Mat 5:20 ...unless your righteousness exceeds

KJV Verse: 

Mat 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.​

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

What am I teaching you? The fact is that unless it goes beyond, the thing of yours, the virtue, the better of the academics and elites, never ever will you ender into the the realm of the skies.

Hidden Meaning: 

This verse contains one of those tricky transitions between the singular second person to the plural second person. This is, of course, hidden in English.

The word translated as "for" means "what" in an abrupt question. It seems to work better this way if we want to avoid a difficult sentence structure. This phrase is very similar to what we see in Mat 5:18, but without the "really."

The Greek word translated as "say" also means "to teach." Christ usually uses it to address his teaching. The word "I" is part of the verb form, not a separate pronoun.

The word translated as "except" literally means "if not." Our word "unless" works as well here. The negative is the negative of opinion, which has the sense of "not wanting" something when Christ uses it, but that feeling might be minimized when used in a construction such as this.

The word translated as "righteousness" has a lot of meanings. It most contexts, Christ uses it to mean "doing what is best." We can call this simply "virtue." It is the subject of the sentence. It follows the verb here, following the word for "of yours", which is unusual.

The verb translated as "shall exceed" also means to "to go beyond" or "to surpass." It is in a form where the subject affects itself. It is in the second person singular.

The "your" here, is the plural pronoun, which seems to contradict the singular verb, but, if we think about this being spoken, Christ is broadening his statement to include all his listeners. The fact it is correcting the verb explains why it follows the verb, rather than after "righteousness", where Christ would normally put it to modify that word.

The untranslated word appears here as the object of the sentence. It is an adjective that is used for comparisons meaning "more than", "greater than" and so on. Here it is used as a noun, taking on the sense of "the best" in English, though technically, "the better" is more accurate.

"Scribes" is a Greek word describing anyone who used written records in their job, "secretary", "registrar,' and "scholar." However, Christ used it to name those scholars who specifically studied the Bible and wrote about its meanings. A modern equivalent would be "academics." It is in the possessive form, modifying the "greater

"Pharisees" is an example of where we use the Greek word as the name of the religious sect, instead of translating it. In Greek, the word means the "separatists" or "the judgmental," but it is from a Hebrew word meaning "distinguished" or "elite."

The "in no case" here is both of the Greek negatives used together. Greek has two negatives, one objective, one subjective. The use of both together is more extreme, like saying "you cannot really think" or, more simply, "never."

The word translated as "enter" means to "come into" or "go into."

This brings us to the meaning of "the kingdom of heaven." This phrase and its meaning is discussed in more depth in this separate article, which is being frequently revised. The literal meaning is "the realm of the skies."

In the last post, Christ seems to say that people who break small commandments or break small commandments into pieces and teach others to do so still get into the kingdom of heaven, even if they are the least of those there. The conclusion we suggested was that the kingdom of heaven was a process of changing the world that includes both the good and evil and that in the process, people judge on another. However, here, Christ says that to get into heaven, our virtue must exceed that of others who obey at least the obligations of the law.

The answer requires that we think about the kingdom of heaven as a process happening here on earth that not everyone is aware of. We can all, good and evil, be part of the process, but not everyone is necessarily aware of it and driving it. The term used here for "enter" is the Greek word that not only means to come into a place but also means entering into a state or condition, to come into existence, and to come to life.

So what Christ is saying here is that both the good and evil are caught up in the net of the kingdom of heaven or planted in the field of the kingdom of heaven, but that only those who are virtuous are aware of what is happening and that only the virtuous are driving this process, that is, changing the nature of earth.

This idea is not that difficult if we just look at how much the world has changed since the coming of Christ. The moral questions that we wrestle over today were not even considered 2,000 years ago. Even the most tragic parts of modern history, such as the communist movement, has its foundations in Christian thoughts and ideals that are basically good. This goodness and the spread of goodness only arose from the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Christ was the catalyst that changed the world.


 A play on ithe word translated as "shall exceed" and Pharisees "the separate ones" sounding alike. The use of a verb meaning "to surpass" on an object meaning "surpassing." 

The Spoken Version: 

“Are you telling us to ignore what they tell us to do?” A young field worker near the front of the crowd asked, gesturing back toward the Dedicated.
“What am I telling you all?” The speaker asked, scratching his beard thoughtfully. “The fact is that unless you each are going to outshine yourself—your virtue surpassing that of the Academics and Dedicated—never ever are you getting into—” He paused and looked up, smiling with a twinkle in his eye.

Many in the crowd began chuckling. Most knew what was coming next.
“The realm of the skies!” He announced proudly to everyone’s satisfaction.


λέγω (1st sg pres ind act) "I say" is from legô (lego) means "pick up", "choose for oneself", "pick out," and "count," but it used to mean "recount", "tell over", "say", "speak", "teach", "mean", "boast of", "tell of", "recite," nominate," and "command."

γὰρ (partic) "For" comes from gar (gar) which is the introduction of a clause explaining a reason or explanation: "for", "since," and "as." In an abrupt question it means "why" and "what."

ὑμῖν (pron 2nd pl dat) "You" is from humas which is the plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

ὅτι (adv/conj) "That" is from hoti, which introduces a statement of fact "with regard to the fact that", "seeing that," and acts as a causal adverb meaning "for what", "because", "since," and "wherefore."

ἐὰν μὴ (conj+part) "Except" is from ei me, which is the conjunction that means "if not", "but," and "except." εἰ is the particle use with the imperative usually to express conditions "if" or indirect questions, "whether." (me) is the negative used in prohibitions and expressions of doubt meaning "not" and "no."

περισσεύσῃ (2nd sg aor subj mid or verb 3rd sg aor subj act) "Exceed" is from perisseuo which means "to be over and above", "to go beyond", "to abound in", "to be superior," and, in a negative sense, "to be superfluous."

ὑμῶν (pron 2nd pl gen) "Your" is from humas which is the plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

δικαιοσύνη (noun sg fem nom) "Righteousness" is from dikaiosyne, which means "righteousness", "justice", "fulfillment of the law," and "the business of a judge." It carries the sense of virtue but specifically that of fulfilling legal or social requirements.

πλεῖο (adj sg neut nom) Untranslated is pleion which means "more [in number, size, or extent]", "surpassing", "greater than", "longer [of time]", "the greater number", "a higher degree", "superior," and "beyond."

τῶν γραμματέων (noun pl masc gen) "Scribes" is from grammateus, which is generally a "secretary", "recorder," and "scholar," but specifically means someone who uses gramma which is Greek for "drawings", "a letter," (as in an alphabet)"diagrams," and "letters" (as in correspondence).

καὶ (conj) "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just."

Φαρισαίων (noun pl masc gen) "Pharisees" is from Pharisaios, which means in Hebrew "the separate ones" and refers to the religious sect. The word comes from the Hebrew, pharash, which means "to distinguish." This is the primary meaning of the Greek word krino, which is usually translated as "judge" in the Gospels.

οὐ μὴ (partic) "Ye shall in no case" is from ou me, the two forms of Greek negative used together. Ou is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both single words and sentences. Mê (me) is the negative used in prohibitions and expressions of doubt meaning "not" and "no." As οὐ (ou) negates fact and statement; μή rejects, οὐ denies; μή is relative, οὐ absolute; μή subjective, οὐ objective.

εἰσέλθητε (2nd pl aor subj act) "Enter" is from eiserchomai which means both "to go into", "to come in", "to enter", "to enter an office", "to enter a charge," (as in court) and "to come into one's mind."

εἰς (prep) "In" is from eis, which means "into (of place)," "up to (of time)", "until (of time)", "as much as (of measure or limit)", "as far as (of measure or limit)", "towards (to express relation)", "in regard to (to express relation)", "of an end or limit," and "for (of purpose or object)."

τὴν βασιλείαν (noun sg fem acc) "The kingdom" is from basileia, which means "kingdom", "dominion", "hereditary monarchy", "kingly office," (passive) "being ruled by a king," and "reign."

τῶν οὐρανῶν. (noun pl masc gen) "Of Heaven" is from ouranos, which means "heaven as in the vault of the sky", "heaven as the seat of the gods", "the sky", "the universe," and "the climate."

Related Verses: 

Jan 16 2017