Matthew 5:22
(22) I say unto you.--The I is emphasized in the Greek. It was this probably that, more than anything else, led to the feeling of wonder expressed in Matthew 7:28-29. The scribe in his teaching invariably referred to this Rabbi and that; the new Teacher spoke as one having a higher authority of His own.

Angry . . . without a cause.--The last three words are wanting in many of the best MSS. They may have been inserted to soften down the apparent harshness of the teaching; but if so, it must have been at an early date--before the fourth century. They may, on the other hand, have been in the text originally, and struck out, as giving too wide a margin to vain and vague excuses. Ethically, the teaching is not that the emotion of anger, with or without a cause, stands on the same level of guilt with murder, but that the former so soon expands and explodes into the latter, that it will be brought to trial and sentenced according to the merits of each case, the occasion of the anger, the degree in which it has been checked or cherished, and the like. As no earthly tribunal can take cognisance of emotions as such, the "judgment" here is clearly that of the Unseen Judge dealing with offences which in His eyes are of the same character as those which come before the human judges. "Hates any man the thing he would not kill?"

Raca.--As far as the dictionary sense of the word goes, it is the same as that of the "vain fellows" of Judges 9:4, Jdg_11:3; Proverbs 12:11; but all words of abuse depend for their full force on popular association, and raca, like words of kindred meaning among ourselves, was in common use as expressing not anger only but insolent contempt. The temper condemned is that in which anger has so far gained the mastery that we no longer recognise a "brother" in the man who has offended us, but look on him with malignant scorn.

The council.--Offences of this kind are placed by our Lord on the same level as those which came before the great court of the Sanhedrim. That word, though it looks like Hebrew, is really only a transliterated form of the Greek word for council. The court consisted of seventy or seventy-two members, with a president and vice-president, and was made up of the heads of the twenty-four courses of the priests, with forty-six or forty-eight (how chosen it is not known) from the "elders" and "scribes." Like the Areopagus at Athens, it took cognisance--as in the case of our Lord (Matthew 26:65) and Stephen (Acts 6:13)--of blasphemy and other like offences, and its peculiar prerogative was that it could order death by stoning. The point of our Lord's teaching was, therefore, that to scorn God's image in man is to do dishonour to God Himself. We cannot truly "fear God" unless we also "honour all men" (1Peter 2:17). The reverence for humanity as such must extend even to the man who has most provoked us. In the unseen eternal world the want of that reverence has its own appropriate punishment.

Thou fool.--The Greek word so rendered agrees accidentally in its consonants with the Hebrew word translated "rebel" (m're) in Numbers 20:10, and hence it has been thought by some that we have here, as with raca, a common Hebrew term of opprobrium. There is no evidence, however, that the word was thus used, and it is more probable that the Greek is a translation of some word which, like the "fool" of the Old Testament, implied, as in Psalm 14:1, utter godlessness as well as lack of intellectual wisdom. With that meaning it embodied the temper, not, like that represented by raca, of petulant contempt, but of fixed and settled hatred. That it was the temper and not the utterance of the mere syllables which our Lord condemned is seen in that He Himself used the word of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:17; Matthew 23:19), and St. Paul of the sceptical Greek materialist (1Corinthians 15:36). The self-same word might spring from a righteous indignation or from malignant hatred.

Of hell fire.--Literally, of the Gehenna of fire. Great confusion has arisen here and elsewhere from the use of the same English word for two Greek words of very different meanings: (1) Hades, answering to the Sheol (also for the most part translated "hell") of the Old Testament, the unseen world, the region or state of the dead, without any reference to their blessedness or misery; (2) Gehenna, which had come to represent among the later Jews (not in the time of any Old Testament writer) the place of future punishment. The history of the word is worth studying. Originally, it was the Greek form of Ge-hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom, sometimes of the "son" or the "children" of Hinnom), and was applied to a narrow gorge on the south of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8). There Solomon erected a high place for Molech (1Kings 11:7). There the fires of that god had received their bloody offerings of infant sacrifice under Ahaz and Manasseh (2Kings 16:3; 2Chronicles 28:3; 2Chronicles 33:6). Josiah, in his great work of reformation, defiled it, probably by casting the bones of the dead and other filth upon it (2Kings 23:10-14); and the Jews on their return from captivity showed their abhorrence of the idolatry of their fathers by making it, as it were, the place where they cast out all the refuse of the city. Outwardly, it must have been foul to sight and smell, and thus it became, before our Lord's time, a parable of the final state of those in whom all has become vile and refuse. The thought first appears in the Targum or Paraphrase of Isaiah 33:14 ("Gehenna is the eternal fire"). It is often said that fires which were kept burning to consume the solid refuse added to the horror of the scene; but of this, though it is suggested by this passage and Mark 9:48. there is no adequate evidence. Here the analogy of the previous clauses suggests also the thought that the bodies of great criminals were sometimes deprived of burial rites, and cast out into the Valley of Hinnom; but of this, too, there is no evidence, though it is in itself probable enough. In any case, the meaning of the clause is obvious. Our passing words, expressing states of feeling, and not the overt act of murder only, are subject to the judgment of the Eternal Judge, and may bring us into a guilt and a penalty like that of the vilest criminals.

Verse 22. - But I say unto you. "I" emphatic (as also in vers. 28, 32, 34, 39, 44), in contrast to God, as God's utterance was then conditioned; i.e. in contrast to God's voice to and through Moses (cf. John 1:17; John 7:23; Hebrews 10:28, 29). Christ claims for his words the same authority, and more than the same authority, as for those spoken once by God. The circumstances had altered; the message for τοῖς ἀρχαίοις was insufficient now. Christ brings his own Personality forward, and claims to give a more perfect and far-reaching statement of the sixth commandment than the current form of its teaching, notwithstanding the fact that this current form represented truly the original thought underlying its promulgation. In the following words our Lord speaks of three grades of auger, and, as answering to them, of three grades of punishment. The former will be examined under the several terms employed. Upon the latter it is necessary to make a few remarks here. They have been very variously understood.


(a) "The judgment" means the judgment of God alone, for he alone can take cognizance of mere anger;

(b) "the council" means the judgment of the Sanhedrin, "a publick tryal;"

(c) "the Gehenna of fire" means the judgment of hell (Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.,' in loc.).


(a) "The judgment" means the local court;

(b) "the council" means the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem;

(c) "the Gehenna of fire" means hell (apparently Nosgen, and many other, especially Romish, expositors). It will be noticed that both the above interpretations are inconsistent. They make our Lord pass from literal to figurative language in the same sentence. Besides, in the second it is inexplicable how mere anger could be brought under the cognizance of a human court. For these reasons it is probable that

(3) all three stages express metaphorically grades of Divine judgment under the form of the Jewish processes of law.

(a) "The judgment" primarily means the local court;

(b) "the council "primarily means the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem;

(c) "the Gehenna of fire" primarily means the Valley of Hinnom, where the last processes of judgment seem to have taken place (vide infra). Christ does not say that the sins spoken of render a man liable to any of these earthly processes of law; he says that they render him liable to processes of Divine law which are fittingly symbolized by these expressions. (So Alford, Mansel, and especially Trench, 'Sermon on the Mount,' p. 190). Whosoever is angry; Revised Version, more precisely, every one who (πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος). This form of expression is specially frequent in 1 John, e.g. 3:3, where Bishop Westcott says, "In each case where this characteristic form of language occurs there is apparently a reference to some who had questioned the application of a general principle in particular cases," (For the thought of this clause, cf. 1 John 3:15.) With his brother. The term "brother" was applied in both Greek and Hebrew, by way of metaphor, to things that possessed merely such fellowship as arises from juxtaposition or from similarity of purpose (cf. of the cherubim, Exodus 25:20, "with their faces one to another," literally, "each (man) to his brother"). It is thus possible that here the thought is of any person with whom one is brought into temporary relation, quite apart from any question of a common source. Yet as this could have been represented by "neighbour" (cf. Matthew 19:19), it seems reasonable to see something more in "brother," and to view it with reference to its implied meaning, "fellowship of life based on identity of origin" (Cremer). To Jews as such the term would doubtless only suggest identity of origin nationally, i.e. a fellow-Jew (cf. especially Leviticus 19:17a with 16, 17b, 18; so even Malachi 2:10); but to Christians of the time when the Gospel was written rather identity of spiritual origin, i.e. a fellow-Christian. Probably when the expression fell from Christ's lips not one of those who heard him imagined that it could have any wider meaning than fellow-Jew or fellow-believer on Jesus, and probably most of them limited it to the former. In fact, Christ seems to have used it as a means whereby to lead up his hearers from the idea of a national to that of a spiritual relation (cf. vers. 47, 48). We are therefore hardly warranted (far-reaching as the word on Christ's lips is) in seeing here any reference to the thought of the universal brotherhood of man, based on the fact of all being children of one common Father (cf. further Bishop Westcott, on 1 John 2:9). Without a cause. Omitted by the Revised Version; Revised Version margin, "many ancient authorities insert without cause." The εἰκῆ, though found in the Old Latin and Old Syriac, is certainly to be omitted, with R, B, and Vulgate, notwithstanding Dean Burgon ('Revision,' p. 358); cf. especially Westcott and Hurt, 'App.' It is redundant, because the two following expressions show that the anger itself is unloving and hostile (cf. further Meyer). There is a holy anger, but that is with a brother's sin, not with the brother himself (cf. Augustine, in Trench, 'Sermon on the Mount'). Shall be in danger of the judgment; i.e. of God's wrath as symbolized by the lowest degree of Jewish trial (vide supra). And whosoever (ὅς δ ἄν). For in this case there was no need for the emphasizing inclusiveness of πᾶς. Raca.

(1) Augustine's explanation (in los.; vide Trench; cf. also 'In Joann. Evang.,' § 51:2; 'De Doctr. Christ.,' 2:11), which he got "a quodam Hebraeo," that Raca is in itself meaningless, and is only an interjection expressing indignation, as "Heu!" sorrow, or "Hem!" anger, or "Hosanna" (!) joy, will hardly commend itself to us to-day.

(2) Nor will Chrysostom's (in loc.; vide Chase's admirable monograph on Chrysostom (1887), p. 133), "As we in giving orders to a servant or to some one of mean rank, say, Go you; take you this message (ἄπελθε σὺ εἰπὲ τῷ δεῖνι σύ), so those who use the Syrian language used Raca, an equivalent to our you (σύ);' seem much better, whether we take him as considering it as meaningless, or as in some way confusing its ending with the Shemitic suffix for "thee" (ka).

(3) Ewald explains it by רקעא, "rascal" (vide Meyer); but

(4) it is more probably the Aramaic ריקא reka "empty;" cf. Hebrew plural rekim, "vain fellows," in Judges 9:4; Judges 11:3. St. James uses its equivalent (ω΅ ἄνρθωπε κενέ, 2:20) in solemn warning; but it was not infrequently used as a mere term of angry abuse (cf. Lightfoot, ' Hor. Hebr.,' in loc., and Levy, s.v.). Buxtorf, s.v., compares a favourite expression of Aben Ezra's, ריקי מוה, "empty-heads," for those who raise senseless objections, etc.; but the simple expression in our text refers rather to moral deficiency thorn to deficiency of brain. The council (vide supra). But; Revised Version, and. The Authorized Version interpolates an emphasis on the climax. Thou fool (Μωρέ).

(1) This is probably the Greek word for "fool," equivalent to the Hebrew nabal (נָבָל), which was often used in the Old Testament of the folly of wickedness (Psalm 14:1; cf. 1 Samuel 25:25). In this sense μωρός is used by our Lord himself (Matthew 23:17 [19]).

(2) It may be the transliteration (cf. שׁכן, σκηνοῦν) of the Hebrew moreh (מורה), "rebel" (cf. Numbers 20:10). (So Revised Version margin, Weiss. Nosgen.) In favour of this is the parallelism cf. language with Raca. The sense, too, is excellent, "Thou rebel against God!" It is almost equivalent to "Apostate!" But the absence of any evidence that the Jews used moreh as a term of abuse prevents our accepting this interpretation. Field ('Otium Norv.,' 3.) points out that if this interpretation were true, moreh would be "the only pure Hebrew word in the Greek Testament (ἀλληλουι'´α, ἀμήν, and σαβαώθ, as being taken from the LXX., belong to a different class), all other foreign words being indisputably Aramaic, as raca, talitha kumi, maranatha, etc., which, as might have been expected, are retained by the authors of the Syriac versions without alteration. Not so μωρε;, for which both the Peschito and Philoxenian versions have lelo ()... a plain proof that these learned Syrians look it for an exotic, and not like ῤακά, a native word." In either case. the term expresses the absolute godlessness of him who is so addressed. Of the two terms, Raca is more negative, implying the absence of all good, Μωρέ more positive, implying decided wickedness. Shall be in danger of; ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς. The change from the usual dative to the unique construction with εἰς, indicated by the Revised Version margin, "Greek, unto or into," is doubtless because our Lord no longer refers to the tribunal at which the punishment is ordered, but to the punishment itself into which the condemned man comes (cf. Wirier, § 31:5). Hell fire; Revised Version, the hell of fire; Revised Version margin, "Greek, Gehenna of fire" (τῆν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός). Gehenna is properly "the Valley of Hinnom" (Joshua 18:16b; Nehemiah 11:30), or "of the son of Hinnom" (Joshuaxv. 8; 16:18a; 2 Chronicles 28:3). It is probably the valley on the south-west of Jerusalem (see, however, W. F. Birch, in Palestine Exploration Fund Report, January, 1889, pp. 39, 42, who places it between the two parts of Jerusalem, identifying it with the Tyropoeon Valley of Josephus, neglecting, however, to explain how so central a position is consistent with the "fire." In it was the spot where human sacrifices were offered to Moloch (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:3; and Rawlinson, on 2 Kings 23:10), called the Topheth, "the place of horror" (vide especially Payne Smith, on Jeremiah 7:31); and in it, presumably on the same place, were burnt, according to Jewish tradition (vide especially Kimchi, on Psalm 27:13), the carcases of animals and other offal. There is no direct evidence that the bodies of criminals (as is often stated) were burnt there. But it seems probable that it was in this place that death by "burning," whether it was the later method of "burning" by a red-hot wire, or the earlier (Mishna, 'San-hedr.,' 7:2) of lighting faggots of wood round the condemned person, would be carried into effect. Thus both from the old associations of the valley, and from the then use made of it, the epithet "of fire" would be very naturally added. It seems probable that our Lord here referred primarily to "Gehenna" in this local sense (vide supra), but it is fair to notice that there is no other instance in the New Testament of this literal usage of the word. Elsewhere it is always in the metaphorical sense common in rabbinic writings of the place of final punishment which we usually call "hell."

5:21-26 The Jewish teachers had taught, that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Thus they explained away its spiritual meaning. Christ showed the full meaning of this commandment; according to which we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. All rash anger is heart murder. By our brother, here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much below us, for we are all made of one blood. Raca, is a scornful word, and comes from pride: Thou fool, is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred. Malicious slanders and censures are poison that kills secretly and slowly. Christ told them that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be called into judgment for them. We ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren; and if at any time there is a quarrel, we should confess our fault, humble ourselves to our brother, making or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed: and we should do this quickly; because, till this is done, we are unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. And when we are preparing for any religious exercises, it is good for us to make that an occasion of serious reflection and self-examination. What is here said is very applicable to our being reconciled to God through Christ. While we are alive, we are in the way to his judgement-seat; after death, it will be too late. When we consider the importance of the case, and the uncertainty of life, how needful it is to seek peace with God, without delay!But I say unto you,.... This is a Rabbinical way of speaking, used when a question is determined, and a false notion is refuted; it is a magisterial form of expression, and well suits with Christ, the great teacher and master in Israel; who spake as one having authority, opposing himself, not to the law of "Moses, thou shalt not kill"; but to the false gloss the ancient doctors had put upon it, with which their later ones agreed. You say, that if one man kills another himself, he is to be put to death by the sanhedrim; and if he does it by proxy, he is to be left to the judgment of God, so wholly restraining the law to actual murder; but I affirm, that

whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of judgment. By "brother" is meant, not in a religious sense, one that is of the same faith, or in the same church state; nor, in a strict natural sense, one that is so in the bonds of consanguinity; but in a large sense, any man, of whatsoever country or nation: for we are to be angry with no man; that is, as is rightly added,

without a cause: for otherwise there is an anger which is not sinful, is in God, in Christ, in the holy angels; and is commendable in the people of God, when it arises from a true zeal for religion, the glory of God, and the interest of Christ; and is kindled against sin, their own, or others, all manner of vice, false doctrine, and false worship: but it is causeless anger which is here condemned by Christ, as a breach of the law, "thou shalt not kill"; and such persons are

in danger of judgment; not of any of the courts of judicature among the Jews, as the sanhedrim of three, or of twenty three, or of seventy one, which took no notice of anger, as a passion in the mind, only of facts committed; but of the judgment of God, as in the preceding "verse", it being distinguished from the sanhedrim, or council, in the next clause.

And whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council, or "sanhedrim". The word Raca is expressive of indignation and contempt; it was used as a term of reproach. Some derive it from to "spit upon"; as if the person that used it thought the man he spoke to deserved to be spit upon, and treated in the most contemptuous manner: but rather the word signifies "empty" and "vain", and denotes a worthless, empty headed man; a man of no brains; a foolish, witless, fellow: so it is often used in Jewish writings. Take a few instances, as follow:

"a certain person said to R. Jochanan (w), Rabbi, expound, for it becomes thee to expound; for as thou hast said, so have I:seen: he replied to him, Reka, if thou hadst not seen, thou wouldst not have believed.''

Again (x), it happened to R. Simeon ben Eliezer of Migdal Edar, who went from the house of Rabbi; and he met with a certain man very much deformed; he says unto him, Reka, how many are the deformed sons of "Abraham our father?" Many more instances might be given (y). Now I do not find that the use of this reproachful word was cognizable by the Jewish sanhedrim, or great council; nor is it our Lord's meaning that it was, only that it ought to have been taken notice of in a proper manner, as well as actual murder. He adds,

but whosoever shall say thou fool, shall be danger of hell fire. The word "fool" does not signify a man of weak parts, one that is very ignorant in things natural; this the word Raca imports; but a wicked reprobate man; in which sense Solomon often uses the word. The Persic version renders it here "wicked". There is a manifest gradation in the text from causeless anger in the breast, or reproachful words; and from thence to a censorious judging of a man's spiritual and eternal estate, which is what is here condemned. "Thou fool", is, thou wicked man, thou ungodly wretch, thou graceless creature, whose portion will be eternal damnation. Calling a man by such names was not allowed of by the Jews themselves, whose rules are:

"he that calls his neighbour a servant, let him be excommunicated; a bastard, let him be beaten with forty stripes; "a wicked man", let him descend with him into his life or livelihood (z).''

The gloss upon it is,

"as if he should say, to this the sanhedrim is not obliged, but it is lawful to hate him, yea to lessen his sustenance, and exercise his trade,''

which was done to bring him to poverty and distress. So, it seems, the sanhedrim were not obliged to take notice of him. Again, they say,

"it is forbidden a man to call his neighbour by a name of reproach (a) everyone that calls his neighbour "a wicked man", shall be brought down to hell;''

which is pretty much what Christ here says,


Matthew 5:21
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