What does the word “raca” mean?

“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

Raca is a transliteration of the Aramaic reqa’, meaning “good for nothing” or “stupid.”

The root cause of insults such as “raca”

Angry words come from angry hearts (Matthew 15: 18). Jesus taught the Jews that the very act of murder is actually rooted in an angry, murderous feeling. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…” (Matthew 5:22). The hatred that causes one person to speak insults is the same hatred that causes one to eventually commit murder. Thus, the attitude of the heart is the same, and this attitude, if left unchecked, leads a person to sin.

Even if one only speaks angry words and insults, yet never physically kills, their words do kill another person’s spirit. Words are powerful. They can bring comfort or pain. Many have said that hurtful words “kill them inside.” Those who have been the victim of verbal abuse carry unseen scars that often manifest in physical symptoms that bring disease and death. Therefore, God’s people cannot say they love God and use unloving and unkind words (James 3: 9, 10).

One may argue that their anger is justified. However, while this may be true, this does not give license to speak angrily. The Bible says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4: 26-27). While we may have cause to be angry, we can choose how we respond to that anger (James 1: 19, 20). If we stay connected to God, we can speak in harmony with His will (Ephesians 4: 15). 

God alone can judge

God, who examines the very thoughts and motives of the heart, will judge unrighteous anger. Therefore, Jesus warned against using the word “raca,” or an insult, and issued another warning against those who call someone a “fool.” If Christ Himself refused to bring a “railing accusation” against Moses who had sinned (Jude 9), we should refrain from doing so in regard to our fellow men. So often we become angry with others and speak insults when we ourselves are guilty of the same sins. (Romans 2:1).

We are to leave the judgment of others to God.  Only He knows their motives and can judge fairly. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4: 11-12).

We must not forget that we ourselves will be judged by our words (Matthew 13: 36-37). 

Insults in the history of God’s people

Even the ancient Jews had strict rules against disrespecting others. According to the Talmud (Ḳiddushin 28a, Soncino ed., p. 133) a man who was guilty of slandering another by using the epithet “slave” was to be excommunicated from the synagogue for 30 days. Also, a man who called another “bastard” was to receive 40 lashes. In the case of a man who called another “wicked,” the one offended could “strive against,” or “touch” his life (by depriving him of subsistence, etc.). So, if the ancient Jews had such strict rules in regard to communication, how much more should the Christian use loving words after the revelation of God’s love on the cross.

As we look to our future home in heaven, we know that our language there will only be loving. Never will be heard an insulting or demeaning word. Thus, hurtful words would no longer make it heaven. Those who claim heaven as their future home should live with heaven in their hearts in the here and now (Luke 17: 20).

Solution to anger

The Bible holds a solution to anger, which is love and forgiveness. Having a forgiving spirit will change one on the inside, at the heart level. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3: 12-13).

When we look to Jesus and see His patience, love and forgiveness of others, how can we put down those He came to save?  While suffering on the cross “… said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…” (Luke 23: 24). Jesus spoke this on behalf of those who nailed Him there. Those who claim the name “Christ”-ian should hold the same sentiment of their Lord (Matthew 18: 21-22, 23-33).

Conclusion

God is love (1 John 4:8). The Bible says that love “is not easily provoked and thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13: 5). Therefore, if we are God’s people, we should carefully guard the words we speak. While we may have cause to become upset, we need to keep ourselves under the influence of the Holy Spirit in order to reflect God’s character of love (1 John 4: 7).

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4: 30-32).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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