Matthew 5:22 Question

Please can someone explain what Jesus means by calling someone fool and traitor and why the punishment for these are severe especially traitor?

Matthew 5:22 But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court; anyone who calls a brother “Fool” will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him “Traitor” will answer for it in hell fire.

Is there something more to this chapter/verse than what I seem to understand?


The Contemporary English Version I have puts it like this -

Matthew 5:22 - 22 But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.

I find it self explanatory when it’s put like this.

Hope I have helped

Thank you for reading


The crux of this is in the terms used. “Raca”, which is a contemptuous term often translated as “fool” or “idiot”, stems from an animal - in contemporary Japanese which has its origins in Hebrew, the term is Baka: ba is horse or donkey. Animals according to Genesis are the subject of man, and therefore distanced from God. To be accused using a pejorative term is therefore something which accuses one of not being in touch with God, the gravest of insults, and subject to other men, again, a grave insult. The court is therefore sanctioned to intervene to judge a person’s “worth” based on the Sacred Laws - in modern parlance, their “standing”. It is also a euphemism for Judgement Day.

Hope that helps.


My NAB Little Rock Catholic Scripture study Bible says “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother ‘Raqa’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool”, will be liable to fiery Gehenna."
There is a very long descriptive and explanatory footnote explaining this whole teaching of Christ’s regarding anger. the Aramaic word, ‘raqa’ is a derogatory word, probably meaning imbecile or blockhead and is considered a term of abuse.
Look to the previous verse where Christ is condemning killing. Then he goes on to say that lashing out in anger is killing your brother in an emotional sense and can be just as damning. Then in the verse following, v 23 he urges us to be reconciled. Sometimes, if you isolate one verse, it becomes more difficult to understand or can become warped by the individual’s interpretation. Thank goodness we have our beautiful Catholic church to inform us in these matters. I don’t know what translation you are using. I have several translations, just so I can review them all if necessary. Of course they are ALL Catholic.

I’m gonna quote myself here:

The Sermon on the Mount makes [Jesus’] relation with the Mosaic Law explicit: Matthew’s Jesus has come not to annul Torah but to fulfill it. The righteousness Matthew’s Jesus demands of His followers is not less, but more than that demanded by the Law. In a series of antitheses (“you have heard it said…but I say to you…”), Matthew shows how Jesus’ interpretation of Torah yields a greater righteousness “than that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” and how (rather paradoxically) it is more demanding than what the Mosaic Law stipulates. Jesus quotes a particular commandment, only to give a more stringent and more harsh interpretation of it. He does not get rid of the laws of Moses; He retains them, but also teaches that they must be completely internalized - which makes it all the more difficult to follow. If killing is a temptation, how hard is it to avoid anger? If adultery is hard to avoid, how much more lust?

Why not quote the whole passage?

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. For amen, I tell you, until the heaven and the earth pass away, not one iota or one serif will pass away from the law until all is fulfilled. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men the same will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens, but whoever obeys them and teaches men the same will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of the heavens.
"You heard that the ancients were told: ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will be subjected to the judgment.’ But I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother [without cause] will be subjected to the judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raka!’ will be subjected to the council, and whoever says ‘Idiot!’ will be subjected to the gehenna of fire.
"So if you are presenting your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go! First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
“Make friends with your opponent ((in a lawsuit)) quickly while you are with him on the way, so that the opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Amen, I tell you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last quadrans!”

As someone who speaks Japanese and as someone who likes to study languages, I’d like to address this. First, no, unlike some people on the internet might claim, the Japanese language has no relation to Hebew.

Second, about the insult baka: the thing is, baka originally did not strictly have the nuance of ‘stupid’, ‘idiot(ic)’ or ‘dumb’ that it has today. The original Japanese word for ‘foolish’, ‘idiotic’ or ‘stupid’ is, in fact, oroka- (愚か, おろか).

The very first appearance of baka in Japanese literature (as 馬鹿者 baka-no-mono) is in the Taiheiki, written around the late 14th century. Back then, baka - as the late 15th century dictionary Setsuyōshū (文明本節用集, ca. 1474) defined it - meant something along the lines of (as an adjective) ‘violent’ or ‘rowdy’ synonymous to the word 狼藉 rōzeki (lit. ‘wolf’s grass bed’).

馬鹿(バカ) 或作母嫁馬嫁破家共 狼籍之義也

馬鹿: Also written as 母嫁, 馬嫁, (or) 破家. Means ‘in a mess’/‘disorder’/‘confusion’/‘disorderly’/‘rowdy’/‘violent’ (狼籍).

  • 母嫁: 母 ‘mother’ + 嫁 ‘to marry, bride’; 馬嫁: 馬 ‘horse’ + 嫁 ‘bride’; 破家: 破 ‘to destroy’ + 家 ‘house, family’.

Baka only definitively acquired the meaning ‘idiot’ fairly recently in history, around the Edo period; one of the first literary attestation of this is in the novel Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko (好色一代男 ‘The Life of an Amorous Man’, written 1682).

Now, no one today exactly knows the origins of the word baka, and there are actually a number of theories:

(1) The oldest theory is that baka, written as 馬鹿 (deer-horse), is a reference to an anecdote found in the Records of the Grand Historian concerning the Qin Dynasty traitor Zhao Gao (d. 207 BC):

[INDENT]Zhao Gao was contemplating treason but was afraid the other officials would not heed his commands, so he decided to test them first. He brought a deer and presented it to the Second Emperor but called it a horse. The Second Emperor laughed and said, “Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?” Then the emperor questioned those around him. Some remained silent, while some, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Zhao Gao, said it was a horse, and others said it was a deer. Zhao Gao secretly arranged for all those who said it was a deer to be brought before the law. Thereafter the officials were all terrified of Zhao Gao.

This anecdote gave rise to the Chinese (and Japanese) idiom “calling a deer a horse” (i.e. deliberate misrepresentation for ulterior purposes). A 1548 dictionary (Unbo irohashu, 運歩色葉集) in fact gives this etymology for baka: 指鹿曰馬 (“pointing at a deer and saying [it is a] horse”). At first glance, this etymology might seem close to baka’s original meaning of ‘confusion’ or ‘disorder’. The weakness of this theory, however, is that baka is not a pure on’yomi reading, which one might expect if this was a word of Chinese origin.

  • To explain, Chinese characters or kanji in Japanese usually have two or more pronunciations, which can generally be classified as being either on’yomi or kun’yomi. On’yomi refers to the modern descendant of the Japanese approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of the character at the time it was introduced; kun’yomi meanwhile is a reading based on the pronunciation of a native Japanese word that closely approximated the meaning of the Chinese character. Take for example the character 東 ‘east’: in on’yomi it is read as (とう), the Japanese approximation of Middle Chinese *tung (cf. modern Mandarin dong1 or Cantonese dung1). Meanwhile, the native Japanese words for ‘east’, himukasi/hi(n)gasi (modern higashi) and aduma (modern azuma), were also applied to the character - these are 東’s kun’yomi. To give a concrete example: the 東 in Tokyo (東京 Tōkyō) is on’yomi, while the 東 in Higashi-Nihon (東日本, ‘East Japan’) is kun’yomi.

Sometimes, there are kanji compounds that use and on’yomi**kun’yomi, the Japanese version of hybrid words. 馬鹿 is such a case: it is a combination of ba (one possible on’yomi for 馬) and ka (a kun’yomi for 鹿, the native word for ‘deer’; cf. shika). If the word was read using only on’yomi, 馬鹿 would have been something like ba-roku.[/INDENT]


(2) The second popular theory is that baka is of Sanskrit origin, introduced by Buddhist literature. The Sanskrit word moha “ignorance” or “delusion” was sometimes transliterated into Chinese as 莫迦 (read in Japanese - on’yomi, of course - as bakuka) or 募何 (boka). According to this idea, baka came out of these Japanese readings of the Chinese transliterations of Sanskrit moha. In this case, the characters 馬鹿 were later assignments to the word, chosen for their sounds (ba and ka) and not for their meaning - a phenomenon called ateji (‘assigned character’).

This theory was first proposed by scholar Amano Sadagake around the late 17th century and has since caught up some steam. It’s actually due to this theory that 莫迦 is often now read as baka as well. (If you’ll check a Japanese dictionary, the entry for baka will include both 馬鹿 and 莫迦 as possible renderings. Some people in rare instances also choose to write baka as 莫迦 instead of the more famous 馬鹿 as well.) But - the weakness of this theory is the fact that the word did not yet carry the connotation of ‘idiot’ or ‘fool’ until the 17th century.

A variant of this ‘Sanskrit origin’ theory proposes that the word came from Sanskrit mahalla(ka) (摩訶羅, makara) ‘decrepit, feeble’ or from maha (摩訶, maka) ‘great’, ‘big’.

Still other theories include baka(mono) being derived from words such as wakamono (‘young people’, with the w- sound becoming a b-) or hakanashi (‘transience’) or ōmaka (大まか、‘generous’, unsparing’, ‘broad,’ ‘rough’ as in ‘rough idea’ or ‘rough sketch’) or bokeru (‘to become senile/feeble-minded’) or woko (modern oko - which like baka has had quite a colorful history), deriving from the Zen term 破家 (‘destroy’ + ‘house/family’, i.e. ‘to go bankrupt’), or even as a reference to a stanza from a poem by Chinese poet Bai Juyi (“Do you not see the Ma family manor (馬家宅; the character 家 ‘house, family’ in 馬家 ‘the Ma family’ has the on’yomi ke and ka), now made into Fengcheng Garden?”).

So to sum, we don’t even know where baka comes from - different dictionaries give one explanation or the other. I don’t think any serious scholar proposes that it came from Aramaic raqa’/reiqa’. They are as about as related .okoru

This sill worries me.

Jesus is just saying that his new law does not delete the old. In his new law, it is what is in your heart that matters. he is just giving examples of how you can be mean spirited, angry and contemptuous to other people and this itself is what will keep you out of the Kingdom.

The old laws were easier really, since they just judged the physical act, but Jesus is judging what is in your heart.

If one follows the path of Love, as described by St Bernard,one first loves others for what they can do for you. Then one loves others for their own sake. Then one loves God for what he can do for you, then one loves God for one’s own sake. Eventually, the saints love others for God’s sake.

So you see, if one loves others for God’s sake, the way Jesus did, then one’s heart would be free of thee feelings of anger, lust, etc. much less any outward action.

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 22. Whosoever is angry[2] with his brother. In almost all Greek copies and manuscripts we now read angry without a cause: yet St. Jerome, who corrected the Latin of the New Testament from the best copies in his time, tells us that these words, without a cause, were only found in some Greek copies, and not in the true ones. It seems at first to have been placed in the margin for an interpretation only, and by some transcribers afterwards taken into the text. This as well as many other places may convince us, that the Latin Vulgate is many times to be preferred to our present Greek copies. — Raca.[3] St. Augustine thinks this was no significant word, but only a kind of interjection expressing a motion of anger. Others take it for a Syro-Chaldaic word, signifying a light, foolish man, though not so injurious as to call another a fool. — Shall be guilty of the council:[4] that is, shall deserve to be punished by the highest court of judicature, called the council, or sanhedrim, consisting of seventy-two persons, where the highest causes were tried and judged, and which was at Jerusalem. — Thou fool; this was a most provoking injury, when uttered with contempt, spite, or malice. — Shall be in danger of hell fire.[5] Literally, according to the Greek, shall deserve to be cast into the Gehennom of fire. Gehennom was the valley of Hinnom, near to Jerusalem, where the worshippers of the idol Moloch used to burn their children, sacrificed to that idol. In that place was a perpetual fire, on which account it is made use of by our Saviour (as it hath been ever since), to express the fire and punishments of hell. (Witham) — Here is a plain difference between sin and sin; some mortal, that lead to hell; some venial, and less punished. (Bristow)

This verse is supposed to worry you! If you don’t know there’s something wrong, you can’t fix it. So Jesus is telling you.

But remember, you can always ask your brother for forgiveness, and you can also confess this sin at Confession.

I think rakah is not a Hebrew word at all, but Aramaic. The two languages are closely related but by no means identical. In the Trinitarian Bible Society’s NT translated into Hebrew, the word in Matt 5:22 is left in Aramaic, spelled resh quf alef (רקא). There is a Hebrew word pronounced the same, but spelled resh quf hei (רקה), but it isn’t an insult or pejorative term at all: it just means temple (part of the forehead).

What is the context and focus of the surrounding text?

Matthew 5:20-25
20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Teaching About Anger.a] 21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’**(“”)] 22 c]But I say to you, whoever is angryd] with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.

*]5:21–48 Six examples of the conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. Each deals with a commandment of the law, introduced by You have heard that it was said to your ancestors or an equivalent formula, followed by Jesus’ teaching in respect to that commandment, But I say to you; thus their designation as “antitheses.” Three of them accept the Mosaic law but extend or deepen it (Mt 5:21–22; 27–28; 43–44); three reject it as a standard of conduct for the disciples (Mt 5:31–32; 33–37; 38–39).
*]5:21 Cf. Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17. The second part of the verse is not an exact quotation from the Old Testament, but cf. Ex 21:12.
*]5:22–26 Reconciliation with an offended brother is urged in the admonition of Mt 5:23–24 and the parable of Mt 5:25–26 (// Lk 12:58–59). The severity of the judge in the parable is a warning of the fate of unrepentant sinners in the coming judgment by God.
*]5:22 Anger is the motive behind murder, as the insulting epithets are steps that may lead to it. They, as well as the deed, are all forbidden. Raqa: an Aramaic word rēqā’ or rēqâ probably meaning “imbecile,” “blockhead,” a term of abuse. The ascending order of punishment, judgment (by a local council?), trial before the Sanhedrin, condemnation to Gehenna, points to a higher degree of seriousness in each of the offenses.

Everyone looks what the person does or says to his brother but most people fail to consider the liability for each.

But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

Liable to judgement is a reference to the judges who sat at the gate of the city. These were small claims courts and criminal courts for misdemeanors and petty crimes.

Liable to the council is a reference to the Sanhedrin. Some translations mention the Sanhedrin by name and this is the supreme Jewish council with the authority to issue the death sentence.

Liable to the hell of fire means that there is no escape ever.

This is clearly teaching on mortal and venial sin. Anger is venial - you can pray about it and go to confession but it does not warrant the death penalty. Calling your brother a name or insulting him makes your anger real in the world and you are liable to death - mortal sin. Then there is the unforgivable sin of final impenitence.

Catholics should be very comfortable with this passage as it gives a relative gradation of sin, some worse than others and some carrying with it a greater risk of eternal death.


Does it seriously mean calling somebody a fool will put you in Hell?

Is it the reason that can put you in Hell?

Is fool a malicious word? What about stupid, silly, idiot?


Reading this thread, it occurs to me that this is a more difficult saying than I had thought. Does Jesus mean that it’s wrong to say anything to anybody that’s even only very slightly critical? It seems unlikely that he would say that, but if that’s not his meaning, then what is it?

It is teaching about the relative gravity of various sins.

The first sin is anger in your heart - you don’t actually call anyone a name but keep it inside of you. This leaves you liable to judgement but you can pray and be forgiven by God - venial sin.

The second sin makes your anger manifest in the world by saying something insulting to the one you are angry with. This leaves you liable to death - mortal sin - and you have to confess and apologize to your brother.

The third sin is a public insult and you will go to hell unless you confess and make it right by publicly apologizing.

Remember that this is part of the Sermon on the Mount and has to be read in that context including the very next lines…

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

Jews thought that all they had to do was offer a sacrifice and they were forgiven. Jesus raises the bar by saying that you not only have to confess but that you have to make it right by apologizing and restoring your brother’s good name.

The Sermon on the Mount raises the bar for the Jews.


Timothy H

Thank you, Tim. I have reread the passage in the light of your exposition and it certainly makes a lot of sense. I would even say that everything now seems to have fallen into place.


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