Obsessive Personalities

Wayne Jackson
An obsession is a persistent, compulsive preoccupation with something. It could be a person, an idea, a desire, etc. The New Testament condemns addictive, obsessive behavior as a spiritual abnormality.

The term “addiction” normally conveys a negative impression. It depicts an insatiable appetite, a craving that captivates a person and drives him to an enslaving indulgence. Like the mighty python that slowly but steadily coils around a victim until the life is gone, addictions commonly lead to destruction.

The term “addiction” usually is employed to depict an intense desire for something harmful, such as beverage-alcohol, tobacco products, various other recreational drugs, gambling, etc. But addictions also may involve an unhealthy obsession with matters not intrinsically evil, e.g., food, sex, sports, etc.

Paul dealt with the principle of addiction when he wrote: “All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The context deals with matters of expediency, e.g., the eating of meats (v. 13; cf. Romans 14:13ff). The apostle’s point is this: he will not allow his Christian liberty to make him a slave of anything! Liberty is not without its limits.

Two guiding truths must regulate even the use of things intrinsically good: (a) One must restrain himself in instances when his actions could be destructive to others. (b) Control must be exercised in the interest of one’s personal welfare. The Christian belongs to Christ and that truth must be paramount in one’s thinking.

There is a form of addiction, however, not as readily recognized. Paul alludes to it in 1 Timothy.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (6:3-5 ESV).

Of special interest in this context is the rendition, “unhealthy craving” (“doting” KJV, ASV). The Greek term noseo, meaning “sick,” is employed metaphorically for an “ailment of the mind” that possesses a person who has developed “such an interest in a thing” that it “amounts to a disease.”It is “a morbid fondness for” something (Thayer 1958, 419). The object of the sickly passion could be either a thing or an idea. The term is used in the Greek papyri to denote a “precarious condition” that could be fatal (Moulton and Milligan 1930, 430).

This was but one of the several symptoms, highlighted in Paul’s letters to Timothy, of a serious problem in the Ephesian church (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3-7, etc.). Some among these folks loved a good fight, so much so that they wrangled over insignificant words, rather than giving due attention to the “sound words” of Jesus Christ (i.e., the gospel). The apostle’s rebuke of these troublemakers is scathing. Among other things, such a one is a puffed-up, know-nothing (v. 4a).

The contentious teachers at Ephesus had a number of identifying traits, and their disposition is found in some within the church today—especially in those who are obsessed over unusual ideas or theories, and/or certain people that occupy a dominant place in their attention.

Obsessed with People

Some people are obsessed with personalities—either positively or negatively.

If it is a person with whom they are enchanted, they constantly talk about the person, idolize him, quote him, and take his every word as an “infallible revelation.” The hero’s opinion will take precedence over the plain testimony of the Bible. In some cases, these “cult” figures become the hub around which a new faction eventually forms. Numerous new congregations have been spawned out of such an environment. Some years ago the Boston Church, otherwise known as The International Church of Christ, was of this makeup. Eventually it imploded and now is scarcely noticeable.

On the other hand, some become fixated in their opposition to certain brothers. If a brother falls into disfavor with a few quasi-dignitaries of negativity, many of the “wanna-bes” pile on, while they let genuine villains fly under their radar. Their pathetic little bulletins are filled with caustic tirades. They are far more consumed with the object of their wrath than with Him who should be the focus of their devotion.

Obsessed with Projects

Some folks are project-consumed. Generally they are not interested in the larger program of the local church. Rather, they become project-oriented. The object of their obsession can vary: it could be a school, a radio or television program, a journal, some local church function, a personal project, etc.

The point is, they evolve such a compulsive drive toward the target of their interest that they become highly irritated with those who do not show the same level of zest toward their pet enterprise. Christians who are laboring in other areas, but not in theirs, become the focus of criticism. This is the type of unhealthy attitude that Paul addressed in his letter to Timothy.

Obsessed with Ideas

It is not uncommon to find unbalanced people who are utterly consumed with some heretical notion. When a peculiar theological “maggot” becomes embedded in their brains, they can neither think nor talk of anything else. All Bible passages remotely touching upon the general theme of their compulsion must be forced into harmony with their unique perspective.

For instance, scores of biblical passages are obsessively contorted to fit the theme of an earthly thousand-year reign of Christ—for which there is not a shred of support in the Bible. Regarding Revelation 20:1-6, Albert Barnes once observed:

It is admitted, on all hands, that this doctrine [millennialism], if contained in the Scriptures at all, is found in this one passage only. It is not pretended that there is, in any other place, a direct affirmation that this will literally occur, nor would the advocates for that opinion undertake to show that it is fairly implied in any other part of the Bible (1954, 428-429).

He goes on to quote the celebrated scholar, Moses Stuart (professor of sacred literature at Andover Seminary for many years), that there is:

not a word of Christ’s descent to the earth at the beginning of the millennium. Nothing of the literal assembling of the Jews in Palestine; nothing of the Messiah’s temporal reign on earth; nothing of the overflowing abundance of worldly peace and plenty (Ibid., 430-431; emphasis original).

Another example of “sick” theology is the dogma of radical preterism, the notion that all end-time events (e.g., the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment, and the end of the world) occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Many of those subscribing to this bizarre theory are totally consumed with it—even to the extent of destroying churches and/or joining forces with sectarians who are of the same persuasion.

Some are so issue-focused that they virtually have made careers of harping on their hobbies. Several appear to be consumed with the false notion that people may engage in “serial marriages,” that is, go from one relationship to another—with no temporal consequence. Adultery, they allege, is not a physical sex act; it merely is the breaking of the marital vow. According to these zealots, therefore, all that is required to transition from one mate to another, is to say, “I’m sorry I broke my previous covenant vow,” and then advance to the next companion. They “compass land and sea,” making converts to their doctrine of “sanctified adultery” (see Scott 1983, 21ff).

Others quite obviously are engulfed in the illusion that the church needs to be delivered from the clutches of an antiquated “fundamentalism.” Hence they vow to inform the Christian brotherhood that Moses did not author the Pentateuch, Isaiah did not write most of the book that bears his name, some of the New Testament documents are pseudonymous (e.g., Ephesians and 2 Peter; Holladay 2005, 412, 516), the Bible and the theory of evolution are not in conflict (Clayton 1990, 135), etc. The current obsessively liberal mood in several of Christian universities is absolutely beyond dispute.


Zeal is wonderful when properly directed (Titus 2:14); misguided, it becomes a destructive, addictive distraction (Romans 10:2).

  • Barnes, Albert. 1954 ed. Revelation. Notes on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
  • Clayton, John N. 1990. The Source: Eternal Design or Infinite Accident. South Bend, IN: Privately Published.
  • Holladay, Carl R. 2005. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.
  • Moulton, James Hope and George Milligan. 1930. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Scott, Truman. 1983. In: Divorce and Remarriage – A Study Discussion (a debate forum between Wayne Jackson and Truman Scott). Stockton, CA: Courier Publications.
  • Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.