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Friday, April 27, 2012

A Treatise on Matt. 5:22-24--Part 2--The Sin of Contempt (Verbal Abuse)

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Matt. 5:22-24 NAS)

I want to deal in this article specifically with the second clause in this statement of Jesus where he says "Whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court." My main interest is not how this passage may have applied to the Jewish audience living under the Law of Moses to whom Jesus spoke but rather how does it apply to you and me today. The Greek word translated "supreme court" is literally "the Sanhedrin" (see the side margin note in the NAS). This was the Jewish high court then in existence and I am sure neither you nor I are concerned about a court that has long since passed from the face of the earth. Besides we are not Jewish nor do we live under the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, there is a warning in this teaching that transcends the ages.

A good place to begin is with the word "Raca" which is meaningless to the average reader of the Bible. Consequently, many translations translate the Greek differently using terms or phrases such as "insults his brother" (ESV), "insults a brother" (NET, NRSV is similar), "You good-for-nothing" (NAS update—I used the original NAS in my quote at the top of the page, GNB), and "Empty fellow" (YLT). Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "It was a word of utter contempt, signifying empty, intellectually rather than morally, empty-headed." Strong's Dictionary described it as "a term of utter vilification." I believe from my study that the YLT (Young's Literal Translation) comes the closest of any of the translations in giving the best translation of the Greek.

When one takes a look at the various translations given above for the Greek and learns the meaning of the Greek word used behind those translations it becomes obvious that we have a sin that can be committed today even though we might use slightly different terms or words. The man that would say this kind of thing to a brother not only insults that brother but displays a lack of love and compassion, a lack of kindness for his fellowman. It tells you more about the man speaking than it does about the man he is insulting in such speech. It manifests a feeling of superiority in the speaker's mind.

If you are an American have you ever wondered why the desperately poor southern white who never owned a slave or had hopes of doing so fought to uphold the slave holding rights of rich southern plantation owners during our Civil War in the 1860's? I am told by those who have studied the subject that the slave gave them a sense of self worth in that there was at least one man below themselves in terms of how society judged its own. They were at least better than the black slave (as they saw it). As long as there were slaves they were not in society's lowest caste. Take the slave away and then it is a different matter.

One wonders how much of this belittling of one's brother or sister is similar in kind. I insult and make naught of you so I can feel better about myself. If one could get to the bottom of it I suspect there is a good bit of it. One of the sadder things about it is that there are so many people who are readily willing to side with the insulter and join in perhaps for the same reason of personal low self esteem. Nevertheless, there is no doubt a great amount of this kind of behavior comes from not so much low self esteem but downright arrogance residing within the one who does it.

There is a price to be paid for such behavior. In school we call such conduct bullying. School shootings and suicides of young people oftentimes are directly related to some child being continually subjected to such torment by those who would verbally abuse others. When I was a student in high school I saw a young girl tormented (bullied) mercilessly daily (this was back in the early 60's). This was long before schools ever gave a thought of disciplining such conduct. I have always sort of blamed those tormentors of hers for the way her life turned out. I saw what she went through daily. She was going to have a tough go of it at best and needed all the love, friendship, and kindness she could get but what she got instead was tormentors and bullies who verbally abused her daily and made her life miserable.

In an earlier article on this passage I talked about anger. We ought to be angry against sin and that would include the sin those engage in who would belittle others, insult them, and call them names. I hate this sin. My dad was an honest man and a hard worker. People thought well of him for that but Dad had a speech impediment of sorts and had some difficulty in pronouncing certain letters or sounds. I could understand him perfectly and everyone did who was around him but still he did not quite pronounce some of his words correctly.

Dad never told me this but I learned it later and I never said a word to him, never brought it up to him, but I learned as they were eating lunch one day at work one or more of his co-workers was making fun of him, evidently mercilessly, and he slapped the man. No doubt he was too ashamed to ever tell it. He had to have been tremendously provoked to do that for it was totally out of character for him and hard to believe he had done such a thing. Certainly, Dad was in the wrong but these who speak hurtful words to others tearing them down to the point of the loss of all dignity what kind of love do they have in their hearts toward those to whom they address? Is there any love, compassion, any mercy, any humanity in such speech? If I incite a person to the point it becomes intolerable for them and they just cannot take it anymore am I guilt free of sin? Dad knew he could not pronounce his words correctly and never liked to be out in public. No man wants to be embarrassed.

I think one can begin to see that this sin involves more than just words, it involves the heart. The man who would call his brother names and insult him has not only sinned with the words of his mouth but with his heart as well.

The Bible tells us, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phil. 2:4 NAS) Does the kind of speech of which we are speaking violate this scripture? This speaking humiliating things to others, putting them down, is a sin on so many levels—a sin of the heart, of the tongue, a violation of all the passages that speak of love, compassion, kindness, and mercy.

"And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell." (James 3:6 NAS)

In closing it is readily seen that whatever this passage meant in the first century it is still applicable today in that there will be a judgment for such speech. We need not worry about the Sanhedrin for a greater than the Sanhedrin is here—Jesus Christ himself, the judge of all, in that special day that has been appointed for that. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10 NAS)

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