Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37
Ordinary A12

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21 “You have heard that it was saidA to those of ancientB times, ‘You shall not murder’;C and ‘whoever murders shall be liableD to judgment.’E

Notes on verse 21

A “said” = ereo. Can be say, speak, or command.
B “ancient” = archaios. 11x in NT – 3x in this discourse in Mt 5, to describe an early disciple in Acts 21:16, in 2 Cor 5:17 “if anyone if in Christ, there is a new creation – everything old has passed away,” also used to call the dragon “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil” (Rev 12:9; Rev 20:2). Root means to rule, reign, or begin – first in rank, power, or time.
C “murder” = phoneuo. 12x in NT. Rot means to slay, an unjustified killing that is criminal.
D “liable” = enochos. 10x in NT – 4x in this discourse in Mt 5. Derives from a word that means to ensnare, hold in, by impl. to bear a grudge, be angry with. This word is bound by, deserving, guilty, subject to; liable to a condition, penalty, or imputation.
E “judgment” = krisis. From a verb that means to judge or decide – used of legal court and private matters. It is the sense of separating or distinguishing what is good – choosing by separating, making a determination of guilt or innocence, right or wrong. This word covers the judging, judgment, and sentence. It is most often used of divine judgment. Also the root of the English word “crisis.”

22 But I say to you that if youF are angryG with aH brother or sister,I you will be liable to judgment; and if you insultJ a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council;K and if you say, ‘You fool,’L you will be liable toM the hellN of fire.O 

Notes on verse 22

F “you” = pas. This word means all, every, the whole. Unlike what is said to you (the plural you that is hearing the message), this you is more like everyone or anyone who is angry will be liable (etc.).
G “angry” = orgizo. 8x in NT. Used of the king’s anger in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Mt 22:7/Lk 14:21), the anger of the elder brother in the Prodigal Son Parable (Lk 15:28), and in Ephesians 4:26 “be angry but do not sin.” The root of this word means to reach after, yearn for. It puts a central focus on personal desire of the subject for the object of that desire. It is related to verbs that men to teem up, oppose, settled anger from ongoing opposition. This is anger resulting from direct and prolonged personal exposure against what the individual considers wrong, unjust, evil, etc. It is a stewing and not a sudden flash of rage. This word means to express that anger.
H “a” = autos. This is not “a,” but a possessive pronoun. More literally, this would be rendered, “everyone angry with his brother is liable.”
I “brother or sister” = adelphos. The roots of this word literally mean “sharing a womb.” This word means brother in a literal sense as well as a member of the same Christian community.
J “insult” = eiron … + rhaka. Literally, this is “whoever now will say to his brother ‘Raca.’” Raca is only found 1x in the NT. It is related to an Aramaic word that means empty, vain, void, worthless. Here, it is an expression of contempt – utterly devaluing someone as a child of God or perhaps it is a way of saying they are empty-headed as in senseless.
K “council” = sunhedrion. From sun (with, together with) + hedra (a sitting together, steadfast, firm) [from aphedron (a set, sitting solidly, morally fixed, steadfast in purpose); from hedra (seat)]. This is the Greek word for the Jewish Sanhedrin, the council or its meeting place. While Rome had the over-riding law, control, etc., the Jewish people were permitted to conduct their own internal legal affairs according to the law of God. There were smaller courts/councils where Jews settled with 23 members called Sanhedrin. Much like our system, they had an appeals process. Appeal went to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (akin to the Supreme Court), which had 71 members. Whereas previously the question of judgment was ambiguous (is Jesus talking about private judgment, small court, big court, or God’s judgment?) not he is being more specific. If you harm someone’s reputation so egregiously, you will have to answer to the Sanhedrin (but, as he clearly implies, not just to the Sanhedrin). 
L “fool” = moros. 12x in NT – also used in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish builder (Mt 7:26) & the Wise and Foolish bridesmaids (Mt 25:2-3, 8), when Paul writes “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). Same root where “moron” comes from. This word comes from a root meaning a dulling of nerves, someone who is sluggish. This describes a person who is dull, insipid, flat. This is someone whose grip on reality is lacking and has begun acting like they are brainless, heedless, certainly not in a moral way.
M “to” = eis. The previous “liable to”s did not have a preposition following. This gives a sense of being “liable into the gehenna of fire” This preposition denotes motion into something.
N “hell” = geenna. 12x in NT. This is from a Hebrew word meaning “the valley of Hinnom” [gay (valley, gorge) + Hinnom (origin unclear, probably foreign, maybe Jebusite)]. This described a valley outside of Jerusalem, used symbolically for a place of punishment. Several kings sacrificed their sons there (2 Chr 28:3) (2 Chr 33:6) (Jer 7:31-32) (Jer 19:2-6) (Jer 32:35). In rabbinical literature, Gehenna was a place where the wicked were punished, but not forever – it was a bit more like the Catholic purgatory. It is a place that includes suffering and a chance for atonement as in the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31).
O “fire” = pur. This word means fire, heat from the sun, and lightning. It is used figuratively for strife and trials.

23 So whenP you are offeringQ your giftR at the altarS, ifT you remember that your brother or sister hasU something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go;V firstW be reconciledX to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 

Notes on verses 23-24

P “when” = ean. From ei (if, whether, forasmuch as) + an (an untranslatable word that denotes conditional sense, wish, possibility, or uncertainty). This word can be if, before, but, or except. I think the verse reads interestingly if before is used “and so, before you are offering your gift, if you remember…”
Q “offering” = prosphero. From pros (advantageous for, at, toward, to, with) + phero (to bear, bring, carry, bring forth, publish). This word is to bring up, offer gift or sacrifice.
R “gift” = doron. From didomi (to give, offer, put, place). Just as the English “gift” comes from the verb “to give,” so it is in Greek. This word is for a gift or offering, but especially used of a sacrifice. This is a freely given gift and not a coerced one.
S “altar” = thusiasterion. 23x in NT. This word literally means “place of sacrifice.” The word for sacrifice comes from a word that means to breathe hard, blow, smoke. Hence, a sacrifice by fire.
T {untranslated} = kakei. 10x in NT. From kai (and, even, also indeed) + ekei (there, to there, in that place). This word is and there, and yonder, there also. This makes a subtle shift in the verse – “if even there also you remember…go.” Basically, this is like saying “it’s never too late to quell the anger, to make peace, to reconcile. You can always come make an offering, but sometimes there’s a clock on reconciliation.
U “has” = echo. This word is the general way of saying to have, hold, or possess. It is part of the word used repeatedly above “liable” (en + echo). So, if you are liable to a sin, deserving of some personal intervention, if they have something on you – go.
V “go” = hupago. From hupo (by, under, under authority) + ago (lead, bring, carry). This verb has a sense of being lead under someone else’s authority/mission. While it can mean simply to depart, I think the idea that you are being lead away on the path to reconciliation is an interesting one. Will you follow the leading and deepen your offering or ignore it?
W “first” = proton. This word can mean first in time, place, order, or importance. So, you could read this as: first do this and then do that OR you could read it as it is most important to do this and then next in importance is that.
X “reconciled” = diallasso. Only 1x in the NT. From dia (through, on account of, because of) + allasso (to change, exchange, transform). Another way to read this, then, would be to say “go, be transformed with your brother.”

25 Come to termsY quicklyZ with your accuserAA while you are on the wayBB to court with him, or your accuser may hand you overCC to the judge,DD and the judge to the guard,EE and you will be thrown into prison.FF 26 TrulyGG I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.HH

Notes on verses 25-26

Y “come to terms” = eimi + eunnoeo. Literally “be favorable.” Eunoeo is 1x in NT. From eu (good, well, well done, rightly) + noeo (perceive, think, understand, consider, conceive, apprehend; able to apply mental effort needed to reach bottom line conclusions – inherent capacity of thinking things through); from nous (mind, understanding, reason, faculty, intellect). This word is to think kindly of, be favorable, be kindly disposed.
Z “quickly” = tachu. 12x in NT. From tachus (promptly, quick, swift; promptly without unjustified time lapse – not immediately). This word is quickly, speedily – without unnecessary delay. Does not mean immediately or necessarily in a very short time – just without undue delay.
AA “accuser” = antidikos. 5x in NT – 4x regarding legal accuser, 1x of the Devil “like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). From anti (over against, opposite, instead of, because) + dike (individual rights as self-evident, justice – the principle, a decision, or its execution; custom, usage, right, justice, process of law, judicial hearing, execution of sentence, punishment, penalty, justice, vengeance); {from deiknuo (to show, point out, exhibit, teach, demonstrate, make known).} This word is an opponent in a lawsuit – someone seeking official damages, an adversary.
BB “way” = hodos. This word is way, road, journey, or path. It can also imply progress along a route or progress in an action.
CC “hand you over” = paradidomi. From para (from beside, by the side of, by, beside) + didomi (give, offer, put, place). This word is to hand over, give or deliver over, betray, pledge, hand down, deliver, commit, commend, abandon. Properly, to give or turn over; hand over from; to deliver over with a sense of close personal involvement.
DD “judge” = krites. 19x in NT. Related to “judgment” in v21-22. From krino (to judge, decide; judge in a law court or privately; decide, think something good; to separate, distinguish; come to a choice by making a judgment; to choose by separating; determine innocence and guilt, right and wrong). This word is judge, magistrate, ruler.
EE “guard” = huperetes. 20x in NT. From hyper (by, under, under someone’s authority) + eresso (to row). This word is an underling, servant, attendant, officer, lictor, attendant in a synagogue, minister of the Gospel. Properly, a rower or crewman on a boat – one who manned the oars on a lower deck; fig. a subordinate executing official orders
FF “prison” = phulake. From phulasso (to guard, watch, protect, be on guard, keep regulations; preserve something by having an eye on it; be on guard lit. and fig.; to preserve, obey, avoid); related to phylaks (a military guard, keeper, watcher, or sentry). This word is a guarding, guard, watch, prison, imprisonment, cage, hold, ward; the act or the person or the place of guarding.
GG “truly” = amen. From Hebrew amen (verily, truly, truth, so be it, faithfulness); from ‘aman (to confirm, support, assurance, believe, steadfast, establish; properly, to build up or support; to foster as a parent or nurse; fig. to render or be firm or faithful; to trust, believe; be permanent, be quiet; morally true or certain). This word is truly, verily, amen, sure, certain, most assuredly. So let it be; properly, firm; figuratively, trustworthy.
HH “penny” = kodrantes. 2x in NT – also the widow’s two coins are worth a penny in Mk 12:42. Of Latin origin – quadrans; from quattuor (four). This word is quardrans; one fourth of an “as” or “assarion,” which was the smallest Roman unit of money – a copper coin that was 1/16 of a sesterius and equaled two leptas (in KJV translated “mites”).

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’II 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a womanJJ with lustKK has already committed adultery with her in his heart.LL

Notes on verses 27-28

II “commit adultery” = moicheuo. 15x in NT. From moichos (adulterer; a man who has been with a married woman; used figuratively of an apostate). This is committing adultery or adultery itself. Used of a man with a married woman or a married man with anyone other than his wife.
JJ “woman” = gune. Perhaps from ginomai (to come into being, to happen, become, be born; to emerge from one state or condition to another; this is coming into being with the sense of movement or growth). This is woman, wife, or bride. This is where the word “gynecologist” comes from.
KK “lust” = epithumeo. Literally “in order to lust after her.” Epithumeo is 16x in NT. From epi (on, upon, fitting) + thumos (passion, wrath; actions emerging from passion or impulse) {from thuo (to rush along, breathe violently, offer sacrifice)}. This is desire, lust, longing for, setting one’s heart on. It is a longing whether good or bad. In either case, passion and yearning is set on the object of desire.
LL “heart” = kardia. Literally the heart, but figuratively mind, character, inner self, will, intention, thoughts, feelings. Also, the center of something. The word heart is only used figuratively in the Old and New Testaments. This is where “cardiac” comes from.

29 If your right eyeMM causes you to sin,NN tear it outOO and throwPP it away; it is betterQQ for you to loseRR one of your members than for your wholeSS body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right handTT causes you to sin, cut it offUU and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

Notes on verses 29-30

MM “eye” = ophthalmos. From optanomai (to appear, be seen by). This is eye or sight. It is used figuratively for the mind’s eye, a vision, or for envy.
NN “causes…to sin” = skandalizo. From skandalon (the bait or portion of the trap that closes down on the victim – the trap’s trigger; a stumbling block, offense, or cause for error; something that sets into motion a negative cause and effect; something that causes one to stumble); perhaps from kampto (to bend or bow). This is to put a stumbling block in someone’s way. Figuratively, causing someone to sin or preventing them from good action. It can also mean to shock or offend. Literally, this is falling into a trap or tripping someone up. So, here, enticing someone to sin or apostasy.
OO “tear…out” = exaireo. 8x in NT. From ek (from, from out of) + haireo (to take, choose, or prefer) {probably related to airo (raise, take up, lift, remove)}. This is to remove, pluck, tear, or choose. Properly, it refers to a complete removal or a complete rescue. Here, it would be tear it out all the way.
PP “throw” = ballo. Same as “thrown” in v25.
QQ “is better” = sumphero. 17x in NT. From sun (with, together with) + phero (to bear, bring, lead, make known publicly; to carry in a literal or figurative sense). This is to collect, bring together, or be profitable to. It is combining things such that there is gain or profit or advantage.
RR “lose” = apollumi. From apo (from, away from) + ollumi (to destroy or ruin; the loss that comes from a major ruination). This is to destroy, cut off, to perish – perhaps violently. It can also mean to cancel or remove.
SS “whole” = holos. This is whole, complete, or entire. It is a state where every member is present and functioning in concert. This is the root of the word “whole.”
TT “hand” = cheir. This is the hand in a literal sense. Figuratively, the hand is the means a person uses to accomplish things so it can also mean power, means, or instrument.
UU “cut…off” = ekkopto. 10x in NT. From ek (from, from out of) + kopto (to cut, strike, cut off; beating the chest to lament and so to mourn). This is to cut off, down, out, or away. It can also mean to remove, prevent, hinder, or frustrate.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorcesVV his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’WW 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground ofXX unchastity,YY causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Notes on verses 31-32

VV “divorces” = apoluo. From apo (from, away from) + luo (to loose, release, untie; figuratively, to break, destroy, or annul; releasing what had been withheld). This is letting go, setting free, or releasing. So, it can be to discharge, dismiss, divorce, pardon, or set at liberty.
WW “certificate of divorce” = apostasion. 3x in NT. From apo (from, away from) + histemi (to stand, place, set up, establish, stand firm). This is a repudiation or a forsaking. Properly, it is something that marked separation and so it was used specially for a bill of divorce. This is also the same root as the word “apostasy.”
XX “on the ground of” = logos. From lego (to speak, tell, mention). This is word, statement, speech, analogy. It is a word that carries an idea or expresses a thought, a saying. It could refer to a person with a message or reasoning laid out in words. By implication, this could be a topic, line of reasoning, or a motive. It can be used for a divine utterance or as Word – Christ.
YY “unchastity” = porneia. From porneuo (to fornicate – used figuratively for practicing idolatry or doing immoral things); from porne (prostitute, whore); from pornos (fornicator or immoral person); perhaps from pernemi (to sell off or export); related to piprasko (to sell with travel involved; to sell into slavery; to be devoted to); from perao (to travel); from peran (over, beyond). This is sexual immorality or unchastity. It could include adultery or incest. This is the root that “pornography” comes from.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely,ZZ but carry out the vowsAAA you have made to the Lord.’BBB 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven,CCC for it is the throneDDD of God,EEE 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool,FFF or by Jerusalem,GGG for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.HHH

Notes on verses 33-37

ZZ “swear falsely” = epiorkeo. 1x in NT. From epi (on, upon, fitting) + horkos (oath, vow; committing oneself to a sacred restraint) {related to erkos (fence, enclosure); perhaps related to horion (boundary, territory, border); from horos (boundary)}. This is to take an oath or to make false vows.
AAA “vows” = horkos. Related to “swear falsely” in v33. 10x in NT. Related to erkos (see note ZZ above). This is an oath or vow, a sacred restraint.
BBB “Lord” = kurios. From kuros (authority, supremacy). This is a respectful address meaning master or sir. It refers to one who has control or power greater than one’s own. So, it was also applied to God and Jesus as Master or Lord.
CCC “heaven” = ouranos. May be related to oros (mountain, hill) with the notion of height. This is the air, the sky, the atmosphere, and heaven. It is the sky that is visible and the spiritual heaven where God dwells. Heaven implies happiness, power, and eternity.
DDD “throne” = thronos. Probably from thanos (bench); from thrao (to sit). This is throne or seat – the place where the king sits. So, it is used figuratively to mean power, dominion, or a potentate. This is where the word “throne” comes form.
EEE “God” = theos. From Proto-Indo-European origins, meaning do, put, place. This is God or a god in general.
FFF “footstool” = hupopodion. 7x in NT. From hupo (by, under, about, under one’s authority) + pous (foot in a figurative or literal sense). This is literally under the feet. So, it is a footstool or footrest. It is also used figuratively to depict a king as one who has conquered his enemies. This is the same root that “podium” comes from.
GGG “Jerusalem” = hierosoluma. From Hebrew yerushalaim (probably foundation of peace); {from yarah (to throw, shoot, be stunned; to flow as water so figuratively to instruct or teach) + shalem (to make amends, to be complete or sound)}. This is Jerusalem, dwelling of peace.
HHH “evil one” = poneros. From poneo (to toil); related to ponos (pain, trouble, labor, distress, suffering; toil, which implies anguish); from the base of penes (a laborer, poor person, starving or indigent person; someone who works for their living); from pernomai (working for a living; laborer, poor person; to work for daily bread); from peno (to toil to survive day by day). This is bad, evil, wicked, malicious, grievous, or toilsome. Properly, it is something that bears pain – it emphasizes the miseries and pains that come with evil. By contrast, the Greek kakos refers to evil as part of someone’s core character. Also contrasting the Greek sapros, which deals with falling away from a previously embodied virtue. This word can mean ill, diseased, morally culpable, derelict, vicious, malicious, or guilt. It can also refer to the devil or sinners.


Image Credit: “Love and Peace Messages on the John Lennon Wall in Prague.” Photo by Sara Serra.

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