In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus discusses six issues drawn from the Law. While he begins with a quotation of the Law, he interprets the Law in a radical fashion in order to get to the heart of the original command. To use Scot McKnight’s three categories of Jesus’ ethic, the command is “from above” because Jesus is stating in clear terms what he expects from his people and he does this “from below” like a wisdom teacher. In the first two examples in this section, the law states “thou shalt not murder, commit adultery” and Wisdom literature observes often the folly of anger and lust. But there is an eschatological aspect as well since God’s people will live at a higher standard than they have in the past.

Anger ManagmentJesus deals with two of the Ten Commandments, first murder (5:21-26) and then adultery (5:27-30). This should not be taken as an indication Jesus had nothing to say about theft or bearing false witness. We can think of Jesus as setting up a new way of reading these commands since he is more interested in the mental and spiritual practices that result in a breach of the command. If God’s people to not hate, then they will not murder either!

In this interpretation of the sixth commandment, there is a progression from anger, to calling someone ῥακά (raca), to calling someone a fool. The results are also progressive: subject to judgment, brought before the council, and the fires of Hell. If someone thinks they are right with God because they have not murdered, can they say they have never been angry? If they have been angry, can someone say they have never used rough language to describe another person? Most people will be provoked to anger by the stupidity of others (spend a few minutes reading your facebook or twitter feeds; you are going to call someone a fool sooner or later!)

Jesus quotes the commandment they offers three clarifications or extensions of the command. First, Jesus says if you are angry with a brother, you are under judgment. The judgment for murder was to be taken outside town and stoned! Jesus says that even if you have never committed murder, if you were angry you have the same level of guilt as a murderer!

Second, if one calls his brother raca he is liable before the council. Raca is “an obscure term of abuse, probably from the Aramaic meaning “empty one” or even “imbecile.” N. T. Wright suggests the word refers to “vulgar and abusive language” in his translation of the New Testament. The council is the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land for the Jews.  This is to say something like “you will be taken before the Supreme Court” for judgment.  Both raca and the judgment are stronger than the first two statements.

Third, Jesus says that saying “you fool” will place one in the fires of Hell. While the phrase “you fool” is not particularly strong in English, but in a first century context it was a serious condemnation. The Greek word μωρός (moros) is a strong condemnation, since the Wisdom literature routinely condemns the actions of the fool in contrast to the wise. It is possible Jesus has in mind a “rebel,” alluding to Moses in Num 20:10 (although a different word is used the the LXX, the angry condemnation of Israel is similar in tone). The “fires of Hell” is the word γέεννα (ghenna), a reference to the Valley of Hinnom. Since the valley was used as a place for Molech worship during the reign of Manasseh (2 Chron 28:3) and was often used as a garbage pit, it become a metaphor for fiery judgment.

Thus Jesus says the anger that causes murder is the problem. The people of God cannot think of themselves as righteous because they have not killed anyone, they need to realize that anger and harsh words are even more deadly and under an even harsher judgment that murder.

If this expansion and deepening of the command of the Law is model for applying other commandments, how might we “expand and deepen” the other commands of the Decalogue? Other than adultery, there ought to be a way of describing the attitude behind theft or untruth.