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I don't understand why Jesus says that calling anyone a fool will send us to hell. Does Jesus not want me in heaven? What happened to repentance? And faith in Jesus and his resurrection?

Matthew 5:22 BLB

But I say to you that everyone being angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment, and whoever shall say to his brother 'Raca,' will be liable to the Sanhedrin. But whoever shall say, 'Fool!' will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.

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  • please quote or name the chapter and verse you are referring to.
    – David D
    Oct 6, 2023 at 19:00

4 Answers 4

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Matt 5:22 cannot and should not be divorced from its context. Jesus is teaching that the sin of murder (V21) is just as serious as:

  • being angry
  • saying "Raca" (a term of contempt) to someone (see appendix below)
  • calling someone a "fool" (Greek, "moron"), ie saying that a person is stupid, dull, mentally deficient, stupid, brainless, etc.

... ie, is just as bad as murdering the person.

I presumably do not need to tell the readers of this site that all sins, no matter how serious, can be forgiven, as Jesuis Himself declared:

Matt 12:31 - Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

And further -

1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This, suggests a simple explanation for Jesus' teaching in Matt 5:22 - sins of murder, unprovoked anger, "raca" and declaring someone a fool can be forgiven unless a person refuses to repent of the sin and allow God to cleanse us from unrighteousness.

To reinforce the point, Jesus in Matt 5:23ff then gives a simple procedure - be reconciled with the brother with whom one is angry. This instruction is often repeated in the Scripture such as Luke 12:58, Matt 5:25, 2 Cor 5:18.

The Pulpit commentary on Matt 5:22 is also helpful -

Christ does not say that the sins spoken of render a man liable to any of these earthly processes of law; he says that they render him liable to processes of Divine law which are fittingly symbolized by these expressions. (So Alford, Mansel, and especially Trench, 'Sermon on the Mount,' p. 190).

APPENDIX - "Raca"

The following lexicons define this once-only word, ῥακά (rhaka) in the NT as follows:

Strongs: empty (an expression of contempt)

NAS: empty (an expression of contempt)

Thayer: empty, i. e. a senseless, empty-headed man, a term of reproach used by the Jews in the time of Christ (B. D., under the word ; Wünsche, Erläuterung as above with, p. 47)

BDAG

a term of abuse/put-down relating to lack of intelligence, numbskull, fool (in effect, verbal bullying) Matt 5:22, a term of abuse as a rule derived from the Aramaic, ... "empty one" ...

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  • Is רֵיקָא really a term of "extreme contempt?" cf. (BDAG, s.v. “ῥακά,” 903.) It seems to be more of a term of lesser name-calling. I tend to agree with the NIDNTTE here ((The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, s.v. “ῥακά,” 4:202.)) There seems to be an escalation of treatment. Could you please let me know, Dottard, where the meaning of "extreme contempt" is found in the word?
    – Epimanes
    Oct 6, 2023 at 20:15
  • @Epimanes - I shall add an appendix on this at your request.
    – Dottard
    Oct 6, 2023 at 20:25
  • I realize it's a ⲁⲡⲁⲝ. So, I'm not at all pressing the issue. I'm just curious as to your rationale.
    – Epimanes
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:37
  • @Epimanes - please pardon my ignorance, but what is ⲁⲡⲁⲝ ?
    – Dottard
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:40
  • A little further on in the entry, though, BDAG reads: "Chrysostom says (MPG LVII, 248): τὸ δὲ ῥακὰ οὐ μεγάλης ἐστὶν ὕβρεως ῥῆμα . . . ἀντὶ τοῦ σύ=‘ῥ. is not an expression denoting a strong put-down . . . but is used in place of σύ.’ The same thing in somewhat different words in Basilius, Regulae 51 p. 432c: τί ἐστί ῥακά; ἐπιχώριον ῥῆμα ἠπιωτέρας ὕβρεως, πρὸς τοὺς οἰκειοτέρους λαμβανόμενον ‘what is the mng. of ῥ.? It is a colloquial term of rather gentle cheek and generally used in familiar surroundings’. "
    – Epimanes
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:41
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The reason Jesus spoke so strongly against calling someone a fool is that such actions can have terrible consequences in the real world. It should not be taken literally, for Jesus himself called people "fools." (Luke 11:40) Rather it is a strict warning to control one's tongue and not let wounded feelings become angry words.

A similar lesson is taught in the Epistle of James 3:6:

The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.

The tongue in itself, of course, is good, not literally "a world of malice... set on fire by Gehenna." But when it is allowed to express angry words, it becomes an agent of Gehenna (hell). The same idea is expressed by Jesus when he said:

Matthew 15:11

It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.

A final note: The fact that one becomes liable to hellfire does not mean that he will actually experience it, especially if he repents and changes his ways. God is supremely merciful, after all. This is a main theme of the entire Sermon on the Mount, in which the OP quote is located.

Mt. 6:14-15:

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Conclusion: the saying is not meant to be taken literally. Otherwise Jesus himself would be liable to hellfire for calling people fools. It is a hyperbole meant as a strict warning to control one's tongue and in no way implies that God would not forgive such as sin if the person repents.

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Context, context, context.

In this fairly long section of Matthew, Jesus is doing cleanup work and correction. The leaders of the Jews had led the people astray. On the one hand, they minimized the laws that were actually in the Bible (especially the 10 words (commandments) (from Ex. 20 & Deut. 5). On the other hand, had maximized traditions handed down from their fathers that were not actually in God's word. To make matters even worse, they made a show of being pious but were more than happy to drive widows out of their homes onto the street. Here are some examples of their behavior:

Mark 7:9–13 NIV11-GKE

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

In these words, then, Jesus is teaching the people (and us today), that evil flows first of all from the heart. In the next verses, Jesus says:

Mark 7:14–15 NIV11-GKE

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

In the portion of scripture you cite, Jesus mentions two, seemingly minor faults:

  • If someone is filled with wrath at someone else, it is a real and big sin (“ὀργιζόμενος” (Μαθθαῖον 5·22 THGNT-T))
  • If someone even calls someone else "empty-head" (רֵיקָא) it is a real and big sin

The context here is what is in the heart. The focus and spotlight is on the leaders of the Jews. Just before Jesus says this, he lets us know that he is warning the people against the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders:

Matthew 5:19–20 NIV11-GKE

19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The reason the person would be guilty of the fire of hell (“ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.” (Μαθθαῖον 5·22 THGNT-T)) is the stubborn unwillingness to repent of real sinful attitudes in their hearts, while at the same time, on the outside pretending to right, just, fair, and merciful.

To apply these words to ourselves then, these words are a warning. First, they are a warning to beware of those who use positions of authority to appear righteous, while at the same time taking advantage of those whom they serve. Likewise, it's a warning to repent of our own hypocrisy in our own lives and hearts.

But the same Savior who says this, also says...

Matthew 11:28 NIV11-GKE

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Mark 10:45 NIV11-GKE

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 12:20 NIV11-GKE

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.

Jesus speaks two, seemingly contradictory messages, for we, as Christians, have two conflicting and contradictory natures. Let the words of correction sink into your soul and repent. Let the words and promises of Jesus dying for the sins of the world (and as a result your sins) sink into your soul too.

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By Glen Rogers

Jesus' statements in Matthew 5 reflect things stated in the Law such as “You shalt not commit murder.” These simply reflect the basic principles of the law. When he says, “but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire,” he is establishing the link between one's attitude toward his brother and the end result of that attitude. You begin to not commit murder by not hatting your brother. You begin not hating your brother by not even so much as regarding him as a fool. The law “Thou shalt not commit murder” is simply the basic principle. What Jesus is showing them is HOW you do not commit murder.

Calling one's brother a fool demonstrates a contempt for him. Contempt leads to hatred and hatred leads to murder. Having contempt for your brother is to stand as a “danger” signal. “Whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire’” This person is in danger of acting on that contempt perhaps even in the extreme act of murder.

The issue with adultery is the same as that of murder. “You shall not commit adultery” in verse 27 is expanded upon by “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her...” How does one not commit adultery, by not looking at a woman to lust after her.

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