Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Grant Osborne: The six antitheses (on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of neighbor) function in two ways: they exemplify the “better righteousness” Jesus has just demanded, and they further explain how Jesus has fulfilled/deepened the law in the new ethics of the kingdom (introduced in 5:17–20). There is a deliberate contrast between the literal, legalistic teaching of the Pharisees and the high standards demanded here. The form is rabbinic: “You have heard that it was said” commonly introduced rabbinic discussion of a point of law, but the second half (“but I am telling you”) goes beyond Jewish teachers to give Jesus’ authoritative interpretation of the true meaning of the commands.  It means in effect, “This is how you were taught, but I will now tell you what it really means.” . . .

His purpose is not to contravene but to provide the true messianic understanding of the commands. Jesus is not contravening the law in essence but rather a shallow, external understanding of it. Davies and Allison calls this “not contradiction but transcendence,” meaning that Jesus’ “ideas surpass those of the Torah without contradicting the Torah.”

R. T. France: Four ways of seeing these examples of “going beyond” the law and the tradition of the Pharisees:

(1)  an “inward” concern with motive vs. an “outward” concern for a literal observance of regulations;

(2)  moving behind the rule itself to ascertain the greater principles for conduct as God’s people;

(3)  centering not on the negative aspect of avoiding sin but on the positive purpose for “discovering and following what is really the will of God”;

(4)  substituting for what can be completely achieved (a distinct set of rules) a “totally open-ended ideal” of perfection (v. 48), which will not be ultimately achievable in this life.

Warren Wiersbe: Jesus took six important Old Testament laws and interpreted them for His people in the light of the new life He came to give. He made a fundamental change without altering God’s standards: He dealt with the attitudes and intents of the heart and not simply with the external action. The Pharisees said that righteousness consisted of performing certain actions, but Jesus said it centered in the attitudes of the heart.

Leon Morris: Jesus is protesting against a strictly literal interpretation of the commands, an interpretation that indicates an apparent willingness to obey what God has said, but which imposes a strict limit on obedience and leaves scope for a good deal of ungodly behavior. He is laying down authoritatively how these commands of God should be understood.

Donald Hagner: The antitheses, which consist basically of the material introduced directly by the repeated twofold formula (“you have heard . . . but I say to you”), are accompanied in each instance by illustration, application, or clarification of some kind (the first antithesis includes the most such material, the third the least). In this way the radical significance of the antithesis and the extent to which it involves a departure from common understandings of the law are dramatically clarified. . .

Despite his affirmation of the continuity between Jesus and the law, Matthew at the same time stresses the authority of Jesus as the eschatological Messiah who in bringing the law to a new, definitive interpretation can also transcend it. Messianic transcending of the law is not understood as involving a violation of it.


A.  (:21) Traditional Teaching of the Rabbis

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’

and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

Gordon Osborne: Jesus begins with murder as the most egregious of the sins, taking the life of another human being. The point is that anger is murder in the heart and so must be confronted as the basis of most murders. Jesus’ purpose is to show that God’s demands are deeper than the usual shallow understanding; murder in the heart is just as serious as murder in action.

Craig Blomberg: “Murder” is the correct rendering since the underlying Hebrew (ratsach, sometimes translated “kill”) did not include killing in self-defense, wars ordered by Yahweh, capital punishment following due process of law, or accidental manslaughter.

Bruce Hurt: Their misapplication of the Law led to a liberal attitude toward murder, adultery, divorce, vows, retaliation and love. Therefore Jesus calls His listeners and we the readers of His sermon to exhibit allegiance to a higher standard, a standard of righteousness that far surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees and which shines a beacon of supernatural light that points the lost to the great and mighty supernatural Father of lights, the Heavenly Father.

B.  (:22) Transcendent Teaching of Jesus

  1. Anger Leads to Guilt and Judgment

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother

shall be guilty before the court;

Charles Swindoll: The Messiah caught them off guard with His “but I say to you” statement (Matt. 5:22). He moved from the outward act that none of them had committed to the inner attitude that went deeper —to the actual cause of the chain reaction of attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and actions that leads people to commit murder. Ever been angry with your brother? You may be innocent before the city magistrate, but you are guilty before God’s court. Ever call your brother useless or a fool? You’re guilty before God’s bench of perfect justice and are liable to eternal fire! You’ve murdered that person in your heart or slain that person with your tongue. Though no physical wounds are visible, the words themselves leave a mark on the mind and emotions. . .

Here Jesus applies the principles of the Beatitudes —particularly the ones involving mercy and peacemaking —to very concrete situations.

Scott Harris: Jesus now goes on to destroy their self-righteousness by teaching that things they thought were of no consequence such as anger, calling other people names and attacking other people’s character, brought about the same or greater danger of punishment.

Leon Morris: It is not correct to say that he replaces the law with his own commands, for in no case does he relax a provision of the law. Rather, he shows that, rightly understood, the law goes much further than his hearers had reckoned.

John Nolland: Matthew considers three parallel cases by way of example. Because there appears at first sight to be an ascending order of seriousness of the sphere of answerability ([local?] court, high court, God), interpreters have struggled to find some ascending sequence in being angry, saying ‘Raka’, and saying ‘Fool’. But such efforts are probably misplaced.

E. Michael Green: The rabbis, aware that they were not inspired, never spoke on their own authority. They normally introduced a saying either by repeating it from some previous rabbi or by saying, ‘There is a teaching that …’ But here is one who quietly but with immense authority juxtaposes his own view, fully supportive of the authority of the Old Testament, to centuries of its scribal interpreters: ‘But I tell you…’ Who is this ‘I’, who speaks with such breathtaking assurance?

  1. Intensified Anger Leads to More Severe Guilt and Judgment

and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’

shall be guilty before the supreme court;

Craig Blomberg: First, he considers those who accost their fellow believers with the epithet “Raca” (a quasi-swear word in Aramaic). The expression probably meant something like empty-headed.   So too those who call someone a “fool” commit a sin. This word (mows) carries overtones of immorality and godlessness as well as idiocy. As with the commands against anger, both of these prohibitions against the use of insulting names undoubtedly carried the implicit qualification of “where unjustified,” since Jesus himself uses the term in 23:17,19 (in direct address) and in 7:26 (in indirect address) when the label is accurate.

Bryce Morgan: But murder is just one example of what this kind of anger can do. As Jesus points out in verse 22, this anger is also manifested in our speech; in how we demean others. Jesus’ words are more specific than the ESV word “insults”. Literally, Jesus is saying, “whoever says to his brother, “Raka”! That’s an Aramaic word meaning empty. A comparable insult today might be something like, “You, blockhead!” or “You good-for-nothing”. Jesus adds another example at the end of v. 22… literally, from the Greek moros, the insult is “You, moron!”

  1. Contempt Leads to Ultimate Guilt and Judgment

and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’

shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

Gordon Osborne: Jesus’ point is that each of the three lead a person to judgment both on the earthly and the heavenly planes. Moreover, it is clear here that name-calling is at the core of showing angry contempt. This was even more true in ancient Judaism, where the name bespoke the essence of what a person was (e.g., “Jesus” = “Yahweh saves,” 1:21).  “Gehenna” is a metaphor for hellfire, used seven times by Matthew, which refers to the Hinnon Valley, where in ancient times human sacrifices were offered to the pagan god Molech (2 Kgs 23:10) and where in Jesus’ day garbage was burned day and night, making it a perfect metaphor for eternal fiery judgment.


A.  (:23-24) Reconciliation with a Brother

  1. (:23)  Perception of an Offense

If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar,

and there remember that your brother has something against you,

Gordon Osborne: We must remember that Jesus’ disciples were from Galilee and rarely got to Jerusalem, so this only happened once or twice a year and was an important event (the “altar” is the sacrificial altar in the inner court of the temple). Also, there were probably long lines waiting, so the picture is of one who had been there some time and was finally able to perform his solemn duty. . .  Jesus’ point is that as long as there is sin in the church between members, worship is compromised.

John Nolland: The key to the big picture is almost certainly the recognition that the murder commandment is being interpreted in the light of the love commandment (which will become the specific focus of attention in the final antithesis) and therefore attracts to itself the same relational focus. The murder commandment becomes to some degree a negative formulation of the love commandment.

  1. (:24)  Priority of Reconciliation over Worship

leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way;

first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Leon Morris: Leave your gift is a sharp command; there is something more urgent than completing the act of sacrifice. The worshiper is to leave the animal right there, in front of the altar, and go. The interruption of so solemn an act emphasizes the overriding importance of reconciliation. First has a time reference: “in the first place, before doing anything else.” It is important that the worshiper get his priorities right, and the first thing to do is to effect reconciliation.  He must take whatever steps are needed to restore harmony, and only when this is done may he come back and resume his offering. The act of sacrifice is not as important as the spirit in which it is done.

B.  (:25-26) Reconciliation with an Adversary

  1. (:25a)  Arbitration Preferred to Going to Court

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law

while you are with him on the way,

Craig Blomberg: Jesus’ second illustration of the urgency of reconciliation pictures an out-of-court settlement between fellow litigants. These verses offer good advice at the literal level of legal proceedings, but in light of vv. 21-22 they obviously refer primarily to the spiritual goal of averting God’s wrath on Judgment Day before it is too late to change one’s destiny.

D. A. Carson: In the ancient world, debtors were jailed until the debts were paid. Thus v.26 is part of the narrative fabric and gives no justification for purgatory, universal restoration, or urgent reconciliation to God. It simply insists on immediate action. Malicious anger is so evil—and God’s judgment so certain (v.22)—that we must do all in our power to end it (cf. Eph 4:26–27).

2.  (:25b-26)  Avoid Intensifying Your Liability

a.  (:25b)  Process of Judgment Can Quickly Escalate

in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

b.  (:26)  Penalty Can Be Severe

Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there,

until you have paid up the last cent.

Gordon Osborne: At one level, this passage shows beyond doubt that Jesus is the transcendent interpreter of Torah, for he turns to the heart of the law, the Ten Commandments, for his first example, and it shows it must be understood in a deeper sense. At another level, Jesus establishes a key ethical standard for the kingdom people, showing that anger/hatred is tantamount to murder.

The community of the new covenant is clearly all about relationships. There can be no anger or contempt marring the life and worship of God’s people, either inside (the first illustration) or outside (the second illustration) the community. Theology is not just about God and the spiritual life. Broader ethical issues are also theological because in Scripture the way we relate to others is the way we relate to God. To be angry or feel contempt for another is to disparage God’s child and, therefore, God himself. We cannot separate relationships with others from our relationship with God.

Bryce Morgan: Brothers and sisters, friends, are you angry this morning? Maybe you’ve buried that anger deep inside of you. Maybe its right at the surface, ready to break out. Wherever it is, however it’s affecting you, don’t avoid it. Don’t minimize it. Don’t rationalize it. And please don’t feed it. Instead, face it. Face it in light of Jesus. Let his words from Matthew 5 convict you and drive you to God’s forgiveness. But also let his words lead you down a new path, a path of humility, patience, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. If we are following Jesus through the forgiveness of his cross, then we should be giving attention to and guarding our hearts from the poisonous anger God spoke to us about this morning.