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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 (geenna) fire. —Matthew 5:22 (KJV)

Jesus is talking to his disciples here (Matt 5:1-2) and teaching them how to live on this earth. Jesus reveals that our sin problem is with our hearts and not necessarily with physical acts—i.e. anger without cause is equal to murder; lust is equal to adultery, etc.

Starting in verse 5:21, Jesus gives us a new perspective on what murder is. Jesus says that the scriptures teach that you shall not murder and that if you do murder you will be in danger of judgment. However, Jesus breaks that paradigm and says that if you

  1. are angry without cause towards someone
  2. say Raca! to someone
  3. say you fool! to someone

you are in danger of judgment.

Due to the wording of "But whoever says, You Fool!...—it's easy to read that as though Jesus is teaching that saying "You fool" is worse than being angry without cause and/or saying Raca! and, therefore, is worthy of Hell—which is, apparently, worse than the council or judgment. However, to me, that really doesn't make sense in the context of what Jesus is teaching.

I think the word "But" is misleading—it makes more sense if the word "And" or "Also" or "Moreover" was used. In other words, I am suggesting that Jesus is using the three concepts to teach one principle as opposed to teaching that calling somebody a fool is "extra" bad so much so that it's hell deserving.

Is there any evidence in the original language that can back up my theory that the word "but" could have been (or should have been) translated to "and", "also", "moreover", etc?

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Bottom line this text from Matthew should make us realize once again that we are called to "love one another " the second part of God's greatest command. Our brother and sisters in Christ and in this world should see characters oflove joy peace faithfulness gentleness kindness goodness patience and self control when connected to us –  user2425 Jul 8 '13 at 16:20
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5 Answers 5

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Many translations do use "And" or rephrase to avoid needing to insert a word there at all. The Majority Text looks like this:

εγω δε λεγω υμιν οτι πας ο οργιζομενος τω αδελφω αυτου εικη ενοχος εσται τη κρισει ος δ αν ειπη τω αδελφω αυτου ρακα ενοχος εσται τω συνεδριω ος δ αν ειπη μωρε ενοχος εσται εις την γεενναν του πυρος

I've bolded the word de <1161> that is usually translated "But". However, the word can also mean:

1) but, moreover, and, etc.
a primary particle (adversative or continuative); but, and, etc.:-also, and, but, moreover, now (often unexpressed in English).

Since it can either be adversative or continuative, either "but" or "and" can be used in English depending on context. In this passage, I agree with your analysis.

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This started as a comment, but grew into a full answer. What I don't know however, is if there's any reason to use δε versus δ. Did Matthew (or subsequent scribes) usually pick one to mean "but" and the other to mean "and"? This verse would imply that usage. –  Jon Ericson Jan 10 '12 at 17:07
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@Jon My understanding is δε is used before consonants and δ (usually with an apostrophe, δ') before vowels. –  Muke Tever Jan 11 '12 at 14:23
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δέ is a slippery little particle. It has no single good English equivalent and in many cases is better not translated at all. Properly speaking it is a discourse marker and the translation must be based on a comparison of English and Greek discourse. By the way, @MukeTever is exactly right; the vowel drops off before another vowel. This is common in Greek (and translinguistically). Good answer +1. –  Kazark May 29 '12 at 17:21
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@swasheck: In other words, Matthew could have used a more definitive adversative, but didn't. Which implies that if "but" is intended, it's not as strong as it could be. Or perhaps the ambiguity was desired for some reason. Or, as many of the translators chose, it simply connected two related thoughts. –  Jon Ericson Sep 21 '12 at 4:18
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@JonEricson more likely to say that the author was not intentionally setting up an opposition and defaulted to the more prevalent, and less significant δέ –  swasheck Sep 24 '12 at 19:56
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I wouldn't say the 'but' is misleading here. You're right to relate this to his subsequent pronouncement on adultery vs lust. You can take the template as "You know X is bad, but Y which is precursor to it is just as bad".

While anger or calling someone a name bad enough to be left untranslated may get you into legal or political trouble--and thus have known and immediate consequences--he's saying that merely calling someone a fool is just as bad.

Like lust, it is not a sin that calls down human judgment--but it still puts you in danger of divine judgment. He is stating this explicitly here in his first example, though he does not repeat it in the subsequent example of adultery. If Jesus had said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart and shall thus also be in danger of hell fire."

--would the contrast in the 'you fool' example be more understandable?

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+1 That's a really good point. Now I'm not so sure of my answer, however. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Jan 11 '12 at 15:48
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I don't think the "but" is that misleading. The δε is often a contrastive conjunction. One way Jesus could be read is saying: A is bad, BUT B is worse, BUT C is the worst.

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Just because something can be translated one way doesn't mean it isn't misleading to translate it that way in a given context. –  Kazark Sep 21 '12 at 1:05
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The one thing in this discussion that makes the most sense to me is the cultural component. It was intentional that Jesus used an Aramaic word against a Greek word which was puzzling. All the comparison in this chapter basically say "you know this is bad, but what you don't know this is just as bad". It make sense that 'in the culture' raca would put you in front of the Sanhedrin, a big deal in men's minds, but "fool" which is also derogatory yet without consequences in Israel is just as bad in God's mind. So I think 'and' or 'moreover' is the most fitting translation of the conjuction.

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Welcome to the site, Mike! I don't think I've ever considered the idea that this was an Aramaic versus Greek or Israel versus Rome thing. I wonder if you could expand on the idea and bring in some more supporting evidence. That would really help your answer. –  Jon Ericson Sep 20 '12 at 16:41
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Misleading (and perhaps even wrong) is the translation of this Greek particle as adversative (but, however) when it is used to give the impression as if He had corrected or improved or set aside the Law of Israel.

What He did was explain the Law's significance by applying it to transgressions of which one might have thought the Law was silent about.

In addition it should be noted that the single 'without legitimate cause' is meant for all three instances, not just for the first. (I wish translations would take more heed to reflect such things that are not obvious to the modern reader.)

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