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In your anger, do not sin - Eph 4:26 (Monday with Mounce 157)

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Monday with MounceI have been thinking about anger lately. I was raised in a traditional Christian home and church, and like many people believed that anger was wrong. Period. Anger was the response of people who who weren’t mature in their faith and had not experienced the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember being taught this explicitly, but I suspect it was part of our cultural environment.

This is why Eph 4:26-27 always bothered me. In the NIV it says, “‘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.” Word for word, v 26 says, “do not be angry (ὀργίζεσθε) and do not sin (καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε). Paul is actually quoting (exactly) the LXX of Ps 4:4 (MT & LXX 4:5). ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε, which explains the quote marks in the NIV.

I understood the flow of logic, that anger extending longer than a day can have a twisting effect on the person and as such Satan is given a toehold in that person’s life.

Forget the fact that it is impossible to release all anger and forgive all offenses (completely) within a 24 hour period. If someone says they able to do this, I suspect they are a very legalistic, religious person. Deep offenses, even for the highly mature, take time to forgive and for anger to dissipate. Only one person I know was able to forgive all offenses immediately, and he was hanging on a cross the last time he had to do so.

But the Greek question is, how do you parse the second person plural, present middle form ὀργίζεσθε, as an imperative or an indicative?

You can see the translations struggling with this. The common translation is as an imperative. “Be angry and do not sin” (ESV, HCSB, NET; similarly in NASB, KJV). “Be angry but do not sin” (RSV, NRSV); notice the important translation of καί as “but.”  Hoehner in his commentary agrees that ὀργίζεσθε is an imperative.

Other translations treat ὀργίζεσθε as an indicative. Apparently this is what the NIV is doing. The TEV reads in a conditional note when it says, “If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day.” NJB writes, “Even if you are angry, do not sin: never let the sun set on your anger.” I am not sure where the conditional note comes from (I don’t think it is possible without some sort of conditional protasis), but it was the position of some earlier commentators like Chrysostom (see Hoehner, 619n9).

The other thing that bothered me was when a counselor friend of mine said that anger was an emotion and as such was not intrinsically evil. “Emotions,” he said, “are not good or bad, right or wrong. It is an issue of what you do with them.” I didn’t believe him at first (since I was such a “good Christian”; see my earlier comment), but I did know that anger is the just and right reaction of God to evil, but of course we just called that the “wrath of God” (cf. Heb 3:10, 17) and didn’t make any application to human life.

But to make it even more complicated, James writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak  and slow to become angry” (1:19). Wait a minute. Are we called to become angry, and then be sure it dissipates by nightfall, or are we to become angry slowly?

So what do you think? Is ὀργίζεσθε an imperative or indicative? Is there ever a situation in which anger is the right response? Was Jesus really angry (ὀργῆς) at the people’s disbelief in Mark 3:5? Was Jesus mad when he was cleansing the temple? Does ὀργή always mean “anger” (cf. Rom 13:5)? Are you sure?

Think about it. See you next week.


MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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