Matthew 5:19
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
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(19) Shall break one of these least commandments.—The words seem at first to imply that even the ceremonial law was to be binding in its full extent upon Christ’s disciples. The usage of the time, however, confined the word to the moral laws of God (as in Ecclesiasticus 32:23-24), and throughout the New Testament it is never used in any other sense, with the possible exception of Hebrews 7:5; Hebrews 7:16 (comp. especially Romans 13:9; 1Corinthians 7:19). And the context, which proceeds at once to deal with moral laws and does not touch on ceremonial, is in accordance with this meaning. The “least commandments,” then, are those which seemed trivial, yet were really great—the control of thoughts, desires, words, as compared with the apparently greater commands that dealt with acts. The reference to “teaching” shows that our Lord was speaking to His disciples, as the future instructors of mankind, and the obvious import of His words is that they were to raise, not lower, the standard of righteousness which had been recognised previously.

Shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.—The consequence of tampering with the great laws of duty, or the least laws, which are practically great, is described in terms at once severe and gentle; gentle, because the sentence, where the guilt is not wilful, or is repented of, is not one of absolute exclusion from the kingdom; severe in so far as being the “least” in that kingdom, the object of pity or sorrow to others, involved a severe humiliation to those who aimed at being the highest. To that condemnation many in every age of the Church have been liable, the Anthiomian fanatic and the Jesuit casuist standing so far on the same footing.

Whosoever shall do and teach.—Here again the teaching work of the disciples is prominent. The combination is in this case even more significant than in the other. Not right doing only, still less right teaching only, but both together, made up the ideal of the preacher’s work.

Great.—Not “greatest.” The avoidance of the latter word, interpreted by the later teaching of 18:4, would seem to have been deliberate. Men might aim at a positive standard of the greatness of the true teacher and the true worker, but the conscious aim at being “greatest” was self-frustrating. That honour belonged to him only who was all unconscious that he had any claim to it.

Matthew 5:19. Whosoever therefore shall break — Shall himself transgress in his practice, or pervert and weaken by his doctrine, one of these least commandments, and teach men so — Shall direct or encourage men to do the same, or shall teach them, either by word or example, that the obligation of these commands is dissolved; he shall be called — Or, shall be accounted one of the least, and unworthiest members in the kingdom of heaven — Or, Church of the Messiah, and shall soon be entirely cut off from it, as unfit for so holy a society, and shall have no part in the church triumphant. “There is in the text a figure, which the rhetoricians call μειωσις, diminution, often elegantly used to convey a strong idea. Thus, Galatians 5:21, They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God, that is, shall be severely punished.” — Macknight. But whosoever shall do and teach them, &c. — Whosoever shall himself carefully practise these precepts of the law, and other parts of the divine word, and shall inculcate their universal obligation, shall be greatly rewarded.

5:17-20 Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God's holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ's justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian's rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ's disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ's righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man's temper and conduct.Whosoever therefore shall break - Shall violate or disobey.

One of these least commandments - The Pharisees, it is probable, divided the precepts of the law into lesser and greater, teaching that they who violated the former were guilty of a trivial offence only. See Matthew 23:23. Christ teaches that in his kingdom they who make this distinction, or who taught that any laws of God might be violated with impunity, should be called least; while they should be held in high regard who observed all the laws of God without distinction.

Shall be called least - That is, shall be least. See Matthew 5:9. The meaning of this passage seems to be this: in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in the kingdom of the Messiah, or in the church which he is about to establish (see the notes at Matthew 3:2), he that breaks the least of these commandments shall be in no esteem, or shall not be regarded as a proper religious teacher. The Pharisees, by dividing the law into greater and lesser precepts, made no small part of it void by their traditions and divisions, Matthew 23:23; Matthew 15:3-6. Jesus says that in his kingdom all this vain division and tradition would cease. Such divisions and distinctions would be a small matter. He that attempted it should be the least of all. People would be engaged in yielding obedience to all the law of God without any such vain distinctions.

Shall be called great - He that teaches that all the law of God is binding, and that the whole of it should be obeyed, without attempting to specify what is most important, shall be a teacher worthy of his office, and shall be called great. Hence, we learn:

1. that all the law of God is binding on Christians. Compare James 2:10.

2. that all the commands of God should be preached, in their proper place, by Christian ministers.

3. that they who pretend that there are any laws of God so small that they need not obey them, are unworthy of his kingdom. And,

4. that true piety has respect to all the commandments of God. Compare Psalm 119:6.

19. Whosoever therefore shall break—rather, "dissolve," "annul," or "make invalid."

one of these least commandments—an expression equivalent to "one of the least of these commandments."

and shall teach men so—referring to the Pharisees and their teaching, as is plain from Mt 5:20, but of course embracing all similar schools and teaching in the Christian Church.

he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven—As the thing spoken of is not the practical breaking, or disobeying, of the law, but annulling or enervating its obligation by a vicious system of interpretation, and teaching others to do the same; so the thing threatened is not exclusion from heaven, and still less the lowest place in it, but a degraded and contemptuous position in the present stage of the kingdom of God. In other words, they shall be reduced by the retributive providence that overtakes them, to the same condition of dishonor to which, by their system and their teaching, they have brought down those eternal principles of God's law.

but whosoever shall do and teach them—whose principles and teaching go to exalt the authority and honor of God's law, in its lowest as well as highest requirements.

the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven—shall, by that providence which watches over the honor of God's moral administration, be raised to the same position of authority and honor to which they exalt the law.

Whosoever shall in his practice violate but one of the commandments of God, which the Pharisees judge of the least, and which possible are so compared with others, and shall teach men that they may do as he doth, making such false interpretations of the law as may warrant such a practice, he shall be accounted of the least value and esteem in the church of God, and shall never come into the kingdom of glory: but he who shall strictly and uniformly obey all the commandments, and teach others to do the like by his doctrine and example, that man shall have a great renown and reputation in the church, which is the kingdom of heaven upon earth, and shall have a great reward in the kingdom of glory hereafter.

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,.... Which are to be understood not of the beatitudes in the preceding verses, for these were not delivered by Christ under the form of commandments; nor of any of the peculiar commands of Christ under the Gospel dispensation; but of the precepts of the law, of which some were comparatively lesser than others; and might be said to be broke, loosed, or dissolved, as the word here used signifies, when men acted contrary to them.

And shall teach men so; not only teach them by their example to break the commandments, but by express orders: for however gross and absurd this may seem to be, that there should be any such teachers, and they should have any hearers, yet such there were among the Jews; and our Lord here manifestly strikes at them: for notwithstanding the great and excellent things they say of the law, yet they tell us, that the doctors of the sanhedrim had power to root anything out of the law; to loose or make void any of its commands, for a time, excepting in the case of idolatry; and so might any true prophet, or wise man; which they pretend is sometimes necessary for the glory of God, and the good of men; and they are to be heard and obeyed, when they say, transgress anyone of all the commands which are in the law (h). Maimonides says (i), that the sanhedrim had power, when it was convenient, for the time present, to make void an affirmative command, and to transgress a negative one, in order to return many to their religion; or to deliver many of the Israelites from stumbling at other things, they may do whatsoever the present time makes necessary: for so, adds he, the former wise men say, a man may profane one sabbath, in order to keep many sabbaths. And elsewhere (k) he affirms,

"if a prophet, whom we know to be a prophet, should order us , "to transgress anyone of the commands", which are mentioned in the law, or many commands, whether light or heavy, for a time, we are ordered to hearken to him; and so we learn from the former wise men, by tradition, that in everything a prophet shall say to thee , "transgress the words of the law", as Elias on Mount Carmel, hear him, except in the case of idolatry.''

And another of their writers says (l),

"it is lawful sometimes to make void the law, and to do that which appears to be forbidden.''

Nay, they even (m) say, that if a Gentile should bid an Israelite transgress anyone of the commands mentioned in the law, excepting idolatry, adultery, and murder, he may transgress with impunity, provided it is done privately. You see what reason Christ had to express himself in the manner he does, and that with resentment, saying,

he shall be called, or be

the least in the kingdom of heaven; meaning either the church of God, where he shall have neither a name, nor place; he shall not be in the least esteemed, but shall be cast out as a worthless man; or the ultimate state of happiness and glory, in the other world, where he shall not enter, as is said in the next verse; but, on the other hand,

whosoever shall do and teach; whose doctrine and conversation, principles and practices agree together; who both teach obedience to the law, and perform it themselves: where again he glances at the masters in Israel, and tacitly reproves them who said, but did not; taught the people what they themselves did not practise; and so were unworthy of the honour, which he that both teaches and does shall have: for

the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven; he shall be highly esteemed of in the church here, and be honoured hereafter in the world to come. The Jews have a saying somewhat like this;

"he that lessens himself for the words of the law in this world, , "he shall become great" in the world to come (n),''

or days of the Messiah.

(h) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 79. 1. & 89. 2. & 90. 2.((i) Hilch. Memarim, c. 2. sect. 4. (k) Hilch. Yesode Hattorah, c. 9. sect. 3.((l) Bartenora in, Misn. Beracot, c. 9. sect. 5. (m) T. Hicros. Sheviith, fol. 35. 1.((n) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 85. 2.

{4} Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the {h} least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

(4) He begins with the true expounding of the Law, and sets it against the old (but yet false) teachings of the scribes: He is in no way abolishing the least commandment of his Father.

(h) He shall have no place in the Church.

Matthew 5:19. Conclusion from Matthew 5:18. On ὃς ἐάν with the conjunctive of the aorist, denoting that which was probably to happen in the future (the contingent futurum exactum), see Winer, p. 287 f. [E. T. 385]; Kühner, II. 2, p. 929; ἐάν for ἄν, see Winer, p. 291 [E. T. 3–90].

λύσῃ] like καταλῦσαι, Matthew 5:17;[403] Fritzsche and Arnoldi (after Castalio, Beza, Wolf, and others): transgressus fuerit, on account of the ποιήσῃ in the opposition; comp. also Ritschl, p. 40. But this ΠΟΙΉΣῌ partly forms a very appropriate antithesis to the ΛΎΣῌ in our sense, which, after ΚΑΤΑΛῦΣΑΙ in Matthew 5:17, would be abandoned only from arbitrariness; partly there is by no means wanting between ΛΎΕΙΝ and ΔΙΔΆΣΚΕΙΝ an appropriate, i.e. a climactic, distinction (they shall declare it to be of no authority, and teach accordingly); partly it is not credible that Jesus should have declared that the transgressor of the law was ἐλάχιστον ἐν τῇ βας. τ. οὐρανῶν, see Matthew 11:11. Doing (ποιήσῃ) and teaching (διδάξῃ) refer, as a matter of course, without it being necessary to supply any object besides the general word “is” (translated: whosoever shall have done and taught it), to that which is required in the smallest commandment, and that in the sense of the πλήρωσις, Matthew 5:17.

ΤῶΝ ἘΝΤΟΛῶΝ ΤΟΎΤΩΝ ΤῶΝ ἘΛΑΧΊΣΤΩΝ] ΤΟΎΤΩΝ points back to what is designated by ἸῶΤΑ and ΚΕΡΑΊΑ in Matthew 5:18, not forwards to Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28 (Bengel); ἘΛΑΧΊΣΤΩΝ refers, therefore, not to the Pharisaic distinctions between great and small commandments (see especially, Wetstein, p. 295 f.), but to what Jesus Himself had just designated as ἰῶτα and ΚΕΡΑΊΑ, those precepts which in reality are the least important. They stand, however, in accordance with the ΠΛΉΡΩΣΙς of the law, in essential organic connection with the ideal contents of the whole, and can therefore be so little regarded as having no authority, that rather he who does this (ΛΎΣῌ), and teaches others to act in this manner (ΔΙΔΆΞῌ), will obtain only one of the lowest places (one of the lowest grades of dignity and happiness) in the kingdom of the Messiah. He is not to be excluded (as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Calovius, Wolf, Bengel, and others have misinterpreted the meaning of ἐλάχ. κληθ.), because his antinomianism is not a principle, not directed against the law as such, but only against individual precepts of the law, which in themselves are small, and whose importance as a whole he does not recognise.[404] Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:15.

Note the correlation of τῶν ἐλαχίστωνἐλάχιστοςμέγας.

[403] Comp. on λύειν in the sense of abrogating, overturning of laws, John 7:23; Herod, iii. 82; Demosth. xxxi. 12. 186. 14. Ebrard (on Olshausen) erroneously explains it: “the mechanical dissolution of a law into a multitude of casuistical and ritualistic precepts.” The τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων should have prevented this view. Amongst Greek writers also the simple verb represents the compound that has preceded it; comp. on Romans 15:4.

[404] Ver. 19 stands in so essential a connection with the discourse, that the supposition of Olshausen, that Jesus had in view special acts of an antinomian tendency on the part of some of His disciples, appears just as unnecessary as it is arbitrary. Köstlin and Hilgenfeld find here a very distinct disapproval of the Apostle Paul and of the Paulinites, who break free from the law; nay, Paul, thinks Köstlin, was actually named by Jewish Christians the smallest (Ephesians 3:8), as he so names himself (1 Corinthians 15:9). A purely imaginary combination.

Matthew 5:19. ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ, etc.: οὗν pointing to a natural inference from what goes before. Christ’s view being such as indicated, He must so judge of the setter aside of any laws however small. When a religious system has lasted long, and is wearing towards its decline and fall, there are always such men. The Baptist was in some respects such a man. He seems to have totally neglected the temple worship and sacred festivals. He shared the prophetic disgust at formalism. Note now what Christ’s judgment about such really is. A scribe or Pharisee would regard a breaker of even the least commandments as a miscreant. Jesus simply calls him the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. He takes for granted that he is an earnest man, with a passion for righteousness, which is the key to his iconoclastic conduct. He recognises him therefore as possessing real moral worth, but, in virtue of his impatient radical-reformer temper, not great, only little in the scale of true moral values, in spite of his earnestness in action and sincerity in teaching. John the Baptist was possibly in His mind, or some others not known to us from the Gospels.—ὃς δʼ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, etc. We know now who is least: who is great? The man who does and teaches to do all the commands great and small; great not named but understood—οὗτος μέγας. Jesus has in view O. T. saints, the piety reflected in the Psalter, where the great ethical laws and the precepts respecting ritual are both alike respected, and men in His own time living in their spirit. In such was a sweetness and graciousness, akin to the Kingdom as He conceived it, lacking in the character of the hot-headed law-breaker. The geniality of Jesus made Him value these sweet saintly souls.

19. Again addressed to the Apostles as teachers. The union of doing and teaching is essential. It was the grave sin of the Pharisees that they taught without doing. See ch. Matthew 23:2-3. This explains the for of next verse.

Matthew 5:19. Αύσῃ, shall break) The antithetical word to this is ποιήσῃ, shall do, which occurs further on in this verse. The Scribes, who thought themselves “great,” were in the habit of breaking them. The same verb, λύω, occurs in John 7:23; John 10:35.—τούτων, of these) those, namely, which follow in Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28, etc.—τῶν ἐλαχίστων, of the least) These precepts, “Thou shalt not kill,” etc., are not essentially the least, for in them the whole law is contained. But they are so only inasmuch as, when rightly explained, they regulate even the most subtile affections and emotions of the soul, and the slightest movements of the tongue, and thus, when compared with other precepts, appear to men to be the least.—ἐλάχιστος, least) Referring to the preceding ἐλαχίστων. An instance of Ploce.[191] As we treat the Word of God, so does God treat us; see John 17:6; John 17:11; Revelation 3:10. “A little” signifies “almost nothing,” whence “the least” comes to mean “none at all” (for they considered anger, for instance, as of no consequence whatever); cf. in Matthew 5:20, “ye shall not enter.” ἐλάχιστος; has a different force in this passage from that which ὁ μικρότερος (the least) “in the kingdom of heaven” has in ch. Matthew 11:11.—ἐν τῂ βασιλείᾳ τὼν οὐρανῶν, in the kingdom of heaven) which cannot endure the presence of the unrighteous.—ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, shall do and teach) The same order of words occurs in Acts 1:1.—ποιήσῃ, shall do them, sc. all; for it is not lawful to break or neglect even one of them.—οὗτος, this man, he) A pronoun used emphatically. Comp. with this use of οὗτος, ch. Matthew 7:21 (Latin Version[192]); Luke 9:24; John 7:18.—μέγας, great) All the commandments are of great account to him, especially in their full compass[193] (see Matthew 5:18); therefore he shall be called great.

[191] See Appendix. The same word employed twice: in the first instance, expressing the simple idea of the word itself; and in the second, an attribute of it.—ED.

[192] See Gnomon on Matthew 7:21, and notes.—(I. B.) The Vulgate, referred to, thus renders the οὗτος, etc., which abc Hil. and Cypr. read, but which BZ omit, “Qui facit voluntatem patris, etc., ipse intrabit,” etc.—ED.

[193] “Præsertim in complexu suo,”—i.e. when considered with reference to all that they involve, as explained by our Lord in this discourse, v. 21, etc.—(I. B.)

Verse 19. - Matthew only. As Christ honoured the Law (ver. 17) so are his disciples to honour it. Whosoever therefore. Seeing that every part of the Law is of permanent value. In this verse our Lord once for all declares his opposition to antinomianism. Every one of the commands in the Law is, in its true and ideal meaning, still binding. Shall break (λύσῃ). Not merely in contrast to "do" (ποιήσῃ vide infra) in the sense of "transgress" (Fritzsche), but "abrogate" (cf. Bishop Westcott, on John 5:18, "Not the violation of the sanctity of the day in a special case, but the abrogation of the duty of observance;" cf. also Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; 1 John 3:8). It expresses, indeed, a less complete abrogation than καταλῦσαι (ver. 17), because, while speaking of himself, the Lord could use the strongest word possible, and that with reference to the whole Law or the Prophets; but here his expression is limited by the inability of any individual disciple to carry out an abrogation even of one command. One of these least commandments. Not necessarily such as the Pharisees reckoned least, in their enumeration of small and great, but such as our Lord himself symbolized by "jot" or "tittle;" those precepts which in reality are the least important (Meyer). Chrysostom strangely says that our Lord here refers, not to old laws, but to those which he was about to lay down; similarly Bengel thinks of vers. 22-28, etc. While the Jews distinguished carefully between small and great precepts, they insisted on the importance of keeping even the smallest; cf. 'Ab.,' 4:5 (Taylor), "Hasten to a slight precept.., for the reward of precept is precept." And shall teach men so. Doing his best to abrogate it, not only in his own person by neglect or violation, but also for others by teaching them to disregard it. He shall be called the least. The Revised Version omits "he, .... the." He is not cast out of the kingdom ("Ubi nisi magni esse non possunt," Augustine), but his want of moral insight (did he consider it "breadth of thought"?) leads to his being called least in the kingdom. It is the converse of the parable in Luke 19:17, etc. There faithfulness in a very little (ἐλαχίστῳ) wins much; here disregard of a very little causes a person to be reckoned (ver. 9, note) as very little - the principle of judgment being that of Luke 16:10, "He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in avery little is unrighteous also in much." In the kingdom of heaven; i.e. probably in its full and final establishment. The doctrine of grades of blessedness and of punishment hereafter is clearly taught in Scripture (e.g. Luke 12:47, 48). But whosoever shall do and teach them. Similarly the Revised Version; but rather supply "it," i.e. "that which is required in the smallest commandment" (Meyer). The personal performance and conscious spreading of one of the least commandments will be found to involve so much that it gains for the person a high position. Do and teach. For many will perform a command without taking any conscious part in spreading it. The same; Revised Version, he (οῦτος). Why inserted here and not in the previous clause? Partly because of the awkwardness of inserting οῦτος there so soon after οὕτως; partly because our Lord wished to lay stress there on the recompense, here on the person ("he and no other") who receives recompense. On the thought, cf. 'Test. XII. Parr.' (Levi., § 13), "If he teach these things and practise them, he shall share the throne of the king, as also Joseph our brother." It is worth adding Tyndale's remark in his 'Exposition,' "Whosoever shall first fulfil them [these least commandments following] himself, and then teach other, and set all his study to the furtherance and maintaining of them, that doctor shall all they of the kingdom of heaven have in price, and follow him and seek him out, as doth an eagle her prey, and cleave to him as burrs." Matthew 5:19
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