Do you suffer from bruxism? The symptoms include waking up with a headache or jaw pain. In extreme cases they may include broken teeth. It results from clenching or grinding your teeth, usually (but not necessarily) at night. The name of the condition comes from a word sometimes translated gnashing. Jesus used bruxism, gnashing of teeth, to describe a punishment. At other times it describes a health condition or a result of stress.
It describes a health condition, if you can call demon possession that. After the Transfiguration, Jesus was faced with a dispute. A man had brought his son to the disciples for healing. That was not unexpected since they had recently been given the power to cast out evil spirits. The symptoms for this young man were: “he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away.” (Mk 9:18) This particular evil spirit was characterized, among other things, by bruxism. Jesus cast the spirit out of him and explained that this kind of spiritThe stress of Stephen’s accusation brought on gnashing. only came out with “prayer and fasting.” In essence he was chiding the disciples for not praying and fasting enough before needing to use the power he had given them.
While most people today do not have the power to heal without the ability to prescribe herbal or chemical remedies, we can learn from this young man who gnashed his teeth, or at least from the healer. We are going to face problems in life that seem insurmountable. We or others may be figuratively gnashing teeth, looking for spiritual healing. Jesus is the ultimate healer, but if we are going to play our part we must prepare ourselves. We must devote time to study of the Bible, and prayer, and maybe even fasting. Only then can you “be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet 3:15)
Gnashing under stress
The most common cause of bruxism is stress. A mouth guard might alleviate the symptom, but the condition will persist until the stressor is removed. What greater stressor is there than being confronted with your sin?
When John the Baptist confronted Herod with his sin of marrying his brother’s wife, Herod threw him in prison. This gave that wife the opportunity to ask for John’s head on a silver platter. (Matt 14; Mk 6) Herod was stressed by facing his sin.
Paul was in chains before the Roman territorial governor. One would think that Felix would have no reason to fear Paul. He had the upper hand. He was the stressor, not the stressed. Or so he believed until Paul spoke.
And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. (Acts 24:25)
Felix was faced with his sins and the judgement to come. He trembled. He was stressed.
Stephen was called before the council for preaching about Jesus. The charge was saying that Jesus would destroy Jerusalem and change the customs passed down from Moses. The High Priest asked him if the charges were true. Stephen took that opportunity to present a masterful recounting of Jewish history. (Acts 7) He concluded by saying that just as their ancestors killed the prophets, so they had murdered the one of whom the prophets wrote. “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54) The stress of his accusation brought on the gnashing. It also brought on the murder of Stephen.
Weeping and gnashing
Matthew was diligent about recording the times that Jesus spoke about “weeping [or wailing] and gnashing of teeth.” In fact, the only time that phrase is used outside of Matthew is one time when Luke mentions it. In Luke’s account (Lk 13:23-30) one person asks Jesus if only a few will be saved. He replies that many will call him Lord that did not really follow him.
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. (Lk 13:28)
The idea in Luke is similar to the six times that Matthew records Jesus using the phrase. In Matthew 8:12 the circumstances are almost identical. In Matthew 24:51, a discussion of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus says to be watchful. He likens it to a householder who left his servants to watch the house. If a servant was asleep when the master came home, that is when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem, the master “shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The one who does not watch will fall with Jerusalem.
The other four times come at the end of parables about the kingdom of heaven. Two are about the end of the world. The others are about the kingdom in the world.
“The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” (Matt 13:24-43) When the weeds grew up with the wheat, the workers asked if they should pull them. The master said to wait until harvest. Then the weeds were separated from the wheat. Jesus explained to the apostles that the good seed were “the children of the kingdom,” while the bad seed were the children of the wicked one. They grow up together in this world, but at the end of the world angels will gather the wicked and “shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:43)
In a similar parable (Matt 13:47-50), a net is cast into the sea and gathers all kinds of fish (people). At the end of the world “the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:49-50)
In these two parables, a division is made at the end of the world. The sons of the kingdom are separated from the sons of the world. The latter are sentence to fire, where they will weep and grind their teeth. Apparently, separation from God results in bruxism.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. (Matt 22:1-14) So the king sent his servants to bring in anyone they could find to the wedding feast. When the master came in he saw a man who had not been given a wedding garment, and therefore had probably tried to sneak in unbidden. The master told his servants to bind him and cast him “into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
There are three classes of people in this parable: those who reject the kingdom outright, those who accept the kingdom, and those who attempt to enter the kingdom but not on the master’s terms. There are many who want nothing to do with the church. But there are also those who want church on their own terms. They don’t want to follow the biblical pattern for the church. They want to be part of the body, but they want to come in the way they choose, and do things the way they think best. These will think they are in the light, but they are really in outer darkness, and their fight against the truth will result in weeping and grinding of their teeth. Once one has experienced the light, the darkness seems even darker and the stress becomes so great that one grinds the teeth.
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matt 24:42-51) The wise servant will be watchful, and be rewarded when the master comes home unexpectedly. But the wicked servant says that the master is delayed, and so beats the other servants and gets drunk. His master will come home unexpectedly and “shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one.” (Matt 25:14-30) Two of the servants invested what they had and doubled their money. The third hid the money, intending to return it to the master when he got home. When the master came home, he praised the ones who had invested their money, but he condemned the one who hid his coin. He ordered that the coin be given to the one who had made the most money. The he commanded, “cast ye theApparently, separation from God results in bruxism. unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
These last two parables come at the end of a discussion about the destruction of the Temple, which would come about forty years later. The message in both is to be watchful. Nobody would know when the Romans would come to destroy Jerusalem. Earlier Jesus said there would be no signs of his coming, which would result in the Roman destruction of the city. Therefore, Christians were to be watchful, so that they could flee the city and avoid the destruction. Those that were not watchful would end up weeping and grinding their teeth.
Although Jesus was talking in these last two about the destruction of Jerusalem, the use of the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can tie them to the first two parables. We are no longer anticipating the destruction of the Temple, but we are anticipating the destruction of the end of the world. We must watch, lest we also be consigned to a place of weeping and bruxism.
In the case of physical bruxism, the symptoms may be alleviated by the use of a mouth guard. The condition, though, will probably not be relieved except by eliminating the stress that causes it. So it is with spiritual bruxism. Some of the symptoms may be alleviated by a mouth guard.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. (Jas 1:26)
Jesus also had a prescription for the root cause. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matt 6:34) Don’t worry. You will save your teeth that way.