What Is Wrath? - The Meaning of this Deadly Sin

According to the Bible, wrath is synonymous with anger as stated in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Explore the meaning of wrath and the wrath definition to better understand why it is condemned by the teachings of Christianity.

Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is Wrath? - The Meaning of this Deadly Sin

According to the Bible, wrath is synonymous with anger as stated in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Wrath is known as one of the deadly sins, but what makes it such a dangerous transgression? Let’s explore the meaning of wrath to better understand why it is condemned by the teachings of Christianity.

Nave's Topical Bible lists anger, judgment, and punishment as synonyms for wrath.

Meaning of Wrath

Wrath can be summarized as strong vengeful hatred or resentment. The warnings of wrath in Christianity arise from the consequences of vengeance in human relations. We can become consumed by rage and revenge to the point of acting irrationally and immorally. This is the wickedness of wrath and why it is included as a deadly sin.

In the Summa Theologiae, Medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas declared Anger is "the name of a passion. A passion of the sensitive appetite is good in so far as it is regulated by reason, whereas it is evil if it set the order of reason aside."

Because humans are flawed creatures, there will be times that we are mistreated by others in our life. While it is a natural reaction to be angered by this, we must stay vigilant to not become a slave to our emotions and instead respond in a rational manner as God commands. Let us recognize that God will judge all and serve justice upon those who trespass against us. Let the wrath of God serve retribution as Romans 12:19 states, "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord." 

Heed the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 

Bible Verses about Wrath

  • "Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end." Proverbs 29:11 
  • "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil." Psalm 37:8
  • "because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:20
  • “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Matthew 26:52
  • "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." Ephesians 4:31
  • "For he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." Romans 13:4
  • "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." Colossians 3:8
  • "I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them." Ezekiel 25:17

So if wrath is a sin, then what is the wrath of God?

Wrath of God

The meaning of the “Wrath of God” can be found in Baker’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

God is holy; he totally and completely distances himself from sin, evil, corruption, and the resultant filth and guilt. He maintains his purity and rejects, fights against, and destroys that which would offend, attack, or undo his holiness and love. Hence, God's anger and wrath must always be seen in relation to his maintaining and defending his attributes of love and holiness, as well as his righteousness and justice. The emotion or passion that moves God to this maintaining and defending is expressed by the terms "displeasure, " "indignation, " "anger, " and "wrath." A consequence of his wrath is vengeance, punishment, and death.

The wrath of God has been revealed throughout the entire history of humanity. It was implied when Adam was warned he would die if he disbelieved and disobeyed God ( Gen 2:17 ) and when he revealed that Satan's head would be crushed ( Gen 3:15 ) because of God's loving character, will, and purposes were challenged by Satan and Adam and Eve. God revealed the execution of his wrath when he drove Adam and Eve from Paradise ( Gen 3:24-25 ). God revealed his displeasure when, placing a curse on Cain, he banished him ( Gen 4:11 ). When he destroyed the cosmos by the flood God demonstrated the results of his grief and wrath with his image-bearers (Gen. 6-8).

The revelation of God's wrath was clearly demonstrated by means of the plagues of Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh's army. His anger and wrath also arose against Israel with whom he had covenanted when they worshiped the golden calf, and when they rebelled after hearing the report of ten of the twelve spies. Moses warned of the consequences of God's wrath for Israel if as a people they broke the covenant; because God's love was offended they would experience famine, defeat, exile, and death. The Chronicler referred to God's wrath repeatedly because Israel, God's covenant people, ignored, rejected, and spurned his love, his will, and their life with God-given blessings. The psalmists referred to the wrath of God against nations, against personal enemies, against the covenant people for their sin, and against the psalmists themselves. The prophets likewise prophesied concerning the wrath of God executed upon nations for their hatred of and destruction wreaked on the covenant people. The anger of God was demonstrated in the exile of Israel.

The wrath of God that the New Testament speaks of is to be expressed in judgments on a wicked, rebellious covenant people (Matthew 3:7), and upon those who refuse to believe in and accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Paul repeatedly warns about the wrath of God, from which people are to be saved (Romans 5:9). All people are under wrath, and the only way to escape this wrath, which is sure to be in full and fierce force in the judgment day, is to believe in Jesus Christ who bore the curse of the covenant and endured the wrath of God when he was crucified. This same Christ will execute divine wrath and vengeance to its fullest degree in judgment day (Revelations 6:16-17).

Bible Definitions of Wrath

1. Divine Wrath:

Wrath is used with reference to both God and man. When used of God it is to be understood that there is the complete absence of that caprice and unethical quality so prominent in the anger attributed to the gods of the heathen and to man. The divine wrath is to be regarded as the natural expression of the divine nature, which is absolute holiness, manifesting itself against the willful, high-handed, deliberate, inexcusable sin, and iniquity of mankind.

2. Human Wrath:

Wrath, when used of man, is the exhibition of an enraged sinful nature and is therefore always inexcusable. It is for this reason that man is forbidden to allow anger to display itself in his life. He is not to "give place unto wrath", nor must he allow "the sun to go down upon his wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). He must not be angry with his brother (Matthew 5:22), but seek agreement with him lest the judgment that will necessarily fall upon the wrathful be meted out to him (Matthew 5:25-26).

3. Divine Wrath Consistent with Love:

Wrath or anger, as pertaining to God, is very much more prominent in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. This is to be accounted for probably because the New Testament magnifies the grace and love of God as contrasted with His wrath; at least love is more prominent than wrath in the revelation and teaching of Christ and His apostles. Nevertheless, it must not be thought that the element of wrath, as a quality of the divine nature, is by any means overlooked in the New Testament because of the prominent place there given to love. On the contrary, the wrath of God is intensified because of the more wonderful manifestation of His grace, mercy, and love in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world.

Sources

Wrath, (Anger) Definition and Meaning - Bible Dictionary

Wrath of God - Meaning & Definition - Baker's Bible Dictionary

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Originally published March 25, 2019.