SOTM: Matthew 5:21-22 (Anger and insults)


(Mat 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.”

Now, it’s important to recall that Jesus had just said,

(Mat 5:20 ESV) 20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We do not know exactly what the scribes and Pharisees taught in Jesus’ day. The most comprehensive collection of their teachings that we have, the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud, weren’t put in written form until centuries after Jesus. There had been two major rebellions by the Jews against Rome, the Temple had been destroyed, and the Jews had been forcibly removed from Jerusalem by the time the Talmuds were written down.

The Wikipedia explains,

The process of “Gemara” proceeded in what were then the two major centers of Jewish scholarship, Galilee and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Talmud Yerushalmi. It was compiled in the 4th century CE in Galilee. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled about the year 500, although it continued to be edited later. The word “Talmud”, when used without qualification, usually refers to the Babylonian Talmud.

Judaism had changed dramatically. The Sadducees had disappeared, likely because they were Levites involved in the Temple activities. Evidently, the Essenes had been killed by the Romans during the Bar Kochba rebellion — as the Dead Sea Scrolls and archaeological remains all pre-date Bar Kochba. The Zealots had died fighting Rome. And so the Pharisees were left to preserve Judaism against Roman persecution and Christian competition.

Hence, while the Talmud is a helpful source regarding the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot assume that it necessarily speaks correctly regarding the Judaism of the early First Century. We get much more direct information from the writings from Second Temple Judaism — Josephus, Philo, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and — most importantly — the New Testament.

We sometimes let a little 19th Century European skepticism creep into our reading of the Gospels and assume that Matthew didn’t really know what the Pharisees taught. We figure 19th Century Germans had a better idea based on their reading the Sixth Century Talmud or whatever. But I think we do better to let the best witnesses be the best witnesses — and so let Matthew speak for his own times.

As a result, when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said … ,” I take him to be very literally describing what was taught in the synagogues in Galilee by at least some of the Pharisees and scribes — the very people he compared his teachings with in the preceding verse. If that’s not so, Jesus would have quickly lost his audience. If Jesus was speaking hypothetically of teaching not actually taught, he would have come across as very foolish.

Of course, in Jesus’ first contrast between what others teach versus what he teaches, there is little doubt that what had been taught is true: “‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'” “You shall not murder” is straight from the Ten Commandments, written by the very hand of God. “Liable to judgment” is likely a reference to the Torah’s provisions for punishment for murderers — death in many cases. Again, in this case, Jesus is not saying that this is wrong.

Rather, Jesus’ point is that the Pharisees and scribes read the text superficially. They were shallow exegetes who missed the deeper meaning of what God had revealed of his will.

(Mat 5:22 ESV) 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.”

Some take Jesus to be issuing new laws, but that misses the point of what Jesus had just said:

(Mat 5:18-19 ESV) 18 “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

It should be clear that Jesus is explaining what it means to truly teach God’s commands. To merely find a prohibition against murder in the Sixth Commandment misses the deeper truth present in the text.

You see, if it’s wrong to murder, then it’s wrong to do those things that lead to murder. And among those things are anger and insults. This is obvious. If we create a culture in which anger and insults are acceptable, murders will happen. And Jesus was addressing an honor culture.

If a Jew spends his life angry at Rome and finds himself venting by insulting Roman soldiers, well, something bad in going to happen — “bad” if you believe in shalom. Of course, if you’re a rebel, you just might incite a rebellion.

Consider the culture present in many of today’s Islamic countries — as classic examples of an honor culture. Anger against the West is not just acceptable but constantly preserved so that vengeance is sought for battles lost literally 500 years ago. It leads to murder, and the attitudes and culture that approve of anger and a culture of grievance is a violation of the Ten Commandments.

Of course, the same is true of other cultures. If we decide to be angry with all Muslims for the sins of a few, and if our Christian leaders approve of such an attitude, well, murder will follow — and all will answer to God for violating the Ten Commandments.

Hence, Paul teaches,

(Eph 4:31-32 ESV)  31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Why? First, because Jesus, who had every right to be angry with us, chose instead to give his life for us. He preferred to forgive us — at the cost of his life and of unspeakable suffering. We are to do the same.

Second, because going back to the Ten Commandments, anger and insults have been wrong. If we really understood the heart of God, we’d know that. And yet many a Christian fills Facebook and the Internet and his conversations with invective and anger at Muslims, at Democrats, at Republicans, at the President, at whatever Fox News is mad about, at whatever the New York Times is mad about — because, I suppose, we like being manipulated by the media to become loyal viewers and readers.

But Jesus calls us to something better. In fact,  the SOTM reminds us that in every war, we invent names for the enemy, to dehumanize them so that they’ll be easier to kill — Nips, Krauts, ragheads, and far worse. And so, when we find ourselves easily referring to our opponents by an insulting name, we’re violating not only the SOTM, but also the Ten Commandments — and we’re insulting the cross of Jesus.

Not all labels fit this description. A “Republican” really is a Republican and the use of a label to say so is necessary to talk about politics at all. But when we pick a label that can only be spoken with a sneer — “Anti,” “Digressive,” “liberal” — or when we insult our opponent by accusing him falsely just to win debating points, we’re ignoring the words of Jesus and forgetting the very heart of what is means to be a Christian, that is, someone who is “Christ-like.” Christ would rather die than falsely accuse someone.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to SOTM: Matthew 5:21-22 (Anger and insults)

  1. buckeyechuck says:

    Jay, thank you for this admonition. I find myself drawn into the fray (negatively) far too often, including on these posts. I believe these points need to be a primary and frequent teaching from our pulpits because many of us are constantly bombarded especially through social media like Facebook and Twitter.

    There are many who feel that their “job” as a Christian is to lambaste/judge any person, often in social media, who has a different understanding of Scripture or has different practices in worship or doctrinal positions on a plethora of items. This is true even when the “brother in error” does not require others to conform to his understanding and practices. Yet, even those who are eager to judge will find disagreements among themselves on many understandings of Scripture. If one maintains that 100% correct understanding of the Scriptures is required for salvation, which I believe denies the grace of God, but if you do, then one must be extremely careful when plucking the splinter from our brother’s eye.

    James 1 says: “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

    “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

    “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    Christians should be eager and willing to discuss and study together, but slow to be condescending, condemn or malign the intentions or motivations of those who disagree. Such leads directly to hurt feelings at best and anger and condemnation in the worst situations. What action of love has been sent and received? If our non-Christian friends read some of our discussions, will they see a demonstration of the love of Jesus leading them to want to become one of us?

  2. Ray Downen says:

    Jay reminds that JESUS calls for us to love even those who consider themselves to be our enemies. And if we love, we will respect. And if we respect, we’ll not insult or denigrate opposing views. I find it hard to respect obvious wrong thinking. We all need to be reminded of the need to love and respect even open enemies. As for speaking against Islam, I note that it’s not just a FEW Muslims who seek our destruction while many are our friends.

    It’s open warfare now between Islam and all non-believers in Mohammed. So even if the Muslims we know are friendly and apparently good citizens of this nation, we need to keep in mind that all Muslims are taught, beginning as very young children, to ignore truth if the truth is inconvenient for Islam.

  3. Will Ray says:

    Good post. The “old law is nailed to the cross” (not what Col 2:14 says) people who say the word “accomplished” in Matthew 5:18 means the “old” law is taken away (even thought heaven and earth are still here) forget to read the very next verse, Matthew 5:19, that you quoted: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

    5:19 speaks of grace in that those that teach against the commandments will make it into the kingdom, but they will be be called “least in the kingdom”. Not a salvation issue, but it is a kingdom issue.

    Good blog, Jay Guin.

  4. John Acuff says:

    Jay two things on my mind, one this was excellent and nailed me in a few places. I am a retired country Lawyer and just got an email from a California attorney that I met about fifteen years ago at a Christian Legal Society meeting and he was wondering if I knew any believing lawyers in Chattanooga. Although I grew up there those contacts don’t exist any longer would know of any in Chattanooga. Keep up the good work. John Acuff

  5. Dwight says:

    Jesus says, ” unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”. This does’nt mean that the scribes and Pharisees neccessarily taught one thing verses the other, but as noted in Matthew, the scribes and Pharisees were often hypocritical in regards to thier teachings and that they looked Holy despite considering the people on a lower level of rigtheousness and them not meeting thier own standards. They placed laws before the people, even though they were not Law and enforced these as a matter of Law, even though they taught the Law as well. They considered those that weren’t a scribe and Pharisee and even Sadducee to be a sinner, which accounted for everyone, even Jesus. In regards to “anger and insults” we are supposed to be as Christians without “bitterness” and yet we are sometimes often the worst as we regard others as “the others” not on par with us and out righteousness. And labels are really some of the worst forms of smearing out there when we use them to hurl claims of unrighteousness and wrong.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    I know this is not the subject being discussed and I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I print many of your posts so as to allow others to read, my wife and some friends. I have tried printing with the print button on the page, copy and paste into word and right click to menu to print, all of these print but that floating (follow this blog) seems to always insert itself over some of the text. Is there any way to control that varmint?

  7. Jay Guin says:


    I actually print some of my posts as Bible class notes when I teach, and I’ve not had this problem. What’s your operating system and browser?

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    I am using XP and Google Crome. I had not tested IE i only use it for government communications, I despise how much of my screen it confiscates. But, observing your questioning I used a newer computer which has windows 8.1 and both IE and Chrome I then printed your last post with IE and the floater was not there, but while printing with IE there is no preview it just sends the complete object directly to the printer. It will not allow me to make printer adjustments or see how many pages will be produced. I did notice at the bottom of each page the one word (Follow), I then used Crome as the browser and told it to print using the same button on your site, it then opens the print preview where I can change the options to double sided and only print any page I desire.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    Printing pages that I desire is especially helpful, because after seeing new comments which I desired to share with others who have already read the original, imagine having to reprint the whole post just to renew the last few comments of a post of over 300 comments.

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