Garnishing with the “Greater Righteousness”: The Disciple’s Relationship to the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) -- By: J. Daryl Charles

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:1 (NA 2002)
Article: Garnishing with the “Greater Righteousness”: The Disciple’s Relationship to the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)
Author: J. Daryl Charles


Garnishing with the “Greater Righteousness”: The Disciple’s Relationship to the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)

J. Daryl Charles

Taylor University, Upland, Indiana

As seen from the perspective of Matthew’s Gospel, the nature of Christian discipleship requires self-attestation through good works and a conspicuous lifestyle. Hence it is necessary to underscore the importance of Christian ethics and the character of bona fide righteousness. The ethical tenor of much of the material in Matthew can be understood against the background of the Jewish-Christian community’s becoming increasingly Gentile-Christian as well as the early church’s relationship to first-century Judaism. What is striking is the degree to which the halakah advanced by Jesus himself appears to stand in continuity with the OT. The “greater righteousness” called for by Jesus does not stand in juxtaposition to the ethical standard enunciated in the law and the prophets. Rather, it is to be understood against the ethical deficiencies of contemporary establishment religion.

Key Words: Matthew, Torah, prophets, ethics, righteousness, Sermon on the Mount, fulfillment, abrogation, halakah

Introduction: Matthew 5:17-20 Within
The Matthean Gospel

It is of utmost importance in the Matthean Gospel that the disciple be characterized as a doer of the will of God. Correlatively, it is in Matthew that the ethical contours of righteousness and the necessity of validating the disciple’s lifestyle are accentuated. This emphasis on ethics is evident from the outset of Messianic ministry, as seen in John the Baptist’s call for deeds befitting true repentance (3:8) as well as Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29); it comes to full expression at the apex of Jesus’ ministry in his stinging denunciation of contemporary religion for its failure in “doing” and practice (23:1-36); and it constitutes the final exhortation recorded in

Author’s note: Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1821 November 2000, Nashville, Tenn.

the Messianic commissioning of the disciples (28:16-20).1 In Matthew, orthopraxy is a prominent motif.2

The ethical tenor of much material contained in Matthew can be defined against the backdrop of several factors—among these are a transition from a Jewish-Christian to an increasingly Gentile-Christian community; the early church’s relationship to first-century Judaism, and the halakah a...

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