Reading Assignment:

Matthew 5:21-26

Did you understand what you read?

  1. What is the source of the saying in verse 21? Explain your reasoning.
  2. Is the saying correct or incorrect? Why?
  3. Use a Bible dictionary and explain the difference between "raca" and "fool."
  4. When is it improper to be angry with someone?
  5. Why should you agree with your enemies?


Jesus begins with "Ye have heard it said by them of old time." This is not the same phrasing that Jesus normally used to refer to the Old Testament scriptures. In Matthew 4:4,7,10, he uses the phrase "It is written." The scriptures are authoritative, written down for all to scrutinize. However, oral traditions are something that cannot be pinned down. The phrasing that Jesus used seems to indicate that he is referring to something that is not authoritative.

The actual quotation is "Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." If Jesus was referring to the Old Law, then we should be able to find the quotation in the Old Testament. However, only the first portion of the quotation appears in the Old Testament - in Exodus 20:13. The second phrase does not exist in the Old Law. The nearest verse I can find is in Numbers 35:29-31. However, instead of threatening that one who kills may be brought to trial, Numbers 35 deals with the evidence will convict a murderer and how to punish a convicted murderer. The Old Law does not threaten the possibility of trial; it commands that murderers must be tried.

The emphasis of the quotation is the physical act of killing. If you kill, you may be caught and you may be tried. What is absent is a concept that killing is wrong. In fact, the quotation implies that it may be possible to get away with murder. There is only a danger, not a surety, of trial - let alone conviction.

Jesus believes the quotation is wrong. He starts out with "but I say unto you." Jesus will contrast what the quotation is implying with the truth. The cause of all murders is anger. (We are not talking about accidental killings, but the intentional taking of another man's life.) Jesus points out three facts:

  1. Being angry without a cause puts you in danger of a judgment.
  2. Calling someone "Raca" ("a fool" in Aramaic) puts you in danger of appearing before a court.
  3. Calling someone "fool" (in Greek this time) puts you in danger of going to Hell.

Most translations use the conjunction "and" between the first two points and the conjunction "but" between the second and third points. However, these two words are a translation of a single Greek phrase: hos de av, which George Berry, in his Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, translates as "but whoever." According to Strong's, "and whoever" is also an acceptable translation. Hence, the changing of the conjunctive in this passage is solely based on the interpreter's judgment. I prefer the use of "and whoever" in both cases because it builds a nice list.

The reason for using the phrase "but whoever" between the second and third point is the feeling that Jesus is contrasting the Aramaic word "Raca" to the Greek word for fool. According to Vine, moros, the Greek word, means "dull, sluggish; ... stupid, foolish." Raca, the Aramaic word, means "empty-headed." Vine goes on to say that Jesus is using the three phrases "angry without cause", "raca", and "fool" in increasingly severe terms - based on the results of using the terms. Vine explains that "raca" is being a fool intellectually, but "moros" is being a fool morally. However, L. Harris in The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible states that the two words are too close in definition to argue about subtle differences in meaning. The two words are from two different languages and should not be directly compared. Normally, "moros" and "raca" would be appropriate translations between Greek and Aramaic.

Harris appeals to the Talma to show the Jewish attitude towards calling names. Calling someone a fool in Greek (a foreign language) is not nice, but to call someone a fool in Aramaic (the native tongue at that time) was a true insult that could be resolved in court.

From the similar wording, I believe Jesus is equating the three phrases. They are all equally wrong. To emphasize, Jesus uses the most strongly worded warning with the phrase the Jews would consider the least offensive. Being angry without cause and calling someone a fool (in any language), can cause you difficulties if it is not corrected. The difficulties arise in both this world and in the world to come.

As a result, Jesus recommends straightening out problems between you and another person as quickly as possible. He also pointed out that unless we try to resolve problems with our brother, we might as well forget about worshiping God, because our worship will not be acceptable to God. Note that the style of worship that Jesus mentioned is only found under the Old Law. Under the New Law, we do not bring gifts to God upon an altar.

The points that Jesus made fit very well with the teachings found in the Old Testament. God distinguished intentional murder from unintentional murder by the anger that a person had within his heart (Deuteronomy 19:4). Restraining anger is taught in Psalms 37:8, Proverbs 14:17, Proverbs 16:32, and Proverbs 19:11. Just as Jesus spoke against calling someone a fool, the Old Testament also condemns cursing or evil speaking in Psalms 10:7 and Psalms 59:12-13. Before God will forgive a person of their transgressions, he must first forgive his brother. The Old Law also spoke about showing mercy and forgiveness (Proverbs 3:3, Proverbs 11:17, Hosea 6:6, Hosea 12:6, and Micah 6:8). Jesus recommended settling disputes quickly. In Proverbs 26:17-21, we see that being contentious (refusing to settle a matter) just adds fuel to strife. Other verses on strife and contention are Proverbs 17:14, Proverbs 20:3, Proverbs 25:8, and Proverbs 15:18. Proverbs 22:3 tells us that a prudent man will recognize evil and avoid it, but a simple man will continue on and be punished.

The New Testament also speaks on these matters. In I John 3:15, hating a brother is equated to being a murderer. Colossians 3:8 warns us to put off anger and malice. We are not to speak evil of one another (Titus 3:2, James 4:11, and I Peter 2:1). We are to forgive, just as God has forgiven us (Matthew 6:14, Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32, and Colossians 3:13). In Ephesians 4:26, we are told to settle disagreements quickly. I Corinthians 6:1-8 warns about going to court with brethren and the steps that can be taken to avoid it.


  1. When is it appropriate to be angry with someone?
  2. Is it always wrong to call someone a fool? Explain your answer in detail.
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