But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt 5:22)
Preliminary note: The JST omits “without a cause” from the text.
This verse is interesting because it warns of judgments, councils, and hellfire may be the lot of those who are angry, deride, and verbally abuse others.
The council Jesus spoke up meant a religious council for the purpose of discipline and judgment. Thus, someone who said “Raca” (a term suggesting contempt) to someone else was dehumanizing and verbally abusing and would eventually do worse things that would ultimately lead to church discipline.
Now for the term “fool.” This seems relatively mild to us, since we have a tradition of the word being used for people who were merely unwise or ignorant or jerks. However, my perspective on this was changed when I read that the term “fool” in the scriptures actually meant something like “apostate.” (Here’s an interesting paper on this verse that I also found enlightening.)
With that bit of knowledge, suddenly the verses in Proverbs about fools mean something completely different. And here in Matt. 5:22, we are warned not to call someone apostate. We are warned this will put us in danger of hellfire.
Why might this be? First, it is hostile, exclusionary behavior. It has the effect of driving away someone who is already probably somewhat alienated. So in effect, it does Satan’s work for him, and there are consequences for that. (Who wants to be agents of Satan? Not me! [raises hand])
We don’t know people’s hearts or their inner struggle. All we can see are their words and actions. We don’t know, but that our continued forbearance and kindness might be instrumental in helping those we consider faithless to begin believing again.