The issues surrounding the meaning of wrath came out of the woodwork last Friday. Today we continue our series of marching through NT texts that use the word “wrath.” As I said last Monday, the evidence could be easily multiplied to overflowing if we were to consider each and every passage with any implication for the meaning of wrath, but I am confident that all the issues are present in the references to either “anger” (thumos) or “wrath” (orge). We looked at John and Jesus last week; we turn now to Paul, who uses the word “wrath” 21x and it refers to God’s wrath 18x.
And, because our first reference introduces a long section, I’ll quote the whole:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God?s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die?yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Nothing like starting with a tough one!
Here’s my take: God has revealed his will; he has made his will known both through Torah and through natural revelation; God has made that will more particularly known in Jesus Christ.
Those who repudiate, reject, and suppress the truth God has made known to them — in whatever form or manner — are to know that God’s wrath is against such persons with such behaviors. Paul uses homosexual sexual behaviors as an example of (1) knowing the truth naturally and (2) not living according to that truth.
The meaning of repudiate can be found in verse 21: “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”
God’s wrath is embodied for such persons when God, after repeated warnings and appeals, turns such persons over to let life unravel and fall apart morally.
Those whom God has given over look like this: “they were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (29-30).
Wrath … in this text is the inevitable response of God’s jealous love and holiness; God makes human to relate to God, to self, to others, and to the world properly; when humans walk away from that God-designed purpose, God can and sometimes does let that person walk where that person would like to walk. No coercion.
Wrath here is more historical than it is either evangelistic or eternal.