Does Paul command us to be angry in Ephesians 4:16 or is he just recognizing that some people get angry? In his discussion of the imperative mood Daniel Wallace disputes the notion that “be angry” in Ephesians 4:26 is a conditional imperative. He gives three reasons why this should be seen as a command rather than as a conditional.

“Grammatically, there are three fundamental problems with taking ὀργίζεσθε as a conditional imperative. First, there are no other undisputed examples of conditional imperatives in the construction imperative + καὶ + imperative in the NT. Unlike Eph 4:26, all clear texts have a future indicative in the apodosis. But there are, admittedly, a few good candidates, even if not undisputed. This brings us to our second point.

Second, all of the possible conditional imperatives in the construction imperative + καὶ + imperative require the trailing imperative to function semantically like a future indicative. In John 1:46, the translation would then be, instead of ‘Come and see’, ‘If you come, you will see.’ (Cf. also John 7:52). If applied to Eph 4:26, this would mean, ‘If you are angry, you will not sin’—an obviously ludicrous meaning.

Third, all of the conditional imperatives in the NT (both undisputed and potential) retained their imperatival force. This is semantically dissimilar to an alleged conditional imperative in Eph 4:26. Those who espouse a conditional view here would not translate the passage ‘If you are angry—and I want you to be. . . .’ When combined with the semantics noted above for all other conditional imperatives, the conditional view is prima facie self-defeating: ‘If you are angry (and I want you to be), then you will not sin’! This, of course, is not what the text means. But to argue for a conditional ὀργίζεσθε virtually requires this meaning, since all parallels point in this direction.” (Emphasis his. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 491)

Only a couple of the commentaries I consulted advocated for a conditional meaning. (Harold Hoehner offers a good list of commentaries and Greek grammars with the positions they take. See his commentary on Ephesians, pp. 619n.9; 620n.1 and 2).

Robert Gundry in his Commentary on the New Testament says, “Although ‘Be getting angry’ is a command, then, it needs to be understood as a conditional, almost as satirical, so that the emphasis falls on ‘don’t be sinning.’” (Commentary on the New Testament, p. 771)

In his commentary on Ephesians Frank Thielman writes,

“This consideration is outweighed, however, by the emphasis the context places on the second imperative in this two-imperative couplet (‘Be angry and do not sin’). The next two imperatives, like the second member of the couplet, are prohibitions (‘Do not let the sun set on your wrath, nor give place to the devil’). The context, then, is concerned with avoiding sin in situations where anger is present. This makes it likely that the first, positive imperative in the whole series is simply intended to set the stage for the prohibitions that follow.

Whether the anger is justified seems to be outside the purview of the admonition. Where anger is present, Paul says, a potentially sinful situation exists. Those who are angry should recognize this and take practical steps to avoid sinning.

Paul expresses no interest in the philosophical debate current in his time over whether all anger is harmful and should be eliminated or some anger is justified and people should seek to channel it in useful directions. Here he views anger simply as an emotion that can quickly become sinful.” (Ephesians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament pp. 313-14)

Overall, I find Wallace’s case more persuasive. The grammatical argument is strong and I don’t think it is overcome by Thielman’s observations of the context. Wallace deals with the contextual arguments in a longer essay which can be found here. I’ve listed 26 translations below with their preference for reading the verse as a command or a condition. I found it interesting that none of the Bibles offered an alternate translation in the margin.

Translations that favor a command

CEB, God’s Word – Be angry without sinning

ESV, RSV, NRSV, HCSB, NET, NKJV– Be angry and do not sin

KJV, ASV (1901) – Be ye angry, and sin not

Douay-Rheims – Be angry, and sin not

The Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright) – Be angry, but don’t sin

NABRE – Be angry but do not sin

NASB – Be angry and yet do not sin

Translations that favor a condition

NIV, TNIV – In your anger, do not sin

NCV – When you are angry, do not sin

Amplified – When angry, do not sin

Good News – If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin

J.B. Phillips – If you are angry, be sure that it is not out of wounded pride or bad temper

Jerusalem Bible – Even if you are angry, you must not sin

New Jerusalem Bible – Even if you are angry, do not sin

REB – If you are angry, do not be led into sin

(?) NLT – And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”

(?) Knox Bible – Do not let resentment lead you into sin

(?) CEV – Don’t get so angry that you sin