“You Fool!” Matthew 5:22 -- By: Don Garlington

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:1 (NA 2010)
Article: “You Fool!” Matthew 5:22
Author: Don Garlington

“You Fool!” Matthew 5:22

Don Garlington


This essay advances the case that Matt 5:22 is not a prohibition of generic name calling, using common terms of abuse. It is, rather, a pointed and specific warning that one Christian believer must not consign another believer to perdition by labeling him/her a “fool” (“unbeliever,” “apostate,” “heretic,” etc.), that is, one who is excluded from the eschatological kingdom of God. To do so is to expose oneself to divine wrath in the day of judgment.

Key Words: brother, kingdom, love, fool, unbeliever, apostate, heretic, unfaithful, hypocrite, judgment, Gehenna

The second half of Matt 5:22, the proscription of calling one’s brother (sister) defamatory names, specifically ῥακά and μωρός, tends to be looked on as a kind of sidebar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (SM). The words in question are normally reduced to various common terms of abuse and thereafter given noticeably short shrift. In part, the relative disregard of the passage is due to the fact that ῥακά (Aramaic, ריקא) is frequently said to be an obscure term, meaning something like “empty headed.”1 But the Jesus of the SM is so frighteningly serious about this infraction of the righteousness of the kingdom (Matt 5:20) that nothing less than the “Gehenna of fire” is reserved for those hold their fellow believers in such contempt. For this reason alone, I would propose that Matt 5:22, particularly in its application, is well worth probing in more detail.

Matthew 5:22 In The Framework Of The Sermon On The Mount

Because Matt 5:22 occupies a place within the SM as a carefully constructed literary unit, it will be useful to consider its particular niche within the composition. Because I have provided a lengthier treatment of the structure of the SM elsewhere,2 here I will cut to the chase as regards Matt 5:22

in context. In brief, the overall schema of the SM is this: nine blessings (5:3–12); core of the sermon (5:13–7:12); three warnings (

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