Anger and Murder – Matthew 5:21-26

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 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.

Second, 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?

13 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.

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    • I think you made a good point. We are humans and we are sinners, therefore we will be angry at people and situations. But we are only angry because there are deeper problems that we all deal with. God wants us to love one another and not hate and be angry with one another, dispute our differences.

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  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.

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  3. I do not believe that Jesus is telling his disciples to never be angry. It would be impossible for us sinners to never have anger, especially in a world that has things in it that should anger us. However, I believe that Jesus is challenging us believers to dig deeper into the reasoning and motives of our anger. We are to question why we are angry in the first place. Also, Jesus is calling to deal with our anger differently than the rest of the world. We are to be lights to the dark world we live in and that includes in times of anger. Jesus is calling us not to seek revenge on those who anger us. But to love those and to seek reconciliation with them. In our dark world full of troubled times, a true disciple of Jesus should be upset about the world is and work towards changing it. Rather than harboring anger inside ourselves, we should work to be the light in the world and not give into our flesh temptations of being just like everyone else. We need to pray for God to give us the wisdom and strength to use our anger not for revenge. We need to pray for the people who are lost and without hope.

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    • 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

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  4. 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.

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  5. Anger and Murder are basically the same thing and here’s why. Jesus tells us that hating a brother is the same as killing them in our hearts so we need to love them because our actions come from our heart and what is directing it. Jesus makes it very clear that hate is a serious sin because having hate for someone is easy for us to do and often now days it’s a term we use quite loosely but we need to remember that having hate for someone is the same as killing someone to Jesus. On the other hand, there is a righteous anger such as what Jesus had in the temples. Having a desire to follow Christ and being angry over people disrespecting Him on purpose is okay to get angry because Jesus did when the temple was used as a trading and selling building. Overall, being angry for the right reasons is okay in my opinion but making sure the motives are right and that being angry with hate is the same as murder because Jesus reminds us of that in His word.

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  6. It is crazy to me that anger/hate and murder are put in the same category. I can even count the times where I felt angry towards some. There are many times I have been angry at my parents because I did not agree with whatever they were saying. Murders are not put in jail because they hate others, but because they have committed a physical crime, and that was taking someone’s life with their own hands. Just thinking that, according to Jesus, I am in the same category as them blows my mind. 1 John 4:7 says that “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We sin when we hate people because God is love, if we are not doing what God wants us to do, we are sinning.

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  7. 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.

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  8. Anger is something that will affect all of us at some point, no matter how hard we try to fight it we will at some point in our lives get mad at someone. I think it is funny how the people in Jesus time would think that if they were not killing anybody they were all good under the law, and then Jesus shows up and like normal ups the standard, and tells the people that if they even hate one another you have already committed murder in your heart. this is such a big thought that we are sposed to be so forgiving to one another that we never even hate them or say I hate you. I know that this is such a hard thing to comprehend, but Jesus knows that if we can comprehend this idea and live by it, it will make such a better life for everyone.

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  9. 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).

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