By Jonathan Mitchell

In Matt. 5:22 there a progression of judgment that is described. However, it is most unfortunate that the common translations render Gehenna as hell. The offences are all about disrespect in human interactions. To make the final offense have "eternal punishment" seems quite irregular, if not downright insane. Gehenna is "the Valley of Hinnom," a geographic location just southwest of Jerusalem, which became the city dump. The Romans threw bodies of criminal whom they had crucified there for their bodies to be burned. All the refuse of the city was also dumped there, and there was so much organic matter that the worms never ran out of food (or, "never died"), and to control disease the fires were always burning. It is a mistaken theology and exegesis to make this place a figure of punishment after death.

Here is the text:

21. "You folks heard that it was said to (or: by) the original peoples (or: the beginning humans; the archaic ones; the ancient folks; those of the early period), 'You folks will not murder.' [Ex. 20:13] Yet whoever may commit murder will be held within the decision (or: held under the control of the crisis or the judging).

22. "However, I Myself am now saying to you people that everyone, who - from internal swelling or agitated emotions of his natural disposition, or from the fruition of his mental bent - is habitually being impulsive or intensely angry to his brother (= fellow member of the society) will be held within the decision (or: held under the control of the crisis or the judging of the local court).

Now whoever may at some point say to his brother, 'Raca (an Aramaic word of verbal abuse: contemptible imbecile; worthless good-for-nothing; senseless empty-head; brainless idiot; blockhead)!' will be held within (and thus: accountable to) the Sanhedrin (the ruling Jewish council). Yet whoever may at some point say, 'Inept moron (Stupid scoundrel; Despicable fool; You perverse idiot)!' will be held within (and thus: accountable to) [placement] into the [part of] the Valley of Hinnom which pertains to the fire (i.e., the incinerator for refuse in the dump outside of Jerusalem).
[note: Dallas Willard, in his book The Divine Conspiracy, p. 151-2, points out that "raca" was a word of contempt, and contempt, he says, is "a studied degradation of another," or, it is meant to "mark [someone] out" as being "contemptible." He further shows that using expressions of contempt "breaks the social bond" and excludes, pushes a person away, and leaves him isolated. Willard cites Prov. 14:16; 18:2 and 26:11 as Biblical definitions of a "fool;" he states that this word "is a combination of stupid perversity and rebellion against God"]

Jesus is pointing out that if a person has a disrespectful spirit it will get him into trouble, just as being a murderer would, under the Law. But they were an occupied country, and the Romans (those who had the authority to kill people, and thus dispose of their bodies in the Valley of Hinnom) could easily kill someone who they thought was a trouble maker. I suspect that Jesus is here warning the Zealots (a political party that favored the overthrow of the Romans), and warning others that such an attitude and demeanor would likely lead a person to joining with the insurrectionists - and end up executed by the Romans.


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