What does raca mean in the Bible (Origin, meaning, and translation)?

Most of the words in the Bible have been translated into English for easier understanding. However, the word raca has been used in the Bible once in Mathew 5:22 and has left many questions among Bible readers on what it exactly means. “What does raca mean in the Bible?”

The word raca was only used once in the Bible by Jesus after he mentioned it in Mathew 5:22. While several English Bible versions have tried to translate what Jesus meant by it, it is impossible to know, as he did not reveal what he meant precisely. However, Bible scholars have implied that raca means ’empty-headed’, ‘worthless,’ ‘fool,’ or ‘useless.

So, where did the raca come from? Is raca a swear word according to the Bible? How do various bible versions translate raca? What is the principle behind raca? What is the consequence of raca? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

Where did the term raca come from?

According to some religious scholars, raca is a name that originated from the Aramaic language from the term reqa. Although this word is only used once by Jesus in the Bible, some religious scholars suggest that certain scriptures used Aramaic language, including those in the book of Daniel, Ezra, and Jeremiah.

Aramaic was the original language of the Arameans, who consisted of tribes that lived along the Euphrates River. The most famous Arameans include the Chaldeans and the Syrians. This language spread over the years, and the Jews started speaking Hebrew and Aramaic.

Additionally, the direct reference to the Aramaic language is seen in 2nd Kings 18:26, when Eliakim Shebna and Joah instruct the commander to address them in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. “Then Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.”

Ezra 4:7 says, “And in the days of Artaxerxes King of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in Aramaic language.”

Daniel 2:4 says, “Then the astrologers answered the King in Aramaic, “O King, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

Some scriptures in the New Testament that have mentioned the Aramaic language include John 19:13 and Acts 21:40

Is raca a swear word according to the Bible?

According to the Bible, Raca can be considered a swear word because one is prone to punishment in eternal fire. Swear is defined as the affirmation of the truth or a statement, knowing that the failure to do so may result in a punishment from God.

In Mathew 5:22, Jesus reveals to the public the consequences of using this word. “Again, anyone who says to his brother ‘Raca’ is answerable to Sanhedrin. Jesus then warns the multitude, “But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

As mentioned earlier, Raca can be translated to ‘foolish.’ Jesus reveals that whoever calls the other fool is in danger of the fire of hell, meaning that he might be punished by God, and won’t enter heaven.

What does raca mean in the Bible
How do various bible versions translate raca? See below

How do various bible versions translate raca?

It is essential to get the exact translation of the word raca to understand why Jesus strongly warned about it genuinely. Several Bible versions have translated this word to what it means, while other versions maintained it, implying that it will significantly impact the readers.

  • The English Standard Version (ESV) translates raca to insult, as seen in Mathew 5:22 “But I say to you that everyone angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
  • The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates this name as follows; “But I say to you that everyone angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good for nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “you fool shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery of hell.”
  • The New Living Translation Bible (NLT); “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

From the translations above, various bible scholars have concluded that raca is not a good word to utter and shows much anger, bitterness, and wrath towards the other person, which Jesus is against. Calling another person this name implies they are not worthy or inferior, yet God created all people in his image and likeness.

What is the principle behind raca?

Various religious scholars have argued that Jesus did not mention the word raca just because he knew Aramaic but had a more profound and spiritual meaning. To start with, Jesus first reminded the crowd about the law of murder and what it said. Mathew 5:21 says, “You have heard that people were told in the past, “Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.” Jesus said these words about number six of Moses’ Law in Exodus 20:13, “Do not commit murder.”

Previously, Jesus had assured the crowd that he had come to fulfill the laws that had been put before him rather than abolishing them. Mathew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

He then continued to warn the crowd in Mathew 5:22; “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Several Bible scholars have agreed that Jesus wanted to teach the crowd more about their hearts rather than their outward actions. It was important for Jesus to expound on the teaching of murder, as murder starts from the heart before it is actualized. The teaching behind the word raca is to encourage Christians to have a pure heart and love one another, as they cannot claim to love Jesus, yet they hate one another as written in 1st John 2:9 “Those who say they are in the light, yet hate their brothers and sisters, are in the darkness to this very hour.”

Jesus also teaches the crowd the consequences of insulting one another, as he notes that if a person says such a thing, he will be answerable to the Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin was a body in the Jewish system comprised of 23 or 71 elders and had the power to charge a person with sin if they went against any laws set.

Interestingly, while Jesus linked the first and the last sin to judgment, he linked the word raca to the Sanhedrin. Due to this reason, Bible scholars speculate that Jesus gave people a chance to change their evil hearts and repent, a reason he linked this sin to the earthly judges.

What does raca mean in the Bible
What is the consequence of raca? See below

What is the consequence of raca?

As mentioned above, raca is an offensive word that deserves punishment. According to the Scriptures, Jesus declares that whoever will call another person that name will be subject to the council or the Sanhedrin for trial. This meant that the offender would get some punishment.

However, he does not link this punishment to his or God’s judgment, as the physical law judges the outward appearance and actions alone, but he judges the heart. 1st Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to him, “Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

With his declaration, Jesus knew the offender could repent and return to Jesus after sinning. Micah 7:18 says, “There is no God like you, O Lord; you forgive the sins of your people who have survived. You do not stay angry forever, but you take the pleasure of showing us your constant love.”

Finally, Jesus revealed that the consequence of raca will be subject to earthly punishment, as only he can honestly know what is in humans’ hearts and minds. Only he can judge them accordingly, as Jeremiah 17:10 records, “I, the Lord, search human minds and test human hearts. I treat each one according to the way he lives and what he does.”


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