- Human anger.—Except by the stoical mind which finds no place for strong emotion in a moral scheme, anger has been recognized as a quality which, under certain conditions and within certain limits, may not only be permissible but commendable. Its ready abuse has, however, led to its being commonly placed among the evils of human nature. The teaching of the early Christian Church recognizes both aspects. Condemnation of the abuse of anger is not wanting in the apostolic writings. Among the manifest works of the flesh are enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths (θυμοί), factions (Gal 5:20). St. Paul fears lest he shall find these evils in the Church when he comes to Corinth (2 Co 12:20). One of the marks of the greatest of Christian virtues is that it ‘does not blaze forth in passionate anger’ (οὐ παροζύνεται [1 Co 13:5]). In Christian circles, all bitterness and wrath and anger must be put away (Eph 4:13; cf. Col 3:8). The holy hands lifted up in prayer must be unstained with anger and strife (1 Ti 2:8). The ‘bishop’ must be blameless, as God’s steward, not self-willed, not soon angry (Tit 1:7). St. James bids his readers be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (1:19, 20). ‘Be not prone to anger,’ says the Didache (iii. 2), ‘for anger leadeth to murder: nor a zealot, nor contentious, nor quick-tempered, for murder also is the outcome of those.’
On the other hand, Christian morality recognizes a righteous anger. The section of the Sermon on the Mount which teaches that whosoever is angry with his brother is in danger of the judgment (Mt 5:21f.) is primarily aimed at something other than passion—it is an emphatic condemnation of the spirit which despises and seeks to injure a brother. The violation of the law of brotherly love, manifest in the anger of Mt 5:22, might, indeed, provoke a legitimate wrath, e.g. in the series of woes, terrible in intensity of language, pronounced by Jesus against the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:13ff.). We should hesitate to acknowledge a man as morally and spiritually great who could remain unmoved in the presence of the world’s wrongs. The early preachers would have been poor souls had they been able to hide their indignation at the murderers of Jesus (Ac 3:13, 14; 5:30; 7:51f.). Could Peter well have been calm with Ananias and Sapphira (Ac 5:1), and later, with the commercially-minded, religious adventurer, Simon Magus (8:20f.)? A certain principle of discrimination seems, however, to have been observed. Anger at personal insult or persecution was discouraged.
Anger provoked by personal injury may have a protective value in a lower stage of the world’s life, but the attitude of Christian ethics to this type is governed by the law of non-resistance laid down by the Sermon on the Mount. Man must return good for evil, show kindness to his enemy, leave retribution to God (Ro 12:19, 20). St. Paul claims that, ‘when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we bear it patiently; when slandered, we try to conciliate’ (1 Co 4:12), thus following the example of Jesus (1 P 2:23). One is tempted to regard the apology which followed the momentary outburst of St. Paul’s passion against the high priest (Ac 23:3) as an expression of the Apostle’s principles of non-resistance rather than as an acknowledgment of priestly rights.
But there is an altogether different attitude when that which is to be defended is a righteous principle, a weaker brother, or the faith or ethical standard of the Church. Elymas, the sorcerer, seeking to hinder a work of grace, provokes a vigorous anger (Ac 13:10, 11). On behalf of the purity of faith St. Paul resists St. Peter to the face (Gal 2:11). The Epistle to the Galatians is a piece of passionate writing, and a note of indignation runs through, the later chapters of 2 Cor. (cf. 1 Co 1:14; 5:5, etc.). The man who does not love the Lord Jesus, or the one who preaches a false gospel, let him be accursed—ἀνάθεμα (1 Co 16:22). The indignation (ἀγανάκτησις) of the Corinthian Church against the guilty person in the case of immorality, to which St. Paul has drawn attention, is commended by him (2 Co 7:11).
Similarly, the Church at Ephesus is congratulated on its hatred of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6). St. Paul ‘burns’ if another is ‘made to stumble’ (2 Co 11:29). In these instances, anger seems to have been regarded as compatible with, and indeed expressive of, Christian character. The obvious danger of mistaken zeal for a cause or creed must, however, be kept in mind. The case of St. Paul’s early life provides an illustration (Gal 1:13, Ph 3:6). There may be a zeal for God, not according to knowledge (Ro 10:2).
But even legitimate anger may readily pass into a sin. Passions beyond the control of the rational self can hardly be justified, whatever the cause. Self-control is a cardinal Christian virtue. Hence the apostolic caution of Eph 4:26, ‘Be ye angry and sin not,’ i.e. if angry, as one may rightly be, do not allow the passion to become an evil by its excess. The wrath against which the warning is given seems indicated by the following clause—‘let not the sun go down on your παροργισμός’ (‘a noun which differs from ὀργή in denoting, not the disposition of anger, or anger in a lasting mood, but exasperation, sudden violent anger’ [Salmond]). There is no reference to deliberate indignation on a matter of principle, such as the resentment which, the author of Ecce Homo claims, was felt by Jesus towards the Pharisees to the end of His life.
- Divine anger.—Most minds must have felt the objection expressed by Origen, Augustine, and the Neo-Platonist theologians generally, that we cannot treat the Supreme as a magnified man and attribute to Him such perturbation of mind as is suggested to us by the term ‘anger.’ But we may allow—and must do so unless we are prepared to deny personality in God—that the quality, which we find expressed under human conditions as the righteous anger of a good man, must exist in God, although in a form which we cannot adequately conceive, owing to our inability to realize absolute conditions. We may be helped to some extent by recognizing that behind the human agitations of personality in love, pity, indignation, etc., there are certain principles and attitudes which no more depend for their quality on the element of agitation than the existence of steam depends upon the appearance of white vapour which we ordinarily associate with it. This underlying quality we may attribute to the Deity, in whom life and personality, here expressed only in finite and conditioned forms, have their perfect and unconditioned being (Lotze).
The objection that anger, unlike love, is unworthy of the highest moral personality (Marcion) may be met by the answer that Divine love and anger are not two opposing principles, but expressions of the one attitude towards contrary sets of human circumstances. The Divine anger is actually involved in the Divine love (Tertullian, Martensen, etc.). The one Lord whose name is Truth and Love is, because of this, a consuming flame to Wrong (He 10:31; 12:29).
The idea of the ‘Divine anger’—this attitude of Deity towards certain courses of human life—is a justifiable inference from the intuitions of conscience, but another and an unsound argument played a part in the historical formation of the doctrine. In the early stages of religious thought the conception of the wrath of God would naturally come to men’s minds from contemplation of the ills of human life. The chieftain punished those with whom he was angry, either by direct action or by withholding his protection.
Did not, then, physical calamities, pestilences, reverses of fortune, defeat in battle, indicate the displeasure of Deity (Jos 7, 2 S 21:1; 24, etc.)? Such misfortune, when no ethical cause could be recognized, would encourage the doctrine of unwitting and non-ethical offences (e.g. the violation of tabu) and of non-ethical propitiation. The ills of life—especially death—suggested later a world lying under a curse, due to Adam’s sin. Against the popular doctrine that misfortune indicated Divine displeasure, the Book of Job is a protest. Human suffering has educative values, and does not necessarily indicate the disapproval of God (He 12:5f.).
Yet even in early times the idea of the Divine anger did not rest wholly on the facts of human suffering. Men realized that the world, as they found it, was not in harmony with their conceptions of the Highest, and thus in times of prosperity, which, according to this theory, would indicate God’s contentment with His people, prophets such as Amos argued for coming doom. From the consciousness of the holiness of God it was inferred that there must be Divine displeasure.
The turning away of the Divine anger.—Two attitudes in regard to this problem appear among the Hebrews, even as early as the 8th cent. b.c. The prophets of that period ‘do not recognize the need of any means of reconciliation with God after estrangement by sin other than repentance’ (Hos 14:2, Am 5:22–24, Is 1:13, 17, Mic 6:6–8). On the other hand, while repentance was always insisted upon by Israel’s religious teachers, there was a tendency to assert the need of supplementary means in order to bring about the reconciliation of God and man.
The conception may have originated in the practice of offering a propitiatory gift or legal compensation to an outraged person (Gn 20:16; 32:13; cf. 1 S 26:19, 2 S 24:18f.), or in the primitive view of sin as having a material existence of its own which called for an appropriate ritual treatment beyond the mental change of repentance, or in the customs of Levitical ‘sin-offerings,’ which, although originally made in view of ceremonial faults, for which ethical repentance was strictly impossible, must have come to suggest that, in addition to repentance, a sacrificial operation was needful even in cases of moral transgression.
From the period of the Exile, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and especially the sufferings of the righteous, were regarded as substitutes for material sacrifices (see art. ‘Atonement’ in JE). Is 53 is the ‘earliest expression of a conception [viz. the atoning value of the sufferings of pious men] which attained wide development in later times and constantly meets us in the teaching of the Jewish synagogues’ (O. Whitehouse). One of the seven brothers, during the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, prays that ‘in me and my brothers, the wrath of the Almighty may be appeased’ (2 Mac 7:38). 4 Mac 6:29 gives a prayer, ‘Let my blood serve for purification, and as an equivalent for their life (ἀντίψυχον) take my own’ (cf. 4 Mac 1:11; 9:24; 17:20–22; 18:4). These passages supply an interesting link between the old Leviticism and the NT doctrine of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
The doctrine of propitiation receives no support from the teaching of Jesus as given in the Synoptics. Repentance and new life are the conditions of the restoration of the Divine favour. Jesus does not appear to have ever taught that reconciliation depended upon His own death as a propitiation (see DCG, art. ‘Sacrifice’), although He did teach that the spiritual ministration involved suffering and sacrifice, so that the death of Jesus might be figuratively regarded as a ‘ransom for many’ (Mk 10:35–45). Moreover, the teaching of Jesus is not favourable to the view that legal right claims a compensation beyond repentance, before the Father will forgive. The moral of the parables of the Prodigal and the Labourers (cf. Lk 23:43) is that forensic conceptions are altogether inappropriate in the religions sphere. Harmony with God is a matter of altitude, not of purchase or compensation.
The teaching of the Acts of the Apostles agrees with that of the Synoptics. There is no hint in the early preaching of the Church, as recorded in this work, of a propitiatory value in the death of Jesus. Jesus is, indeed, described as a ‘Saviour,’ but in the sense that He gives ‘repentance to Israel and remission of sins’ (Ac 5:31), i.e. He is able to bring about a change in the hearts of men, and, in accordance with prophetic teaching, pardon follows repentance (cf. the description of the preaching of the Baptist, as that of ‘repentance unto remission of sins,’ Mk 1:4).
But, with the exception of the authors of the Synoptics, the Acts, and the Epistle of James, the writers of the NT are strongly influenced by the propitiatory theory of the death of Jesus. The passage of the ‘Suffering Servant’ (Is 53:4f., 10f.) suggested a doctrine which seemed to throw light upon the ignominious death of Jesus upon the Cross. The ‘stumbling-block’ to the Jewish mind became the Christian’s boast. How the sacrifice was regarded as operating is not clear—the analogy of Levitical blood sacrifices was evidently sometimes in the mind of the writers (Ro 3:25, 1 P 1:19, Jn 1:29, etc.). St. Paul also holds the idea that the death of Jesus is a sign of His human submission to the elemental world-powers of darkness, who, since Adam, have held the world under their grievous rule (HDB, art. ‘Elements’; also Wrede, Paul, Eng. tr., 1907, p. 95).
But, being more than man, He rises from the dead. The Resurrection is a sign that Death—one of the elemental principalities and powers, and representative of the rest—has no longer dominion over Him (Ro 6:9), or over those in ‘faith’ union with Him. But these ‘world-powers of darkness,’ whose dues the death of Jesus was conceived as satisfying, are but a thinly disguised form of God’s retribution for Adam’s sin.
Ultimately the propitiation is still made to God, although the emphasis is drawn from the wrath of God to the love which inspired the propitiatory action (cf. Jn 3:16, Ro 3:25; 5:8, etc.). From this point, St. Paul follows the anti-legal teaching of Jesus in asserting that ‘justification’—right relations with God—depends on the new attitude of ‘faith,’ not on ‘works’; but legalism with St. Paul must be satisfied by the prior transaction of Jesus on the Cross.
The difficulty in the doctrine of propitiation does not lie in the fact that no ultimate distinction can be made between the Power to whom propitiation is offered and the God of love who offers it. Independently of the interests of this particular doctrine, we must accept the paradox that the same God who works under the limitation of law ordains the law which limits Him. But we cannot accept the interpretation of the death of Jesus as an exalted Levitical blood sacrifice, or as a transaction with the ‘world-powers of darkness,’ nor can we be satisfied with a presentation of an angry God, who needs compensation or some mollifying gift before He will turn away the fierceness of His wrath.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart He will not despise (Ps 51:17). It would seem more satisfactory to follow the suggestions of the Synoptics and the Acts, and find the reconciling work of Jesus, as directed not towards God, but towards men, bringing about in them a repentance which makes possible their harmonious relations with the Father.
The death of Jesus may be regarded partly as a vicarious sacrifice of the order recognized in the Synoptic—suffering and self-denial for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for conscience, and men’s uplifting. The justification of this law of sacrifice (‘Ever by losses the right must gain, Every good have its birth of pain’ [Whittier, The Preacher]) is that it makes possible the expression of moral qualities. In order that love may have significance, it must pay a price—must be written upon a hard resisting world, as labour and self-denial. This demand of law is obviously not indicative of Divine displeasure or opposition.
The death of Jesus may also be regarded as part of the penalty of human sin. If men had not been selfish, hypocritical, apathetic to goodness and justice, there would not have been the tragedy on Calvary. In virtue of race solidarity, the sins of an evil and adulterous generation fell upon Him. This dark law—that the innocent must suffer the results of transgression along with the guilty—has an educative value in demonstrating the evil and disastrous nature of sin, which is doubly terrible since the suffering which it creates falls upon the just as well as upon the unjust, sometimes even more upon the former than upon the latter.
The penalty of sin indicates the Divine displeasure towards sin, but not necessarily towards those who pay the penalty, for obviously God cannot be conceived as being angry with innocent sufferers, involved in the results of others’ sins. Neither must we regard God as angry with a repentant sinner because he continues to reap what he has sown. The forgiveness of sin is distinct from the cancelling of its results, which, in accordance with educative moral law, must run their course.
One’s trust in the forgiveness of God rests upon the sense of the divinity of human forgiveness—‘By all that He requires of me, I know what God Himself most be’ (Whittier, Revelation). If we must judge the anger of God from the righteous indignation of a good man, we cannot think of His cherishing any vindictiveness, or needing any propitiation to induce Him to forgive, when the sinner seeks His face. Nor can a view of reconciliation held by the most sternly ethical of the OT prophets, and by the purest soul of the NT, be considered as weakening the sense of sin, and minimizing the grace of pardon.
The Day of Wrath.—From the time of Amos, OT prophetism had conceived a darker side to Israel’s still more ancient conception of the Day of the Lord. It would be a time when human wrongdoing, much of which was apparently overlooked in this age, would receive its sure reward, although genuine repentance would apparently avert the coming anger (Jl 2, Am 5:4ff., Jer 18:8). That ‘great and notable Day’ (Ac 2:20), with its darker aspects, entered largely into NT thought (Mt 3:7; 7:22, Lk 10:12, 2 Th 1:8f., etc.). It is to this coming Dies Iræ that the actual term ‘wrath of God’ (ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ) is almost uniformly applied by NT writers.
Some of the Divine indignation may be manifested in the present operation of moral law—the penalties experienced by the ungodly heathen seem to be part of the Divine wrath which ‘is being revealed’ (ἀποκαλύπτεται) from heaven (Ro 1:18f.); and, according to 13:4, the temporal ruler punishing evil-doers is ‘a minister of God, an avenger for (Divine) wrath,’ i.e. a human instrument carrying out in this age the Divine retribution. But the emphasis is upon ‘the wrath to come.’ In the present age, moral law only imperfectly operates.
The sinner is treasuring up for himself ‘wrath in the day of wrath’ (Ro 2:5), when upon every soul that worketh evil shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish (v. 9; cf. Rev 11:18; 6:16, 17, where the Divine anger is spoken of as ‘the wrath of the Lamb’). Repentance before the Day of Wrath will save one from the coming doom (Ac 2:21, 38, 40, Eph 2:3), and the provision of these days of grace modifies the conception of the Divine sternness (Ro 9:22). The ‘Law,’ in making transgression possible, ‘worketh wrath’ (Ro 4:15), but Christ, by His reconciliation of man and God, delivers the believer from the ‘wrath to come’ (1 Th 1:10; 5:9).
The NT significance of ὀργὴ θεοῦ is illustrated in Ro 5:9, where St. Paul argues from the fact of present reconciliation with God that the saints will be delivered from the ‘wrath of God.’ Even where the Divine anger is described as having already had its manifestation, the reference may really be eschatological (Ritschl). The aorist of 1 Th 2:16 (ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς ἡ ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος) seems to indicate that, in the Apostle’s judgment, some historical manifestation or God’s wrath upon the Jews has already taken place, but St. Paul may regard such an indication of the Divine anger as the preliminary movements of the Day of Wrath. The clouds were already gathering for that consummation which the Apostle was expecting in his own lifetime (1 Th 4:15).
Literature.—A. Ritschl, de Ira Dei, Bonn, 1859, Justification and Atonement, Eng. tr., Edinburgh, 1900; R. W. Dale, The Atonement7, London, 1878; D. W. Simon, Redemption of Man2, do. 1906; O. Lodge, Man and the Universe, do. 1908. chs. 7 and 8; P. Gardner, Exploratio Evangelica, do. 1899, chs. 29, 31. For human anger: J. Butler’s Sermons, 8 and 9; J. R. Seeley, Ecce Homo, 1866, pp. 21–23; Tolstoi, Essays and Letters, ch. 12.
JE Jewish Encyclopedia.
DCG Dict. of Christ and the Gospels.
HDB Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible (5 vols.).