The Superior Righteousness of the Kingdom
Murder (Matt. 5:21-26)


In the previous passage Jesus commanded that instead of annulling the Law of Moses, we should live a life of righteousness which surpasses even that of the scribes and Pharisees, two of the most “righteous” and “religious” groups the world has ever produced. What would that righteousness look like, the righteousness which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees? That is the main import of the rest of the Sermon.

According to A.T. Robertson (again the finest Greek scholar Southern Baptists have ever produced), in Matt. 5:21-48 Jesus is addressing the righteousness produced by the scribes and how the righteousness of His followers should surpass it. (Jesus will address the righteousness of the Pharisees in 6:1-18 and the Christian righteousness which surpasses it.)

Now the scribes were the copyists of the Jewish religion. They took great pains to make sure that the new copies of the OT they produced were accurate reproductions of the manuscripts they copied. How good were they? Before 1948 the earliest copies of the Hebrew Bibles we had were from 1000 A.D. In 1948, though, a shepherd boy found what turned out to be the Dead Sea Scrolls, OT manuscripts from even before the time of Christ (100 BC – 100 AD). When Hebrew scholars compared the manuscripts from 1000 AD to those from 100 BC they found very few variations between the 2 sets of manuscripts. The reason? The Jewish scribes were so meticulous in copying those manuscripts. It is said that after a scribe had produced a manuscript, the lector (reader) would require the copyists to count a certain # of letters and then tell him which letter it was. If the letter the scribe gave was not the same letter the lector was expecting, the manuscript would be destroyed. That much perfection was demanded in the transmission of the manuscripts.

Because these scribes were concentrating constantly on the OT, they became the recognized experts in the OT among the Jewish people. Moreover, since much of the OT focuses on law, especially the Mosaic Law, they became the legal experts, the lawyers of their day. As any good lawyer would do, they concentrated on the details of the Law. They stressed strict adherence to those Laws. Jesus now takes that Law and elevates it to a much higher level than ever before. He doesn’t contradict the OT Law (like many accused Him of doing); rather He elevated it to such an extent that only the person transformed by the Spirit of Christ within him could keep it.


Before looking specifically at this one part of the superior righteousness of the Christian, we first need to look at the formula Jesus uses in each of the 6 examples of this superior righteousness. Jesus will first state, “You have heard it said . . .” or a variation of it (“You have heard it said to the ancients” or “it was said”). In doing so, Jesus is drawing attention to the way each principle was first given to the Israelites, especially the Israelites who were at the foot of Mt. Sinai who received the Law from God and Moses.

Jesus will then follow this with “but I say to you” after which Jesus gives a deeper interpretation of that law. Now note what this implies. The Lawgiver on Mt. Sinai was none other than God Himself who was communicating His laws through angels to Moses and then to the people. When Jesus says, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you,” Jesus is putting Himself on the same level as that Lawgiver. This definitely would have caught the attention of the people. They were used to hearing the rabbis say: “Well, here is what the Law says and some say it means ‘this’ whereas others claim it means ‘this.’” A “pick and choose” mentality. Not so with Jesus. Jesus speaks with complete authority, an authority on the same level as that of the original Lawgiver, God Himself. After Jesus finished this sermon, why were the crowds amazed (Matt. 7:28-29)?

Jesus’ opponents by no means would have missed the implications of Jesus’ style of teaching.


Matthew 5:21

First, Jesus claims that the "ancients" received the word "You shall not murder." (Note that although many interpret the 6th command in the 10 Commandments to be "Thou shalt not KILL," Jesus translates it as "You shall not MURDER." Major difference between the two because although all murder involves killing, not all killing qualifies as murder.)

Who were these "ancients" Jesus is referring to? Most likely He is referring to the "original recipients of the Mosaic law,” that is those Hebrews who stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and heard God [or the angel] speak the Ten Commandments to Moses and the people (WBC:115).

Matthew 5:22

According to Jesus, though, what makes a person liable, or guilty to the court, the supreme court (Sanhedrin), even to the fires of hell?

    "The term of the abuse [raka] which is regarded as harmless though spoken in ill-humour is an offence worthy of death. It is on the same level as murder and deserves the same and indeed a severer punishment, namely, the imposing of the death penalty by the supreme court (which obviously carries with it expulsion from the national fellowship) and even the penalty of eternal death. This paradox of unparalleled sharpness is designed to bring home to the hearers the terrible seriousness of sins of the tongue in God’s eyes and hence to save them from having on their consciences the everyday ill feelings towards their brothers which might appear innocuous but in fact poison relationships” (TDNT 6:975-976 by Jeremias).
First of all, who was the Sanhedrin? The Sanhedrin "was the highest court in Jerusalem (composed of seventy-one members). The eschatological reference to ‘the Gehenna of fire’ in the fourth sentence (v 22) is undoubtedly climactic. And since the judgment of the local and main sanhedrins would have been anticipations of the final judgment, we are probably justified in hearing an echo of this in the first two references to ‘judgment.’” (WBC:115-116). In other words, the judgments of the other courts give the angry person a taste of his final, future judgment--the fires of hell.

Next, some like to parse the different judgments so that the first judgment is not all that harsh, whereas the second judgment (the supreme court/Sanhedrin) is worse, but the judgment to the fires of hell is yet the worst. "This, however, is a rhetorical device and the differences have no literal significance (just as the offense of anger is essentially the same in the three instances. Here in both occurrences thi krisei may mean initially the judgment of the religious authorities, as in this case of the local sanhedrins (composed of twenty-three members . . .) found in larger cities, which handled murder cases. The penalty for murder was death (cf. Lev. 24:17 . . .). . . . The point in all four cases is that anger, as the root of murder, deserves in principle the same penalty” (WBC:115-116).

    ”Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom where the fire burned continually. Here idolatrous Jews once offered their children to Molech (I Kings 23:10). Jesus finds one cause of murder to be abusive language. Gehenna ‘should be carefully distinguished from Hades . . . which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition’ (Vincent)” (RWP 1:44).
Doesn't all this sound a little radical? Not really. According to v. 22, who is the Christian angry at, to whom does he say "raka", and whom does he call "fool"?

In his dissertation (Sanctorum Communio, "The Community of the Saints"), Bonhoeffer claimed that Christ was present only in the community of the saints, that is in the church itself, that the church itself was the real presence of Christ in the world. When I express anger at a fellow Christian then, who am I really angry at?

Lewis confirms this: "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden" (last sentences in The Weight of Glory).

In case this sounds sappy and sentimental, go to 1 Cor. 8:12. According to Paul in this verse, whenever I have sinned against a fellow Christian "brother" and wounded their conscience, whom have I actually sinned against?

According to Paul, whenever I have divided the church, whom also have I divided (1 Cor. 1:13)?

More from Lewis:

    "Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?”

    His answer was as follows:
    “That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.

    If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.

    I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” God in the Dock, pp. 61-62.

When we truly come to grips with this concept, it will radically transform the way we treat others in the church.

Matt. 5:23-24

And as if that was not enough. Jesus goes further about how important it is to be in a right relationship with your fellow Christian. According to Jesus what should you interrupt if you are in a wrong relationship with your fellow Christian?

Only when should you then offer your offering at the altar?

To me this is pretty radical. I've been around some "spiritual" Christians who act as if it is a sin to go to church on Sundays. I am glad our pastor is not like that. Pastor Danny really expects people to be in worship on Sunday morning. However, as important as worship is, it is less important than reconciliation. It is not saying that worship is not important. It is! What this is teaching is that reconciliation is even more important than something really important, worship.

In other words, if your fellow Christian has something against you, who should take the initiative in restoring that relationship?

Now look at Matt. 18:15-17 in which a fellow Christian ("your brother") has sinned. Who has the responsibility in initiating reconciliation, you or your fellow Christian?

In other words, no matter who is at fault, whose responsibility is it to initiate reconciliation?

Let's make this practical. Sunday morning will be here in another few days. (It comes once a week every week; it always has and always will.) You are in a negative relationship with somebody: either they are upset with you or you are upset with them. What is YOUR responsibility between now and this coming Sunday?


Jesus next presents the situation of a person who, while on the road, meets up with one of his opponents. How soon, according to Jesus, should a person reconcile with his opponent?


What might just happen if I do not reconcile quickly with my opponent?

    The kodranten was "actually one quarter of an ‘as’. . . .) quadrans, penny = two lepta Mk. 12:42. Its value was approximately one quarter of a cent in normal times. . . . until you have paid the last cent” (A/G:438). " . . . a vivid picture of inevitable punishment for debt. This is emphasized by the strong double negative ou me with the aorist subjunctive” (RWP 1:45).
In light of what Jesus has said about the "hell of fire," this reference to being thrown into prison is very intimidating. It most likely is referring to eternal punishment.

According to Paul, when is a person to be at peace with another person (Rom. 12:18)?


What has Jesus as the Son of God made perfectly clear?

Who can fulfill the law?

What does Jesus declare war on?

"The brother's life is a divine __________________ and _____________ alone has power over life and death."

According to DB is the "brother" referring only to "fellow-Christian"?

What is the boundary that a Christian cannot pass?

"Even ____________ is enough to overstep the mark."

What is anger always an attack on? Why is that true?

What distinction will Jesus not accept?

What do our idle words betray?

When we show our neighbor such little respect with our idle words, we have placed ourselves on what?

Why is the deliberate insult worse than the angry word?

The person who is angry with his brother and swears at him is not only guilty of murder but also forfeits what?

What has that person erected between him and God?

DB claims that the fellowship of Christ (the church) should examine itself and ask what?

"God will not be separated from our _____________; he wants no honour for himself so long as our brother is _____________. God is the Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who became the Brother of __________ _________."

Because the Father would not be separated from the Son, why won't He be separated from Christians?

What is the ultimate reason the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man?

What is the only way of following Jesus and worshipping God?

Right now we are still on "the way" with our brothers. When will it be too late to be reconciled with our brothers/enemies?

It is law or is it grace that we are allowed to please our brother, to pay our debt, and to be reconcile with him?