If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I used to teach the Bible to children on Monday nights.
If you’ve ever been a Children’s Leader in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), you know how it works: At some point during the summer break the age group you will teach the following school year is selected for you. Then, at the Leader’s Workshop in late August, you are given your assignment. You can make your age-group preference known, but you likely won’t get it.
One of the reasons I stepped down from teaching this year is because I didn’t want to risk being assigned the first and second graders, the third and fourth graders, or even the fifth and sixth graders.
The only level I could remotely imagine teaching this year is Level 5 – the senior high students.
Because we’re studying the book of Romans and I’ve taught it before, to youngsters, in BSF.
BSF is well structured, organized and uniform – which is a good thing in the adult program – but it’s too much of a good thing in the Children’s program.
For instance, the leaders in every level – whether they are teaching 6-year-olds or 18-year-olds – are given the same outline from which to teach. They have the freedom to make the illustrations and applications age-appropriate, but the aim and the principles must be stated exactly as written. It can be awkward in any study to be teaching in your own voice and then have to abruptly switch to the the writer of the principle’s voice to deliver it exactly as written. And in the case of Romans, it’s not just awkward, it’s HARD.
Or, more accurately, it’s HARSH. The principles can be very harsh, causing the youngsters to appear browbeaten by week 6.
Because Paul – or at least the way his letter is presented – wants to make sure they know that they are horrible sinners.
“But hang on,” we tell them, “good news is coming.”
But what if we framed it differently (and no less accurately) right from the start?
Here’s what I mean.
Paul begins his letter by stating that he is a minister of the gospel and then, in verse 18, he abruptly switches from gospel to wrath.
And I say, “What?”
So I look up the Greek word translated “wrath” and I learn that the word is orgē, pronounced or-gā’.
And I see that the KJV translates the word in various places as wrath, anger, vengeance, indignation.
And then I read Strong’s definition: properly, desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), i.e. (by analogy), violent passion (ire, or (justifiable) abhorrence); by implication punishment:—anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.
Strong’s definition is taken from the root word for orgē, oregō – which means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines orgē this way:
ὀργή, ὀργῆς, ἡ (from ὀργάω to teem, denoting an internal motion, especially that of plants and fruits swelling with juice ( , § 152); cf. Latinturgerealicui forirascialicui in Cas. 2, 5, 17; Most. 3, 2, 10; cf. German arg, Aerger), in Greek writings from down “the natural disposition, temper, character; movement or agitation of soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion,” but especially (and chiefly in Attic*) anger. In Biblical Greek anger, wrath, indignation… (bold added)
So the original Greek word could be translated as a ripening desire; a longing; reaching out for something.
And then, beginning with the writings of a poet named Hesiod, an element of anger was attached to the desire/movement of the soul.
Did you notice that last bit of Thayer’s defintion? I hope so because I emboldened it for you. In Biblical Greek, orgē is translated as anger, wrath, indignation.
Why? And what is Biblical Greek anyway?
Why isn’t it translated as longing, desire, a movement of the soul, as it was originally used?
At what point did God’s longing for us become a browbeating?
Did Paul intend that the word be interpreted that way? Was his intention to browbeat the Christians in Rome to whom he was writing – Christians whom he had just commended for having world-famous faith? Did he want them to fully appreciate just how good the good news is by reminding them of their wretchedness? Why spoil the good news by rubbing their noses in their past? Or was he addressing any Pharisees who might get their hands on his letter thus blurring his audience? (I ask that because in several places throughout his letter he seems to be presenting an argument to those who think like he used to think, i.e. Pharisees.)
If Paul was indeed trying to lay out his (already saved) audience’s need for a Savior, Isaiah did it so much better. And faster.
In just one chapter Isaiah laid out the tangled condition of the world. Click here to read it.
And then, at the dawn of the next glorious chapter, he told the world what God’s longing/desire was going to do about it.
He left His throne and stepped into our darkness.
To redeem us.
And that’s how I’d be teaching Romans this year, if I were teaching it.
I’d define wrath as God’s longing for us, as His desire, the movement of His soul toward redemption. Any anger associated with the word is directed at the tangled mess we’ve made of things, at the mess we and His enemy have made of things, not at us, whom He loves. Paul said so himself in chapter 5: “While we were still [a tangled mess], Christ died for us.”
God’s longing is for us, His wrath is against that which entangles us.
If I could put the principles in my own words, I’d write them with God’s longing in mind. I wouldn’t alter any facts, I’d just sift each one through the good news: God knows how to untangle the mess.
*Attic is a dialect of Greek.
P.S. Please don’t take this post as a dis of BSF, I love BSF and I’m studying Romans with them as a general class member – but this time around I’m going to take a look at the book with fresh eyes. I’ll probably show you the stuff I see.