Romans 1:18-19 "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them."
So the question is: what is God's wrath? A.W Tozer perhaps offers one of the best definitions of wrath by first of all stating what it is for: "wrath is God's relentless affirmation of His dominion". Tozer then describes wrath by what it is against: "God's wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys". Definitions such as these are useful in correcting what is often a very negative or hostile view of wrath - namely that God is throwing some type of cosmic temper-tantrum, or that God is on some type of out of control rampage against an innocent, unsuspecting people. The words that God used in the Bible to describe His wrath against sin confirm what Godly men like Tozer have communicated about this vital subject.
Whenever one looks through a concordance of virtually any English translation, the word "wrath" shows up in almost 200 passages of scripture. When considered with other related subjects such as God's Jealousy, Holiness, Justice, Retribution and yes - even God's Love, the Bible makes it crystal clear that God is a God of wrath.
The most important Old Testament words translated "wrath"
Nearly six different Hebrew roots and three major Greek roots are used to translate the word "wrath" in the Bible's original languages. For brevity's sake we will only cover two of the main words for wrath in each of the Testaments, with some observations at the end. In both the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament we find two of the most common words for wrath that each aid the reader in understanding the concept of wrath.
The first main word (qa-tef) refers to the provoking of a person to anger. In human beings such wrath occurs when a person is compelled to respond in an angry manner against a perceived wrong or possible damage to one's reputation. (Esther 1:18) For God this word is used to describe how the sins of His people would provoke His displeasure. In Numbers 16:46 for example this word is used to describe the provoking of God to wrath by Israel following their rebellion against Moses and Aaron at the entryway to the Tent of Meeting. Whenever we see this word (qat-ef), it always is in reference to a provoked wrath or an anger that arises only after an outright act of disobedience or blatant disregard for God's Holy character.
The second Hebrew word (cha-ma) is used the most times (122) to describe wrath in the Hebrew Bible.1 Whenever the word (cha-ma) appears, the type of wrath being expressed refers to an anger that arises at the end of a process of long standing sin. This word is used to describe the type of wrath God displayed when a nation or people reaches the final stages of sin and rebellion and is used most often in prophetic texts to describe God's wrath against sinful man at the end of history in final judgment. (compare Deuteronomy 29:28; Micah 5:15)
Top New Testament words translated "wrath"
In regards to the New Testament words translated for wrath, two of the most common used Greek words describe the similar type of meanings that we find in the Old Testament. The most frequently used Greek word (or-gei) refers to an anger that is a fixed, controlled and passionate feeling against sin. Found some 36 times in the New Testament, (orgei) decribes for example the wrath God is revealing against all of sinful man right now in the general revelation of creation. (Romans 1:18-20) On eleven other occasions the Apostle Paul uses this word (or-gei) and the Apostle John in Revelation uses this same word five times to describe God's persistent, fixed and regulated anger against sin. Somewhat like the Hebrew word (qa-tef), the Greek word (or-gei) is God's wrath provoked by mankind's repeated suppression of His truth and persistent disregard for His Holiness in favor of their sin.
The second Greek word translated wrath in the New Testament is the word (thu-mos) which is very similar to the Hebrew word (cha-ma)in regards to referring to an anger that is heated and passionate for what is right, Holy, pure and hateful of what is sinful. When God displays (thumos), it refers to an anger that has risen gradually overtime and settles into a fixed pattern against sin. Both of these words are expressed most frequently in the books of Romans and Revelation. In Romans we find the word (thumos) mentioned once in Romans 2:8 conjuction with the other word (orgei) to describe the destiny of unbelievers. In Revelation we find this word (thumos) used 10 times in Revelation 14-19, indicating wrath at the end of the matured form of mankind's and Satan's rebellion.
What we learn from the above word studies on the word "wrath" in the Bible
1. The wrath of God in the Bible is provoked by sin done by people within a given time frame. God's wrath never arises out of a vacuum but derives from concern over His absolute Holy character and the wrong done against it.
2. The people to whom God directs His wrath are not innocent, but knowingly, willingly and with a high-hand persist in ignoring His repeated warnings to forsake their sin.
3. Wrath is a necessary component in communicating the Gospel and warning sinners of His wrath that will be executed in the judgment He will bring upon this world at Christ's second coming.
4. God's wrath is not an out-of-control anger or a sinful anger like it often can be in human beings. Wrath in God describes what He hates - namely sin and unrighteousness.
5. If God were not the God of wrath, He could not be the God of love. Why? Because if God loved everything, He could not be the God of love, since the love of God cannot love righteousness and unrighteousness, what is holy and profane or love what is opposite of His character and yet be zealous for His name at the same time. Bible Scholar Wayne Grudem affirms this point: Yet it is helpful for us to ask what God would be like if He were a God that did not hate sin. He would be a God who either delighted in sin or at least was not troubled by it. Such a God would not be worthy of our worship, for sin is hateful and is worthy of being hated. Later Grudem adds: "...and we rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against great evil, injustice and sin."2
Closing thoughts about the wrath of God
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes the wrath of God in the Bible: "The divine wrath is to be regarded as the natural expression of the divine nature, which is absolute holiness, manifesting itself against the willful, high-handed, deliberate, inexcusable sin and iniquity of mankind. God's wrath is always regarded in the Scripture as the just, proper, and natural expression of His holiness and righteousness which must always, under all circumstances, and at all costs be maintained. It is therefore a righteous indignation and compatible with the holy and righteous nature of God."3
2. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan. 1994. page 206