are suffering failure. Proverbs 13:7 states, “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing.” To bolster their self-image the narcissist will exaggerate his abilities and achievements. They must be seen as successful, rich, wise, brilliant. As David’s son, Absolom, did when he “provided himself with chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him” (2 Sam. 15:1).

Likewise, the Pharisees were inwardly wicked while projecting a false image of righteousness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23;25-28).

  • Entitled

The Pharisees set up a standard of giving for others to follow. But when it came to taking care of their own parents, they would claim that their money was already committed to the Temple. Jesus rebuked them for this, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13). They were entitled to keep their money because they have a more worthy charity than giving to support their parents.

Narcissists are too proud of themselves. They will even demand special treatment from others. This sense of entitlement can often be observed in the way their will treat a waiter when they are dining out.

  • Empathy Lacking for Others

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Jesus accused the lawyers and Pharisees of this. “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered” (Luke 11:52). When the Pharisees were upset about Jesus spending time with sinners, He gave three parables to evoke empathy for a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son and the joy one should naturally have over their recovery.

However, they were like the older brother who was not glad to see his prodigal brother restored but sad that he was not the center of attention (Luke 15:29-30). The narcissist is unwilling and perhaps unable to consider the emotional needs of their fellow man unless such suits their image. Such as, the pharisees giving alms to the poor to be seen of men. Drunk Nabal had no feelings of gratitude or sympathy for David’s men who had been very good to him. Naboth and his family were heartlessly murdered so Jezebel could provide here sobbing, spoiled husband with a new vineyard.

  • Especially Judgmental or Critical

In Jesus’ parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), a master spares a servant who is hopelessly in debt to him. That same servant goes out and is unmerciful to a fellow servant who owes him very little in comparison to his forgiven debt. This story well illustrates the narcissist who severely judges others while expecting grace and special consideration for his grave mistakes and faults. In another story Jesus tells of a man trying to remove a speck from a man’s eye while sporting a two by four beam coming out his own eye (Matt. 7:1-5). Such hypocritical judgment is all too common in today’s narcissists.

  • External Appearances Are Exalted

The Pharisees were motivated to practice their brand of religion and self-righteousness to be noticed and exalted by others. “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matt. 23:5-7).

They were the self-exalting, glory-seeking show boaters of Judaism. Today’s, narcissist needs to be seen as handsome or beautiful. Thus, they wear the finest of clothing, have a nice home, drive a sharp looking and/or popular car. They love money and love to spend it, so they look good. Narcissists are also drawn to people who look good on the outside. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because he did not fit their image of Jewish messiah.

  • Exceptional Liars

Jesus rebukes the Jewish leadership saying, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Almost everything about the Pharisees was a lie. Their prayers, almsgiving, tithing, fasting, was all one big false front to fool others into thinking they were righteous. While it is true that everyone has lied and many lie from time to time, for the narcissist being a liar is part of who he is. Not all liars are narcissists, but all narcissists are liars.

  • Exploitive and Manipulative

As King Ahasuerus’ right hand man, Haman had power. And when a Jew named Mordecai would not put him on his pedestal, this narcissist was greatly offended. To sooth his bruise ego he sought to use his power to make a law through the Medo-Persian Empire that would terminate the Jews. (Esther 3:8ff).

This same behavior won the Pharisees another woe form Jesus. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). They used every manipulation and exploitation method to recruit a following of disciples made in their own image and severing their agenda. Those who did not conform were cut off from others, punished, abandoned.

– Daniel R. Vess

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2024-04-29 - Phariseeism: A Paradigm of Narcissism (Part 2)
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