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WRATH. The concept of anger is used in the Scripture in regard to both God and man, and is a major doctrine of both the Jewish and Christian religions.

The wrath of God

It is a Biblical principle that the wrath of God is of a totally different order and definition than the wrath of man. Generally speaking the love of man is as far from the wrath of man as the wrath of man is from the wrath of God. The difference in kind between human and divine anger is so great as to be incalculable and human wrath is creaturely and subject to the creation ordinances of God.

Divine wrath in the OT.

The wrath of God is frequently presented in the OT, both in principle and in historical examples. It has a fundamental place in the presentation of the Biblical ground-motive of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration. The absolute necessity and consequence of redemption after the Fall is centered in the nature of iniquity and the demands and finality of the divine wrath.

OT terminology.

Means and ends of the divine wrath.

The means of the divine wrath are always some created agency of God’s will, His angelic hosts (2 Sam 24:17), His people of Israel (Ezek 32:9-31), Gentile nations (Isa 10:5, 6) and forces of nature at God’s command (Judg 5:20). Through the valid agency of these forces God brings about His just cause in the history of men and the course of nations. The ends like the means of His wrath are just and right. The end of God’s wrath is twofold: (1) The maintenance of the creation law order which demands justice. (2) Retribution to those who act wickedly. Throughout the activation in history of the divine wrath the objectivity and responsibility of the means are held strictly intact. The wrath of Jehovah is never unleashed for no purpose or for some mysterious outcome; the acts of God in justice are always clearly visible. The divine wrath is equally incensed at all evildoers whether among the covenant people or without among the Gentile and pagan nations. The kings, priests, prophets, tribes and people of Israel are judged and punished as well as the leaders and rulers of the nations (Ps 2:1-3). In the 19th cent., it was characteristic of the scholastic systematics of the time to make a spurious distinction between the sinner and his sinful act, and to then assume that the very real wrath of God was only vented upon the abstract notion of the sinner’s sin. The OT is clear, however, that iniquity does not exist apart from the iniquitous acts of the wicked. The judgment is therefore leveled upon the wicked creature. This is why the means and ends of God’s wrath often take the form of war and carnage. These distinctly human forms of violence and bloodshed are used for God’s glory. The general evolutionary humanism of the late 19th and 20th centuries has found this Biblical concept cruel and unaccepta ble, but its essential truth is seen in the course not only of Biblical but also post-Biblical history.

The divine wrath and the atonement.

The wrath of God works in two ways simultaneously, in that it delivers the oppressed (1 Sam 15:2, et al.) and condemns the wicked (Deut 7:4, 5). However, a basic part of the Biblical teaching concerning the wrath of God is that an atonement is offered to remove the wrath and justify the ungodly. This atonement in the OT is appropriated by the keeping of the law and trust in God’s promises (Ezek 36:22-32). Since the nations of the world are required to come to the covenant people of Israel for grace, the OT demands that Gentiles follow the law of Israel for mercy. The wrath of God then acts as a warning and an encouragement to human obedience. One special factor of the atonement in the OT is that it is consistently futurative. It presents the final removal of God’s wrath and the preservation of the atoned in terms of the great final day or days of God’s judgment. This eschatological aspect is associated with the OT teaching about the culmination of history in the “day” of God. The day of the divine visitation is primarily a day of wrath (Isa 2:12), but the same divine proclamation which shall bring damnation to the wicked will bring salvation upon His people (Isa 2:2-5). The most important term for this time is the Heb. בְּאַחֲרִ֣ית הַיָּמִ֗ים, “in the latter days,” the false hope of the wicked in their idolatries will prove futile (Ps 7:6-10).

Divine wrath in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.

The Apoc. and Pseudep. continue the theme of destruction upon the Gentile nations which have persecuted Israel (Pr Man 10ff.). The histories of the Apoc. look forward to a political messiahship and a restoration of the Davidic state. The Lord is the protector and victor for Israel (2 Macc 15:17-36.) The wisdom lit. is more eclectic and demonstrates certain syncretistic characteristics, so much so that Aristeas says: “It is necessary to acknowledge that God rules the whole world in the spirit of kindness and without anger of any sort” (254). But this is not typical of the older more traditional records. In the Apoc. and Pseudep. the wrath of God is more often than not directed in an almost mechanistic sense against some human oppressor (Jub 36:10) although in some passages the older prophetic message of God’s judgment upon an iniquitous Israel lingers on (4 Macc 4:21). An interest in the possible return of famous Biblical personalities is a feature of the Apoc. and Pseudep. generally and the mediatorship of Moses, Elijah or an angel in diverting the wrath of God is noted (Wisd Sol 18:21). No new interpretive ideas are added in either the Apoc. or the Pseudep.

Divine wrath in the DSS.

The same pattern of interpretation found in the Apoc. and Pseudep. is carried through in the DSS with some minor extensions, the main one being in the cursing of the nations by the Jews and the expectation of an outpouring of divine wrath. The “day of wrath” is seen as the day of the ultimate triumph of the armies of Israel. In effect, the whole of the scroll 1 QM is concerned with the ordering of the Lord’s army for the outpouring of wrath. In such scenes the Romans replace the Hel. kings as the accursed objects of God’s anger. The division between the blessed, the Jews, and the damned, the Gentile nations, is complete in the DSS with none of the redemptive promise of the OT, and little of the threats against the apostasy within the covenant. In fact, the institutional temple is also castigated because of its fealty to Rome. The wrath of God has become political retribution. This warlike pervasive nationalism utilizes the imagery of the crafts more than the emotional terminology. Terms for smelting, refining and dividing predominate (1QS 1:16; 4:20; 8:4; et al.). Here and there in the scrolls the Gnostic view of the secret, irrational induction to truth can be detected. The elaborate rituals, the dualistic concepts of the blessed and the accursed are basic to the coming of the “day of wrath” for the initiates will then be vindicated. There is nothing of this in either the OT, or the NT.

Divine wrath in the NT.

The NT supposes from its very beginning the end and fulfillment of the OT covenant. Therefore the wrath of God is understood with the ancient doctrines, but with a wholly new emphasis. The emphasis is that of obedience or submission to Christ. The anger of the final judgment is the anger of Christ. The nationalistic protection of the Jewish commonwealth by threats of divine wrath is totally absent from the gospel narratives. The reason is that the threefold promise has been kept and the Messiah of Israel is at hand. In this role Jesus Christ takes on the titles and many of the images of the OT.

NT terminology.

Christ and the divine wrath.

The wrath of man

Human wrath in the OT.

The OT allows no such thing as “righteous indignation” except in the clamor of battle. Unlike the other documents of antiquity, the spokesmen of the OT take no joy in human agony. The deprivation of the wicked and the captivity of the conqueror is lauded and the imprecatory psalms and poems are frequent enough, but the bloodthirsty recitations of the kingly conquests and the details of the tormenting of the captives, so much a feature of Assyro-Babylonian annals are totally lacking. The wrath of the OT is satisfied with the deprivation of life and the removal of the body to a place of burial, the ultimate vindication of righteous wrath lies beyond the grave and out of the realm of human realization (Job 13:15).

Human wrath in the NT.

The ultimate goal of the atonement is the glorification of the believer, but an essential part of its application is sanctification. Certain passages in the NT make it clear that lack of sanctification is the subject of divine wrath (Rom 6:1; Heb 10:29). The need for sanctification is put in terms of salvation from the wrath of God itself (Jude 23) and the position of the Christian is often likened to that of the people of Israel who in their travels in Sinai often turned their backs upon Jehovah and so fell under His wrath (Heb 3:14-4:1). It is made equally clear that sanctification is accomplished in the atonement and is applied by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Rom 7:13-25). It is in this latter regard that the few references to “justifiable anger” are made in Scripture. In the effort to obey the law of God and emulate the love of Christ, anger must be immediately reconciled. To be sure anger generated in a genuine hatred of evil is approved (Ps 97:10 et al.), and this theme is apparent in the NT writers. Certainly Paul’s remarks about his detractors (Gal 1:8 et al.) are prompted by anger. However, in its most justifiable state anger is still reprehensible and subject to the judgment of God.

The concept of wrath in the Early Church.

One of the major documents to survive from the period of the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers is the treatise of Lactantius (a.d. 260-320?) entitled, De ira Dei, “The Anger of God.” The argument of this small work deals with the problem of whether God can properly be “angry,” in the light that human emotions cannot be attributed to the Creator. He answers this with a discussion of the creatorship of God and the fact that to allow sin without retribution would be unthinkable. His works are scholastic and prolix and the general judgment of the ages has been contrary to his method, but approving of his motives and goals. The question was reasserted in the writings of the Medieval scholastics but fell again into a lesser interest in the post-Reformation period. Like other similar doctrines of the Christian faith it has been a center of attention in times of political turmoil and religious persecution and largely ignored in seasons of tranquility and relative well being. In the present cent. of total war its veracity and importance has again come to the fore.


Lactantius, “De ira Dei,” CSEL pt. 1, 2 (1897); R. V. G. Tasker, The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (1951); J. Gray, “The Wrath of God in Canaanite and Hebrew Literature,” Journal of the Manchester University Egyptian and Oriental Society, xxv (1954) 9-19; A. T. Hanson, The Wrath of the Lamb (1957); B. T. Dahlberg, “Wrath of God,” IDB vol. 4 (1962), 903-908.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Divine Wrath:

2. Human Wrath:

3. Divine Wrath Consistent with Love:

See Retribution, 5.

4. Righteous and Unrighteous Anger:

There is a sense, however, in which anger is the duty of man; he is to "hate evil" (Ps 97:10). It is not enough that God’s people should love righteousness, they must also be angry with sin (not the sinner). A man who is incapable of being angry at sin is at the same time thereby adjudged to be incapable of having a real love for righteousness. So there is a sense in which a man may be said to "be .... angry, and sin not" (Eph 4:26). Anger at the sin and unrighteousness of men, and because their sin is grievous to God, may be called a "righteous indignation." Such an indignation is attributed to Jesus when it is said that He "looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart" (Mr 3:5). When anger arises because of this condition, it is sinless, but when anger arises because of wounded or aggrieved personality or feelings, it is sinful and punishable. Anger, while very likely to become sinful, is not really sinful in itself.