Matthew 5:20 is the twentieth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has reported that he came not to destroy the law, but fulfil it, but in this verse makes clear that the common understanding of the Law is not enough.
In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:
- 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.
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds
- that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way
- you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
For a collection of other versions see BibleRef Matthew 5:20
This verse closes the discussion of how strictly Christians must obey Mosaic law and introduces the next section where Jesus will show how the law as it was then followed was wrong. The Pharisees were the leading faction within Judaism at the time of Jesus, and are very poorly looked upon in the entire Gospel of Matthew. Schweizer notes that here Jesus does not doubt their righteousness, he just does not feel it is extensive enough. France notes that while in the previous verse those who relaxed the law were still admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven, those who take an overly legalistic approach to it are not admitted at all. The scribes were the recorders and interpreters of Mosaic law. Most of them were Pharisees, though not all, and not all Pharisees were scribes, though many were.
In Catholic Answers, Mark Brumley interprets this passage thus:
- Jesus is "contrasting the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the interior righteousness that proceeds from the heart and which is to characterize his followers. Jesus is telling his disciples how to be righteous--not how to look righteous.
- This is illustrated in Matthew 5 in Christ's teaching about anger and murder (Matt. 5:21-26), lust and adultery (Matt. 5:27-32), oaths and truth telling (Matt. 5:33-37), retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42), and the love of enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). In each of these areas, the concern is for internal righteousness and sanctity surpassing external performance." 
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982. pg. 131
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