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raca

also known as: ῥακάraka, rhaká (rhaka) (Greek), reqa or reqam or rōq (Aramaic), reka (Chaldee)

This Greek word is a noun and comes from the Syriac/Aramaic.

Meaning: empty, empty-headed, stupid (without sense—i.e., a numbskull who acts presumptuously and thoughtlessly), worthless, good-for-nothing —derived from a root meaning “to spit”

It is found only once in Scripture, but it was probably commonly used by Jews as a word of contempt.

NKJV: 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 KJV

For clarity, the New American Standard Bible chose to translate “raca” rather than merely provide the Greek word.

NASB: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty [Greek: ἕνοχος —literally: “liable”]
before the court; and whoever says to his brother,
‘You good-for-nothing,’ [literally: “raca” —empty-headed]
shall be guilty [literally: “liable”]
before the supreme court [literally: “the Sanhedrin”];
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ [Greek: μωρέ]
shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell [Greek: πυρός γέενναν / literally: “Gehenna of fire”]. —Matthew 5:22 NASB

“Raca denotes a certain looseness of life and manners, while fool, in the same passage, means a downright wicked and reprobate person.” —Dr. William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1901)

It is generally explained as expressing contempt for a man’s intellectual capacity (= “you simpleton!”), while more (translated “thou fool”), in the same verse is taken to refer to a man’s moral and religious character (= “you rascal!” “you impious fellow!”). Thus we have three stages of anger, with three corresponding grades of punishment:

  1. the inner feeling of anger (orgizomenos), to be punished by the local or provincial court (te krisei, “the judgment”);

  2. anger breaking forth into an expression of scorn (raca), to be punished by the Sanhedrin (to sunedrio, “the council”);

  3. anger culminating in abusive and defamatory language (μωρέmōre), to be punished by the fire of Gehenna.

This view, of a double climax, which has been held by foremost English and Gor. commentators, seems to give the passage symmetry and gradation. But it is rejected among others by T.K. Cheyne, who, following J.P. Peters, rearranges the text by transferring the clause “and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council” to the end of the preceding verse (Encyclopaedia Biblica, IV, cols. 4001 f).

There certainly does not seem to be trustworthy external evidence to prove that the terms “the judgment,” “the council,” “the Gehenna of fire” stand to each other in a relation of gradation, as lower and higher legal courts, or would be so understood by Christ’s hearers.

What is beyond dispute is that Christ condemns the use of disparaging and insulting epithets as a supreme offense against the law of humanity, which belongs to the same category as murder itself. It should be added, however, that it is the underlying feeling and not the verbal expression as such that constitutes the sin.

Hence, our Lord can, without any real inconsistency, address two of His followers as “foolish men” (Luke 24:25, anoetoi, practically equivalent to Raca, as is also James’s expression, “O vain man,” James 2:20). —D. Miall Edwards, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Article Version: August 10, 2017