Matthew 5:21

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Matthew 5:21 is the twenty-first verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. It opens the first of what have traditionally been known as the Antitheses in which Jesus compares the current interpretation of a part of Mosaic Law with how it should actually be understood. This verse begins the discussion of murder.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old
time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever
shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

"You have heard that it was said to the ancient
ones, ‘You shall not murder;' and ‘Whoever shall
murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’

For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 5:21

Schweizer notes that the opening line can be read as either "men of old said" or "it was said to men of old." However every New Testament usage of the impersonal passive, as in this line, refers to the word of God.[1] Albright and Mann note that it would have been more usual to have "it was written" rather than "it was heard," they feel it was made aural so as to create a direct parallel with Jesus' words in the next verse. The ancient ones, or the ancestors, was in Greek used to primarily to refer to Greeks of the Heroic Age, but Albright and Mann note that among Greek speaking Jews it was a common expression for those who lived in the pre-Torah period. In this verse it fairly clearly refers to the Israelites after the Exodus.[2]

Like the original Hebrew version of the Ten Commandments the Greek here, phoneuo more accurately translates as murder or assassinate rather than kill.[3] The original commandment does not have "shall be in danger of the judgement," but this was commonly appended elsewhere, both in the Old Testament, such as at Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12, Leviticus 24:17, Numbers 35:16, and also in the many commentaries on the Law. All of these refer to judgement on Earth, not to divine judgement, a concept that did not exist in early Judaism. Scholars agree that here judgment refers to legal proceedings. Albright and Mann note that the Greek here is ambiguous and it could be read as "shall be in danger of performing judgment," but this reading makes little sense and the verse is always translated in the manner shown by the KJV and WEB.[4]


  1. ^ Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
  2. ^ Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  3. ^ France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985. pg. 119
  4. ^ Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.

Preceded by
Matthew 5:20
Gospel of Matthew
Chapter 5
Succeeded by
Matthew 5:22