Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




E.P. Sanders


It is the aim of this study to define the meaning and delineate the significance of the concept of righteousness in the Gospel of Matthew. In order to achieve this aim, it was necessary to incorporate an analysis of the concept of righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Tannaitic literature. It is only against this background that the full significance of the Matthean concept to the opinion of righteousness is revealed.

Contrary to the opinion of numerous scholars, this study concludes, that in the Gospel of Matthew, righteousness does not refer to the gift of God for man but rather to the demand of God upon man. Righteousness refers to right conduct, namely conduct based on an extremely meticulous interpretation of the law; an interpretation based on a hermeneutical principle reminiscent of the Rabbinic practice of making a fence around Torah.

This conclusion does not imply that Matthew advocates that salvation is attainable by man's own effort. In the Gospel of Matthew the concept of righteousness does not have a soteriological function as it does in the Pauline writings. To compare the Matthaean and Pauline concepts of righteousness is not equivalent to comparing their respective teachings on the nature of salvation. Matthew and Paul agree that salvation is the gift of God. But in contrast to Paul, who expresses this idea in terms of the concept of righteousness, Matthew expresses it without reference to this concept. Consequently, the theological reason underlying the numerous attempts to bring the meaning of the Matthaean righteousness-terminology into agreement with that of Paul has been obviated by this study.

With respect to the problem of significance, this study clearly shows that the concept of righteousness does not play a role in Matthew's self-understanding as a follower of Jesus. According to Matthew, those who are properly religious in a Christian sense are known disciples, not as the righteous. The essence of discipleship is not expressed as doing righteousness (a term referring to the demand of God upon man) but as doing the will of God (a term stressing both the gift and demand).

Why in fact does Matthew employ the concept of righteousness in his gospel? This study concludes that the concept of righteousness has a provisional function in the Gospel of Matthew. It provides a point of contact between the religious understanding of first-century Palestinian Jews and the teaching of Jesus as Matthew understood it.

It is the nature of such a provisional concept merely to facilitate in bridging a gap of understanding. Consequently, once the way to the new understanding has been shown, the provisional, concept is discarded. In the final analysis, Matthew's emphasis is placed on the disciples who are to do the will of God rather than on the righteous who do righteousness.

That the concept of righteousness was in fact able to function as a significant provisional concept, is supported by its use in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Tannaitic literature. The present study demonstrates that he component parts of the Matthaean concept of righteousness can be readily understood against the background of the thought expressed in these writings.

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