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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
RACA . A term occurring only in Matthew 5:22 . It is a Semitic word, probably a popular pronunciation of the Rabbinic rÃ§qÃ¢ , a noun formed from the adjective rÃ§q ‘empty.’ Several instances of its use occur in the Talmud as a term of contempt applied to a person devoid of education and morals. From Matthew 5:22 it may be inferred that it was employed as a term of abuse in the time of Christ.
While the general force of our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:21-22 is clear enough, the significance of the judgments referred to is obscured in the present text. A distinction has been drawn between ‘Raca’ as denying intellectual capacity, and ‘thou fool’ as denying a man’s religious worth, which cannot he sustained. Our ‘Lord’s reference to the ‘Council’ ( i.e. the supreme Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin) in Matthew 5:22 , implying its possession of the power of life and death, is especially difficult. The Sanhedrin possessed no such power in fact, nor is it at all likely, that our Lord would recognize the validity of such a claim on its behalf even in theory. It was after all only a provisional institution devised by the Rabbis; whereas the ‘Gehenna of fire’ is a Messianic judgment.
The true meaning and real antithesis emerge clearly if a slight re-arrangement of the text, first suggested by J. P. Peters (in JBL [Note: BL Journ. of Biblical Literature.] x. (1891) 131f., xv. (1896) 103: adopted in the EBi [Note: EncyclopÃ¦dia Biblica.] , s.v. ‘Raca,’ vol. iv. col. 4001), is accepted. The clause about ‘Raca’ should be transferred to v. 21. Read then: ‘Ye have heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not murder, and whosoever murders is liable to the judgment, and whosoever says “Raca” to his brother is liable to the Sanhedrin: but I say unto you, whosover is angry with his brother is liable to the (Divine) judgment, and whosoever says “thou fool” is liable to the Gehenna of fire.’ Rabbinic law is very stringent against libellous expressions, which were to be treated as serious offences liable for punishment to the supreme court (like murder).
G. H. Box.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Raca'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/r/raca.html. 1909.