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RACA (ra'ka, Gr. rhaka, empty, vain, or worthless fellow). A term of contempt, signifying a derogatory estimate of someone’s intellectual ability (Matt.5.22).

RACA rä’ kä (ῥακά, ῥαχά; Aram. רֵיקָא, stupid, רִיקֵן, empty). A term of reproach or insult. In the Bible the word occurs only in Matthew 5:22, where Jesus says that anyone who uses this expression to a brother will be liable to the court.

The word may be a transliteration of the Aram. term for an inferior or stupid person, or to a similar Aram. term meaning “empty,” and hence, fig., “ignorant.” In Rabbinic lit., the first Aram. term is used by a commander of a man who continues praying when he is greeted by the officer and does not reply to the greeting. Rabbi Jochanan addresses a pupil who laughed at one of his lectures as reqa. In one of the Midrashim, Noah says to his contemporaries, “Woe to you reqayya! Tomorrow the flood will come; repent.” In these instances, the meaning seems to be “stupid.”

A Gr. papyrus letter from the 3rd cent. b.c., however, uses the word ῥαχάν, in a way that suggests that it is a term of abuse, but that its meaning is uncertain. Since the spelling ῥαχά, G4828, has better MS support than ῥακά, G4819, one cannot be certain that the word is related to the Aram. term.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ra’-ka, ra-ka’> (rhaka, Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek with Codices Sinaiticus (corrected), Vaticanus, Codex E, etc.; rhacha, Tischendorf with Codices Sinaiticus (original hand) and Bezae; Aramaic reqa’, from req, "empty"): Vain or worthless fellow; a term of contempt used by the Jews in the time of Christ. In the Bible, it occurs in Mt 5:22 only, but John Lightfoot gives a number of instances of the use of the word by Jewish writers (Hot. Hebrew., edition by Gandell, Oxford, 1859, II, 108). Chrysostom (who was acquainted with Syriac as spoken in the neighborhood of Antioch) says it was equivalent to the Greek su, "thou," used contemptuously instead of a man’s name. Jerome rendered it inanis aut vacuus absque cerebro. 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 (More), 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" (Lu 24:25, anoetoi, practically equivalent to Raca, as is also James’s expression, "O vain man," Jas 2:20).

D. Miall Edwards