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21. “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven;”7979 “With all their care, they had not understood the true spirit of the law” (Schaff). The rest of the Sermon is largely a comment on this verse, Christ giving His interpretation of the law, and the righteousness following upon its observance; showing that the purport goes beyond the external act of obedience to the purpose of the heart, and that in the external act of obedience the real purport might be ignored. i.e., unless ye shall fulfil not only those least precepts of the law which begin the man, but also those which are added by me, who am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. But you say to me: If, when He was speaking above of those least commandments, He said that whosoever shall break one of them, and shall teach in accordance with his transgression, is called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but that whosoever shall do them, and shall teach [men] so, is called great, and hence will be already in the kingdom of heaven, because he is great: what need is there for additions to the least precepts of the law, if he can be already in the kingdom of heaven, because whosoever shall do them, and shall so teach, is great? For this reason that sentence is to be understood thus: “But whosoever shall do and teach men so, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,”—i.e. not in accordance with those least commandments, but in accordance with those which I am about to mention. Now what are they? “That your righteousness,” says He, “may exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees;” for unless it shall exceed theirs, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever, therefore, shall break those least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least; but whosoever shall do those least commandments, and shall teach men so, is not necessarily to be reckoned great and meet for the kingdom of heaven; but yet he is not so much the least as the man who breaks them. But in order that he may be great and fit for that kingdom, he ought to do and teach as Christ now teaches, i.e. in order that his righteousness may exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. The righteousness of the Pharisees is, that they shall not kill; the righteousness of those who are destined to enter into the kingdom of God, that they be not angry without a cause. The least commandment, therefore, is not to kill; and whosoever shall break that, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall fulfil that commandment not to kill, will not, as a necessary consequence, be great and meet for the kingdom of heaven, but yet he ascends a certain step. He will be perfected, however, if he be not angry without a cause; and if he shall do this, he will be much further removed from murder. For this reason he who teaches that we should not be angry, does not break the law not to kill, but rather fulfils it; so that we preserve our innocence both outwardly when we do not kill, and in heart when we are not angry.
22. “Ye have heard” therefore, says He, “that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause8080 Sine causa. The weight of critical evidence is against this clause, which is omitted by Tischendorf, Westcott, and Hort, the Vulgate and the Revised Version. 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 the gehenna of fire.” What is the difference between being in danger of the judgment, and being in danger of the council, and being in danger of the gehenna of fire?8181 The “judgment” (κρίσις) was the local court of seven, which every community was enjoined to have (Deut. xvi. 18). The “council” was the Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy-two members, sitting in Jerusalem. The “gehenna” was the vale of Hinnom, on the confines of Jerusalem, where sacrifices were offered to Moloch, and which became the place for refuse and the burning of dead bodies. In the New Testament it is equivalent to “hell.” For this last sounds most weighty, and reminds us that certain stages were passed over from lighter to more weighty, until the gehenna of fire was reached. And, therefore, if it is a lighter thing to be in danger of the judgment than to be in danger of the council, and if it is also a lighter thing to be in danger of the council than to be in danger of the gehenna of fire, we must understand it to be a lighter thing to be angry with a brother without a cause than to say “Raca;” and again, to be a lighter thing to say “Raca” than to say “Thou fool.” For the danger would not have gradations, unless the sins also were mentioned in gradation.
23. But here one obscure word has found a place, for “Raca” is neither Latin nor Greek. The others, however, are current in our language. Now, some have wished to derive the interpretation of this expression from the Greek, supposing that a ragged person is called “Raca,” because a rag is called in Greek ῥάκος; yet, when one asks them what a ragged person is called in Greek, they do not answer “Raca;” and further, the Latin translator might have put the word ragged where he has placed “Raca,” and not have used a word which, on the one hand, has no existence in the Latin language, and, on the other, is rare in the Greek. Hence the view is more probable which I heard from a certain Hebrew whom I had asked about it; for he said that the word does not mean anything, but merely expresses the emotion of an angry mind. Grammarians call those particles of speech which express an affection of an agitated mind interjections; as when it is said by one who is grieved, “Alas,” or by one who is angry, “Hah.” And these words in all languages are proper names, and are not easily translated into another language; and this cause certainly compelled alike the Greek and the Latin translators to put the word itself, inasmuch as they could find no way of translating it.8282 Raca is from the Chald. רִיָקא, and is a term of contempt equivalent to empty-headed (Thayer’s Lexicon). Trench translates, “Oh, vain man!”
24. There is therefore a gradation in the sins referred to, so that first one is angry, and keeps that feeling as a conception in his heart; but if now that emotion shall draw forth an expression of anger not having any definite meaning, but giving evidence of that feeling of the mind by the very fact of the outbreak wherewith he is assailed with whom one is angry, this is certainly more than if the rising anger were restrained by silence; but if there is heard not merely an expression of anger, but also a word by which the party using it now indicates and signifies a distinct censure of him against whom it is directed, who doubts but that this is something more than if merely an exclamation of anger were uttered? Hence in the first there is one thing, i.e. anger alone; in the second two things, both anger and a word that expresses anger; in the third three things, anger and a word that expresses anger, and in that word the utterance of distinct censure. Look now also at the three degrees of liability,—the judgment, the council, the gehenna of fire. For in the judgment an opportunity is still given for defence; in the council, however, although there is also wont to be a judgment, yet because the very distinction compels us to acknowledge that there is a certain difference in this place, the production of the sentence seems to belong to the council, inasmuch as it is not now the case of the accused himself that is in question, whether he is to be condemned or not, but they who judge confer with one another to what punishment they ought to condemn him, who, it is clear, is to be condemned; but the gehenna of fire does not treat as a doubtful matter either the condemnation, like the judgment, or the punishment of him who is condemned, like the council; for in the gehenna of fire both the condemnation and the punishment of him who is condemned are certain. Thus there are seen certain degrees in the sins and in the liability to punishment;8383 It is important “to keep in mind that there is no distinction in kind between these punishments, only of degree. The ‘judgment’ (κρίσις) inflicted death by the sword, the Sanhedrin death by stoning, and the disgrace of the gehenna followed as an intensification of death; but the punishment is one and the same,—death. So also in the subject of the similitude. All the punishments are spiritual; all result in eternal death, but with various degrees, as the degrees of guilt have been” (Alford). but who can tell in what ways they are invisibly shown in the punishments of souls? We are therefore to learn how great the difference is between the righteousness of the Pharisees and that greater righteousness which introduces into the kingdom of heaven, because while it is a more serious crime to kill than to inflict reproach by means of a word, in the one case killing exposes one to the judgment, but in the other anger exposes one to the judgment, which is the least of those three sins; for in the former case they were discussing the question of murder among men, but in the latter all things are disposed of by means of a divine judgment, where the end of the condemned is the gehenna of fire. But whoever shall say that murder is punished by a more severe penalty under the greater righteousness if a reproach is punished by the gehenna of fire, compels us to understand that there are differences of gehennas.
25. Indeed, in the three statements before us, we must observe that some words are understood. For the first statement has all the words that are necessary. “Whosoever,” says He, “is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.” But in the second, when He says, “and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,” there is understood the expression without cause,8484 Augustin helps us to understand how the word εἰκῆ (without cause) in the preceding clause crept into some of the Mss. In Retract. I. xix. 4 he makes the critical note and correction: “Codices græci non habent sine causa.” and thus there is subjoined, “shall be in danger of the council.” In the third, now, where He says, “but whosoever shall say, Thou fool,” two things are understood, both to his brother and without cause. And in this way we defend the apostle when he calls the Galatians fools,8585 Gal. iii. 1. to whom he also gives the name of brethren; for he does not do it without cause. And here the word brother is to be understood for this reason, that the case of an enemy is spoken of afterwards, and how he also is to be treated under the greater righteousness.
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