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Paul writes:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.—Ephesians 4:26-27 (ESV)

The first issue I see is that the first clause contradicts other Biblical advice such as:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

—Psalm 37:8 (ESV)

Is it possible that Paul acknowledges that people get angry involuntarily and suggests reconciling differences on the same day? Or does Paul allow deliberate anger under the condition that it's only for a short period of time? How does Paul suggest anger should be handled?

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2 Answers 2

Paul made a direct word-for-word quote not from Psalm 37:8, but from the Septuagint of Psalm 4:4 -

...ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε...

In the Hebrew of Psalm 4:4, the verb for "anger" is רָגַז which has the connotation of perturbing, or being perturbed. In the 41 instances that this verb occurs in the Hebrew Bible in various conjugations and tenses, the meaning is either of the earth being disturbed or agitated by earthquakes or God's power, or people being discombobulated or provoked to dread or anger (thus "trembling," which is the verb's origin of meaning). There is another Hebrew word for anger (חָרָה), and this verb has the connotation of "heating up." The differences in both verbs is that the former (רָגַז) has the emphasis on the experience (trembling, troubled, displaced, discombobulated) while the latter verb (חָרָה) has the emphasis on starting a fire (inside) and emanating that heat toward others.

In this context, therefore, Paul is talking about the רָגַז anger. That is, if we take the רִגְזוּ of Psalm 4:4 and tie it to ὀργίζεσθε in Eph 4:26 (by means of the LXX of Psalm 4:4 of course), we see that this "anger" that Paul is talking about is when you are agitated or provoked. Paul's advice is that when you are provoked as such, you are not to let the sun to go down on your "anger." Before you go to bed at night, shake it off through prayer and supplication or reconciliation with the parties concerned! (The reaction of anger was involuntarily received, but is voluntarily "laid to rest.") Remember: Paul is talking about the רָגַז anger, and not the חָרָה anger. Paul condemns the חָרָה anger in the VERY SAME PASSAGE (Eph 4:31) and repeats as much also in Col 3:8. This latter anger is the active and voluntary variety.

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+1 very helpful and relevant points all round –  Jack Douglas Mar 8 '13 at 7:54
    
Nicely done. The correct call-back Psalm helps immensely as does the details about the Hebrew words Paul may have in mind. Thank you. –  Jon Ericson Mar 11 '13 at 17:45
    
I was going to check the LXX this morning. Good job on the verbs. –  Frank Luke Mar 12 '13 at 14:01
    
@Frank Luke and Joseph: It seems the LXX uses the same word (ὀργίζω‌​) that Paul did. I've asked a related question about the translation of the Hebrew word, if you are interested. –  Jon Ericson Mar 26 '13 at 22:24

As mentioned by @Joseph, Paul is quoting Psalm 4:

4Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. ESV

When quoting from the Old Testament, New Testament authors assume the context of the quotation is understood or will be examined1, so we need to look at more of Psalm 4 to understand Paul's meaning.

The ESV offers 'agitated' as a possible alternative translation of 'angry', and this kind of reading is supported by the rest of the text in the very same verse. Psalm 4 includes Hebrew parallelism2, of which verse 4 is one example:

This "parallelism" is a phenomenon noticed in the portions of the Old Testament that are at the same time marked frequently by the so-called dialectus poetica; it consists in a remarkable correspondence in the ideas expressed in two successive verses3

Though in this case parallelism is contained within a single verse, and "Be angry, and do not sin" corresponds to "ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent".

Specifically, the parallel second part makes it clear that the first part is not in any way to be taken as an instruction to be angry, rather the emphasis is on what you do with your agitation/anger: quietly meditate on it rather than "express it". If Psalm 4 understood properly does not contain an injunction to 'be angry', it seems unlikely that that is Paul's intent either.


1 for example see the last verse of Psalm 22; the first verse is quoted by Jesus on the cross
2 primarily a communication tool in my view, and only secondarily a 'poetic' device: it significantly reduces ambiguity
3 emphasis mine

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Psalm 4 really is the correct reference here. Checking another cross-reference system, I'm wondering if the online ESV has a bug or some such. (So I filed a bug report ;) –  Jon Ericson Mar 11 '13 at 17:51

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