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Matthew 5:21-26



21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, a and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother b will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, c’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. d


J Vernon McGee

 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire [Matt. 5:21–22].

This is a tremendous statement! It means that if you are angry with your brother, you are a murderer! Do you claim to be keeping the Mosaic Law? You cannot break the Law and get by with it. You can’t get by with mouthing the boast that the Sermon on the Mount is your religion and then break every part of it. My friend, both you and I need a Savior who has perfectly kept the Law and can impute to us His own righteousness.

Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing [Matt. 5:26].

Note that Jesus says, “Verily I say unto thee.” He is lifting His teaching above the teaching of Moses. He is lifting Himself to the position of the Lawgiver and also the Interpreter, by the way.


Believer’s Bible Commentary

D. Jesus Warns Against Anger (5:21–26)

5:21 The Jews of Jesus’ time knew that murder was forbidden by God and that the murderer was liable to punishment. This was true before the giving of the law (Gen. 9:6) and it was later incorporated into the law (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). With the words, “But I say to you,” Jesus institutes an amendment to the teaching on murder. No longer could a person take pride in having never committed murder. Jesus now says, ”In My kingdom, you must not even have murderous thoughts.” He traces the act of murder to its source and warns against three forms of unrighteous anger.

5:22 The first is the case of a person who is angry with his brother without a cause. 5 One accused of this crime would be in danger of the judgment—that is, he could be taken to court. Most people can find what they think is a valid cause for their anger, but anger is justified only when God’s honor is at stake or when someone else is being wronged. It is never right when ex pressed in retaliation for personal wrongs.

Even more serious is the sin of insulting a brother. In Jesus’ day, people used the word Raca (an Aramaic term meaning ”empty one”) as a word of contempt and abuse. Those who used this epithet were in danger of the council —that is, they were subject to trial before the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land.

Finally, to call someone a fool is the third form of unrighteous anger that Jesus condemns. Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were. Today it is common to hear a person cursing another with the words, ”God damn you!” He is calling on God to consign the victim to hell. Jesus says that the one who utters such a curse is in danger of hell fire. The bodies of executed criminals were often thrown into a burning dump outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a figure of the fires of hell which shall never be quenched.

There is no mistaking the severity of the Savior’s words. He teaches that anger contains the seeds of murder, that abusive language contains the spirit of murder, and that cursing language implies the very desire to murder. The progressive heightening of the crimes demand three degrees of punishment: the judgment, the council, and hell fire. In the kingdom, Jesus will deal with sins according to severity.

5:23, 24 If a person offends another, whether by anger or any other cause, there is no use in his bringing a gift to God. The Lord will not be pleased with it. The offender should first go and make the wrong right. Only then will the gift be acceptable.

Even though these words are written in a Jewish context, that does not mean there is no application today. Paul interprets this concept in relation to the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11). God receives no worship from a believer who is not on speaking terms with another.

5:25, 26 It is against a litigious spirit and a reluctance to admit guilt that Jesus warns here. It is better to promptly settle with an accuser rather than run the risk of a court trial. If that happens, we are bound to lose. While there is some dis agreement among scholars about the identity of the people in this parable, the point is clear: if you are wrong, be quick to admit it and make things right. If you remain unrepentant, your sin will eventually catch up with you and you will not only have to make full restitution but suffer additional penalties as well. And don’t be in a hurry to go to court. If you do, the law will find you out, and you will pay the last penny.


Matthew Henry Commentary


Verses 21-26

Christ having laid down these principles, that Moses and the prophets were still to be their rulers, but that the scribes and Pharisees were to be no longer their rulers, proceeds to expound the law in some particular instances, and to vindicate it from the corrupt glosses which those expositors had put upon it. He adds not any thing new, only limits and restrains some permissions which had been abused: and as to the precepts, shows the breadth, strictness, and spiritual nature of them, adding such explanatory statutes as made them more clear, and tended much toward the perfecting of our obedience to them. In these verses, he explains the law of the sixth commandment, according to the true intent and full extent of it.

I. Here is the command itself laid down (v. 12); We have heard it, and remember it; he speaks to them who know the law, who had Moses read to them in their synagogues every sabbath-day; you have heard that it was said by them, or rather as it is in the margin, to them of old time, to your forefathers the Jews, Thou shalt not kill. Note, The laws of God are not novel, upstart laws, but were delivered to them of old time; they are ancient laws, but of that nature as never to be antiquated nor grow obsolete. The moral law agrees with the law of nature, and the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil, that is, the rectitude of the eternal Mind. Killing is here forbidden, killing ourselves, killing any other, directly or indirectly, or being any way accessory to it. The law of God, the God of life, is a hedge of protection about our lives. It was one of the precepts of Noah, Gen. 9:5, 6.

II. The exposition of this command which the Jewish teachers contended themselves with; their comment upon it was, Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. This was all they had to say upon it, that wilful murderers were liable to the sword of justice, and casual ones to the judgment of the city of refuge. The courts of judgment sat in the gate of their principal cities; the judges, ordinarily, were in number twenty-three; these tried, condemned, and executed murderers; so that whoever killed, was in danger of their judgment. Now this gloss of theirs upon this commandment was faulty, for it intimated, 1. That the law of the sixth commandment was only external, and forbade no more than the act of murder, and laid to restraint upon the inward lusts, from which wars and fightings come. This was indeed the proµton pseudosthe fundamental error of the Jewish teachers, that the divine law prohibited only the sinful act, not the sinful thought; they were disposed haerere in cortice—to rest in the letter of the law, and they never enquired into the spiritual meaning of it. Paul, while a Pharisee, did not, till, by the key of the tenth commandment, divine grace let him into the knowledge of the spiritual nature of all the rest, Rom. 7:7, 14. 2. Another mistake of theirs was, that this law was merely political and municipal, given for them, and intended as a directory for their courts, and no more; as if they only were the people, and the wisdom of the law must die with them.

III. The exposition which Christ gave of this commandment; and we are sure that according to his exposition of it we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. The commandment is exceeding broad, and not to be limited by the will of the flesh, or the will of men.

1. Christ tells them that rash anger is heart-murder (v. 22); Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, breaks the sixth commandment. By our brother here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much our inferior, as a child, a servant, for we are all made of one blood. Anger is a natural passion; there are cases in which it is lawful and laudable; but it is then sinful, when we are angry without cause. The word is eikeµ, which signifies, sine causâ, sine effectu, et sine modo—without cause, without any good effect, without moderation; so that the anger is then sinful, (1.) When it is without any just provocation given; either for no cause, or no good cause, or no great and proportionable cause; when we are angry at children or servants for that which could not be helped, which was only a piece of forgetfulness or mistake, that we ourselves might easily have been guilty of, and for which we should not have been angry at ourselves; when we are angry upon groundless surmises, or for trivial affronts not worth speaking of. (2.) When it is without any good end aimed at, merely to show our authority, to gratify a brutish passion, to let people know our resentments, and excite ourselves to revenge, then it is in vain, it is to do hurt; whereas if we are at any time angry, it should be to awaken the offender to repentance, and prevent his doing so again; to clear ourselves (2 Co. 7:11), and to give warning to others. (3.) When it exceeds due bounds; when we are hardy and headstrong in our anger, violent and vehement, outrageous and mischievous, and when we seek the hurt of those we are displeased at. This is a breach of the sixth commandment, for he that is thus angry, would kill if he could and durst; he has taken the first step toward it; Cain’s killing his brother began in anger; he is a murderer in the account of God, who knows his heart, whence murder proceeds, ch. 15:19.

2. He tells them, that given opprobrious language to our brother is tongue-murder, calling him, Raca, and, Thou fool. When this is done with mildness and for a good end, to convince others of their vanity and folly, it is not sinful. Thus James says, O vain man; and Paul, Thou fool; and Christ himself, O fools, and slow of heart. But when it proceeds from anger and malice within, it is the smoke of that fire which is kindled from hell, and falls under the same character. (1.) Raca is a scornful word, and comes from pride, "Thou empty fellow;’’ it is the language of that which Solomon calls proud wrath (Prov. 21:24), which tramples upon our brother-disdains to set him even with the dogs of our flock. This people who knoweth not the law, is cursed, is such language, Jn. 7:49. (2.) Thou fool, is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred; looking upon him, not only as mean and not to be honoured, but as vile and not to be loved; "Thou wicked man, thou reprobate.’’ The former speaks a man without sense, this (in scripture language) speaks a man without grace; the more the reproach touches his spiritual condition, the worse it is; the former is a haughty taunting of our brother, this is a malicious censuring and condemning of him, as abandoned of God. Now this is a breach of the sixth commandment; malicious slanders and censures are poison under the tongue, that kills secretly and slowly; bitter words are as arrows that would suddenly (Ps. 64:3), or as a sword in the bones. The good name of our neighbour, which is better than life, is thereby stabbed and murdered; and it is an evidence of such an ill-will to our neighbour as would strike at his life, if it were in our power.

3. He tells them, that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be reckoned for; he that is angry with is brother shall be in danger of the judgment and anger of God; he that calls him Raca, shall be in danger of the council, of being punished by the Sanhedrim for reviling an Israelite; but whosoever saith, Thou fool, thou profane person, thou child of hell, shall be in danger of hell-fire, to which he condemns his brother; so the learned Dr. Whitby. Some think, in allusion to the penalties used in the several courts of judgment among the Jews, Christ shows that the sin of rash anger exposes men to lower or higher punishments, according to the degrees of its proceeding. The Jews had three capital punishments, each worse than the other; beheading, which was inflicted by the judgment; stoning, by the council or chief Sanhedrim; and burning in the valley of the son of Hinnom, which was used only in extraordinary cases: it signifies, therefore, that rash anger and reproachful language are damning sins; but some are more sinful than others, and accordingly there is a greater damnation, and a sorer punishment reserved for them: Christ would thus show which sin was most sinful, by showing which it was the punishment whereof was most dreadful.

IV. From all this it is here inferred, that we ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with our brethren, and that if at any time a breach happens, we should labour for a reconciliation, by confessing our fault, humbling ourselves to our brother, begging his pardon, and making restitution, or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed, according as the nature of the thing is; and that we should do this quickly for two reasons:

1. Because, till this be done, we are utterly unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances, v. 23, 24. The case supposed is, "That thy brother have somewhat against thee,’’ that thou has injured and offended him, either really or in his apprehension; if thou are the party offended, there needs not this delay; if thou have aught against thy brother, make short work of it; no more is to be done but to forgive him (Mk. 11:25), and forgive the injury; but if the quarrel began on thy side, and the fault was either at first or afterwards thine, so that thy brother has a controversy with thee, go and be reconciled to him before thou offer thy gift at the altar, before thou approach solemnly to God in the gospel-services of prayer and praise, hearing the word or the sacraments. Note, (1.) When we are addressing ourselves to any religious exercises, it is good for us to take that occasion of serious reflection and self-examination: there are many things to be remembered, when we bring our gift to the altar, and this among the rest, whether our brother hath aught against us; then, if ever, we are disposed to be serious, and therefore should then call ourselves to an account. (2.) Religious exercises are not acceptable to God, if they are performed when we are in wrath; envy, malice, and uncharitableness, are sins so displeasing to God, that nothing pleases him which comes from a heart wherein they are predominant, 1 Tim. 2:8. Prayers made in wrath are written in gall, Isa. 1:15; 58:4. (3.) Love or charity is so much better than all burnt-offerings and sacrifice, that God will have reconciliation made with an offended brother before the gift be offered; he is content to stay for the gift, rather than have it offered while we are under guilt and engaged in a quarrel. (4.) Though we are unfitted for communion with God, by a continual quarrel with a brother, yet that can be no excuse for the omission or neglect of our duty: "Leave there thy gift before the altar, lest otherwise, when thou has gone away, thou be tempted not to come again.’’ Many give this as a reason why they do not come to church or to the communion, because they are at variance with some neighbour; and whose fault is that? One sin will never excuse another, but will rather double the guilt. Want of charity cannot justify the want of piety. The difficulty is easily got over; those who have wronged us, we must forgive; and those whom we have wronged, we must make satisfaction to, or at least make a tender of it, and desire a renewal of the friendship, so that if reconciliation be not made, it may not be our fault; and then come, come and welcome, come and offer thy gift, and it shall be accepted. Therefore we must not let the sun go down upon our wrath any day, because we must go to prayer before we go to sleep; much less let the sun rise upon our wrath on a sabbath-day, because it is a day of prayer.

2. Because, till this be done, we lie exposed to much danger, v. 25, 26. It is at our peril if we do not labour after an agreement, and that quickly, upon two accounts:

(1.) Upon a temporal account. If the offence we have done to our brother, in his body, goods, or reputation, be such as will bear action, in which he may recover considerable damages, it is our wisdom, and it is our duty to our family, to prevent that by a humble submission and a just and peaceable satisfaction; lest otherwise he recover it by law, and put us to the extremity of a prison. In such a case it is better to compound and make the best terms we can, than to stand it out; for it is in vain to contend with the law, and there is danger of our being crushed by it. Many ruin their estates by an obstinate persisting in the offences they have given, which would soon have been pacified by a little yielding at first. Solomon’s advice in case of suretyship is, Go, humble thyself, and so secure and deliver thyself, Prov. 6:1-5. It is good to agree, for the law is costly. Though we must be merciful to those we have advantage against, yet we must be just to those that have advantage against us, as far as we are able. "Agree, and compound with thine adversary quickly, lest he be exasperated by thy stubbornness, and provoked to insist upon the utmost demand, and will not make thee the abatement which at first he would have made.’’ A prison is an uncomfortable place to those who are brought to it by their own pride and prodigality, their own wilfulness and folly.

(2.) Upon a spiritual account. "Go, and be reconciled to thy brother, be just to him, be friendly with him, because while the quarrel continues, as thou art unfit to bring thy gift to the altar, unfit to come to the table of the Lord, so thou art unfit to die: if thou persist in this sin, there is danger lest thou be suddenly snatched away by the wrath of God, whose judgment thou canst not escape nor except against; and if that iniquity be laid to thy charge, thou art undone for ever.’’ Hell is a prison for all that live and die in malice and uncharitableness, for all that are contentious (Rom. 2:8), and out of that prison there is no rescue, no redemption, no escape, to eternity.

This is very applicable to the great business of our reconciliation to God through Christ; Agree with him quickly, whilst thou art in the way. Note, [1.] The great God is an Adversary to all sinners, antidikosa law-adversary; he has a controversy with them, an action against them. [2.] It is our concern to agree with him, to acquaint ourselves with him, that we may be at peace, Job 22:21; 2 Co. 5:20. [3.] It is our wisdom to do this quickly, while we are in the way. While we are alive, we are in the way; after death, it will be too late to do it; therefore give not sleep to thine eyes till it be done. [4.] They who continue in a state of enmity to God, are continually exposed to the arrests of his justice, and the most dreadful instances of his wrath. Christ is the Judge, to whom impenitent sinners will be delivered; for all judgment is committed to the Son; he that was rejected as a Saviour, cannot be escaped as a Judge, Rev. 6:16, 17. It is a fearful thing to be thus turned over to the Lord Jesus, when the Lamb shall become the Lion. Angels are the officers to whom Christ will deliver them (ch. 13:41, 42); devils are so too, having the power of death as executioners to all unbelievers, Heb. 2:14. Hell is the prison, into which those will be cast that continue in a state of enmity to God, 2 Pt. 2:4. [5.] Damned sinners must remain in it to eternity; they shall not depart till they have paid the uttermost farthing, and that will not be to the utmost ages of eternity: divine justice will be for ever in the satisfying, but never satisfied.




Jamison Robert Brown


The Spirituality of the True Righteousness in Contrast with That of the Scribes and Pharisees, Illustrated from the Sixth Commandment. (Mt 5:21–26).

21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time—or, as in the Margin, “to them of old time.” Which of these translations is the right one has been much controverted. Either of them is grammatically defensible, though the latter—“to the ancients”—is more consistent with New Testament usage (see the Greek of Ro 9:12, 26; Rev 6:11; 9:4); and most critics decide in favor of it. But it is not a question of Greek only. Nearly all who would translate “to the ancients” take the speaker of the words quoted to be Moses in the law; “the ancients” to be the people to whom Moses gave the law; and the intention of our Lord here to be to contrast His own teaching, more or less, with that of Moses; either as opposed to it—as some go the length of affirming—or at least as modifying, enlarging, elevating it. But who can reasonably imagine such a thing, just after the most solemn and emphatic proclamation of the perpetuity of the law, and the honor and glory in which it was to be held under the new economy? To us it seems as plain as possible that our Lord’s one object is to contrast the traditional perversions of the law with the true sense of it as expounded by Himself. A few of those who assent to this still think that “to the ancients” is the only legitimate translation of the words; understanding that our Lord is reporting what had been said to the ancients, not by Moses, but by the perverters of his law. We do not object to this; but we incline to think (with Beza, and after him with Fritzsche, Olshausen, Stier, and Bloomfield) that “by the ancients” must have been what our Lord meant here, referring to the corrupt teachers rather than the perverted people.

Thou shall not kill:—that is, This being all that the law requires, whosoever has imbrued his hands in his brother’s blood, but he only, is guilty of a breach of this commandment.

and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment—liable to the judgment; that is, of the sentence of those inferior courts of judicature which were established in all the principal towns, in compliance with De 16:16. Thus was this commandment reduced, from a holy law of the heart-searching God, to a mere criminal statute, taking cognizance only of outward actions, such as that which we read in Ex 21:12; Le 24:17.

22. But I say unto you—Mark the authoritative tone in which—as Himself the Lawgiver and Judge—Christ now gives the true sense, and explains the deep reach, of the commandment.

That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca! shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool! shall be in danger of hell-fire—It is unreasonable to deny, as Alexander does, that three degrees of punishment are here meant to be expressed, and to say that it is but a threefold expression of one and the same thing. But Romish expositors greatly err in taking the first two—“the judgment” and “the council”—to refer to degrees of temporal punishment with which lesser sins were to be visited under the Gospel, and only the last—“hell-fire”—to refer to the future life. All three clearly refer to divine retribution, and that alone, for breaches of this commandment; though this is expressed by an allusion to Jewish tribunals. The “judgment,” as already explained, was the lowest of these; the “council,” or “Sanhedrim,“which sat at Jerusalem—was the highest; while the word used for “hell-fire” contains an allusion to the “valley of the son of Hinnom” (Jos 18:16). In this valley the Jews, when steeped in idolatry, went the length of burning their children to Molech “on the high places of Tophet”—in consequence of which good Josiah defiled it, to prevent the repetition of such abominations (2Ki 23:10); and from that time forward, if we may believe the Jewish writers, a fire was kept burning in it to consume the carrion and all kinds of impurities that collected about the capital. Certain it is, that while the final punishment of the wicked is described in the Old Testament by allusions to this valley of Tophet or Hinnom (Is 30:33; 66:24), our Lord Himself describes the same by merely quoting these terrific descriptions of the evangelical prophet (Mk 9:43–48). What precise degrees of unholy feeling towards our brothers are indicated by the words “Raca” and “fool” it would be as useless as it is vain to inquire. Every age and every country has its modes of expressing such things; and no doubt our Lord seized on the then current phraseology of unholy disrespect and contempt, merely to express and condemn the different degrees of such feeling when brought out in words, as He had immediately before condemned the feeling itself. In fact, so little are we to make of mere words, apart from the feeling which they express, that as anger is expressly said to have been borne by our Lord towards His enemies though mixed with “grief for the hardness of their hearts” (Mk 3:5), and as the apostle teaches us that there is an anger which is not sinful (Eph 4:26); so in the Epistle of James (Jam 2:20) we find the words, “O vain (or, empty) man”; and our Lord Himself applies the very word “fools” twice in one breath to the blind guides of the people (Mt 23:17, 19)—although, in both cases, it is to false reasoners rather than persons that such words are applied. The spirit, then, of the whole statement may be thus given: “For ages ye have been taught that the sixth commandment, for example, is broken only by the murderer, to pass sentence upon whom is the proper business of the recognized tribunals. But I say unto you that it is broken even by causeless anger, which is but hatred in the bud, as hatred is incipient murder (1Jn 3:15); and if by the feelings, much more by those words in which all ill feeling, from the slightest to the most envenomed, are wont to be cast upon a brother: and just as there are gradations in human courts of judicature, and in the sentences which they pronounce according to the degrees of criminality, so will the judicial treatment of all the breakers of this commandment at the divine tribunal be according to their real criminality before the heart-searching Judge.” Oh, what holy teaching is this!

23. Therefore—to apply the foregoing, and show its paramount importance.

if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught—of just complaint “against thee.”

24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother—The meaning evidently is—not, “dismiss from thine own breast all ill feeling, “but” get thy brother to dismiss from his mind all grudge against thee.”

and then come and offer thy gift—“The picture,” says Tholuck,” is drawn from life. It transports us to the moment when the Israelite, having brought his sacrifice to the court of the Israelites, awaited the instant when the priest would approach to receive it at his hands. He waits with his gift at the rails which separate the place where he stands from the court of the priests, into which his offering will presently be taken, there to be slain by the priest, and by him presented upon the altar of sacrifice.” It is at this solemn moment, when about to cast himself upon divine mercy, and seek in his offering a seal of divine forgiveness, that the offerer is supposed, all at once, to remember that some brother has a just cause of complaint against him through breach of this commandment in one or other of the ways just indicated. What then? Is he to say, As soon as I have offered this gift I will go straight to my brother, and make it up with him? Nay; but before another step is taken—even before the offering is presented—this reconciliation is to be sought, though the gift have to be left unoffered before the altar. The converse of the truth here taught is very strikingly expressed in Mk 11:25, 26: “And when ye stand praying (in the very act), forgive, if ye have aught (of just complaint) against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you,” &c. Hence the beautiful practice of the early Church, to see that all differences amongst brethren and sisters in Christ were made up, in the spirit of love, before going to the Holy Communion; and the Church of England has a rubrical direction to this effect in her Communion service. Certainly, if this be the highest act of worship on earth, such reconciliation though obligatory on all other occasions of worship—must be peculiarly so then.

25. Agree with thine adversary—thine opponent in a matter cognizable by law.

quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him—“to the magistrate,” as in Lu 12:58.

lest at any time—here, rather, “lest at all,” or simply “lest.”

the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge—having pronounced thee in the wrong.

deliver thee to the officer—the official whose business it is to see the sentence carried into effect.

26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, fill thou hast paid the uttermost farthing—a fractional Roman coin, worth about half a cent. That our Lord meant here merely to give a piece of prudential advice to his hearers, to keep out of the hands of the law and its officials by settling all disputes with one another privately, is not for a moment to be supposed, though there are critics of a school low enough to suggest this. The concluding words—“Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out,” &c.—manifestly show that though the language is drawn from human disputes and legal procedure, He is dealing with a higher than any human quarrel, a higher than any human tribunal, a higher than any human and temporal sentence. In this view of the words—in which nearly all critics worthy of the name agree—the spirit of them may be thus expressed: “In expounding the sixth commandment, I have spoken of offenses between man and man; reminding you that the offender has another party to deal with besides him whom he has wronged on earth, and assuring you that all worship offered to the Searcher of hearts by one who knows that a brother has just cause of complaint against him, and yet takes no steps to remove it, is vain: But I cannot pass from this subject without reminding you of One whose cause of complaint against you is far more deadly than any that man can have against man: and since with that Adversary you are already on the way to judgment, it will be your wisdom to make up the quarrel without delay, lest sentence of condemnation be pronounced upon you, and then will execution straightway follow, from the effects of which you shall never escape as long as any remnant of the offense remains unexpiated.” It will be observed that as the principle on which we are to “agree” with this “Adversary” is not here specified, and the precise nature of the retribution that is to light upon the despisers of this warning is not to be gathered from the mere use of the word “prison”; so, the remedilessness of the punishment is not in so many words expressed, and still less is its actual cessation taught. The language on all these points is designedly general; but it may safely be said that the unending duration of future punishment—elsewhere so clearly and awfully expressed by our Lord Himself, as in Mt 5:29, 30, and Mk 9:43, 48—is the only doctrine with which His language here quite naturally and fully accords. (Compare Mt 18:30, 34).




A.     Anger (vv. 21–26).

The law said, “You shalt not kill [murder]” (Ex. 20:13, NKJV); but Jesus said, “Don’tbe angry with others.” Anger is like murder in the heart and it can lead to evil words and actual murder. “The judgment” refers to a local court and “the council” to the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest court of the land. Don’twait for your angry brother or sister to take the first step; you do it, and do it quickly before things get worse!



     21-26. First illustration: murder. Jesus shows how his fulfillment of the Law went far deeper than mere outward conformity. Whosover shall kill marks a traditional enlargement of Ex 20:13, but it still deals only with the act of murder. The judgment. The Jewish civil court, as based on Deut 16:18 (see also Josephus Antiq. iv. 8.14). Angry. The best manuscripts omit “without a cause,” although Eph 4:26 indicates that some restriction may properly be inferred. Raca. Probably “empty head” (from an Aramaic word meaning “empty one”). Thou fool. Since this series calls for epithets progressively more severe, Bruce sees Raca as contempt for a man’s head, and fool as contempt for his character (ExpGT, I, 107). Gehenna of fire. Literally a reference to the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, where rubbish, offal, and carcasses were burned, and thus a graphic metaphor for the place of eternal torment. (For its gruesome history, see Jer 7:31, 32; II Chr 28:3; 33:6; II Kgs 23:10.) Christ locates the root of murder in the heart of the angry man, and promises that in His kingdom swift judgment will be dealt out before murder can result. At the altar. Indication of the Jewish coloring of this address. Hath something against thee, i.e., if you have wronged your brother. First be reconciled obligates the would-be worshiper to make amends with the offended beforehand to make his gift acceptable (cf. Ps 66:18). Adversary. An opponent at law (cf. Lk 12:58, 59). Since judgment is on the way, offenders should hasten to square accounts. Till thou hast paid. Probably a literal situation in the kingdom. If, however, the prison is symbolic of hell, the implied possibility of payment and release applies only to the parable, not to its interpretation. Scripture is clear that those in hell are there forever (Mt 25:41, 46), because their debt is unpayable[7]


 a Exodus 20:13

 b Some manuscripts brother without cause

 c An Aramaic term of contempt

 d Greek kodrantes

[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version, Mt 5:21 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

[2]J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, Based on the Thru the Bible radio program., electronic ed., Mt 5:21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981).

 5 (5:22) The critical text (labeled “NU” in NKJV footnotes) omits without a cause, which would rule out even righteous indignation.

[3]William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, electronic ed., Mt 5:21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995).

[4]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Mt 5:21 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991).

[5]Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., Mt 5:21 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[6]Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament, 30 (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1997, c1992).

ExpGT The Expositor’s Greek Testament

i.e. id est (that is)

cf. confer (compare)

[7]Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett Falconer Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary : New Testament, Mt 5:21 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962).

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