Matthew 5 – Part 10: Anger

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Nov 20, 2016

9. Consistent with His stated intention of upholding the Law (17-20), Jesus reveals that the customary understanding of six biblical injunctions[1] is inadequate or false and seeks to correct them[2]

9.1. Unrighteous Anger Toward A Covenant Brother or Sister (21-26)

9.1.1. Injunction # 1: (21) “You have heard that it was said to those of old” = Well known within ancient Rabbinic discussion, this phrase (or ones similar to it) were used to indicate that a long-standing or customary understanding of a particular doctrine, portion of Scripture or precept was about to be challenged as false[3]. “’You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’” = At face value, what is stated (here) is true. The sixth commandment prohibits the action of unlawful killing (i.e. murder) as a crime punishable by death – even eternal death (OC: physical death – Exo 20:13, 21:12-14; NC: spiritual death – 1Co 5:1-13; eternal death/Hell – Rev 21:8) [4]. Based however on Jesus’ response, it is clear that the Jews fell woefully short of who was actually guilty of such a crime.

9.1.2. Jesus’ response: (22) “…But I say unto you” = Some have attempted to see this phrase (and those like it in the remaining verses of ch.5 – v28, 32, 34, 39, 44) s Jesus’ point of departure from God’s Law in an attempt to establish His own law for God’s people – in contrast to the OT Law/Scriptures and in superior fashion to that of the former lawgiver, Moses[5]. This thinking is grossly ignorant of: The prior context and its teaching (17-20 – “I did not come to destroy the Law…not one jot or tittle shall be removed…whoever relaxes the least of these…will never enter the kingdom of heaven”). This phrase is therefore to be received as Jesus’ first act of seeing the Law upheld (or fulfilled). If God’s people are going to be faithful to God’s Law (or OT Scriptures), it will require as the first order of business, correcting those particular areas of the Law where the current teaching was wrong. Like its predecessor, this phrase (or one similar to it) was also popular among ancient Jewish teachers. It served as the follow-up to the prior phrase (“You have it heard it was said…”) as the recognized formula for refutation of particular view of the Law[6]. As such, when the Jewish people heard one of their Rabbis (or Jewish teachers) use this phrase (after the previously discussed phrase and its subsequent subject), they expected that some form of correction/change was coming. What however they did not expect, was that the Law (or a particular law) would now be in question. That kind of thinking was the furthest from their mind. As mentioned in prior studies, only a false teacher would propose that kind of change (Deu 12:34-13:3)[7]. Jesus is true Giver of the Law (OT Scriptures). Moses was simply His servant and mouthpiece, not the other way around (Jud 1:5; 1Co 10:1-4; Joh 5:45-46). It is no doubt, this very reason that caused the crowds to hear Jesus’ corrective instruction as One speaking w/authority. He was the Law’s original Author and therefore Rightful Interpreter (Mat 7:28-29; Heb 12:2).

9.1.3. His corrective instruction: (22) “…(that) everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” = Notice, the consequence associated with this action (“angry w/ his brother”[8]) is the same as the aforementioned view (“liable to judgment”).

Notice also, though Jesus is clearly making an association between the anger under question (in v22), and the crime of murder mentioned (in v21), nothing is communicated which would give the impression that Jesus is somehow holding those brought to trial for this kind of anger, to a lower form of murder.[9] What then Jesus is telling us (in no uncertain terms) is that the Law’s scope of indictment for murder is (and always has been!) much larger than simply those guilty of homicide. This is His corrective measure to the customary view.

We are to understand that the capital charge of murder is to also be applied to those who are unrighteously displaying anger toward their covenant brothers or sisters.[10] Or to be more accurate, those Christians who (before God’s courts) are found to still be unrighteously displaying a wrathful attitude toward other Christians. Such individuals (according to Jesus) are “liable” (literally, accountable before the courts) to the charge of murder. Unique (and crucial to a proper interpretation) is the fact that these verses (21-26) represent the only time Jesus limits His instruction to the covenant community. The remaining injunctions and their corrections are in relation to both Christians and non-Christians (vv 27-37) or exclusive to non-Christians (vv38-48). It is here then (in the recipients of such unrighteous anger- covenant brothers and sisters) that we are called to make the connection between unrighteous anger and the sixth commandment. More importantly, It is through such association that we are to called to appreciate how serious God sees such offenses (and through such knowledge) commit to a love for one another that never allows the differences, tensions or troubles we experience with each other to get to this level.

9.1.4. How we know that what Jesus is condemning is unrighteous displays of anger and not all displays of anger: B/C Jesus Himself was – and will be, angry (i.e. displaying a wrathful attitude) (e.g. Joh 2:13-17; Mar 3:1-5; Rom 2:6-8 w/2Th 1:5-10 w/Rev 6:16). B/C Jesus would not stand against the Biblical witness which at times, commands us to be angry (Eph 4:26 w/Psa 119:53) B/C Jesus reveals it to be a very specific kind of display of anger: one without just cause that results in abusive speech from which the person refuses to recant.

As it re: to anger w/o just cause: (22) “whoever is angry without cause = KJV and the AV Bible include this prepositional phrase whereas the ESV does so by way of Fn only. The difference is based on the family of Greek manuscripts (or ancient copies of the NT) used (Textus Receptus v. Westcott and Hort) to determine what was (and was not) a part of the original NT Scriptures (since no such originals exist to our knowledge). Irrespective of which camp one lands in as it relates to source documents, the fact that this “insertion” shows up, does reveal (at the very least) how the early Church (1st-2nd cent.) may have been instructed as it related to Jesus’ intended meaning (in Mat 5:22) on the issue of unrighteous anger. It is (first) then, anger directed at a particular covenant brother/sister that possesses no justifiable reason (i.e. they have done nothing foolish or sinful) since this is most certainly what is meant by “without cause”. As it re: to anger that results in abusive speech: (22) “…whoever insults his brother…and whoever says, ‘You fool!’” = All three of the descriptions found in verse 22 are meant to be understood together –  as referring to the same person or action. As such, what puts a Christian in danger of being charged with murdering his fellow brother/sister is not simply anger w/o just cause, but that anger resulting in the use of abusive speech (“insults” = r`aka ; an attack on a person’s intellect or intellectual ability – e.g. idiot, flake, air-head, dope, dummy; “fool’” = bad translation;  ,mwre,  – from which get the terms morals, mores and moron – though the last is not associated w/ moral character, this is how it was understood in ancient times; an attack on a person’s moral character – e.g. compromiser, bigot, racist, cheat, dirty-bird, fraud, fake, satan, devil, demon, dirt-bag)[11]. As it re: to anger that refuses to recant: (23-26) = The principle held in common by each of the two scenarios presented by Jesus in these verses, is the absolute necessity of serving justice (i.e. making our wrongful wrath toward our offended brothers/sisters right), before justice is served (i.e. before we pay a more severe price for our actions in court). As such, what is revealed (in vv 23-26) is the third and final aspect of unrighteous anger. It is Christian who rejects such wisdom and remains indignant, making no attempts to “be reconciled” to their offended brother/sister, refusing to “comes to terms quickly with (their) accuser”. It is a Christian who is unwilling to recant/renounce the unjustifiable anger and abusive speech where and to whom it was spoken. This Jesus identifies as unrighteous anger – as anger which now is “liable” to the capital charge of murder.   That being said, it is important to note that as with all similar matters of justice, God requires that the victim or person offended (i.e. “your accuser” or “the brother that has something against you”) be the one bringing the particular charge/crime before the courts, if it is to be considered (which is our forgiving duty – 1Th 5:15). Where then there is no such pursuit, there is no case, nor crime (e.g. Joh 8:2-11). This however does not mean the offense is gone before God. Judgment Day will reveal such acts as outstanding and subsequently, condemning – if the guilty party remains aware, yet unrepentant (Mat 12:33-37). A good example of this wb those who destroy relationships w/other brothers/sisters in Christ, speaking evil of them or their church. It would likewise apply to those Christian couples who destroy their marriages through unresolved unrighteous anger and abusive speech. Such people will most certainly be charged in the heavenly courts w/murder of their fellow Christian brothers/sisters and face the eternal penalty.

9.1.5. How we can be absolutely confident that Jesus wants us to view (unresolved) unrighteous anger toward a covenant brother/sister as a capital crime in the category of murder : B/C Jesus assigns to it that category (22 – DISCUSSED) B/C Jesus assigns the penalty of excommunication or apostasy through the church courts.

They are (22) “liable to the council (sunedri,w = Sanhedrin)”. This was the name given to the courts established within the OC community and therefore (also) represents the NC courts. This is the place Jesus says such cases of unresolved unrighteous anger are to be pursued by the (still) offended party. The same idea is conveyed in the accompanying parable (25-26[12]); And where found guilty, such individuals become (22) “liable to the hell of fire”. As already stated, the contents of verse 22 are to be understood together – or as additional aspects all related to the same subject. In this case, the subject of judgment. What (then) Jesus is prescribing that the church courts render as the penalty for (unresolved) unrighteous anger is the removal of their current standing/state of justified and heaven-bound for that of damned and bound for hell – either as a temporary state (excommunication) or permanently (in apostasy). They are to be relegated to the “hell of fire”. Hence then why also Jesus gives instruction to such individuals to (24) “leave you gift there before the altar and go. Be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift”. It is pointless to make an offering (in our case, the offering of Christ’s body/blood) since the Lord will not accept it (i.e. forgive) those who are no longer a part of the covenant community – which is once more, what the consequences will be for those whose unresolved, unrighteous anger is pursued by the (still) offended brother/sister (Pro 15:8).

[1] Authoritative order which compels one to either do or refrain from certain actions.

[2] “In Matthew, in the sermon on the mount, we find a series of injunctions intended to illustrate the position of Jesus as upholder, not destroyer of the Law.” – David Daube (The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p.55); “When he says, ‘But I say unto you…’, Jesus is seeking to restore the real meaning of the moral law.” – Ernest Reisinger (The Law and the Gospel)

[3] “Once Jesus has made it clear that he is not opposing the Law but interpreting it, he shows how the customary practice of the Law in his day is inadequate” – Stephen Westerholm (“Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Application of Divine Law”, Eglise Theologie 13, 191-210); “There is a good reason, for translating the first part of the Matthean form by: ‘Ye have literally understood’. (It) is used in the sense of ‘he who sticks to the superficial, literal meaning of Scripture – will form [an] erroneous belief.’” – David Daube (ibid, p.56); “Jesus is not criticizing the OT but the understanding of the OT many of his hearers adopted. In every case, Jesus contrasts the people’s misunderstanding of the law with the true direction in which the law points.” – D.A. Carson (Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 148)

[4] Not all killing is unlawful or murder, only those forms not sanctioned by God. For example, execution carried out by the state or its enforcers is not considered murder (Rom 13:1-3), neither is defensive killing (Exo 22:2; this would include homeland defense and life-threatening pregnancy abortions – e.g. ectopic pregnancies), mercy killing (Jug 16:28-30) or just wars (e.g. Gen 14:12-16).

[5] For example, consider the words of John Reisinger, “We will accept the But I Say Unto You contrasts as clear and sharp distinctions between the Old and the New Covenants; law and grace; and most importantly; Christ the new lawgiver and Moses whom he replaces.. According also to Reisinger, any other view affirms “Moses as the true, final and greatest lawgiver…that ever lived. Christ [is] merely the true and final interpreter of Moses.” (But I Say Unto You, p.2-3, 152)

[6] “What is the form employed by Rabbis when they repudiate those interpretations introduced by [“You have heard it was said”]? The argument against the objectionable, narrow interpretation may consist in a logical deduction – an inference or the like – and, significantly, the usual Hebrew verb for establishing such a deduction is ‘to say’ [or “I say”].” – David Daube (ibid, p.57)

[7] “When Jewish teachers said things like this they did not see themselves as contradicting the law, but rather explaining it.” – Craig S. Keener (The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 182)

[8] That Jesus indeed has in mind the action or display of anger versus the emotion is demonstrated by His following examples of abusive speech. It also becomes obvious once it is considered that the evidence required to press charges for such crime would most certainly need to be in the form of overt actions since only God can judge the heart (1Co 4:5).

[9] Given the distinction we find in vv27-28 (the man who looks lustfully at a woman is not guilty of the capital crime of adultery, but rather the lesser crime of, “adultery in his heart”), we might expect Jesus to accuse those in v22 of being guilty of “murder in their heart”. No such designation however is made, though Jesus demonstrates in other cases they do exist. No doubt, this is the reason John makes no distinction when he says, “he who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1Jo 3:15).

[10] When used in the context of the covenant community, the common NT term, “brother” carries the same lexical range as the OT term, “neighbor”. It always and only refers to covenant members and never simply other human beings.

[11] It must be kept in mind that abusive speech is not always wrong – even when associated with anger. Jesus was both angry and used harsh speech yet never w/o just cause. In other words, those receiving it were (righteously) deserving it and He was (therefore) righteous in dishing it out (e.g. Mat 16:21-23, 23:17).

[12] The idea of hell is not lost in following parable though it speaks of the penalty incurred in terms of a debtor’s prison (25-26 – “you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”) since Jesus uses the same language when speaking about Hell in Mat 18:21-35.