Phariseeism: A Paradigm of Narcissism

Part Two

In last week’s article we began to explore the many narcissistic characteristics of the Pharisees. They were like the scoffers mentioned in the book of Proverbs. Isaiah predicted that scoffers would rule in Jesus’ day. “Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scornful men, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, It will not come to us, For we have made lies our refuge, And under falsehood we have hidden ourselves” (Is. 28:14-16). Paul claimed there would be narcissists in the Christian age until the return of the Lord. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves” (2 Tim. 3:1a).

Employ Gaslighting

In the 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman called Gaslighting the character who plays her husband uses the tactic known as “gaslighting” to make Bergman’s character look and begin to believe herself to be crazy. The narcissist will employ gaslighting by maximizing another’s mistakes while completely denying or explaining theirs away. They will state such things as “I am alright, it’s the other person who has the problem” or “you are crazy, I am the only sane person in this relationship” or people think you are an idiot” or “people do not come to our parties because of your unfriendliness” or “your own parents do not believe you” or “everyone thinks I am right” or “you cannot see reality.” They will make others look foolish and feel like they are going insane. The Pharisees did this to Jesus when they would say such things as “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.” (John 8:40b) or “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48). As narcissists continue to do today, they will project their greater guilt onto another in an attempt to appear superior and make the other person feel inferior.

Enraged Easily

The narcissist will become enraged over criticism. To listen to reproof would mean they need to humble themselves, which is the last thing they want to do. When the apostles preached to the Jewish leadership “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:33 ESV). When Stephen admonished the Pharisees in his sermon “they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54 ESV).

Excessive Need for Affirmation

A narcissist longs for compliments and affirmation of their ego. They will seek out praise and people who will idolize them. In fact, many have deep insecurities without their “groupies” who will put them up on a pedestal. Jesus warned, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40). They do their deeds of charity, have long public prayers, and fast with a sad face to be seen of men and rewarded with public admiration (Matt. 6:2,5,16).

Evades Responsibility

A narcissist does not take responsibility for his failures. They will shift the blame, hide from those who point out their mistakes or completely deny it. If that does not work, they will downplay their involvement. King Saul was told to destroy all the Amalekites and their animals. He kept back some. When Samuel confronted him. “Saul said to Samuel, ‘But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal’” (1 Sam. 15:20-21).

The Jews were willing to accept the blood guiltiness upon themselves of murdering Jesus (Matt. 27:20-25). Later, when Peter and John were preaching against the murder of Jesus by the Jewish leadership, the Jews said, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:28).

A narcissist cannot handle the idea of someone thinking they are wrong much less acknowledge their error. One such proud man could not find his car in a parking garage but instead of admitting, such he filed a police report that it was stolen. He collected the insurance. And when the car was found months later where he had parked it, he tried to claim the thieves must have returned it.

Extremely Implacable

The term “implacable” refers to someone who is extremely hard to or impossible to please. You can try, but you cannot please them unless you meet their standard. Narcissists are rarely happy with what you do or how you do it. Buy a house or car or throw a birthday party and it is not good enough. Jesus described the generation of His day ruled by the righteousness of the Pharisees. “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” (Matt. 11:16-19).

The Pharisees wanted to force others to conform to their worldview. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13). They felt that their choices should be everyone’s choice.

Enemies Must Be Punished

Many times, throughout Jesus’ ministry the Pharisees and other leaders among the Jews sought to find a way to kill or have Jesus killed. A narcissist must win at all costs. He must silence his opponent. They believe there are justified in protecting themselves. If you hurt them, their pride demands revenge. Their enemies must suffer greater punishment. When Jesus put the Pharisees into open shame, they became obsessed with getting even. “After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death” (Mark 14:1). Public humiliation and embarrassment are the greatest, unforgivable insults. King Saul even attempted to kill Jonathan, his son, because he supported David. Haman wanted to hang Mordecai on public gallows for embarrassing him in public. “Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him” (Esther 6:4).

Enablers Sought for Support

In the Wizard of Oz, the wicked Witch has an army of flying monkeys to do her bidding. Some narcissists will surround themselves with so called “friends” who will follow them, support them, and act for them when called upon. The Pharisees were envious of Jesus, because He took away their followers. In the end they stirred up the people to crucify Jesus. “Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.  But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:20-21).

Those who are in opposition to the narcissist must be punished according to their hurt ego. Narcissists will manipulate others to do their dirty work. Like the bully who has his cohorts shove the little kid into the locker. Or the outspoken diva whose two faithful sidekicks will always be there one on the right and the other on her left to back up everything the egotist says. These are submissive people who find a sense of belonging, popularity, and importance by being a narcissist’s lackeys.

Extremely Hypocritical

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:29-31). In this chapter Jesus calls them “hypocrites” seven times. They want to appear good outwardly. Like narcissists of today they were willing to condemn their forefathers for killing the prophets while at the same time plotting with the Sadducees and Herodians to kill Jesus. Not every hypocrite is a narcissist. But every narcissist is a hypocrite.

Whereas narcissists love to judge and punish others, one day God will Judge and punish them. Jesus condemned the Pharisees with a rhetorical question: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33). This inglorious future for unrepentant narcissists will come suddenly. “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1). “For the day of the Lord of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up— And it shall be brought low” (Is. 2:12).

If you see some of these traits in your character, it does not mean you are a full-blown narcissist. It should give you pause to ponder your pride. Remember, “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:6,10).

– Daniel R. Vess

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Categories: The Forum