Anger is a complex emotion that arises in most people at some point. When reading the Bible, references to anger often stand out. But what exactly is biblical anger? Getting insight into anger in the Bible can help us better understand this emotion.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Anger in the Bible refers to a strong emotional reaction, usually to injustice, evil, or sin. It can be righteous when directed appropriately or sinful when uncontrolled or misdirected.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the complexity of anger in the Bible. We’ll look at various examples of righteous and sinful anger, examine what the Bible teaches about controlling anger, and summarize key points to remember.
Defining Anger in the Bible
An Emotion Created by God
The Bible teaches that all human emotions, including anger, were created by God. Anger is not inherently sinful, but rather a natural human response. Scriptures like Ephesians 4:26 instruct believers, “In your anger do not sin.”
This implies anger itself is not a sin, but it can lead to sin when not properly controlled.
God Himself demonstrates righteous anger many times in Scripture when His holiness and justice are affronted. For example, we read that Jesus displayed anger when confronting the money changers who were profiteering in the temple courts (Matthew 21:12-13).
His anger revealed His passion for the sanctity of God’s house.
Can Be Righteous or Sinful
The Bible describes two main types of human anger:
- Righteous anger – Anger over injustice, sin and moral failing is legitimate. However, believers are urged to express it in a controlled constructive manner.
- Sinful anger – Unrighteous anger that is selfish, uncontrolled, vengeful or abusive is clearly prohibited (Galatians 5:20). It often stems from pride and unmet desires.
Examples of sinful anger would include domestic abuse, violence, resentment, and holding grudges. These should have no place in a Christian’s life.
For more on this topic, check out the helpful article on GotQuestions.org.
Examples of Righteous Anger
Jesus and Money Changers
One famous example of righteous anger in the Bible is when Jesus drove out the money changers and merchants from the temple courts. This event is recorded in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-17.
Jesus was furious that the temple courts, which were meant to be a place of worship and prayer, had been turned into a marketplace.
In a remarkable display of anger, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and dove sellers and drove them out with a whip. He declared “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers'” (Matthew 21:13).
Though visibly angry, Jesus’ anger came from a desire to see the purity of worship upheld in the temple.
Moses and the Golden Calf
Another episode of righteous anger transpired when Moses returned from Mount Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf idol (Exodus 32:7-14, 19-20). The people had already forgotten God who delivered them out of slavery in Egypt.
Moses burned with angry wrath over their idolatry and interceded for them before God. He then ground the calf into powder, scattered it in water, and made the people drink it. Though extreme, Moses’ anger stemmed from a jealousy for God’s glory and desire for Israel to worship the one true God.
Prophets Condemning Injustice
The Biblical prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah frequently confronted the injustice done in Israelite society. Much of their message conveyed God’s righteous anger over the inequity, violence, and oppression happening in the land.
For example, Amos cried out against those who “sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” and “trample on the heads of the poor” (Amos 2:6-7). He pronounced coming judgment on Israel for its rampant social injustice.
The anger the prophets expressed stemmed from the heart of God. As His spokesmen, they channeled God’s perfect standard of justice and genuine care for the downtrodden.
Examples of Sinful Anger
Cain and Abel
The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 shows an early example of sinful anger leading to further sin. When God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s, Cain became furious. God warned Cain that “sin is crouching at your door” but Cain still murdered his brother Abel out of anger (Genesis 4:7-8).
This first recorded act of anger in the Bible led to a brother’s death.
Saul’s Jealousy of David
Another example is King Saul’s anger toward David in 1 Samuel. Though David was loyal and served Saul well, Saul became irrationally jealous of David’s successes. Saul threw a spear at David twice out of rage (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 19:9-10).
His anger stemmed from jealousy and pride, not righteous indignation. Ultimately it cost Saul both his relationship with David and later his kingship.
Jonah and the Lord’s Compassion
The book of Jonah shows the prophet angry at God’s compassion toward the people of Ninevah. When God decided not to destroy Ninevah after they repented, Jonah became bitter and angry (Jonah 4:1-4). His anger revealed a heart lacking God’s mercy.
The book ends by showing God’s gentle correction and amazing patience for Jonah in his fit of temper. God rebuked Jonah’s sinful attitude by offering an object lesson through a shade plant.
These stories reveal the self-centered, jealous and prideful roots of sinful human anger. They contrast sharply with God’s mercy and highlight principles for keeping anger constructive rather than destructive in current relationships.
Wise authors across the web like anger management counselor Jennifer Chesak provide helpful tips for overcoming unhealthy anger based on these timeless examples from Scripture.
Be Slow to Anger
Anger is a normal human emotion, but it can be destructive if not handled properly. The Bible advises us to be “slow to anger” (Proverbs 15:18). This means taking time to process our feelings before reacting.
Count to 10, take some deep breaths, go for a walk – create space between the trigger and your response. As James 1:19-20 states, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
By being slow to anger, we can avoid saying or doing things in the heat of the moment that we might later regret. It gives us time to calm down, reflect, and choose constructive ways to address issues. Impulsive reactions often only escalate conflicts.
Patience and thoughtfulness pave the way for resolutions.
Channel Energy into Good
The energy of anger does not have to lead to harm. Ephesians 4:26-27 advises, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” While anger itself is not sinful, it can easily lead us into sinful words or actions.
The solution is to channel that energy into positive action instead.
We can release anger through exercise, art, music, or spiritual practices like prayer and meditation. When disagreements arise, we can have sincere and thoughtful discussions to build understanding. Anger can motivate us to stand up against injustice and work for meaningful change in society.
As the saying goes, “Stay angry, but sin not.” Maintaining empathy and compassion should remain paramount.
Seek Peace and Reconciliation
The Bible extols the virtues of peace, forgiveness, and restoration of relationships. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Going a step beyond avoiding angry outbursts, we can actively pursue peace through open and gracious communication.
Admitting when we are wrong or misguided can calm tense interactions. Offering sincere apologies for hurtful words or actions, regardless of intent, promotes healing.
Philippians 4:2 encourages us to agree in the Lord. Even in the midst of anger, we can look for areas of common ground and shared hopes. Colossians 3:12-14 urges us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Releasing grudges and making amends are challenging but worthwhile endeavors on the path of spiritual growth.
Here are some key takeaways about anger in the Bible:
Anger is a natural human emotion
The Bible recognizes that anger is a natural human emotion that everyone experiences at times (Ephesians 4:26). However, the Bible teaches that anger becomes sinful when it is selfish, hateful, unrestrained, or allowed to linger.
We must be slow to anger
The Bible encourages us to be patient, slow to anger, and quick to listen (James 1:19-20). Losing your temper easily or staying angry for a long time is not the example Jesus set for us.
Anger can lead to sin
Unresolved anger often leads to bitterness, resentment, and sinful words or actions (Ephesians 4:31). The Bible warns that we should take care of anger before it escalates into something more serious.
Anger hinders relationships
Anger damages relationships with other people (Proverbs 15:18). It divides people and pushes them away rather than drawing them together. Uncontrolled anger almost always makes situations worse.
We must forgive others
To overcome anger, we need to learn to forgive others as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). Holding on to anger and grudges leads to a bitter and resentful heart.
Jesus Christ controls anger
As Christians, we have the power through Christ to control anger and respond in a loving way (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit can transform an angry temperament when we yield to Him.
Anger is a God-given emotion meant for righteous purposes when properly directed. Yet the Bible also contains many examples of harmful expressions of anger born out of selfish desires. As we seek to understand anger in the Bible, we must reflect on our own hearts and ask God to shape our emotions and responses to be more in line with His.