Matthew 5:20
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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(20) Shall exceed.—Better, Shall abound more than.

Scribes and Pharisees.—Here, for the first time, the scribes are mentioned in our Lord’s teaching. The frequent combination of the two words (thirteen times in the first three Gospels) implies that for the most part they were of the school of the Pharisees, just as the “chief priests” were, for the most part, of that of the Sadducees. Where “scribes and chief priests” are united, it is with a different import, as the two chief divisions of the Sanhedrim, or Great Council. The New Testament use of the word differs from the Old. There the scribe is simply the man who writes, the secretary or registrar of the king’s edicts and official documents (2Samuel 8:17; 2Samuel 20:25; 2Kings 18:18). After the return of Babylon, as in the case of Ezra (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:12), it was used first of the transcribers and editors of the sacred books, and then, by a natural transition, of their interpreters; and this is the dominant sense of the word in the New Testament. As interpreters they were much occupied with the traditional comments of previous teachers, and these as descending more into particulars, and so affording a better basis for a casuistic system, had come to usurp the rightful place of the Law. As far as the three Gospels are concerned this is the first direct protest of our Lord against their teaching. St. John’s record, however, shows that the conflict had begun already in Jerusalem (John 5:10), and that the Sabbath question was prominent in it.

Ye shall in no case enter . . . .—The “kingdom of heaven” is here neither what we speak of as the visible Church—for there the evil and the good grow together till the harvest—nor yet the Church triumphant in the far future. It stands here rather for the ideal and invisible Church on earth—that which answers to its name, that to which belong the blessings and the promises. Into that Church none enter who are content with an outward conventional standard of righteousness. All who strive after a high standard, sooner or later, in spite of wanderings and mistakes, find their way into it (Matthew 25:34; John 7:17).

Matthew 5:20. For, except your righteousness shall exceed — Gr. περισσευση, shall abound more than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees — Than that which is apparent in their lives, or even required in their precepts, as is described in the sequel of this discourse, as highly as they are generally esteemed; ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven — That is, into the kingdom of glory after you die, or be owned by the Son of man as his subjects while you live. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that this must have greatly surprised Christ’s hearers, if the proverb, which has since prevailed, was in use then; namely, that “if but two men were to enter into the kingdom of heaven, one of them would be a Pharisee and the other a scribe.” It appears from what follows, the Pharisees affirmed that only the outward action was commanded or forbidden in the law, and that they interpreted all its precepts accordingly. On this principle, they boasted of having performed every thing that was required of them. Nay, they were so arrogant as to think they could do even more than was required. This pernicious morality, destructive of all virtue, Jesus loudly condemned, as was fit, in the beginning of his ministry.

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.Your righteousness - Your holiness; your views of the nature of righteousness, and your conduct and lives. Unless you are more holy than they are, you cannot be saved.

Shall exceed - Shall excel, or abound more. The righteousness of true Christians is seated in the heart, and is therefore genuine. Jesus means that unless they had more real holiness of character than the scribes and Pharisees, they could not be saved.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7. Their righteousness consisted in outward observances of the ceremonial and traditional law. They offered sacrifices, fasted often. prayed much, were punctilious about ablutions, and tithes, and the ceremonies of religion, but neglected justice, truth, purity, and holiness of heart. See Matthew 23:13-33. The righteousness that Jesus required in his kingdom was purity, chastity, honesty, temperance, the fear of God, and the love of man. It is pure, eternal, reaching the motives, and making the life holy.

The kingdom of heaven - See the notes at Matthew 3:2. Shall not be a suitable subject of his kingdom here, or saved in the world to come.

20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—The superiority to the Pharisaic righteousness here required is plainly in kind, not degree; for all Scripture teaches that entrance into God's kingdom, whether in its present or future stage, depends, not on the degree of our excellence in anything, but solely on our having the character itself which God demands. Our righteousness, then—if it is to contrast with the outward and formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—must be inward, vital, spiritual. Some, indeed, of the scribes and Pharisees themselves might have the very righteousness here demanded; but our Lord is speaking, not of persons, but of the system they represented and taught.

ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven—If this refer, as in Mt 5:19, rather to the earthly stage of this kingdom, the meaning is that without a righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees, we cannot be members of it at all, save in name. This was no new doctrine (Ro 2:28, 29; 9:6; Php 3:3). But our Lord's teaching here stretches beyond the present scene, to that everlasting stage of the kingdom, where without "purity of heart" none "shall see God."

The Spirituality of the True Righteousness in Contrast with That of the Scribes and Pharisees, Illustrated from the Sixth Commandment. (Mt 5:21-26).

I am so far from giving a liberty to the violation of my Father’s law, (as the scribes and Pharisees may possibly suggest), that I assure you that unless your obedience to it exceed that obedience which the scribes and Pharisees teach you, and themselves practise, you shall never come into heaven. What the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was we cannot better learn than from St. Paul, who was himself a Pharisee, and bred up at the feet of Gamaliel, a great doctor amongst them, Acts 23:6 26:5 Philippians 3:5. That it was a righteousness of works appeareth from Philippians 3:1-21, and the whole Epistles to the Romans (Romans 1:1-16:27) and Galatians (Galatians 1:1-6:18); and their not owning Christ as the Messiah, nor believing on him, John 7:48, made it impossible that it should be any other. That they looked upon their mere obedience to the ceremonial law as their righteousness cannot be proved, yea, the contrary is enough evident by their obedience to the moral law, according to the interpretation they put upon it. But their interpretation of the moral law was so short and jejune, that it is manifest that their righteousness was not only a righteousness not of faith but of works, but works that were very imperfect and short of what the true sense of the law required, as our Saviour afterward proveth. That is to say, it was no righteousness, for he that keepeth the whole law, if he be guilty in one point, is guilty of all, Jam 2:10.

For I say unto you,.... These words are directed, not to the true disciples of Christ in general, or to his apostles in particular, but to the whole multitude of the people; who had in great esteem and admiration the Scribes and Pharisees, for their seeming righteousness and holiness; concerning which Christ says,

that except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. He mentions the Scribes, because they were the more learned part of the people, who were employed in writing out, and expounding the law; and the Pharisees, because they were the strictest sect among the Jews for outward religion and righteousness; and yet, it seems, their righteousness was very defective; it lay only in an external observance of the law; did not arise from a purified heart, or the principles of grace; nor was it performed sincerely, and with a view to the glory of God; but for their own applause, and in order to obtain eternal life: besides, they neglected the weightier matters of the law, and contented themselves with the lesser ones; and as they were deficient in their practice, so they were very lax in their doctrines, as appears from the foregoing verse. Wherefore Christ informs his hearers, that they must have a better righteousness than these men had, if ever they expected to enter into the kingdom of heaven. There will be no admission into heaven without a righteousness: it was the loss of righteousness which removed Adam out of his earthly paradise; and it is not agreeable to the justice of God, to admit man into his heavenly paradise without one; yea, it is contrary to his nature, and would be destructive to the comfort of saints, to receive an unrighteous person into his kingdom and glory. A "pharisaical" righteousness will never bring a person thither; nor will any righteousness of man's, be it what it will, because the best is imperfect; it must be a righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees; and such is the righteousness of the saints: indeed their inherent righteousness, or the sanctification of the Spirit, is preferable to any righteousness of a natural man; it exceeds it in its author, nature, effects, and usefulness; yea, even works of righteousness done by believers are greatly preferable to any done by such men as are here mentioned: but, above all, the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to them, and received by faith, is infinitely more excellent in its author, perfection, purity, and use; and which is their only right and title to eternal glory; and without which no man will be admitted into that glorious state.

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:20. Γάρ] Unnecessary difficulties have been raised on account of this connection (Ritschl and Bleek, who even declare δέ to be more appropriate), and the obvious sense passed over (de Wette, who, as well as Hilgenfeld, refers back to Matthew 5:17). Jesus does not state any ground for recognizing why there must be distinctions of rank in the kingdom (Ritschl), which must be understood as a matter of course; but He assigns the reason—and how important was that for the vocation of the disciples!—for the ποιήσῃ κ. διδάξῃ which He had just uttered, in accordance with its necessary connection: “For if ye do not unite acting with teaching, then can ye not enter into the kingdom, being upon the same stage of righteousness as the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23:2 f., 14).

περισς. πλεῖον is to be rendered: shall have been more abundant than.[405] Comp. περοσσεύειν ὑπέρ τινα, 1Ma 3:30.

ἡ δικαιοσύνη ὑμῶν] your moral righteousness, as in Matthew 5:6; Matthew 5:10, not the justitia fidei (Calovius), although the truly moral life rests upon the latter.

τῶν γραμματ. κ. Φαρις.] well-known comparatio compendiaria for τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῶν, κ.τ.λ., Kühner, II. p. 847. It is understood, besides, as a matter of course, that Jesus here has in view the false righteousness of the Pharisees in general, so that nobler manifestations, like Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and others, do not determine His general judgment.

[405] These men thought and appeared to make themselves prominent by abundant acts of δικαιοσύνη, whilst they “ceremonialem et forensem morali missa tutati sunt” (Bengel). An abounding in righteousness on the part of His disciples in a higher degree and measure of morality, which πλεῖον, however, in accordance with the actual relation of the thing compared, contains in itself an essentially quite different kind of δικαιοσύνη, is required by Christ on the ground of faith in Him. That external righteousness, whilst the heart is impure, “does not belong to heaven, but to hell” (Luther).

Matthew 5:20. Here is another type still, that of the scribes and Pharisees. We have had two degrees of worth, the little and the great. This new type gives us the moral zero.—λέγω γὰρ. The γὰρ is somewhat puzzling. We expect δὲ, taking our attention off two types described in the previous sentence and fixing it on a distinct one. Yet there is a hidden logic latent in the γὰρ. It explains the ἐλάχιστος of the previous verse. The earnest reformer is a small character compared with the sweet wholesome performer, but he is not a moral nullity. That place is reserved for another class. I call him least, not nothing, for the scribe is the zero.—πλεῖον τῶν γρ. κ. φ., a compendious comparison, τῆς δικαιοσύνης being understood after πλεῖον. Christ’s statements concerning these classes of the Jewish community, elsewhere recorded, enable us to understand the verdict He pronounces here. They differed from the two classes named in Matthew 5:18, thus: Class 1 set aside the least commandments for the sake of the great; class 2 conscientiously did all, great and small; class 3 set aside the great for the sake of the little, the ethical for the sake of the ritual, the divine for the sake of the traditional. That threw them outside the Kingdom, where only the moral has value. And the second is greater, higher, than the first, because, while zeal for the ethical is good, spirit, temper, disposition has supreme value in the Kingdom. These valuations of Jesus are of great importance as a contribution towards defining the nature of the Kingdom as He conceived it.

Nothing, little, great: there is a higher grade still, the highest. It belongs to Christ Himself, the Fulfiller, who is neither a sophistical scribe, nor an impatient reformer, nor a strict performer of all laws great and small, walking humbly with God in the old ways, without thought, dream or purpose of change, but one who lives above the past and the present in the ideal, knows that a change is impending, but wishes it to come gently, and so as to do full justice to all that is divine, venerable, and of good tendency in the past. His is the unique greatness of the reverently conservative yet free, bold inaugurator of a new time.

20. scribes] See note, ch. Matthew 7:29.

Matthew 5:20. Ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ἡ δικαιοσὑνη ὑμῶν, except your righteousness shall exceed) Our righteousness, even though it should satisfy, could never exceed, the requirements of the law; but the Scribes and Pharisees thought that theirs did so. We are bound to surpass their righteousness. Cf. the force of περισσεύσῃ (abound, or exceed), with that of περισσὸν (more than others, exceeding the general standard), in Matthew 5:47. We must surpass both Pharisees and publicans: see Matthew 5:48.—ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη, your righteousness) The pronoun, ὑμῶν (your), being placed first, is opposed with greater emphasis to the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.[194] Others read ἡ δικαιοσύνη ὑμῶν.[195] That righteousness is intended, of which specimens are given in Matthew 5:19; Matthew 5:22-23. This language does not make void the righteousness of faith; but the language of Jesus Christ before His ascension, keeps, as it were, the mean between Moses and the apostles.—πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων, κ.τ.λ., more than the Scribes, etc.) i.e. πλεῖον τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῶν γραμματέων, κ.τ.λ., more than the righteousness of the Scribes, etc.—τῶν γραμματέων, of the Scribes) Our Lord does not command the righteousness of His followers to be greater than the righteousness of Moses, as if the law of Moses had been imperfect, which promised life to those who performed it, and was (see Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14) just, holy, good, and spiritual; but greater than the righteousness (which word, however, is elegantly omitted) of the Scribes and Pharisees, who observed ceremonial and legal, but neglected moral righteousness. The Pharisees urged traditions; the Scribes, or Karaei,[196] the letter, which was written, and constantly read out. It seemed to be especially the part of the Scribes to teach; of the Pharisees to do. Our Lord does not name Moses; but He says impersonally, It has been said.—Οὐ ΜῊ ΕἸΣΈΛΘΗΤΕ, ye shall not enter) See ch. Matthew 18:3; John 3:5; 1 Corinthians 15:50.

[194] Which was esteemed in those days as superlatively good.—Vers. Germ.

[195] Lachm. and Tischend., with the oldest MSS. Vulg., etc., read ἡ δικαιοσύνη ὑμῶν. For the order ὑμῶν ἡ δικ. there are of good, though later authorities, only L Δ.—ED.

[196] Bengel’s words are, “scribœ sive Karæi, literam, quœ erat scripta et lectitabatur;” where “scripta erat” (was written) refers to “scribœ” (scribes), derived from the Latin verb scribo, to write: and lectitabatur (was constantly read out) refers to “karœi,” derived from the Hebrew verb קָרָא, of which Gesenius says, “(4) to recite, to read aloud (from the signification of crying out,—see No. 1) anything, with an acc., Exodus 24:7; Joshua 8:34-35; Joshua 2 King’s Matthew 23:2; also קָרָא בְסֵפֶר, to read what is written in a book.… Nehemiah 8:8; Nehemiah 8:18; Nehemiah 9:3; Isaiah 37:14. seqq.… Hence generically to read, Deuteronomy 17:19; 2 Kings 5:7; 2 Kings 19:14.”

The Karaites, a sect which existed before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, have been called the Protestants of Judaism. Their name is derived from the Hebrew קראים, which signifies, according to Calmet, “people perfected in the study of Scripture; people attached to the text, and to the letter of Scripture.” They are, of course, diametrically opposed to the Rabbinists, who zealously maintain the Rabbinical traditions. For an account of their history and tenets, see Milman’s History of the Jews, and Calmet in voc.—(I. B.)

Verse 20. - Matthew only. The verse from "except" to the end is quoted verbally in Justin Martyr ('Trypho,' § 105), as being in "the Memoirs." For I say. So far from you my disciples (ver. 13) being right in despising any of the commands contained in the Law, they are all to be specially honoured by you; for your righteousness (i.e. the righteousness you show in observing them; there is no thought here of the imputed righteousness of Christ) must far exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees; otherwise there is no entrance for you into the kingdom of heaven. But wherein lay the superiority of the righteousness which the disciples were to have? Did our Lord mean that his disciples were to painfully toil through the various enactments, ceremonial and other, of the Law as the scribes and Pharisees did, only with more serious and earnest purpose than they? That were in the case of many scribes and Pharisees hardly possible. For notwithstanding our Lord's occasional denunciations, many of them were men of the severest earnestness and the deepest conscientiousness, e.g. Gamaliel and Saul of Tarsus. Our Lord must refer to the Law otherwise than as a system of enactments. His thought is similar to that of his words addressed to Nicodemus (John 3:5), where he says that change of heart evidenced by public profession (cf. Romans 10:10) is necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God (cf. also Matthew 18:8). So here; while the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, even when joined to earnestness of purpose, nevertheless consists in the observance of external rules, there is a higher principle in the Law, by observing which a higher righteousness can be attained. Christ points, that is to say, away from the Law as a system of external rules to the Law in its deeper meaning, affecting the relation of the heart to God (cf. further Weiss, 'Life,' 2:147). Shall exceed; rather, shall abound still more than. The statement is not merely comparative, but implies an abundance (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:10)even in the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The Jewish spirit reckons up good actions as producing in many cases even a superfluity of righteousness. But the righteousness which Christ's disciples must have needs to be still more abundant. The righteousness; omitted in the Greek (Westcott and Herr) by condensation. The scribes and Pharisees. The most learned (scribes) and the most zealous (Pharisees) in the Law (cf. Nosgen) are here placed in one class (τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων). Ye shall in no case; Revised Version, in no wise. "The emphatic negative οὐ μή is not elsewhere so rendered in the Authorized Version. The previous versions have in this place simply . ye shall not,' following the Vulgate,. non intrabitis" (Humphry) Enter into the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 18:3; Matthew 7:21). A much stronger statement than that of ver. 19, though some would identify the two. There Christ was comparing one disciple with another; here his disciples with non-disciples. "Such a relaxing for yourselves and others of the commandments will set you low in the true kingdom of obedience and holiness; but this of having a righteousness so utterly false and hollow as that of the scribes and Pharisees will not merely set you low, but will exclude you from that kingdom altogether (ver. 20); for while that marks an impaired spiritual vision, this marks a vision utterly darkened and destroyed" (Trench, ' Sermon on the Mount'). Matthew 5:20
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