Article of the Month

November 2014

WEEPING, WAILING, & GNASHING of TEETH

This peculiar and distressing-sounding phrase occurs seven times in the New Testament Scriptures.  Of course, sensationalists and advocates of eternal torment apply it to their mistaken concepts of a place of post-death torture that doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless, the phrase is frightening and ominous and needs to be interpreted in its contexts.  In three of its uses, it is joined by another term:  “outer darkness.”

Before looking at the seven uses, it might be helpful to explain the meaning of the terms.  The Bible, much like everyday language, uses expressions to convey thoughts that have no relationship to the literal meaning of the words.  Someone, for instance, might say, “He’s a pain in the neck.”  Or, you might have heard something like, “She’s a bull in a china shop.”  We all instinctively interpret those expressions quickly.  The person isn’t a pain — in the neck or elsewhere!  What we mean is that she is an irritant in the way she does things.  Likewise, she is not a bull!  Neither is she in a china shop.  What we mean is that she has a tendency to be oblivious to things around her as she rushes into a situation; and, consequently, she might seriously disrupt things to the detriment of anyone or anything in her vicinity.

For some reason, many of us are hesitant to give the Bible the same latitude of expression.  But we shouldn’t be.  When God prepared the Bible, He purposely used words and expressions that would help us to understand things.  God’s spiritual realm has no resemblance to our terrestrial existence.  But He knows how to convey ideas to us in expressions that we can understand.  Unfortunately, we tend to miss the point and to mystify the expressions.

An example of this happened when World War I broke out.  President Wilson exclaimed that “the whole world is on fire!”  Everyone knew what he meant.  But the Apostle Peter said, “The elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”  (II Peter 3:10)  Almost nobody seems to know what Peter meant!

 

THE SYMBOLISMS

 

“Weeping and Wailing” are just about universally signs of great sadness, regret, or loss.  That is exactly what is meant in the Scriptures.  Those weeping and wailing are expressing their intense sadness in losing something of great value to them.

“Gnashing of Teeth” — that tight clenching of the teeth together with open lips and a grimacing face — is very much the world-wide response of people who suddenly realize great disappointment or chagrin.  Frequently it is accompanied by a vocal-chord sound we can’t quite spell — something like “NNNNNN!”

The third expression, found three times, is “outer darkness.”  We even have a worldly equivalent:  “In the dark.”  It means that we have no answer, no explanation, no comprehension regarding how this result came about.  In all of the Biblical uses, it is applied to people who thought they were pre-eminently in favor — only to discover rather suddenly that they were hardly in the running!  Thus “cast him into outer darkness” may mean something like “let him know that he is clueless.”  

 

THE USAGES

 

Six of the seven occurrences are in Matthew (8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; and 25:30).  One occurrence is in Luke (13:28).

The expressions are used to describe FOUR different groups (actually, three groups as an individual).  The phrases are applied to:

(1)               The Scribes and Pharisees during the Peaceable

Kingdom’s opening.  (Matthew 8:12)

(2)               People who are “Christians” in name only — even

if they are exemplary people.  Jesus calls them “tares.” 

(Matthew 13:42; 22:13; Luke 13:28)

(3)               An evil servant (and possibly a   group of hypocrites)(Matthew 24:51)

(4)               The Great Multitude (of Revelation).  (Matthew 13:50;

25:30)  Please see Article of the Month for August, 2008.

These uses are in parables (except for #1, #3, and the Luke citation).

 

THE POINT

 

The point of the Biblical uses of these expressions is that, once the Kingdom is established, many people who lived during the millennia of human experience will realize they were taught lies and were living lies.  It is not necessarily that they were intentionally fraudulent; it may just be that they were never introduced to what is factual about God and what He has been doing.

Thus these instances of the use of these hard-sounding words are not God’s condemning them to something eternally awful.  It is, rather, His introducing them to the hard truth that they were wrong, and that what they sought they will not obtain.

BUT IT DOESN’T MEAN that they won’t obtain something wonderful!  The Scribes and Pharisees will learn that their religious practice was very faulty; but they also will learn the new way to life and joy.  The “tare” class (Christians who never knew what Christianity was all about) will not find themselves (as they expected) in heaven; but they will find the indescribable joys of God’s Kingdom on earth.  The Great Multitude (spirit-begotten Christians who were in the running to be a part of the “bride of Christ”) will find themselves only to be bridesmaids.  But their eternal joys will be beyond verbal description.  The fellow in Matthew 24:5 is yet to be clearly defined.  But his lot with “hypocrites” makes it sound as though he may well have actually been a “tare.”

 

 

THE LESSON

 

Dark Age theology has cast a pall of ugliness over Biblical interpretation.  Careful and unbiased examination of the Scriptures removes our fear of God —not our REVERENCE for Him, but our FRIGHT of Him. 

There is nothing desireable nor pleasant about the time when the REVEALING of our errors will make us weep, wail, gnash our teeth, or find ourselves silent without an explanation.  But that time must come and will come.  Without the removal of false pretensions and expectations, the new Kingdom of our Lord can never function.  The wailing will be turned to laughter; the weeping, to joy; the gnashing of teeth, melting into the smile of gratitude; and the darkness, filled with light.  “Thy Kingdom Come” is a prayer from desperation to vivacious life.

 

 

 

 

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