Matt 5:21-26: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”
Everyone has heard that kill doesn’t mean kill, it means murder. Murder was a personal act, one-on-one. Murder occurred for a number of reasons in the ancient world: as part of a criminal act; as an act of revenge for a wrong done against one’s tribe; out of anger, in ire, or out of passion. This was not done as part of a judgement (trial or as required by the Law) or in war.
Angry is another one of those misunderstood words, it is not the anger you feel for someone who has taken your favorite book, or stolen a few dollars from you. This is the type of anger whereby you are seriously considering doing harm to the other person: physical, financial, or emotional harm (bullying). Something that might lead to enough hatred where you might even consider murder.
This is the same with the words “insult” and “fool”, there are no good translations into modern English. Insult (pακά) is a very specific word, not a general type of insult, it is on the level of calling someone retarded, but fully meaning it. It was considered a very vile insult to be used against another person. It is the same with fool (μωρέ), it’s not a passing comment, but a serious charge against a person.
In all of these cases Jesus is making very specific charges against personal one-on-one attacks. Not your everyday type of actions between people, but strong, very pointed acts between people. Actions that most of us would never seriously undertake.
This is the same with the other examples he is dealing with here. When he is speaking of brothers (not relatives) having something against each other he is not speaking of the usual squabbles that occur between people, rather things that might escalate to violence or punitive actions. Not the anger that occurs because the sports teams you like are about to meet on the field of battle, or that mom always like Dick best. He is talking serious conflicts, ones that might lead to physical conflicts.
In each case Jesus tells us to try and settle things between ourselves, amicably. Don’t let it get to the point where you have to get others involved to settle your differences, it never works out well for one of the parties, and that may well be you. Settle your differences personally, don’t take them to Judge Judy, not only may she rule against you, but millions of people will see you in a bad light…even if you are the winner.