The “Better Righteousness”: Matthew 5:20 -- By: Don Garlington

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:4 (NA 2010)
Article: The “Better Righteousness”: Matthew 5:20
Author: Don Garlington

The “Better Righteousness”: Matthew 5:20

Don Garlington


This essay is presented as a “prequel” to my study of Matt 5:22 in BBR 20 (2010): 61–84. Its purpose to enlarge on a point made in the former article, namely, the righteousness “better” than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20) is pointedly Christological. That is to say, the disciples of Jesus are no longer to be guided, commanded, or constrained by the Mosaic Torah or by subsequent tradition. Rather, they are to do his words, because he is the eschatological king of Israel: his teaching trumps all previous forms of instruction. Therefore, the “better righteousness” of the kingdom of heaven resides in the eschatological will of God for a new covenant community, as embodied in and proclaimed by Jesus the Messiah.

Key Words: apocalyptic, Christology, eschatology, fulfillment, kingdom, new covenant, new creation, perfection, righteousness, Torah, tradition

The quality and character of the righteousness “better” than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20) will probably always be debated. But even so, I would like to join the conversation. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once advanced the seminal thought that this “better righteousness” is Christocentric in focus.1 In the same vein, Douglas J. Moo has called attention to the “Christological ἐγώ” that pervades the “antitheses” of Matt 5:21–48.2 The present undertaking stems from these insights and endeavors to develop them.

Matthew 5:20 In The Framework Of The Sermon On The Mount

Elsewhere, I have submitted a lengthier treatment of this section of the Sermon on the Mount (SM).3 Suffice it to say here that our text falls within

what Dale C. Allison calls the “core” of the discourse, which can further be subdivided into “three pillars”: “Jesus and the Torah” (5:17–48); “the Christian cult” (6:1–18); “social issues” (6:19–7:12).4 Matthew 5:20 thus falls under the domain of t...

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