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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.
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 (
The divine wrath and the atonement.
The wrath of God works in two ways simultaneously, in that it delivers the oppressed (
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 (
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 roletakes on the titles and many of the images of the OT.
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 (
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 (
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" (