posted on Mar, 13 2015 @ 06:01 PM
There is an observation by Jesus about the violence experienced by the kingdom.
It appears in both Matthew and Luke, but the two expand it and paraphrase it in completely different ways.
So I’m going to compare them, trying to discover which of them comes closer to what Jesus was getting at.
In Matthew it comes in the middle of a discussion about John the Baptist;
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven
is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”. Matthew ch11 vv11-13
Luke writes more briefly, taking the remark away from that context;
“The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached and everyone enters it violently”. Luke ch16
If you compare the two passages in the Greek text, you find that the phrase “The law and the prophets until John” is identical in both gospels.
So is the word for “kingdom” and the verb BIAZETAI, which means a violent action of some kind.
The differences come in the rest of the two versions of the statement.
It looks as though the original remembered words of Jesus were brief and somewhat enigmatic;
“The law and the prophets [were] until John; [but now] the kingdom suffers [?] violence”.
The point is evidently a contrast of some kind between the two periods.
Then Matthew and Luke found these words in their common source (for those who follow the “source document” hypothesis), and expanded them in order
to explain them.
As already quoted, Matthew seems to take BIAZETAI as “suffers violence”, because he adds the explanation that “men of violence seize hold of”
The consensus among commentators is that “men of violence” is meant in a bad way, and the sentence is probably talking about violent
That may be the best way of understanding what Matthew wrote, but it doesn’t entirely make sense as something for Jesus to have said.
For one thing, not much violent opposition to the kingdom had appeared when Jesus was speaking. John the Baptist was in prison, but the previous words
exclude him from being part of the kingdom.
Nor does “violent opposition” really work as a contrast between the kingdom period and the previous period.
“The law and the prophets” themselves met violence and opposition in their own time.
Luke has the very different paraphrase that the kingdom is being preached and, in the literal wording, “everyone is violent into it”.
This gets translated as “everyone enters it violently”- that is, they rush into it with enthusiasm in response to the preaching.
This translation is possible because the word BIAZETAI, in the Greek, can be used in a “middle” sense (“he does it for himself”) instead of
the “passive” sense (“something is done to him”) which we find in Matthew.
“Violence” looks like an odd way of describing enthusiasm.
However, this interpretation does match what was happening in the early days of the ministry of Jesus.
Also “the preaching of the kingdom” offers a valid contrast with the previous period, when the kingdom was not being preached and the law and
prophets were operating instead.
It seems to me that Luke is more on the right track.
I’d like to put forward a third interpretation.
I suggest that Luke’s understanding of the word BIAZETAI is the correct one, except that we need to follow Matthew in keeping the kingdom as
the subject of the verb.
That is, the kingdom is not “suffering violence”, but “being violent”.
What would this mean?
I think Jesus was intending a contrast something like this;
“The law and the prophets were in force until the time of John.
But since John’s time, they have been replaced by the kingdom, which has exploded into existence.”
Of course Jesus did not use the word “explode”, but he used the nearest word that was available.
I should point out that people did not normally see explosions, before gunpowder was invented. When the more modern world needed to find a word for
“explode”, they were forced to adapt one which really means “hissing somebody off the stage” (EX + PLAUDERE).
So if Jesus wanted to speak about the kingdom expanding with great speed and power, he was really trying to say something for which no words existed
at the time, and it would have been natural to fall back on language about “violent action”.
In modern times, “explosion” would have been the most obvious metaphor to use for what was happening in front of their eyes in the towns of
The essence of his observation is that the law and the prophets were the instruments of God until his own time, but they now belong to the past.
Their place has been taken, decisively, by the Kingdom of God.