Anger and Murder – Matthew 5:21-26

Is anger in your heart as bad as murder?

Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV) “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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.

In the next few sections of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus interprets some well-known teaching from the Law. The first two are drawn from the Ten Commandments. In each case Jesus quotes the commandment and then extends the commandment to include the inner thoughts as well as the external actions. As McKnight points out, Jesus does not disagree with the original command, but he does object to the way the command has been interpreted by other Jewish teachers. For Scot McKnight, Jesus’s interpretations reveal “a fuller expression of God’s will for God’s people” (Sermon, 76). Jesus focuses on the underlying motivation for murder, specifically anger. In each of the three parts of this saying, as the level of anger rises, so too does the penalty.

First, Jesus says a person who is angry with a brother is “under judgment.” The penalty for taking another person’s life varies in the Law. If a person accidentally kills another they may face a penalty but they would not be subject to capital punishment. But the penalty for premeditated murder was execution. Numbers 35:16-21 gives a series of examples of killing to properly define murder and in each case the murderer is to be put to death. The shocking element of this saying is equating anger and premeditated murder. Although anger is always considered foolish in the wisdom literature, it is never thought to be the moral equivalent of murder.

F-BombSecond, if anyone calls his brother raca he is liable before the council.  Raca is fairly common Aramaic word (רֵיקָא or רֵיקָה, or ῥακά in Greek) meaning “numskull” or “fool” (BDAG). Sometimes pastors will state the word is particularly foul; I have occasionally said raca is a four-letter F–word in order to tease out the shock value. But even with this there is some flexibility, some people would have to be extremely angry to drop an f-bomb on someone, others use the word so frequently it is no longer a shock.

However, at the time of Jesus the word may not have had quite that level of insult. It was “a colloquial term of rather gentle cheek and generally used in familiar surroundings” (BDAG). The ESV therefore translates the word as “insults” his brother to avoid the confusion of the use of an Aramaic word.

Appearing before the “council” is an allusion to the Sanhedrin, analogous to highest court for the Jews. This is to say something like “you will be taken before the Supreme Court if you insult your neighbor.”

Finally, Jesus warns his disciples that calling someone “you fool” result in the dangers of hellfire!  We would expect that the third statement in the progression is the strongest expression of anger, especially since the judgement attached is the fires of Hell. The phrase “you fool” is not very strong in English, but in Jesus speech it may have been. The Greek word (μωρός) is where the English word “moron” comes from, but it would be a mistake to import the contemporary English sense of the word here. Jesus means something like a “foolish rebel.” Moses used this word in Numbers 20:10 when he was extremely angry with the people of Israel who continued to test God by complaining about water.

Jesus wants to shock his listeners, the word spoken in anger is so insulting it brings immediate apocalyptic judgment. The “fires of hell” is the usual translation for the word ghenna, the Valley of Hinnom. This valley associated with Molech worship before King Josiah destroyed the altars and turned the location into a garbage pit. Since the garbage was always on smoldering and stinking it became a metaphor for eternal judgment.

Jesus clearly says if you are angry enough to use insulting and hurtful language, then you are in danger of not entering into the kingdom of Heaven (the opposite of entering into Gehenna).

This does not mean “never get angry” since there are many things in this life which ought to anger us. Even Jesus was angry with the money changers at the temple. God is frequently angry with his people in the Hebrew Bible. It is the cause of our anger which is a problem, but also what we do with that anger once it rises. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says his disciples will deal with anger differently than the rest of the world. They will seek reconciliation rather than revenge. More importantly they will deal with the internal causes of anger before lashing out at people.

Is Jesus telling his disciples to never get angry? How does the true disciple of Jesus live in a world which is deeply troubling and avoid the kind of anger Jesus describes here? How can a true disciple of Jesus respond to the troubling evil we witness in daily life (via the national news, through popular media, etc.) Social media makes it so easy to respond in anger without penalty, should the true disciple of Jesus simply avoid contact with the world?

15 thoughts on “Anger and Murder – Matthew 5:21-26

  1. I think it is impossible to never be angry. We are capable of checking our hearts before we express our anger. I believe that his is what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 5 in regards to anger. Jesus is addressing the heart issues. He isn’t telling us that we can’t be mad about things; instead, He takes it a step deeper by having us evaluate what is going on in our hearts that is causing us to sin/stumble/be angered, etc. As followers, it is really important that we understand this. We have to consistently be checking our selfish hearts and realigning them to the heart of Jesus. James 1:20 says, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” We must stop and ask ourselves before speaking out of anger, “is my response producing righteousness?” If it’s not, then it isn’t something we should be bringing to life. We are called to die to ourselves – our response matters because it is what causes us to stand out in this dark world. We know that it won’t be easy, in fact Jesus tells us that we will suffer for His name. There will be many things we see/hear through media, news, etc. that will make us angry. But we can rest in the truth that God is taking care of everything. We can bring our anger to Him and ask Him to help us love like He loves. Does that mean we should never speak up about things that make us angry? I don’t think that is the point Jesus is making here. I think He is telling us that relationships are more important than our angered opinions. McKnight says, “Jesus is raising the ante and upping the expectations for his followers. Jesus want his followers to be different when it comes to anger and murder…. Followers of Jesus are to avoid sinful anger, and they are capable of being transformed from anger” (82). Here we have it, we are called to a different set of expectations when we choose to follow Jesus. The world just doesn’t quite get it, because they are lacking the wisdom and righteousness of Jesus that covers us. We can overcome anger/murder by the grace and love of God that lives inside of us.

  2. Just like stated in the post, Jesus is not telling his disciples to never get angry. What Jesus tries to do is to create a disproportionate comparison between anger (sin) and the consequences (eternal punishment). (McNight, 78). Jesus is focusing more so in the consequences anger leads to. I believe focusing merely on this section gives the reader a sense of hopelessness. Jesus sets the bar very high (his favorite thing to do in this section of his teaching), but it seems like he does not give his audience a solution. If we continue reading, he does. In verses 5:23-24 Jesus gives a tool to replace anger: reconciliation. This is the flipside, the “way out” when we are stuck in anger. I think this is very applicable in today’s society. Social media is an easy way to spread anger, specially because people do so hiding behind a screen. Often times I see posts that go against my beliefs and I can feel anger levels rising. However, when reading this second portion of Jesus’ teaching, I know that reconciliation is more important than anger, that Jesus wants us to be at peace with those around us, and most importantly to love those around us. “All of this is wrapped up inside the Jesus Creed and the Golden Rule and will emerge with force in the Lord’s Prayer (6:12, 14-15): love means fellowship, and fellowship requires reconciliation (McKnight, 80)”.
    In conclusion, it is very hard to never become angry, but what Jesus gives us are the consequences of anger, so that we think twice next time we want to become angry. He also gives us the opposite (reconciliation) as a way to replace that anger, a goal to strive for.

  3. Just like you have stated in the post, Jesus is not telling his disciples to never get angry. I think there is a line of righteous anger that we can see come from Jesus in certain situations through out the scriptures. I think Jesus lead by example to his disciples of when it is okay to be angry and taught them how to react. Just like I stated in the article about adultery within the heart, your thoughts influence your desires and your desires can turn into actions. These desires can include lashing out at others harming others all based on what you are allowing to build up and take place in your heart; anger, which is the root of all of this. Jesus knows that anger leads to murder so he is trying to emphasize what has already been said Moses and also correct any misinterpretation that came from Moses as well.
    McKnight points out what R.T. France says: “Ordinary insults may betray an attitude of contempt which God takes extremely seriously” (McKnight, Pg.78). When talking about our current worldview of this and our accessibility to reply instantly to something that we do not agree with our of anger, it is key to remember the point that R.T. France made. Something ordinary or that we see as a harmless insult that we incorporate into our public opinions has the potential to do major damage. We have managed to abuse a platform that we have been given. I think why Jesus is sort of equating murder and anger with in the heart is because of a couple of reasons: 1) Anger leads to murder and he is highly aware of that while we remain in denial and hold onto bitterness. 2) Being unsightly angry is not fruitful in any manner and can cause damage to others, essentially contributing to spiritual or emotional decay.
    “What grabs us is the shocking disproportion between what we perceive to be sin (anger) and its consequences (eternal punishment)” (McKnight, pg.78). We cannot stay in a state of denial and keep saying that we always have a right to be angry because God calls us to resolve that anger by exhortation and reconciliation. Matthew 5:23-24 shows us how incredible this act is and how important it is to God. This is how we need to be responding rather than justifying our own actions and never going to the person that we have felt wronged by or have wronged in return.

  4. Anger is one of the emotions that we have that is hard to avoid. I think there are two different types of anger out there. There is a violent type of anger, and I believe there is a righteous kind of anger. Obviously with violent anger, there comes physical anger, mental anger, and most of the time it doesn’t end well. James 1:20, writes “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” And I think there is righteous anger. When I say righteous anger, it is a type of anger that would be for the Lord. Let’s say you see some type of sin in your life, and you know it doesn’t produce fruit. A type of anger to help you get back on track with the Lord would be something that I would consider a righteous anger.

    In the article, it is written that when you are angry, and you use some type of insulting or hurtful language, you then are in danger of not entering the kingdom of Heaven. Then in the article, it talks about the Sermon on the Mount, and how “Jesus says his disciples will deal with anger differently than the rest of the world.” When we are disciples of Christ, we should automatically deal with every situation differently than the world does. When we are angry, quickly we should turn our cheek and accept the fact that we are either wrong, or that we need to forgive this person for what they have done. (Easier said than done)

    As a true believer, we shouldn’t be living in the world, however we should be lights in the world while we are living within the world.

  5. Is it really though?

    I can be anger with you but not willing to murder you. Murder is a different type of feeling. Think about it for a minute. Now Cain said to his brother Abel,

    “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

    This a clear sign of jealousy, jealousy not anger, therefore we can argue the difference because the fact that a man was killed out of jealous, we should not be condemned for murder if we are anger at our brother. Anger is a natural emotion for people. Therefore, anger should not be consider to be murder because it’s not no matter what. It’s a natural emotion for people. I would say that it depends on the intent of the anger, but when someone makes you mad, you’re emotions doesn’t trigger the thought of murder. When Jesus was in the synagogue whipping those who was selling. Matthew 21:12 “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” I am pretty sure Jesus was not going to murder them but he did what to get a point across that they were indeed wrong for what they were doing. His anger indeed was for the fact that when it says in Mcknight “What grabs us is the shocking disproportion between what we perceive to be sin (anger) and its consequences (eternal punishment)” (McKnight, pg.78)” he was saving them with tough love

  6. I think here that Jesus is not telling the disciples never to get angry, as Jesus himself got angry with the money changers at the temple, but is reminding the disciples to seek reconciliation and not retaliation and step back to look at where their heart is. McKnight compares anger, or sin, with the consequences of eternal punishment to stress that we must seek to stray away to this type of behavior and try not to fall into continuous sin, as anger can lead us down the wrong path to a sinful life (McKnight, pg. 78). James 1:19-20 reminds us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, and that human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires, and Psalm 4:4 reminds us not to let our anger control us. All of us get angry sometimes, but we can’t let our anger fester within us, consume us, or lash onto others, as this is not demonstrating the law-abiding life that God intends for us, and anger is equated with committing murder in our own hearts (1 John 3:15).

  7. The first time that I learned about anger and murder was when I was a middle schooler in youth group. In church, we talked about the 10 commandments and “thou shalt not kill” – and until our sessions in youth group, I thought I was in the clear. However, after reading these passages I remember feeling very convicted. While I don’t have murderous intentions, I do have anger and frustrations. Everyone does! In the blog post, there’s a note that Jesus focuses on the underlying motivation for murder. I find this really fascinating, as I’ve always made the connection as “anger and murder are treated the same” – and that’s as far as its gone. I find it interesting to dive deeper into the sinful aspects of anger, “as the level of anger rises, so too does the penalty.” Anger in itself is not sinful – but how we respond to it and our reasoning behind it can be. As I have stated before in my blog post responses, God made us emotional creatures. He made us with the full capacity to feel things – and in that, anger was not created to solely be a sinful response – but it can be one. I think this is a very good reminder to check where one’s heart is when they are angry and how they respond. Jesus does not want us to never be angry, but he wants us to respond in a way that is righteous rather than a way that is sinful.

  8. The idea that one should not kill one another is one of the easiest of the Ten Commandments to remember being taught. The idea that Jesus explains where the intent to someone, being angry at someone, is the same as committing murder in your heart further reiterates that a person’s heart is as equal as their action. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-26). McKnight explains that the sermon on the mount really focuses on the intent of one’s heart and anger is no different. I think as humans it causes us to really think about what we think about others in our hearts and to examine them further while in solitude or reflection. Personally, I have had a lot of anger in my life, in the earlier days of my life. It made a who difference to read the sermon on the mount because it convicted me that my heart and head were not in the right place.

  9. No, I do not think Jesus is telling us or anyone that we can’t be angry. We all get angry at times or frustrated about things, but it is important to always keep your composure. I think he is reminding the disciples to seek reconciliation and not retaliation and step back to look at where their heart is. McKnight compares anger, or sin, with the consequences of eternal punishment to stress that we must seek to stray away to this type of behavior and try not to fall into continuous sin, as anger can lead us down the wrong path to a sinful life (McKnight, pg. 78). overall, the message from reading this is that anger can lead us all down a sinful path and I always think of James 1:19 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” because often the worse decisions are made out of anger, so I think it is really important to consider what Jesus teaches about anger and murder.

  10. What is so interesting about the commandment to not murder is that it seems so cut and dry. Don’t murder? Absolutely, most would wholeheartedly agree that killing someone is wrong. But when you take into consideration that our thoughts are included, it makes people question themselves. Everyone gets angry, does that make you prone to murder? Not particularly, but I do believe that we need to guard our hearts and our words. We may not physically kill someone, but our thoughts can emotionally kill in our hearts and I think that is an important thing to remember. Hating someone is a deep emotion, often fueled by anger. If we are slow to anger, more understanding and actually love our neighbors, we can be more at ease with the thou shall not kill.

  11. Anger and murder are two horrible things. Many people in todays day murder and kill just to do so. When it comes to anger Jesus knows that we are human, we get angry but it’s what we choose to do with that anger that is built up inside of us. A lot of people immediately choose violence which I never understood. PLong in his blog post brings up the ten commandments. The one commandment that came to mind was thou shall not kill. “We must be intentional about reconciliation for it to become a persuasive lifestyle. This can only begin if we find space and time to ponder; pray and to discern where it is that we need to pursue reconciliation.” (McKnight,83). We need to stop being so angry with life and just go back to what we are taught and pray to God.

  12. Anger is evil. Anger is a softer word created by the world to replace what the world used to call hatred. Human anger is the nature of Satan. Jesus was not angry bc Jesus overcame human nature in that he overcame all things. Jesus’ commandments are a simplified version of the old commandments. The new law (that’s now written in our hearts) is to love. A transgression of the new law is hatred/anger. Anger is the sin, not the bad deeds that anger leads to. Drop the anger, drop the bad deeds. We can Over come anger by forgiving our family. Which is why Jesus said our enemies will be members of our on family. It’s also stated more than once we have to forgive to be forgiven. Jesus also said ‘resist not evil’ meaning when we see evil, don’t fight against it, – see it, but don’t hate it – which is discernment. Any time you hate or you are angry you are promoting darkness which kills the spirit, spiritual Murder is equivalent to physical murder bc the spirit gives life.

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