(NET) Matt 5:19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

There are some commentators who says it signifies exclusion from the kingdom of heaven, ie. hell; whereas some argue that they remain in kingdom as least, meaning they remain saved in heaven. Which one is accurate? Is Christ giving a provision for small sins here or giving no provision at all?

For example, Daniel Whedon commentary:

Many of the best commentators understand this as signifying that he shall be excluded. Yet such, surely, is not its exact meaning. Clearly to be least IN the kingdom of heaven is far less than shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament mentions:

He is not to be excluded (as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Calovius, Wolf, Bengel, and others have misinterpreted the meaning of ἐλάχ. κληθ.), because his antinomianism is not a principle, not directed against the law as such, but only against individual precepts of the law, which in themselves are small, and whose importance as a whole he does not recognise

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Mat 5:19. Αύσῃ, shall break) The antithetical word to this is ποιήσῃ, shall do, which occurs further on in this verse. The Scribes, who thought themselves “great,” were in the habit of breaking them. The same verb, λύω, occurs in Joh 7:23; Joh 10:35.—τούτων, of these) those, namely, which follow in Mat 5:22; Mat 5:28, etc.—τῶν ἐλαχίστων, of the least) These precepts, “Thou shalt not kill,” etc., are not essentially the least, for in them the whole law is contained. But they are so only inasmuch as, when rightly explained, they regulate even the most subtile affections and emotions of the soul, and the slightest movements of the tongue, and thus, when compared with other precepts, appear to men to be the least.—ἐλάχιστος, least) Referring to the preceding ἐλαχίστων. An instance of Ploce.[191] As we treat the Word of God, so does God treat us; see Joh 17:6; Joh 17:11; Rev 3:10. “A little” signifies “almost nothing,” whence “the least” comes to mean “none at all” (for they considered anger, for instance, as of no consequence whatever); cf. in Mat 5:20, “ye shall not enter.” ἐλάχιστος; has a different force in this passage from that which ὁ μικρότερος (the least) “in the kingdom of heaven” has in ch. Mat 11:11.—ἐν τῂ βασιλείᾳ τὼν οὐρανῶν, in the kingdom of heaven) which cannot endure the presence of the unrighteous.—ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, shall do and teach) The same order of words occurs in Act 1:1.—ποιήσῃ, shall do them, sc. all; for it is not lawful to break or neglect even one of them.—οὗτος, this man, he) A pronoun used emphatically. Comp. with this use of οὗτος, ch. Mat 7:21 (Latin Version[192]); Luk 9:24; Joh 7:18.—μέγας, great) All the commandments are of great account to him, especially in their full compass[193] (see Mat 5:18); therefore he shall be called great.

  • @Michael16 You queried whether breaking the commands means .. “exclusion from the kingdom of heaven,”? Try reading Matthew 13 starting at verse 24 - the composition of this kingdom of heaven is clearly spelt out! A simple exegetical approach/search could have answered this query!
    – Dave
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:50
  • @Dave, the question is not asking who will enter heaven, but the exegesis of this verse. The commentaries & context explain rightly. It is a rhetorical figure to draw the antithesis of good and bad. He is not giving provision for small sins. There are many who would interpret that it is about status in heaven being lesser if one teaches and commit lesser sins bec of the word "least in the kingdom".
    – Michael16
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 14:39
  • @Michael 16, we all know, let the text speak for itself is the first rule of Exegesis, and interpretation cannot depart from the clear meaning of the words. Do we need to open another debate? Unclear to me, what are you getting at? I take out "all" from "all commentator.." My bad.
    – Sam
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 3:59
  • @sam if you reject the metaphors and figures of speech, post an answer proving your interpretation, instead of ranting.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 4:50
  • 1
    Exactly @Sam - and so comments about people needing to change or take down perfectly valid questions because they disagree with your own theological views isn't really fair. Just because many of us are Christians doesn't mean that questions from other perspectives need to be changed to comply with our own preferences.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 16:42

6 Answers 6


Is Christ giving a provision for small sins here or giving no provision at all?

He is giving no provision at all. Everyone who calls a command small or unimportant and therefore need not be kept will not only be excluded from entering the kingdom of heaven, but those in the kingdom will call him 'least,' just as he called one of the commands 'least.' This verse is basically saying:

(NET) Matt 5:19 ...anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great [by those] in the kingdom of heaven.

Note that the next verse says you won't even get in unless your righteousness surpasses the experts and Pharisees:

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Adam Clarke on verse 19:

He who, by his mode of acting, speaking, or explaining the words of God, sets the holy precept aside, or explains away its force and meaning, shall be called least - shall have no place in the kingdom of Christ here, nor in the kingdom of glory above.

A few chapters later in Matthew 11:11, Jesus says:

(NET) “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.”

No one here on earth (outside the kingdom of heaven) was greater than John. But the least resident who is actually in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him. Those currently in the kingdom of heaven will call whoever teaches others to break the commands of God 'least,' but will call whoever teaches others to obey them 'great.'

  • I feel like Matthew 11:11 contradicts your argument, and It's not that difficult to be more righteous than the experts of the law who reject the weightier matters of the law (justice, mercy, and faithfulness) for the lesser (Matt 23:23) and who murdered Christ and his followers.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 6:42

In the NT, those lost are normally not referred to as being in the Kingdom, but out. Christ often uses 'in' and 'out' to distinguish between those saved and those lost, not 'great' and 'least'.

For example, in two of the parables recorded in Matthew 25, the door is shut on the foolish Virgins (Matt 25:10), excluding them from the weeding feast (i.e., the Kingdom), and the slave who buried his talent is cast outside (Matt 25:30). In Matt 13:41 the law-breakers are gathered out of his Kingdom.

Luke 13:28-30 likewise states:

28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (ESV)

(The first and last in v30 should not be understood as similar to the 'great' and 'least' in the Kingdom. Jesus emphasis in v30 is that a reversal will take place.)

It would thus be reasonable to conclude that because the 'least' are 'in', they are not 'out', that is, lost.

The immediate context of Matthew 5:19 provides an important contrast. In v20, the scribes and Pharisees, do not break even the least commandment of the law and appear to fulfill Jesus' requirement in v19, yet they still do not enter the Kingdom of the Heavens. They are out.

Michael J. Wilkins in his commentary on Matthew states:

The rank of “least” should not be taken to indicate exclusion from the kingdom, because in the next verse Jesus makes a distinction between those inside and outside of the kingdom.

It should also be noted that the Kingdom of the heavens does not necessarily refer exclusively to future rewards.

Michael J. Wilkins continues:

"Least” and “great” are ways to acknowledge in this present life those who have been faithful in word and deed to the revealed will of God as it is taught by Jesus.

Likewise, R. T. France (TNTC Matthew) writes:

Least is used chiefly for its rhetorical effect echoing the least commandment, though clearly within the kingdom of heaven there are those who are more or less consistent and effective in their discipleship; the thought is of quality of discipleship, not of ultimate rewards. The good disciple will do and teach the commandments: he will go beyond lip-service, to be guided by them in his life and teaching.

France also provides a helpful paraphrase of Matthew 5:17-20:

17 I have not come to set aside the Old Testament, but to bring the fulfilment to which it pointed. 18 For no part of it can ever be set aside, but all must be fulfilled (as it is now being fulfilled in my ministry and teaching). 19 So a Christian who repudiates any part of the Old Testament is an inferior Christian; the consistent Christian will be guided by the Old Testament, and will teach others accordingly. 20 But a truly Christian attitude is not the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, but a deeper commitment to do the will of God, as vv. 21ff. will illustrate.”

Could the distinction between 'great' and 'least' in the kingdom of heavens also refer to some difference in future rewards? I would not rule out this possibility.

Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon The Portion of the Righteous, says:

There are different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven. As there are degrees among the angels, viz. thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers; so there are degrees among the saints. In heaven are many mansions, and of different degrees of dignity. The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here.

Christ will reward all according to their works. He that gained ten pounds was made ruler over ten cities, and he that gained five pounds over five cities (Luke 19:17). 2 Cor. 9:6, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And the apostle Paul tells us that, as one star differs from another star in glory, so also it shall be in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:41). Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water unto a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few.

It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others.

  • 1
    The commentaries cited contradict the more ancient, patristic understanding of this text.
    – user15733
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 17:33

According the Patristic interpretation, being least in the kingdom does, in fact, signify being cast into hell. This teaching is summmarized in Theophylact's commentary on Matthew (11th c.):

The "least commandments" are those which He Himself is about to give, not those of the law of Moses. He calls them "least" out of humility, to instruct you, O reader, to have moderate thoughts of yourself as you give your teachings. He who "shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" means he who will be last in the resurrection and who will be cast into gehenna.

The Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Christopher Stade, tr.; Chrysostom Press, 2008, p. 49).

This is confirmed in John Chrysostom's 4th century homily on the passage:

But when you hear, least in the kingdom of Heaven, surmise nothing but hell and torments. For He was used to mean by the kingdom, not merely the enjoyment thereof, but also the time of the resurrection, and that awful coming. And how could it be reasonable, that while he who called his brother fool, and trangressed but one commandment, falls into hell; the breaker of them all, and instigator of others to the same, should be within the kingdom. This therefore is not what He means, but that such a one will be at that time least, that is, cast out, last. And he that is last will surely then fall into hell. For, being God, He foreknew the laxity of the many, He foreknew that some would think these sayings were merely hyperbolical, and would argue about the laws, and say, What, if any one call another a fool, is he punished? If one merely look on a woman, does he become an adulterer? For this very cause He, destroying such insolence beforehand, has set down the strongest denunciation against either sort, as well them who transgress, as them who lead on others so to do.

Homily XVI on Matthew


Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6).

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

Those that are part of the first resurrection will be like Him and dwell with Him in New Jerusalem they will be able to ascend and descend between their abode in the sky and the earth, healing to the nations and land will be done by Him and his priesthood (Rev 22:1-3). I believe that those in the second resurrection will inherit the earth and only come close to the New Jerusalem [under it] during Gods festivals.


Several scholars sought to present these Laws, in order of greatness, as greater commandments and lesser commandments.

And Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy soul, and with all thy soul. all your thoughts. Matthew 22: 36,37

We saw another great commandment, which is very special, for it bears a special blessing in itself. All those who comply with it are promised to have their life span increased. Isn't this the secret to longevity?

Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20: 12

The Apostle Paul even quotes Exodus 20:12, states that it is the first commandment with promise. And that opens up a perspective. If there is the first, there is also the second.

And a commandment that has the promise to make us have more days to live, must be another great commandment, certainly.

When you find a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground with little birds or eggs, and the mother laying on the birds or on the eggs, you will not take the mother with the young ones; freely the mother, and the young you will take for you; that it may be well with thee, and that thy days be prolonged. Deuteronomy 22: 6,7

Behold this commandment. He speaks of care for birds, and has the potential to increase, prolong our days on earth, just as "honoring your father and your mother", has.Honrar parents is something so noble, so great, respect those who gave us life. But this one, of not taking the mother bird with its eggs or puppies, is so simple, so easy to do, it seems so "small" commandment.

But even so, it increases the days of those who fulfill it! So, who can say which is great, and which is small? Who can say that a commandment of the Law of God is greater or lesser? A great commandment and a small one, but both have the same result! It is a great teaching, that we must learn from every word of the Eternal, for it never returns empty.

The least of the commandments is important if we can extract the interpretation of the moral truth that is in him.

Anyone who violates one of these commandments, however small, and thus teaches men, will be called the least in the kingdom of the heavens; but he that shall fulfill them and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. Matthew 5: 19

Not taking the mother with the cubs speaks of the protection of life, for the mother bird may again lay eggs and remake the natural cycle of life, bringing sustainability in the hunting of birds, and with consequent food protection for the inhabitants of the earth.

This commandment is also ecological, an order to protect nature and animals, however small, they have their place in the food chain, and in natural cycles. We learn to respect and protect life, starting with the protection of animals, plants, trees and all nature, not polluting our environment.

the first two words of Deuteronomy 22: 6, it is "when you find [the way] ...". The word יִקָּרֵא "yqarê" is the verb לקרוא "liqrô", which also means "to cry out, to cry," in Hebrew, they correspond to the terms כִּי יִקָּרֵא "ki yqarê". The beginning of this verse in Hebrew says: כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן-צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ "ki yqarê qan-tzifor lefanecha" - When crying out before you a nest of birds ...

A commandment that speaks of attention to mercy, and attending to the cry of the poor and needy, that needs help, for if we should have compassion for simple birds, the more we must help others be human, our brothers.

Look at the birds of the air, which neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

Source: https://brasilgospel.club/antigo/exodo/o-grande-mandamento/


It does signify exclusion from heaven for sure. Just use a bit of 'sanctified logic'. If the words 'he shall be called least in the kingdom' are to be taken as meaning that such a person will by implication also be in heaven, then you are making Jesus say that commandment breakers will be in heaven.

I highly doubt that is what He said. Can you imagine what the religious leaders would have done to Him if this was what He meant? Yes, they would have crucified Him for this instead of the false witness scam.

The text makes it clear that those who break the least commandment and teach others to do the same are not viewed by God in any good light at all. Jesus said He came not to destroy the law (verse 17) and therefore if He meant lawbreakers have a place in heaven, then He would be destroying the law.

The clarity for me lies in the word 'called'. This means - how Heaven (God) views the matter. They are called 'least' because they do not bear God's approval of what they do.

God calls them least even though on earth they might be called great by all who do as they do.

Now let's look at this from the perspective given in Matt. 18. I believe what Matt. 18 says about the kingdom is an amplified 'echo' of what we read here in Matt. 5.

Remember how the disciples wanted to know who is (not is called) the greatest in the kingdom? What does He do to answer them? He takes a child and tells them two things:

  1. They must be converted and become humble as the child before them to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

  2. Whoever leads astray one of these children will have serious consequences - something so bad it makes drowning with a millstone aboit your neck look desireable...

Now let us look again at Matt.5. It looks to me that what Jesus is saying in verse 19 is no different from what He says in Matt. 18:6. Breaking the least of the commandments and teaching others to do the same is a great way to offend or mislead the little ones that believe in Him.

I can imagine that having a millstone about your neck and drowning in the sea is more to be desired than facing the judgement of a moral God for tampering with His moral law and teaching others to do the same...

Also, what else is Jesus saying in Matt. 5:20 but that we be converted and become as humble children (Matt. 18:3).

From Matt. 18:4 it is clear to me that to be a humble, obedient child of God makes one to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, being proud of one's opinion about the law, and as a consequence being disobedient to aspects of that law, all the while teaching others to adopt that same attitude of self-justification, will not make you be anything in the kingdom of heaven except to be called 'least' by those in that kingdom.

Finally, I believe the same principle taught in Rev. 22:19 about prophecy also applies to something as important as the law.

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Rev. 22:19

I cannot for a moment believe that God would exclude you from heaven for taking away from the words of prophecy BUT He will not exclude you from heaven for taking away from the words of the very law that is the center of this same prophecy (and His entire moral government of the universe).

Christians can say what they want about the law today but, Jesus is saying here that only those who obeyed His commandments because they loved Him (and not because they tried to earn their salvation as did the scribes and Pharisees) will be in the kindom of heaven and that all who make up this kingdom will be referring to such commandment breakers as 'least'.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.