"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 fire." Matt. 5:22.
The purpose of Jesus was to show how exacting is Christianity. It judges the motives. This he affirms in the last sentence of the verse, after referring to the legal penalties of Judaism in the first two. The "Judgment" here is the lower ecclesiastical court of twenty-three judges: the "council" is the higher court, which could condemn to death. But Christianity is so exacting, that if one is contemptuous toward another, he will be adjudged by Christian principles guilty of the worst crimes, as "he who hateth his brother has already committed murder in his heart." We give the true meaning of this passage in the words of "orthodox" commentators.
Dr. Adam Clarke says: "It is very probable that our Lord means no more here than this: 'If a man charge another with apostasy from the Jewish religion, or rebellion against God, and cannot prove his charge, then he is exposed to that punishment (burning alive) which the other must have suffered, if the charge had been substantiated.' There are three offenses here which exceed each other in their degrees of guilt. 1. Anger against a man, accompanied with some injurious act. 2. Contempt, expressed by the opprobrious epithet 'raca', or shallow brains. 3. Hatred and mortal enmity, expressed by the term moreh, apostate, where such apostasy could not be proved. Now proportioned to these three offenses were three different degrees of punishment, each exceeding the other in severity, as the offenses exceeded each other in their different degrees of guilt. 1. The judgment, the council of twenty-three, which could inflict the punishment of strangling. 2 The Sanhedrim, or great council, which could inflict the punishment of stoning. 3. The being burnt in the valley of the son of Hinnom. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord. Our Lord here alludes to the valley of the son of Hinnom. This place was near Jerusalem; and had been formerly used for those abominable sacrifices in which the idolatrous Jews had caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch." Com. in loc.
We do not understand that a literal casting into Gehenna is here incul-cated—as Clarke teaches—but that the severest of all punishments are due those who are contemptuous to others. Gehenna fire is here figuratively, and not literally used, but its torment is in this life.
Barnes: "In this verse it denotes a degree of suffering higher than the punishment inflicted by the court of seventy, the Sanhedrin. And the whole verse may therefore mean, He that hates his brother without a cause, is guilty of a violation of the sixth commandment, and shall be punished with a severity similar to that inflicted by a court of judgment He that shall suffer his passions to transport him to still greater extravagances, and shall make him an object of derision and contempt, shall be exposed to still severer punishment, corresponding to that which the Sanhedrin or council inflicts. But he who shall load his brother with odious appellations and abusive language, shall incur the severest degree of punishment, represented by being burnt alive in the horrid and awful valley of Hinnom." (Com.)—A. A. Livrmore, D.D., says: "Three degrees of anger are specified, and three corresponding gradations of punishment, proportioned to the different degrees of guilt. Where these punishments will be inflicted, he does not say, he need not say. The man who indulges any wicked feelings against his brother man, is in this world punished; his anger is the torture of his soul, and unless he repents of it and forsakes it, it must prove his woe in all future states of his being."
Whether Jesus here means the literal Gehenna, or makes these three degrees of punishment emblems of the severe spiritual penalties inculcated by Christianity, there is no reference to the future world in the language.
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