A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5: 21-26. A Christian’s Righteousness: Avoiding Anger
Insults are mentioned at the end of verse 22. Jesus warns us against calling our brother either *Raca* (probably equivalent to an Aramaic word meaning ‘empty’ or *more* (the Greek word for ‘fool’. It appears that ‘Raca’ is an insult to a person’s intelligence, calling him ‘empty-headed’, and commentators vie with one another in proposing English parallels like ‘nitwit’, ‘blockhead’, ‘numskull’ or ‘bonehead’. A *moron* also is a fool, but it can hardly be used here in its ordinary sense, for Jesus himself called the Pharisees and his disciples ‘fools’ (Mt.23:17; Lk.24:25) and the apostles on occasions blamed their readers for their folly (E.g. 1 Cor.15:36; Gal.3:1; Jas.2:20). So we need to remember that the word has acquired both religious and moral overtones, being applied in the Old Testament to those who denied God’s existence and as a result plunged into reckless evil doing (Ps.14:1-4; Ps.53:1-4. Alternatively, as some scholars suggest that *more* may translate a Hebrew word which means a ‘rebel’, an ‘apostate’, or an ‘outcast’ (E.g. Ps.78:8; Je.5:23). In this case, Tasker proposes the sentiment: ‘The man who tells his brother that he is doomed to hell is in danger of hell himself’.
Some uncertainty remains about the precise meaning of these two terms of abuse. They are clearly derisive, insulting epithets, and NEB is content to replace them with a more general ‘If he abuses his brother … if he sneers at him.’ At the same time, A.B.Bruce probably preserves the major difference between the words when he writes: *Raca* expresses contempt for a man’s head = you stupid!; *More* expresses contempt for his heart and character = you scoundrel!’
Now these things – angry thoughts and insulting words – may never lead to the ultimate act of murder. Yet they are tantamount to murder in God’s sight. As John was later to write: ‘Any one who hates his brother is a murderer.’ (1 Jn. 3:15). Anger and insult are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of somebody who stands in our way. Our thoughts, looks and words all indicate that, as we sometimes dare to say, we ‘wish he were dead’. Such an evil wish is a breach of the sixth commandment. And it renders the guilty person liable to the very penalties to which the murderer exposes himself, not in each case literally in a human law court law (for no court can charge a man with anger) but before the bar of God.
The exact meaning of the different judgments has been much discussed, but at least it is clear that Jesus was issuing a solemn warning of divine judgment. The rabbis may have been teaching not just that the only breach of the sixth commandment was murder, but also that the only penalty for murder was a human sentence: *Whoever kills shall be liable to judgment* (21).So Jesus added that *anyone who is angry* without a cause will equally *be liable to judgment*. Although the same Greek words are used for ‘the judgment’ in verse 22 as in verse 21, now the reference must be to the judgment of God, since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger. Similarly, Jesus continued, insult will expose us not only to *the council* but even to *the hell of fire* (23). In both cases Jesus was extending the nature of the penalty as well as of the crime. Not only are anger and insult equivalent to murder, he said, but the punishment to which they render us liable is nothing less than the divine judgment of hell.
Tomorrow: Matthew 5:21-26. Avoiding anger (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.