Well, after our conversation yesterday we’re ready to dive in. To be honest, this is the sort of issue that could take about fifty directions, one of which would be to canvass the Old Testament on “wrath.” Readers of that First Testament, in John Goldingay’s terms, know just how prevalent wrath is in those pages. (I typed in “wrath” into the TNIV and found 160 hits in the OT.) Because I have no desire to do a series for months and months on this topic, I’ll examine enough references in the New Testament to give us all we need.
By the way, I just pulled down two books from my shelves — Vanhoozer’s exceptional The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible and John Corrie’s new Dictionary of Mission Theology. Neither of which had an entry on “wrath.”
What I will do is proceed by author through the New Testament and I will do so in a roughly chronological manner. Which means John’s Gospel will be treated later rather than earlier because its singular reference bears strong resemblance to the Apocalypse of John — but we’ll wait until then to examine how John uses the idea of wrath. So, I will begin with Jesus in the Synoptics, Paul, Hebrews and John.
And, to keep this from getting too big, we’ll focus on two words: wrath (thumos) and anger (orge). We could expand this dramatically by including every reference to any kind of historical judgment — eg Mark 13’s prediction of Jerusalem’s downfall — but we’ll only bring such texts in when necessary.
Matt 3:7 and Luke 3:7 — from the lips of John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ?You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (Matt)
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ?You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke)
JB believes God’s wrath is about to come upon the Land of Israel and its corrupt rulers (?). It is hard to know why, but one good suggestion is because Israel (John picks, as yoiu know, on Herod Antipas and on the Pharisees and Sadducees) has been unfaithful.
What does wrath mean here? To know the specifics, one has to assume the content of the Old Testament — so I would propose that John has in mind the impending doom on Israel at the level of a historical judgment (historical wrath). John’s language sounds like the OT prophets warnings of impending judgments on the nation, eg the Assyrian or Babylonian captivities. Which means John has in mind the Romans or something similar.
Is this “impersonal”? That is, is this just the inevitable, time-space, historical consequences of stupid complicities with Rome or is this an act of God? I think the old “impersonal” theory of wrath (AT Hanson and others) doesn’t cut it. Yes, historical wrath is the time-space consequences of stupid behaviors (take drugs, you suffer; suffering is then seen as God’s wrath for bad behaviors). But, if God made the world of consequences then historical wrath is also connected to God.
Is John’s usage “evangelistic”? Well, it might seem so at first, but I’m not so sure. Is John warning those who come to him to repent or experience God’s wrath? Not clear to me. What he is doing is showing surprise that Jewish leaders are coming to him for baptism and he asks them a simple question: Who warned you to flee from the wrath? That’s not quite an evangelistic usage but it’s close.
What do you think?