A Clear and Present Anger: The Wrath of God in Romans 1:18-32 -- By: Joel T. Williamson, Jr.

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 02:2 (Fall 1998)
Article: A Clear and Present Anger: The Wrath of God in Romans 1:18-32
Author: Joel T. Williamson, Jr.

A Clear and Present Anger:
The Wrath of God in
Romans 1:18-32

Joel T. Williamson, Jr.

Chairman Of Bible & Theology
Calvary Bible College & Theological Seminary

Early in the argument of Romans, Paul makes an uncomfortable statement: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Though Romans 1:18 has its share of exegetical difficulties, what makes the statement especially difficult is its conflict with the modern concept of God’s love. Consequently, even the most committed modern inerrantist may hesitate and blush before affirming belief in a God of wrath.

Part of the problem is societal. Paul’s words just cannot be made politically correct. The one God that modern people tolerate is a God whose nature begins and ends with love. Any suggestion that he is also righteous or just (and therefore wrathful) is met either with patronizing pity or stony silence. It is hard to accept what everyone else rejects. However, the problem is also practical. In a world where sinners prosper and crime pays, where is the evidence of God’s righteous wrath? As this study endeavors to show, a careful exegesis of Romans 1:18–32 provides the solution to both aspects of this problem. Politically correct or not, God does express righteous wrath, and the current state of the world shows it.

The Sense Of God’s Wrath

No serious discussion of the present manifestation of the wrath of God can begin until the term itself is defined. Does Paul consider “wrath” real or verbal? Is it a figurative expression or a genuine divine attitude? At least four explanations have been proposed.

Option 1: A Figure Of Speech

C. H. Dodd denies that “wrath” is an emotion existing in God and sees it rather as “the inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe.”1 This opinion has gained a sizeable following since it offers an apparent reconciliation between God's wrath and his love. For example, G. H. C. MacGregor calls wrath an “attribute of God,”2 but follows Dodd in seeing it ”anthropomorphically”:

It would be fair to say then that Paul does not think of God as being angry in quite the same immediate and personal sense as he thinks of him as actively loving. He retains the O.T. conception of God, but he uses it to describe not so much the personal attitude of God to man, but rather ...

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