The Gnashing Teeth Of Jesus’s Opponents -- By: David H. Wenkel

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:697 (Jan 2018)
Article: The Gnashing Teeth Of Jesus’s Opponents
Author: David H. Wenkel

The Gnashing Teeth Of Jesus’s Opponents

David H. Wenkel

David H. Wenkel is an adjunct faculty member in New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.


One of Jesus’s memorable statements is “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The presence of “weeping” often leads to the conclusion that this language is about sorrow and mourning. However, parallels in the New Testament, Old Testament, and extrabiblical literature, along with the use of the phrase in the narrative scenes of Matthew and Luke, suggest that the “gnashing of teeth” is an act of rage. Understanding this phrase correctly contributes to the identification of Jesus’s opponents.


The phrase “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ Luke 13:28).1 As early as Tertullian (c. AD 155–240), Christian commentary on this passage has been largely apologetic, focusing on the nature and reality of hell, eternal judgment, or a universal bodily

resurrection.2 But some questions about this phrase and its meaning remain unconsidered. What exactly does this phrase communicate about those who undergo God’s judgment? And why did Jesus explain the future state of his opponents in this manner?

There are three approaches to the interpretation of this phrase. The first approach focuses exclusively on “gnashing of teeth” and interprets it as an indication of rage.3 This approach places the emphasis on the latter part of the expression (“gnashing teeth”) and requires that the former part (“weeping”) be understood as an expression of anger. The second approach, perhaps the most common, focuses exclusively on the word “weeping” and lament for sin.4 This approach views the latter part of the expression as an act of regret or distress. One major reference work concludes that the presence of “weeping” seems “to indicate that the gnashing of the teeth is not an indication of rage but of extreme suffering and remorse.”5 The third and last approach views the “and” (καί) as joining two dissimilar responses so that the phrase communicates both weeping/crying in regret and grinding teeth in anger or rage. Many scholars leave the first two opti...

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