Overheard on a Christian Radio station this morning:

We all know that Jesus said if we are angry without cause, we are in danger of hellfire, and that the Bible tells us to be slow to anger. But did you know that there are situations in which the Bible says we are supposed to be angry?

Unfortunately, I couldn't listen to the program being advertised, so I'll ask it here. Where, in Scripture are we told to be angry, and about what is it OK to be angry? What is the "cause" that is acceptable if we aren't supposed to be angry "without cause". Please include Scripture references. If applicable, links or comments from official/recognized teachings would be a good addition, particularly if the Scripture reference could be interpreted multiple ways.

  • Good question. I've provided a Catholic answer. Can't say Catholics are the jolliest of people though ... so, maybe we like to justify ourselves, eh? – svidgen Feb 6 '13 at 3:52

Anger is one of the passions, according to the Catholic Church. The passions are morally neutral, as they originate in flesh beyond our will. The moral value of each passion is assigned by our response to it, taking into account our ability to contain, control, or direct the passion for good.

These involuntary motions of the passions are neither morally good nor morally bad. They become voluntary in two ways:

  • by the command of the will, which can command the inferior powers of the sensitive appetite and excite its emotions;
  • by nonresistance, for the will can resist by refusing its consent to their promptings, and it is bound to resist when their promptings are irrational and inordinate. When voluntary, the passions may increase the intensity of the acts of the will, but they may also lessen their morality by affecting its freedom. (Passions)

Anger, in particular, is taught to be praiseworthy and justifiable with proper zeal.

The desire of vengeance. Its ethical rating depends upon the quality of the vengeance and the quantity of the passion. When these are in conformity with the prescriptions of balanced reason, anger is not a sin. It is rather a praiseworthy thing and justifiable with a proper zeal. It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive. (Anger)

And with respect to anger specifically, there are two scriptural passages that contrast with each other, giving us a fuller picture:

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. (Matthew 21:12-17)

Now, a brief commentary on this passage: The scripture doesn't directly state that Jesus is angry. And while it actually does explicitly say so in other places, like Mark 3:5, the cleansing of the temple makes it far more clear, I think, that a zealous, righteous anger is perfectly acceptable to act on -- in rather unfriendly, uncivil seeming ways at that.

But, the mantra against anger is equally -- if not more obvious in scripture. And we hear it right from the mouth of Jesus (same guy who threw tables around):

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)

In brief, anger is an emotion. In and of itself, it's largely beyond our control and is thereby morally neutral. If aroused by zeal for righteousness, anger-fueled actions are morally good. But, the tendency for normal people to fuel our anger over trivial matters or allow it to drive us into sin is good reason to caution against anger in most, if not all, circumstances.

Jesus is effectively saying, "There's nothing wrong with anger. But, you guys can't seem to handle it. So, just try to dispense with it altogether, OK?"


Scripture gives several examples of righteous anger. This is anger towards sin, or injustice.

Most of these show God being angry. Since God is without sin, it follows that if we in agreement with God, we are safe being angry with the same things He is angry with. Examples:

God the Father is angry with sin

All verses KJV

Psalms 7:11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

1 Kings 11:9,10 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded.

2 Kings 17:18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

Likewise, Jesus displayed anger at unrighteousness.

Mark 3:4,5 And he [Jesus] said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

John 2:13-16 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

One other passage speaks of being angry, and the context seems to say that it's O.K. to be angry, but not to let your anger provoke you to sin, and is followed immediately by a warning to not let your anger consume you - and to forgive as Christ forgives us.

From Ephesians 4

26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

27 Neither give place to the devil.

28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.


One of the best examples of "righteous anger" in the Bible is the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25:

6 Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8 he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. 9 Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

10 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. 12 Therefore say, ‘I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13 It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.’”

In this case not only did a man act in anger or zeal for God but God also rewarded him and his descendants for acting thusly.

Another interesting (and off topic) thing to note is how God granted him a covenant of peace because of an "act of violence".

The question also asked when it was okay to be angry and I would say, based on the above verse and those quoted by David, that it is not only okay but expected of us by God that we'd act in anger when we see sin. And this doesn't just have to be within the bounds of the church for remember that Jesus stood between a prostitute and those who wanted to stone her.

I think God "looks" at us with disappointment when we just walk on by, without batting an eye, while an orphan or a widow is mistreated right in front of our eyes.

Before Israel was sent into exile and before God wrought judgement against them for their sins God said the following in Isaiah 59:

15 Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him.

I would urge you to read all of Isaiah in its context to be able to fully grasp what was the injustice and what was it that displeased God so much. Isaiah constantly talks about widows and orphans being mistreated and those who commit the offense go free without justice. God expects us to be angry when we see things like this going on. And God, I believe, expects us to step in for those among us who are weak.

We are not, ever, asked to be numb to the wrong around us. If God is angry at injustices then it is safe to assume that we can and should be angry about them too.

PS: Sorry about the long answer. I don't mean to preach. It is just my opinion on what the Bible teaches. I hope it helps.

  • 1
    Phinehas is a great example as Ps. 106:30-31 compares his act to Moses' intercession after the golden calf incident and he shares Abraham's reward: "credited to him as righteousness" (NIV). – Paul A. Clayton Feb 6 '13 at 18:36
  • @PaulA.Clayton Thanks for the Psalm reference. – nico_c Feb 6 '13 at 20:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.