Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Published by DonDavidson on

In Matthew’s Gospel “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is one of Jesus’s favorite expressions when talking about the judgment of the wicked. He uses the phrase six times.[1] Weeping of course means sadness. But what about gnashing of teeth?

Many times, both before and after my conversion in 1976, Christians would tell me that the residents of Hell were gnashing their teeth because of the severe pain they were suffering.

But I later learned that this interpretation is clearly and simply wrong. And we can see that from the Bible itself, for the Bible never uses “gnashing of teeth” to represent pain. The phrase is always used for anger.

We see this in chapter 7 of Acts, where Stephen is on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, essentially for being a Christian. When Stephen accuses the Jewish leaders of betraying and murdering Jesus, just as their ancestors had murdered God’s prophets, Acts 7:54 says that they became “infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.” In no sense were the Jewish leaders in pain. They were instead enraged, so much so that they killed Stephen.

We also see this in Job 16:9, where Job is lamenting that God seems to have turned against him:

His anger has torn me and hunted me down,
He has gnashed at me with His teeth;
My enemy glares at me.

Obviously, God is not in pain. But Job believes that God is angry with him.

Psalm 35:16, Psalm 37:12, Psalm 112:10, and Lamentations 2:16 all envision enemies gnashing their teeth in anger. Nowhere in the Bible is the expression “gnashing of teeth” used for pain.

This is important because I believe the traditional concept of Hell as fire, brimstone, and eternal torture of unbelievers is incorrect, as I discuss in Chapter 5 of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, entitled “What Hell Is Really Like.” You can read an excerpt from that chapter here. If you would like more information about Beyond Blind Faith or any of my other books, you can find it here.

[1]. See Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30. The phrase does not appear in the Gospels of Mark or John, and only once in Luke’s Gospel—Luke 13:28.


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