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Tim Keller: Speaking With Contempt

May 26, 2011

I have always found Jesus’ words in Matt 5:21-22 to be shattering. He begins by reminding his listeners that anyone who murders will be judged. But then he gives three case studies of actions that seem far less serious than murder. “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” To be bitter and angry in your heart toward someone can lead to great evil, so that makes some sense. But the term “raca” means only something like “you air-head!” and the word translated “fool” is likewise not an outrageous or cutting insult. Jesus’ listeners would likely have been smiling as they heard these terms and would have been shocked as he ended the sentence threatening them with hell-fire! What was Jesus’ point? “The deliberate paradox of Jesus’ pronouncement is that ordinary insults may betray an attitude of contempt which God takes extremely seriously.” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 201)

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