08.01.05 Mt. 5:21-26
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment (Ex. 20:13). 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.
23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors.” To the Jewish mind, nothing was valid unless it was handed down from great rabbis of the past. Therefore, a new theological concept from Jesus was invalid. However, new rules for interpreting the Scriptures were established by Hillel and accepted by many, because these required a more legalistic observance of the Torah in the growing influence of the Greek culture. The phrase “You have heard” is often a reference to the Oral Law. If Jesus or another rabbi was speaking to a Jewish audience, then this phrase could have included the Written Law or Torah because it was read publically in the synagogue. As Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Law, He is now heralding the dawn of a new kingdom. John has his famous seven “I AM” statements of the Savior, but Matthew has the “I came” and I say” statements.
“But I tell you.” Six times Jesus said this because the Pharisees believed that a thought did not become a sin until it was an action. Jesus introduced a radical change when he said that a sinful thought or attitude was also sin. He said that to be righteous, one had to be perfect as He (Jesus) is perfect. Such righteousness is impossible for man to attain without the intervention of Christ Himself and, therefore, there is the need for a personal relationship.
With speech patterns like this, Jesus clearly demonstrated that He placed himself equal with God and the Torah. Throughout most of His ministry, He used indirect methods such as this to announce His deity. To make an outright statement would have been considered blasphemous, prideful, and arrogant, so Jesus spoke in an indirect manner. Those who accepted Him as their Messiah also accepted Him as God. The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, recognized this figure of speech immediately and were infuriated.
“Everyone who is angry.” The difficulty with this phrase is that everyone gets angry at one time or another. It is part of life. It is not the kind of anger that spouses have from time to time, or that between siblings, although if those issues are not properly resolved, they can lead to the anger (orge) of this magnitude. However, Jesus was not speaking about that kind of anger. Jesus referred to the Greek word for angry that is orge, which is a deep-seated, festering, brooding anger that is a accompanied with bitterness and a sense of pleasure for hatred. Since this attitude is a gross violation of a godly attitude, one who does not repent will judged accordingly.
“Judgment … fool … Sanhedrin … hellfire.” The culture of the Bible was definitely an honor society; where people are honored and respected. To degrade anyone without legitimate reason was highly condemned. So to call someone a fool, for example, which includes the meaning of being insane, was highly condemned. Jesus used a literary device to build an escalation of the final judgment. He began with the local judicial court, then moved to the supreme court of the land, and ended with eternal damnation. The Master Teacher used a teaching technique involving cause and effect and built it to a climax. His words captured everyone’s attention, because they knew that murder led to damnation in hell (literally, the hell of fire), but Jesus added that even those who spoke abusively without righteous cause would be included.
One of the images of hell is “Gehenna,” which is the Greek representation of the Hebrew word Ge-Hinnom or Valley of Hinnom. It is a deep narrow valley on the southern side of today’s Old City of Jerusalem. In biblical times this valley was where two apostate kings sacrificed live infants to the fire-god Molech –
- King Ahaz (reigned c. 728 B.C.; name shortened from Jehoahaz) also consulted wizards and necromancers (2 Chron. 28:22-25; Isa. 8:19) and,
- King Manasseh (reigned c. 696 – 641 B.C.), like Ahaz (reigned 741-726 B.C.), revived ancient pagan worship in Jerusalem (2 Kg. 23:10).  His was the longest reign (55 years) of all the kings of Judea and the most immoral one (2 Kgs. 23:26-27). Even though he repented in his later years, his corruption eventually led to the collapse of the southern kingdom (tribal areas of Benjamin and Judah).
In this inferno, parents watched their child burn while they worshiped Molech in Gehenna. The prophet Jeremiah called Gehenna the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jer.7:31; 19:5-6). This brought an incredible reproach upon the Jewish people. Years later, Josiah (cf. 2 Kg. 23) had the artifacts of this pagan cult burned outside the city, along with the bones of those who were involved in its heinous rituals. Gehenna has the imagery of a man-made hell with a history of infants dying in agony as well as the apostasy of Ahaz and Manasseh.
According to the New Testament, hell is a very real place of unquenchable fire (Mt. 5:22; Mk. 9:43-47) and God will condemn the wicked to it (Mt. 10:28; Lk. 12:5) While the actual location is unknown, many believe it is in the center of the earth. Hell is the place of constant pain, as evidenced by the wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:50). It is full of fire as well as darkness (Mt. 8:12). The imagery of Gehenna (Mt. 11:23; 16:18) is the eternal hell, whereas Hades is the abode of the dead during the Old Testament and Inter-Testament Periods and not a lake of fire.
Unfortunately, confusion is added to the subject because in the first century, the terms of “hades” and “hell” were at times interchangeable. Josephus describes hades as a “certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire,” prepared by God for those who have been disobedient, unjust, and who worshiped idols, etc. However, regardless, of the name, Jews believed, just as Jesus taught, that there was a lake of fire for the ungodly. The eternal punishment of sinful men, with its infinite horrors in hell, is intended to be a vivid demonstration of the infinite value of the grace and glory of God Almighty.
On the other hand, the term sheol has been incorrectly translated as hell. The Old Testament concept of sheol is not a place of torment, but a land of shades, shadowy, and a joyless ghostly place. The New Testament understanding of heaven and hell is not related to sheol, and there is hardly any concept of eternal life in the Hebrew Bible.
“You moron!” Literally, Jesus used the Aramaic word raca, which is extremely difficult to translate because the tone of voice carries more meaning than the word itself. It has several closely related meanings such as empty headed, fool, idiot, or ignorant. Neither the phrase moron or fool give justice to the definition of raca. It reflected anger and animosity and was associated with the greatest insult one could give, and that is the key point. It was especially significant, because, in this culture, great value was given to hospitality and honoring others within one’s clan or tribe. In the Mediterranean world, every person was honored and every culture expected every member to uphold the honor of his family, clan, and tribe. To shame anyone was considered an incredible sin.
The Jews believed there were three sins that could damn one to hell. While Jesus did not agree with the entire tradition, He did, in fact, agree strongly on the severity of these sins. According to the Babylonian Talmud, these were,
- To commit adultery,
- To publicly put a neighbor to shame, and
- To insult a neighbor.
In essence, Jesus said that anyone who destroys the name and reputation of another brother (believer) is subject to the severest punishment in the fire of hell. In addition, to call another Jew “a slave” was a serious charge and insult, and invited excommunication. That is because a “brother in the faith” is a reflection of the character and image of God. Yet Jesus called the corrupt religious leaders “blind fools” (Mt. 23:17). How can such strong language be justified when Jesus, Himself, used it? It was seldom used among the rabbis and sages and, hence, when it was spoken it had a profound effect. A rare example in the Mishnah reads,
A foolish saint and a cunning knave and a woman that is a hypocrite and the wounds of the Pharisees, these wear out the world.
Mishnah, Sotah 3.4
Notice the words of James, a kin brother of Jesus,
My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
In this culture the statement reflected an outward symptom of deep-rooted anger. It is the anger (lack of forgiveness) that is the condemning element and the phrase simply reveals what is in the heart. Why did Jesus call the religious hypocrites “blind fools?” There are three reasons why Jesus used such strong language.
- It should reveal to us the deep-rooted righteous anger Jesus had against those who were in religious authority and who deliberately used their high office for their own financial reward, with no concern whatsoever for the common people for whom they were spiritually responsible.
- In the biblical sense of the word, to be a fool virtually means to be an apostate or among the damned. As such, Jesus gave a prophetic prediction of where His critics would spend eternity.
- Jesus is the ultimate judge and authority. Jesus used the phrase in reference to the foolish builder (Mt. 7:26) and about the foolish virgins (25:2-3, 8). Paul used its equivalent in rebuking the Galatians (Gal. 3:1). Therefore, there are appropriate times to use it and other times when its use is a sin.
As stated previously, the imagery of hell or hellfire is often associated with Gehenna, a place in the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, also known as the Hinnom Valley. Church traditions have two inaccurate legends associated with the Valley (located south and west of Jerusalem).
- The Hinnom Valley was where the city residents burned their trash and garbage. This, unfortunately, is a gross misunderstanding of the culture, because city residents did not have a dump in the Hinnom Valley. In fact, “garbage” is a relatively modern invention. The ancients used all combustible material for fuel, including dried dung scraped off the city streets, so they would not have had anything to burn in a city dump. Furthermore, there has been no archaeological evidence, such as ashes and burned fragments, discovered that would identify a dump site.
- Another inaccurate image of the Hinnom Valley is that it was where pottery kilns were located and they were the source of constant fires, an image of hell (literally, the hell of fire). The traditional opinion of the location of a burning rubbish dump is believed to have originated with Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 around the year A.D.1200. But no Jewish or Christian literary evidence prior to Kimhi mentions this opinion. Furthermore, of the many archaeological investigations in the area, none indicate that there were any kilns in the Hinnom Valley.
The reason these two traditions are false is simple: The prevailing winds are from the west and would have blown the smoke and stench eastwardly into the palace of Herod the Great and over the city. He most certainly would have objected to the foul odors, as would have the Sadducees, who dedicated themselves to lives with every imaginable comfort and pleasure. That is also why thousands of tombs are to the east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. There are no cemetaries to the west of the Old City, only a few scattered wealthy tombs.
“You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” There is the possibility that the meaning in this idiom will be missed, rather than misunderstood. Jesus is speaking of the certainty of Divine justice, which all will encounter someday. The essential message of Jesus is to go the extra mile to forgive, and whenever possible, be reconciled.
. The irony is that the Romans had a nearly identical understanding of religion. They believed that all religions were ancient, and if a certain doctrine or teaching wasn’t ancient, then it was a superstition. Superstitions were deemed to be bad and needed to be removed from society. Therefore, since the teachings of Jesus were not recognized as being ancient, the Romans labeled them and Christians as superstitious, and tried to eradicate them.
. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash. 8-10.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 94.
. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament. 203.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 147.
. See also 12.01.02.Q2 What are the differences among the terms “Hell, Hades,” and “Gehenna?”
. Levy, The Ruin and Restoration of Israel. 73.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:40.
. cf. Mt. 23:17; Mk. 3:5 for proper rebuke.
. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies. 44; Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words. 97.
. Manasseh and Ahaz are among fifty biblical names whose existence has been verified by archaeological studies in a published article by Lawrence Mykytiuk titled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2014 (40:2), pages 42-50, 68. This archaeological evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical timeline. For further study, see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98.
. Barclay, “John” 2:35; Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies. 44-47.
. The term “fire” was frequently used by Old Testament prophets: Isa. 29:6; 66:15; Ezek. 38:22; Amos 1:4; 7:4; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mal. 3:2; 4:1. The term is also found in numerous extra-biblical books such as Jubilees 9:15; 36:10 and in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:149.
. Finegan, Myth and Mystery. 116-17. It should be noted that the terms “Hades” and “hell” are often used interchangeably.
. See “Hell” in Appendix 26.
. Josephus, Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades.
. Barclay, “John.” 2:91-92.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 148-49.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:139-40.
. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 59-60.
. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mesia 58b.
. Because the Jews experienced slavery and thankfulness was one (# 10) of their Eighteen Benedictions, for a Jew to unjustly call another Jews “a slave,” could subject him to excommunication from the synagogue. See Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:304.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 371.
. See also the discussion on hypocrites/hypocrisy in 08.03.04 (Mt. :5-15) and in “Pharisees” in 02.01.14.
. Richardson, “Folly, Fool.” 84-85.
. See Mt. 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; Jas. 3:6.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:40.
. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 340.