How Does The Bible Define The Term Wrath?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

A word that is often seen in the Bible is the word wrath. Despite this, it is not a word that is commonly used by English speaking peoples today. In fact, the use of the word wrath over the last 25 years has not been any lower since just after the Pilgrims landed in America on Plymouth Rock in 1620 A.D. (1). However, it can be seen that the use of the term wrath coincides historically with the availability and knowledge of the Bible. For this reason, we will seek to learn how does the Bible define the term wrath?

The Bible describes wrath in three ways.

The Bible describes wrath in three ways.

What influenced the recent historical use of the Word wrath?

Prior to the time of the Pilgrims, except for a small increase in around 1600 A.D., the word wrath was hardly ever used. With the distribution of the King James Bible in the 1630s and 1640s, the word wrath saw its highest use. Likewise, another rise in use was seen in the early 1800s with the rise of the revival movements and public interest in end-times prophecies.

Only in the last 10 years, has the use of the word wrath begun to rise again. Recent world events have created a renewed interest in end-times prophecies. Many people are discovering that the Bible’s description of the future includes not only the wrath of man upon one another, but also the wrath of God upon the earth.

How is the word wrath commonly defined today?

The common definition of the word wrath is as follows (2): Wrath (noun): extreme anger (chiefly used for humorous or rhetorical effect). Origin: Old English wrǣththu, from wrāth (see wroth). This common definition describes how most people use the word wrath today, but the Bible does not use it for a “humorous or rhetorical effect.”

How does the Bible use the word wrath?

The Bible has three primary ways it uses the word wrath in English. However, each way that it is used comes from often-differing original language words (3).

Wrath as an expression of physical anger

The first use of the word wrath is in the traditional sense to convey the idea of being physically angry. In each case, there is physical anger that produces results based on the circumstances. We see this used as follows:

Genesis 39:19-20 – When Potiphar heard the false accusations from his wife that Joseph had tried to rape her he put Joseph in prison.

Genesis 32:9-10 – When the Lord told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites and build a new nation because of their stubbornness and disobedience.

Ephesians 4:17-27 – When Paul told the church in Ephesians to put off their old behaviors and put on new behaviors in how they relate to their neighbor and deal with anger so that they do not give Satan a foothold in their lives.

Ephesians 6:1-4 – When Paul told fathers in Ephesus not to provoke their children to become physically angry, but to raise them as a Godly parent should.

Wrath as an expression of man’s sinful anger

The second use of the word wrath is in the traditional sense to convey the idea of being sinfully angry and indignant. This type of wrath demonstrates the loss of control and results in wicked deeds being done. We see this used as follows:

Genesis 49:5-7 – When Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi for murderous rampage of wrath in avenging the rape of their sister Dinah (Genesis 34).

Proverbs 21:24 – When the Psalmist describes arrogant scorners as those who exhibit wrath motivated by pride.

Luke 4:24-30 – When Jesus preached in Nazareth and the congregation responded in wrath and tried to throw him off a cliff.

James 1:19-20 – When James described man’s wrath as not demonstrating righteousness by faith in God.

Wrath as an expression of God’s righteous anger

The final use of the word wrath is used to describe God’s righteousness. It is not based on emotional instability, but the execution of justice in a controlled and deliberate manner. We see this used as follows:

Deuteronomy 9:7-8 – When the Israelites rebelled against God in by worshipping a golden calf and rebelling against God (Deuteronomy 9:7-29).

Jeremiah 50:13 – When God spoke through Jeremiah that He would one day judge Babylon and redeem Israel.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 – When Paul told the church in Thessalonica of the coming resurrection and how it was not God’s plan for believers to suffer from His wrath in the tribulation period.

Revelation 19:15 – When John told of the second coming of Christ to pour out God’s wrath upon beast and false prophet and their followers that make war upon Israel in the end times.

What do we learn from the Bible’s use of the word wrath?

The Bible is clear to define wrath as not only the physical result of anger, but also as a righteous based wrath or an unrighteous based wrath. God’s wrath is righteous because it is not based on the selfish desires of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride. God’s wrath is controlled and measured based on His loving execution of justice.

Man’s wrath is based on the selfish desires of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride. Man’s wrath is not controlled because it is based on emotions and the desire to usurp God’s rightful authority to execute vengeance (Romans 12:14-21). Man’s wrath is the seventh and final level of anger that has gone beyond rational control and results in the destruction of someone or something to satisfy his man’s sinful desires instead of God’s righteous justice (James 1:19-20).

The Bible teaches us that we must rely upon the wisdom of God’s Word and the strength and leading of the Holy Spirit so that our anger is deferred to God for resolution and justice. If we do not do this, our anger will result in sinful wrath and give a foothold to Satan to destroy our fellowship and testimony amongst each other (Ephesians 4:1-3; Ephesians 4:26-27).

Conclusion

Today, the word wrath is beginning to be used more than before. However, most people use it in a way it was not intended. The Bible describes wrath in three ways: As a physical reaction of anger, as an expression of man’s sinful anger, and as an expression of God’s righteous anger. The Bible teaches us that we must rely upon the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to check our anger. This will enable us to make sure that our anger is not based on selfish lusts and does not result in sinful results.

Take a look at this article, which also discusses God’s wrath: What is the Tribulation Period?

Resources – Scripture quotations When are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Google. (2015). “Wrath”. Retrieved from Google Book Ngram viewer, https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=wrath&case _insensitive=on&year_start=1300&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cwrath%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bwrath%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BWrath%3B%2Cc0#t4%3B%2Cwrath%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs1%3B%3Bwrath%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BWrath%3B%2Cc0. (2) Google. (2015). “Wrath”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=wrath. (3) Williams, Michael, (2014). Biblical Anger Management. Albuquerque, NM: Selah Mountain Bible Institute

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