The “Outer Darkness” In Matthew’s Gospel: Shedding Light On An Ominous Warning -- By: J. Paul Tanner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 174:696 (Oct 2017)
Article: The “Outer Darkness” In Matthew’s Gospel: Shedding Light On An Ominous Warning
Author: J. Paul Tanner

The “Outer Darkness” In Matthew’s Gospel: Shedding Light On An Ominous Warning

J. Paul Tanner

J. Paul Tanner is Middle East Director, BEE World.


On three occasions Jesus referred to persons who would be cast into “the outer darkness.” This was augmented with a description of their destiny in a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Debate centers on whether these warnings are aimed at unbelievers who have rejected his messianic claims or unfaithful believers who will be sternly rebuked and suffer during the millennial kingdom.

Careful study of the terminology employed in intertestamental literature and contextual consideration of the relevant New Testament passages demonstrates that the main persons in view in these passages are those among the Jews who were resisting Jesus as Messiah.


On three occasions during his earthly ministry, Jesus warned of the danger of being cast into the “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; and 25:30).1 Jesus also noted that in this place there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This latter expression occurs seven times, all in Matthew’s account (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), except for Luke 13:28.

This article examines these ominous warnings to determine to whom Jesus gave them, the nature of the fate that awaited these people, and the reason they were to be consigned to this end. Some evangelicals hold that these passages apply to true but disobedient believers who will receive a stern rebuke at the judgment seat of

Christ and lose rewards.2 This article argues that these words of warning were aimed at those who rejected Jesus as Messiah, especially the religious leaders of Israel, and whose destiny would be in a place of eternal torment.

Relevant Passages And Initial Assumptions

Of the seven passages sharing this terminology, all but one are parables of Jesus, the exception being the report of the healing of the centurion’s servant.

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