How to understand the New Testament wrathful God

I would add to that the parable of the banquet feast (or great dinner) - especially the Matthew 22 version. The Luke 14 version is considerably ‘softer’ in that the master of the prepared banquet merely notes at the end that those who refused the invitation ‘will never taste my dinner’. But the Matthew version has the enraged host burning down the entire cities of those who wouldn’t come. And then, after extending the invitation to everyone, throws out one of the guests who did show up but was not in proper attire.

What do you make of these parables - or what do you think we should take away from them?

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I was hoping that @aarceng or others might pursue this further because I really was asking out of curiosity and not just trying to “test” or play “gotcha” with others. Of course anyone who reads the bible much will settle into ideas of how to handle these texts, but never quite comfortably so (at least not in my case). They aren’t the sorts of stories I suppose, that anybody is supposed to be comfortable with. So if we do get used to them, that probably raises flags about our own standings with regard to the Kingdom of God. That said, it sure doesn’t stop me from trying.

To me some of the slaughter / torture suggested is so out-of-character and over-the-top from what we learn of God generally from Christ (and even from parts of the old testament), that it seems to me to be a sort of divine hyperbole genre designed to provoke a desired response. I.e. the finally invited “riff-raff” guests are supposed to provoke the jealousy of the formerly invited guests who made excuses. (still never knew what the point of the thrown-out “under-dressed” guest was all about; yeah, I’ve heard the explanation about how party apparel would be provided by the host and that to not avail oneself of that provision would be another snub against the host - and maybe that’s it, but I’m still suspicious of our cross-cultural ignorance about this.)

Still - some party, huh? How eager is anyone to tell a joke or enjoy a good laugh within the hearing of a touchy host who is so angry that when his first pick of guests “couldn’t make it” he had their cities burned, and among those who did show up, they’d better mind their 'p’s and 'q’s? To cast God as having the emotional temperament and patience of a sleep-deprived 4-year old seems so over-the-top that I think these parables simply have to be understood as having other main points that are apparently so important, that all other peripheral components of the story are a kind of “hyperbolic sacrifice” made in the service of that main point. It echoes the way stories had been told in the law and the prophets, and we know Jesus and his Jewish audience were steeped in those stories. So it makes sense to me as a kind of time-honored story-telling practice they would have had.

Corrections, clarifications, or more different thoughts about this?

What other New Testament teachings seem to celebrate wrath in ways that make us (or should make us) squirm today?

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I think this answers the question to the issue. Jesus was probably using a type of story telling device to get the attention of His audience. While it makes sense at first for the master of the house to cause the great damage to the city by those who rejected him and brining in others (this seems to be in my point of view prophetic of how the Gospel became more received among Gentiles rather then Jews) but I am also lost confused about the poor sucker coming in with the wrong party dress. I’m sure there is a much more cultural meaning behind that part that was understood to the original audience but is now lost on us today.


Dear Mervin,
This is something that I had hoped BioLogos would help us to understand better. The Earth has existed for a few billion years before man appeared. Do you not think that these billions of years constitute an eternity? The banquet describes the Fall from Heaven, and those 1/3 that did not accept the King - Jesus. And now Jesus is telling us that the only way to return home, is through loyalty to Him. This is how I see this parable.

Best Wishes, Shawn

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Well - here we are with an opportunity to discuss it and learn from each other.

I’m far from convinced that these parables are in reference to angels and demons. The status of such celestial beings or potential for change (if any) would be of little concern to the sinner on the street. I think we’re safe in thinking these parables told for the benefit of ordinary humans - to encourage the sort who are on the “underside” of society, and as a provocation to those who are powerful, and consider themselves righteous or even independent from God.

As far as Jesus being the only way, I think there are other passages that spell that out more clearly. Parables about things like talents, or sheep and goats, or banquet guests all seem a bit more open-ended in that regard, do they not? They often involve some host or king, and it is left up to the listener and other contextual information to decide whether this king is God, or Christ, or even whether that is where the focus of the story is at all.

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Exactly right.

Jesus picked up the language of those who have “ears to hear” from the prophets. Here is the purpose of parables in the prophets, and in Jesus’ teaching:

When did the prophets primarily use symbolism? The prophets living toward the end of Israel’s history had the primary role of warning Israel to repent, or they soon would be judged (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel). Indeed, by the time of their ministries, their message was that judgment was coming, but you could be delivered from it if you repented. At first, they delivered their warnings in a very rational and sermonic manner, convicting their audience of sin and self-serving moral permissiveness, and recalling for them lessons from their own history. However, the prophets had little positive effect because of their audience’s spiritual anesthesia. They had become anesthetized because of their habitual avoidance toward changing their comfortable, sinful lifestyle. Their hearts had become hardened to rational, historical, and sermonic warning methods (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 17). Therefore, the prophets took up forms of warning that might gain them a better hearing or better attention—they used symbolic action, parables, and words (Isa. 7:3; 8:1, 3-4; Ezek. 12:3-16, 22-23; 15:1-8; 17:1-24).7 Such a change in their form of warning was effective only with the faithful remnant. With those who “have ears to hear and hear not” (Isa. 6:9-10) and have become hard hearted, symbolic language and parables cause them to misunderstand further. When the prophets used symbolic parables, it was a sign that judgment was in the process of coming upon Israel (i.e., the Babylonian exile). Therefore, for hardened unbelievers (Israel), the literary form of symbolic parable (mashal) appears whenever ordinary warnings are no longer heeded, and no warning will ever be heeded by those so far disobeying,8 but the believing remnant can be shocked, by the unusual parables, back into the reality of their faith. This is the point of Isaiah 6:9-10, where the prophet is commissioned to tell Israel to “keep on listening but do not perceive . . . render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull . . . lest they . . . hear with their ears . . . and repent and be healed.”

The entire essay by Greg Beale is The Purpose of Symbolism in the Book of Revelation


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