Matthew 5:19

19 1Therefore whoever relaxes 2one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least 3in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great 4in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19 Meaning and Commentary

Matthew 5:19

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least
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 F8. Maimonides says F9, 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 F11 he affirms,

``if a prophet, whom we know to be a prophet, should order us (twum lkm txa le rwbel) , "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 (hrwt yrbd le rwbe) , "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 F12,

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

Nay, they even F13 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, (lwdg hven) , "he shall become great" in the world to come F14,''

or days of the Messiah.


F8 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 79. 1. & 89. 2. & 90. 2.
F9 Hilch. Memarim, c. 2. sect. 4.
F11 Hilch. Yesode Hattorah, c. 9. sect. 3.
F12 Bartenora in, Misn. Beracot, c. 9. sect. 5.
F13 T. Hicros. Sheviith, fol. 35. 1.
F14 T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 85. 2.

Matthew 5:19 In-Context

17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'

Cross References 4

  • 1. [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]
  • 2. [Galatians 3:10; James 2:10]
  • 3. Matthew 11:11; Matthew 18:1-4
  • 4. Matthew 11:11; Matthew 18:1-4
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.