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Gnashing of Teeth Hell?

Q. OK…I understand that someone who is "cast into the darkness outside" means to be excluded from a brightly lit celebration. But, then what about the "gnashing of teeth" referenced in these parables? Doesn't that refer to hell?


Hebrew Hyperbole

According to Joseph Dillow the expression "gnashing of teeth" means "profound remorse" (2006, 349). This is intense regret or shame over a loss of some sort.

In Hebraic expressions writers often use hyperbole to get across a point (Bivin 2007, xxvi, 85). For example, Jesus said "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26, NASB).

Jesus did not mean literally that we should "hate" our mother or father. Otherwise we would violate the law to honor our parents. Instead, He tells us we must be willing to give up everything we hold dear in order to follow Him.


In the same way "gnashing of teeth" means intense, profound, deeply-felt regret over something that should have been but we lost it. I think it's safe to say that the majority of us will feel surprise and shock when we actually do really stand before the Lord for judgment after we are raptured off of the earth.

As much as we try to "believe" in the reality of our faith we are still all subject to a natural tendency to wonder if it is truly "real." We are subject to a sinful or carnal body of flesh that hinders even our thought life. Think about our "shock and awe" when we learn for the first time that all we believe is true and real.

I Believe but Help my Unbelief

In that vein we are all familiar with the plight of the father of the possessed boy who cried out to the Lord, "I do believe - help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). That mental state affects each one of us.

So you can imagine the "shock and awe" we will feel when we really do find ourselves facing the Lord himself. Once our thoughts, deeds and motives are exposed at the judgment seat we will agonize over things we should have done but did not. We will desperately, desperately wish we had taken more seriously our faith while we lived on earth.

Why didn't we give more money to charity and to help the poor? Why didn't we say a kind word and offer more support to the grieving widow who just lost her husband? Why did we waste years trying to become a millionaire by age thirty? Why were we so obsessed with earthly fame that we forgot about the Lord? Why weren't we more kind to our children? Why didn't we listen to our son when he cried over that bully in school who embarrassed him? Why did we avoid our friend who was dying of cancer? Why did we treat our spouse disrespectfully?

You can make your own list.


This is why 1 John 1:9 and the awareness of personal sin become so very important as we begin to understand the depth of our failures throughout our lives. As C.S. Lewis said, "No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good."

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 8-9).

I don't completely understand why, but it is not enough for the Christian to simply believe that Jesus died for our sins. Yes, His sacrifice saves us from death and sin and we are born again to eternal life.

But, to do well and receive rewards and responsibilities in the future Kingdom we must identify and acknowledge our sins and confess them to the Lord. This is vital to our spiritual health and future service in the eternal kingdom.

The NKJV Study Bible comments, "To confess is to agree with Him, to admit that we are sinners in need of His mercy. If a believer confesses his or her specific sins to God, He will cleanse all unrighteousness from that person" (2007, 2576).

Because of those particular sins we have failed to acknowledge or confess before the Lord we will be faced with profound regret - "weeping and gnashing of teeth." While this is not "hell," it is certainly profound remorse!

Missler says,

In this 'outer darkness' there is going to be much 'weeping and gnashing of teeth.' This particular phrase occurs three times in the Bible describing believers: Matthew 8:12, 22:13, and 25:30. It's interesting to note that all three of these passages use the very same phrases: They are in the kingdom, but they will be cast out from experiencing the joy of the Lord, thrown into the outer darkness (or the darkness outside) where they will experience weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth" occurs when carnal believers reflect remorsefully on their lives and all the missed opportunities. Scripture says they will remember their past because God will remind them of every detail at the Bema Seat Judgment.

(Missler 2009, 198)

Missler isn't alone in his summation of this phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" as it applies to the believer. Erwin Lutzer, Paul Benware, Charles Stanley, Joseph Dillow, H.G. Lang and other notable scholars concur.

Maybe - just maybe - we should begin to take our Christian walk more seriously. Let's make acknowledgement and confession of our sins a daily practice and strive to "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14, NKJV).


Bivin, David. 2007. New light on the difficult words of Jesus. Holland, MI: En-Gedi.

Dillow, Joseph C. 2006 3rd. printing. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.

Missler, Chuck&Nancy. 2009. The kingdom, power&glory. Coeur d'Alene, ID: The King's Highway Ministries.

NKJV Study Bible. 2007. Nashville, TN: Nelson.

Authors Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history. Ken received the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.

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