The Anger of Jesus

Claimed Contradiction: The Bible says in Matthew 5:22 that anger by itself is a sin, while the Gospels at several times depict Jesus Himself as being angry (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 3:5, John 2:15-17), and hence, show that He sinned.

This supposed "contradiction" falls apart because it is apparent that sceptics who use it have not read the pertinent verses closely enough. Matthew 5:22 says,

"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment...."

Note the words in boldface type, "without a cause"*. These words of Jesus do NOT condemn all anger, only anger which is held against another person without a cause. This means anger that is not felt because of any specific wrong done to a person or for any legitimate grievance, and which arises because of jealousy, selfishness, ignorance, etc. An example would be if a person were irrationally angry with a coworker who got a well-deserved promotion, and their anger stemmed from jealousy at that coworker's reward. This sort of unrighteous anger based on envy and strife is what is being condemned by Jesus in this passage, and which Jesus indicates is a sin before God.

When we look at the passages in context where Jesus is shown as angry, we see that He was not angry in an unrighteous fashion. His anger which was displayed in the two Temple cleansings (depicted in Matthew 21:12-13 and John 2:15-17) was based off of His righteous indignation that the Temple of God and the rituals which had been instituted for the Old Testament worship were being used by greedy and rapacious merchants to make money off of the poor who came to worship at the Temple. They did this specifically by keeping back part of the money which they exchanged for currency usable in the Temple offerings, and by overcharging for the animals which were sold to worshippers for sacrifice. As such, Jesus was rightly and justly angry that the site of the Temple of the Holy God was being used to cheat the faithful who had come there to worship God.

Likewise, in Mark 3:5, Jesus is described as "looking round about in anger". The reason for this, in context, is that He was angry at the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and others, and their willingness to place man-made rules above the god-centred work of healing and salvation. The Pharisees hoped Jesus would heal the man with the withered hand, but not because they wished that man well, or desired to see him healed. Rather, they wanted to try to find some "dirt" on Jesus by catching Him breaking the rules of the Sabbath day (these specifically being rules which did not appear in the Torah, but had been invented by Pharisaical rabbis during the Maccabean period). Thus, they were both placing the words of man on the same level as the Word of God, AND they were displaying extreme incompassion and hard-heartedness towards a man who needed physical and spiritual healing. With this, Jesus was justly angry at them.

Hence, we see that the whole basis of this claim for contradiction rests in a cursory reading of the biblical verses in question, and a failure to take account of the context of the passages.

* - The confusion on the part of some sceptics may be understandable however. Matthew 5:22 is another of those passages which the Critical Text supporters have changed upon the testimony of inferior textual evidence, which results in the deletion of "without a cause" from the vast bulk of the commonly used modern versions of the Bible.

Terry1 notes the following concerning the evidence for each reading:

Textual evidence lacking "without a cause" in Matthew 5:22:

Textual evidence supporting "without a cause" in Matthew 5:22:

Hence, the deletion of "without a cause" rests on a small minority of the available evidence. Only three Greek mss. support it, two of which (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) are well-known to be corrupt, having over 3000 disagreements between themselves in the Gospels alone, and as many others with the majority of Greek mss. at large. The third is less than sure due to the difficulty in reading it at that passage. The deletion is supported by only one papyrus, albeit of excellent antiquity. The deletion is only supported by one other version, the Latin Vulgate, itself suspected of corruption due to Jerome's reliance upon Alexandrian texts very much similar to Sinaiticus to prepare his Latin New Testament2.

On the other hand, the verse is supported by numerous uncial and miniscule manuscripts or good antiquity, some dating to within a century of the primary Alexandrian texts. It is supported by practically all the Byzantine textual set (the majority of mss.) which contains this passage. It is supported by the Old Latin version, the various Syriac compilations, and the Coptic compilations, all of which date at least back to the 3rd century, if not the 2nd for the Old Latin.

Given the preponderance of weight in favour of including "without a cause", and the relative untrustworthy nature of the primary witnesses which remove it, there is really no solid reason to question the inclusion of that phrase, and hence, the new versions needlessly remove "without a cause", and help to give sceptics an excuse to attack God's Word.

End Notes

(1) - B. Terry, A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants, Matthew 5:22
(2) - F. Kenyon, The Story of the Bible, p. 110