Watch / Visual Commentaries / Matthew 5:21-22: Murder and Contempt

Matthew 5:21-22: Murder and Contempt

Watch a short animated video commentary explaining the wisdom Jesus reveals within the command "Do not murder" in Matthew 5:21-22.

Visual Commentaries Apr 15, 2024


Jon: We’re looking at one of the largest collections of the teachings of Jesus, called the Sermon on the Mount. In the main body of the sermon, Jesus invites his followers to live in right relationship with God and each other.1

Tim: And one way to do that is to live by the wisdom of God’s commands in the Torah.

Jon: Yet how do we find God’s wisdom in the laws of the Torah?

Tim: Well, Jesus gives six examples. Let’s look at the first one, where Jesus quotes one of the most well-known commands in the Torah.

Jon: “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You will not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will be guilty by the court.’”2 Okay, don’t take someone’s life. That's straightforward.

Tim: Well, for Jesus, there’s even more of God’s wisdom being revealed in this command. And to get us to see that, Jesus gives us a kind of riddle that has three parts. First:

Jon: “And I say to you, that anyone who is angry with his brother will be guilty by the court.”3 So wait, the verdict for losing your temper with someone is the same as murder?!

Tim: I know! And then look what he says next:

Jon: “And whoever calls his brother ‘good-for-nothing!’ will be guilty by the sanhedrin.”4

Tim: Here, Jesus uses the Aramaic word “raca.” It’s an insult that means ‘‘you are nothing.”

Jon: Yeah, that’s harsh. And what’s the sanhedrin?

Tim: Ah, that was the highest court in their culture.

Jon: So, by calling someone a good-for-nothing, you’re guilty before the highest court in the land?

Tim: Yes, and then wait for it. Jesus gets even more extreme in the riddle’s third part:

Jon: “And whoever says ‘fool!’ will be guilty of the fire of gehenna.”5

Tim: Now, “fool,” means “stupid.” And that’s not a very nice thing to say, but it’s not as mean as calling someone “good-for-nothing.”

Jon: And neither are as bad as murder!

Tim: Totally. Now, notice how the list of behaviors go from really bad, to kind of bad, to not-as-bad. But then the matching consequences go in the other direction. From trouble in your neighborhood court, to trouble in the highest court in the land, to real trouble in the fire of gehenna.

Jon: I see. I’ve got to rethink the kind of harm that comes from my words. Now, gehenna fire? What’s that?

Tim: Yeah, the Greek word gehenna comes from the Aramaic and Hebrew phrase “gey’ hinnom.” It’s the name of a valley on the southwest side of Jerusalem where Israel’s ancient leaders once sacrificed children to other gods.6

Jon: Yikes.

Tim: Israel’s prophets confronted this evil, and they warned that God would allow Babylon to conquer Jerusalem, kill those leaders, and then throw their bodies into gehenna to be burned up.7

Jon: Woah, God turns the fire that consumed the innocent people back on those who started the fire in the first place.

Tim: Right! So in Jesus’ time, gehenna was an image of how God will hand people over to the destructive consequences of their actions, and so remove evil from his world once and for all.

Jon: Okay, but simply calling someone stupid results in that kind of fire?

Tim: Well, the riddle invites us to see how murder and name-calling are more similar than they are different. Both acts come from an attitude of contempt that devalues the life of another, and both result in a destructive fire. Jesus wants us to see that within the command “do not murder” is a radical ideal that every human is an image of God to be treated with respect through our actions and with our words.8

1. Matthew 5:17-48
2. Matthew 5:21
3. Matthew 5:22
4. Matthew 5:22
5. Matthew 5:22
6. Joshua 15:8; 2 Chronicles 28:1-3; 2 Chronicles 33:6
7. Jeremiah 7:30-33
8. Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 25:35-40; 1 John 3:16-18
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