ESV - 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
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In Matthew 5:21-22, the Lord mentions the teaching that those committing murder are liable of the judgment. He then gives an interpretation that goes to the source of the external act, to the heart where anger can boil up to murder, Genesis 4:5-8. Abusive language is an indication of that anger. There are three types of anger the Lord addresses and three levels of judgment the Jews well understood. The first action was being angry with a brother without a cause. The phrase ‘without a cause’ is omitted in some versions, but it actually belongs. Anger is not forbidden, but is actually commanded, Ephesians 4:26, Psalm 4:4, and was practiced by the Lord, Mark 3:5, but ‘anger without a cause’ is forbidden. The Lord said this was liable to being brought before the ‘judgment’ which was a typical court of law where crimes such as murder were tried (as verse 21). This was as serious as a criminal offense. The second offense was calling someone ‘raca,’ an Aramaic word used only here. This meant ‘empty’ as ‘empty-headed,’ or ‘numbskull.’ It is akin to the Hebrew ‘req’ used in Judges 9:4, 11:3, ‘worthless wicked’ men, and Proverbs 12:11 ‘devoid of understanding.’ The seriousness of this action is that it deserves judgment by ‘the council’ which was the highest or supreme court, the Sanhedrin, the great national council of 72 judges. This puts this action on the level of the highest crimes as treason. The third action, the most serious offense, was calling someone a ‘fool.’ The Greek word is ‘moros’ (as ‘moron’), meaning ‘impious’ or ‘godless,’ equivalent to the Hebrew ‘nabal,’ meaning ‘worthless reprobate,’ ‘ungodly wretch.’ In the Old Testament, the husband of Abigail had this for a name which he lived up to, I Samuel 25:25. To the Lord, this offense required the utmost judgment which, to the Jews would be ‘hell fire,’ more accurately ‘Gehenna’s fire’ which is named for the valley of the Son of Hinnom located to the south of the city of Jerusalem. An unproven notion is that this was the burning trash dump, but it was definitely the place where children were sacrificed, II Chronicles 28:3, 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31-32. ‘Tophet’ means the place of burning the dead. The Jews used ‘gehenna’ to speak of the destiny of the wicked, revealed in the New Testament as the Lake of Fire. This is how serious it was to the Lord for a believer to call a believing brother a fool. This is part of ‘The Sermon on the Mount,’ Matthew 5-7, which is the mandate of Christ – what it will be like in His future kingdom of righteousness. The new interpretation must have shocked the hearers who gave no thought to the heart being the source of all their actions. Anger welling in the heart can cause believers to lash out against a brother in the Lord and this is just as bad as murder. Believers must remember to love one another. It starts in the heart.
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