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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Anger (2)

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ANGER.—Anger is the instinctive resentment or reaction of the soul against anything which it regards as wrong or injurious. It is part of its equipment for self-preservation, and the promptitude and energy with which it comes into play are a fair measure of the soul’s power to protect itself from the evil which is in the world. If there is not an instant and indignant repulsion of evil, it creeps into the apathetic soul, and soon makes it not only its victim but its instrument. The child’s anger with the fire which burns him is in a sense irrational; but one true meaning and purpose of anger in the moral world is illustrated by it. It is the vehement repulsion of that which hurts, and there is no spiritual, as there is no natural, life without it.

An instinct, however, when we come into the world of freedom and responsibility, always needs education; and the radical character of the education required by the instinct of anger is apparent from the fact that the first thought of almost all men is that anger is a vice. Taking human nature as it is, and looking at the actual manifestations of anger, this is only too true. There is, as a rule, something vicious in them. They are self-regarding in a selfish way. Men are angry, as Aristotle puts it (Ethics, iv. 5, 7), on wrong grounds, or with the wrong people, or in a wrong way, or for too long a time. Their anger is natural, not spiritual; selfish, not guided by consideration of principle; the indulgence of a temper, not the staking of one’s being for a cause. In the NT itself there are far more warnings against anger than indications of its true place and function. Yet when we read the Gospels with the idea of anger in our minds, we can easily see that justice is done to it both as a virtue and a vice. There is a certain arbitrariness in trying to systematize the teaching of Jesus on this or on any other subject, but most of the matter can be introduced if we examine (1) the occasions on which Jesus Himself is represented as being angry; (2) those in which He expresses His judgment on moral questions with a vehemence which is undoubtedly inspired by indignation; and (3) those in which He gives express teaching about anger.

1. Occasions on which Jesus Himself is represented as being angry.—(a) The most explicit is Mark 3:5 ‘He looked round on them with anger (μετʼ ὀργῆς), being grieved (συνλυπούμενος) over the hardening of their heart.’ The objects of Christ’s anger here are the people in the synagogue, who maintained an obstinate and prejudiced silence when He asked them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ What roused His anger was partly their inhumanity, which eared nothing for the disablement of the man with the withered hand, but even more, perhaps, the misrepresentation of God of which they were guilty, when in His honour (as they would have it) they justified inhumanity on the Sabbath day. To be inhuman themselves was bad enough, but to impute the same inhumanity to the Heavenly Father was far worse, and the indignation of Jesus was visible as He looked round on them. He passionately resented their temper, and repelled it from Him with vehemence, as injurious at once to God and to man. Yet His indignation was expressed in one indignant glance (περιβλεψάμενος, aorist), while it was accompanied by a deep pain, which did not pass away (συνλυπούμενος, present), over the hardening of their heart. This combination, in which resentment of wrong is accompanied with a grief which makes the offender’s case one’s own, and seeks to win him by reaching the inner witness to God in his soul before insensibility has gone too far, is characteristic of Jesus, and is the test whether anger is Christian.

(b) The next occasion on which we see our Lord display an emotion akin to anger is found in Mark 10:13 ff. He was ‘moved with indignation’ ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ἠγανάκτησεν) when the disciples forbade the children to be brought to Him. The other instances in which the same word is used (Mark 10:41; Mark 14:4, Matthew 21:15, Luke 13:14) show that a natural feeling of being hurt or annoyed is what the word specifically means. The disciples should have known Him better than to do what they did: they wronged Him in forbidding the approach of the children. Hence doctrines and practices which refuse to children, and to the intellectually and morally immature in general, their place and interest in the kingdom of God, are proper subjects of resentment. In one aspect of it, the kingdom of God is a protest against nature, and to enter into it we must be born again; but in another, there is a real analogy between them; the order of nature is constituted with a view to the order of grace; man is made in God’s image and for God, and it is his true nature to welcome God; if the children are ‘suffered,’ and not forbidden, they will go to Jesus. They wrong God who deny this, and therefore the denial is to be resented.

(c) There is a striking passage in Luke (Luke 14:25 ff.), where, although anger is not mentioned, it is impossible not to feel that Jesus is speaking with a profound and even passionate resentment. ‘Great multitudes followed with him, and he turned, and said to them, If any man cometh to me, and hateth not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ Jesus was on His way to die; and it moved Him as an indignity, which He was entitled to resent, that on the very path to the cross He should be attended by a shallow throng who did not have it in them to do the slightest violence to themselves for the sake of the kingdom of God. The whole passage, in which the moral demands of discipleship are set at the highest, vibrates with indignation. To follow Christ is a great enterprise, like building a tower, or going to war; it requires the painful sacrifice of the tenderest natural affections, the renunciation of the most valued possessions; and when it is affected by people who have no moral salt in them—who could not win it from themselves to give up anything for God and His cause—the resentment of Jesus rises into scorn (Luke 14:34 f.). With all His love for men, there was a kind of man whom He did not shrink from describing as ‘good for nothing.’

(d) The last passage is that in which Jesus cleanses the Temple: Mark 11:15 and parallels. What stirred His indignation here was in part the profanity to which sacred places and their proper associations had lost all sacredness; in part, the covetousness which on the pretext of accommodating the pilgrims had turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves; in part, again, the inhumanity which, by instituting a market so noisy in the Court of the Gentiles, must have made worship for these less privileged seekers after God difficult, if not impossible. The text quoted in John 2:17 (Psalms 69:9), as remembered by the disciples in connexion with this event—‘the zeal of thy house shall eat me up’—sums up as well as anything could do the one characteristic which is never wanting in the anger of Jesus, and which alone renders anger just. It is jealousy for God—the identification of oneself with His cause and interest on earth, especially as it is represented in human beings, and resentment of everything which does it wrong.* [Note: In Matthew 21:31 Wellhausen adopts the reading ὁ ὕστερος instead of ὁ τρῶτος. This makes the Jews deride Jesus, instead of seriously answering Him; and Wellhausen, taking it so, finds in the words which follow—‘The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you’—not an explanation of the parable, but a Zornesausbruch, an outburst of wrath, which could hardly be cleared of petulance (Das Evangelium Matthaei, 106 f.). O. Holtzmann’s idea that Jesus cursed the fig-tree in a momentary fit of temper is only worth mentioning as a warning (see his Leben Jesu, p. 324).]

2. The occasions on which Jesus expresses His judgment on moral questions with a vehemence which is undoubtedly inspired by indignation.—Every moral judgment, of course, contains feeling it is not merely the expression of assent or dissent but of consent or resentment. We are all within the moral world, not outside of it; we cannot be spectators merely, but in every thought we are actors as well; to deny this is to deny that then is a moral world at all. Hence all dissent is condemnation, and all condemnation, if real, is resentment; but there are circumstances in which tin condemnation is so emphatic that the resentment becomes vivid and contagions, and it is illustrations of this that we wish to find in the life of Jesus.

(a) The most conspicuous is perhaps that which we find in the passage on σκάνδαλα (Matthew 18:6 f.). Jesus has taken a little child to rebuke the ambitious strife of the Twelve; but ‘these little ones who believe in me’ are not children, but the disciples generally (cf. Matthew 10:42). ‘To make one of them stumble’ (σκανδαλίζειν) is to perplex him, to put him out about Christ, to create misunderstanding and estrangement, such as we hear of for a time in the case of the Baptist (Matthew 11:2 ff.) and the Nazarenes (Matthew 13:57), and so to make his discipleship void. In a more general sense it means to mislead, or to be the cause that another falls into sin which his better conscience condemns. If we are to judge from His language, nothing ever moved Jesus to such passionate indignation as this. The sin of sins was that of leading others into sin, especially ‘the little ones’—the weak, the untaught, the easily perplexed and easily misled—whose hearts were otherwise naturally right with Him. Every word in Jesus’ sentence is laden with indignation: ‘Better for him that a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’ This anger of Jesus is exactly what is meant in the OT by ‘the jealousy of God,’ i.e. His love pledged to His own, and resenting with all the intensity of the Divine nature any wrong inflicted on them (cf. Zechariah 8:2 f.). Though anger is often sinful, the absence of anger may be due to the absence of love: and the man who can see the ‘little ones’ being made to stumble and who takes it quite coolly is very far from the kingdom of God.

(b) It is possibly an instance of this same indignation that we find in Matthew 16:23. Peter tempts Jesus to decline the cross—in other words, tries to make Him stumble at the will of the Father; and the indignant vehemence with which he is repelled—‘Get thee behind me, Satan’—shows how real the temptation was, and how a prompt and decisive resentment is the natural security in such trials. We have a right and a duty to be angry with the tempter.

(c) In the answer of Jesus to the Sadducees in Mark 12:24 ff. we have another light on what moved Him to indignation. In the scornful πολὺ πλανᾶσθε with which the discussion closes, resuming the πλανᾶσθε of Mark 12:24, Jesus’ resentment shines out. The question at issue, that of man’s immortality was a great and solemn question. It involved the whole character of God—what He was, and what in His power, His goodness, and His faithfulness He could and would do for the souls He had made in His own image. The Sadducees had tried to degrade it and make it ridiculous, and the indignation of Jesus is unmistakable. It is an example which justifies indignation with those who by unworthy controversial methods profane or render ridiculous subjects in which the dearest concernments of humanity are involved.

(d) To these passages may be added Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13 ff. The long series of woes is not merely a revelation of things which in the mind of Jesus are illegitimate, it is a revelation of the passionate resentment which these things evoke in Him. They are the things with which God is angry every day, and it is a sin in men if they can look at them without indignation. To keep people ignorant of religious truth, neither living by it ourselves, nor letting them do so (Matthew 23:13); to make piety or the pretence of it a cloak for avarice (Matthew 23:14, only introduced here from || Mark); to raise recruits for our own faction on the pretext of enlisting men for the kingdom of God (Matthew 23:15); to debauch the simple conscience by casuistical sophistries (Matthew 23:16-22); to destroy the sense of proportion in morals by making morality a matter of law in which all things stand on the same level (Matthew 23:23 f.); to put appearance above reality, and reduce life to a play, at once tragedy and farce (Matthew 23:25-28); to revive the spirit and renew the sins of the past, while we affect a pious horror of them, crucifying the living prophets while we build monuments to the martyred (Matthew 23:29 ff.): these are the things which made a storm of anger sweep over the soul of Jesus, and burst in this tremendous denunciation of His enemies. Yet it is entirely in keeping with the combination of ideas in Mark 3:5 (μετʼ ὀργῆςσυνλυπούμενος) when the Evangelist attaches to this our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37 ff., cf. Luke 13:34 f.). His anger does not extinguish His compassion, and if the city could be moved to repentance He would still gather her children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.

Putting the whole of the passages together, and generalizing from them, we may infer that the two things in human conduct which moved Jesus most quickly and deeply to anger, were (1) inhumanity, wrong done to the needs or rights of men; and (2) misrepresentation of God by professedly religious people, and especially by religious teachers. He stood in the world for the rights and interests, or, we may say, for the truth of God and of human nature; and His whole being reacted immediately and vehemently against all that did wrong to either.

3. Something may further be learned from the passages in which Jesus gives express teaching about anger.—(a) The chief of these is Matthew 5:21-27. Here our Lord interprets the sixth commandment for the citizens of the kingdom of God. It is not only the act of murder which is condemned, but the first movement of the passions which leads in that direction. ‘He who murders shall be liable to the judgment? I tell you, every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to the judgment.’ The reading εἰκῆ (‘without cause,’ temere) is no doubt erroneous here; but the introduction of it is rather a rhetorical than an exegetical blunder. As Tholuck observed, to bring in the idea that there is such a thing as lawful anger would only weaken the condemnation passed here upon such anger as men are familiar with in themselves and others; but after what has been said under (1) and (2), it does not need to be proved that there is a place for anger in the Christian in the world in which we live. What Jesus condemns here is not any kind of anger, but anger with a brother, which forgets that he is a brother, and that we have a brother’s duty to him; the anger which leads straight to contemptuous and insulting words (the ῥακά and μωρέ of Matthew 5:22), and ends in irreconcilable bitterness (Matthew 5:25 f.). Anger like this on the part of one Christian toward another is sin, and sin so deadly that no words could exaggerate the urgency of escape from it. No religions duty, not even the most sacred, can take precedence of the duty of reconciliation. If a man should be offering his gift at the altar—if he should actually be seated at the communion table with the communion cup in his hand, let him put it down, and go first, and get out of these angry relations with his brother, and then come and have fellowship with God (Matthew 5:23 f.). How can an angry man, with the temper of a quarrel in him, have communion with the God of peace? It is possible to raise casuistical questions in all such situations as are here supposed, but as these questions present themselves only to the spectators, not to the responsible actors, it is not worth while to raise them. The one duty insisted on here, as in the partly parallel passage in Matthew 18:15-18, is the duty of placability. The person who has suffered the wrong—that is, who is in the right, who is entitled to be angry—is for that very reason to take the initiative in reconciliation, and to bear the expense of it. That is how God deals with us, who have offended Him, and that is how we are to deal with those who offend us. There is to be no anger in the sense of a selfish resentment into which the bad passions of unregenerate human nature can pour themselves; and the lawful anger of the soul, whose wrong is a wrong done to the kingdom of God, will pass away at once when he who has done the wrong is brought to repentance. The penitence and the resentment are the guilty and the innocent index of the reality of the wrong; and each is as inevitable as the other if the Christian life is to be morally sincere.

(b) It is natural to take account here of the passage on retaliation and non-resistance in Matthew 5:38 ff. Anger seems to be unconditionally precluded by such a saying as, ‘Whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ It is difficult to believe that any one was ever struck on the face unjustly (as is assumed in the connexion) without resenting it, and just as difficult to believe that it would be for the good of humanity or of the kingdom of God that it should he so. But Jesus, who came to abolish one literalism, did not come to institute another. His words are never to be read as statutes, but as appeals to conscience. What He teaches in this place is that there is no limit to be laid down beforehand beyond which love is no longer to regulate the conduct of His disciples. No provocation can be so insulting, no demand can be so unjust, so irrational, so exasperating, as that His disciples shall be entitled to cast love overboard, and meet the world with weapons like its own. Love must to all extremities be the supreme and determining principle in their conduct, the same love, with the same interests in view, as that of their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:45); but no more in them than in Him does it exclude all manifestation of anger. What it does exclude is the selfish anger which is an alternative to love, not the Divine resentment which is a mode of love, and expresses its sense of the reality of wrong. If this died out of the world, society would swiftly rot to extinction; but the gospel, in the sense of the words, the example, and the spirit of Jesus, is so far from proscribing this that it is the greatest of all powers for keeping it alive. For those who have learned that where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, the literal interpretation of words like Matthew 5:39-42 is a combination of pedantry and fanaticism which no genius will ever make anything else than absurd.

Echoes of the teaching of Jesus on anger are probably to be traced at various points in the teaching of the Apostles. e.g. in Romans 12, a chapter which often recalls the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 12:18-21 are entirely in the key of Matthew 5:38 ff. ‘The wrath’ of Romans 12:19, to which Christians are to leave room, is the wrath of God which will be revealed at the last day. God has reserved for Himself (ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις, ἐγὼ ἀνταποδώσω) the vindication of the wronged, and they are not to forestall Him or take His work out of His hands; in the day of wrath, when His righteous judgment is revealed, all wrongs will be rectified; meanwhile, as Christ teaches, love is to rule all our conduct, and we must overcome evil with good. It is perhaps with a vague recollection of Matthew 5:23 f. that men are directed in 1 Timothy 2:8 to pray χωρἰς ὀργῆς: an angry man cannot pray. Accordingly a bishop must not be ὀργίλος, given to anger, or of an uncontrollable temper (Titus 1:7). Exhortations like those in Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, James 1:19, show that anger was known to the Church mainly in forms which the Christian conscience condemned. James 1:19 is particularly interesting, because it reminds us of the danger (in anger) of enlisting self in the service of God, calling on the old man to do what can be done only by the new: ‘The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.’ But though it is difficult, it need not be impossible that the wrath which a man feels, and under the impulse of which he expresses himself, should be, not ‘the wrath of man,’ but a Divine resentment of evil. The words of Matthew 18:6 or Matthew 23:13 ff. fell from human lips, but they are the expression and the instrument of the jealousy of God. To be angry without sin is difficult for men, but it is a difficult duty (Ephesians 4:26).

Apart from anything yet alluded to is the use of the verb ἐμβριμᾶσθαι to describe some kind of emotion in Jesus (Mark 1:43, Matthew 9:30, John 11:33; John 11:38). Ordinarily the word conveys the idea of indignation which cannot be repressed; but this, though found elsewhere in the Gospels (e.g. Mark 14:5), is not obviously appropriate in the passages quoted. In the first two it may be due to our Lord’s consciousness of the fact that the persons on whom He had conferred a great blessing were immediately going to disregard His command to keep silent about it; the sense of this put something severe and peremptory into His tones. In the last two it has been explained as expressing Jesus’ sense of the indignity of death; He resented, as something not properly belonging to the Divine idea of the world, such experiences as He was confronted with on the way to the grave of Lazarus. But this is precarious, and on the whole there is little stress to be laid on any inference we can draw from the use of ἐμβριμᾶσθαι in the Gospels.

Literature.—Butler, Sermons, viii., ix.; Law, Serious Call, ch. xxi.; Seeley, Ecce Homo, chs. xxi.–xxiii.; Dale, Atonement7 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 338 ff.; Expos. Times, iv. [1893], pp. 256 ff., 492 ff.; Expositor, 1st ser. i. [1875], 133 ff.

James Denney.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Anger (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/anger-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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