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In Matthew 11:12, Jesus said, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."

Luke 16:16 is often given as a companion scripture: "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it."

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on one interpretation of this scripture (as have others), but many have looked at this scripture in different ways. In your answers to this question, please elaborate on the meaning of violence in Matthew 11:12, and how the kingdom was or is taken by force.

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migrated from Feb 21 '14 at 16:15

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See also What does it mean for the kingdom of heaven to suffer violence? for a broader treatment of this verse, not just the issue of "violence". – Caleb Dec 1 '14 at 12:35

Matthew 11:12-14 NET:

"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. The one who has ears had better listen!"

Luke 16:16 NET:

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void."

You'll notice in the NET Bible, instead of

". . . the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,"

as it appears in the KJV in the Matthew passage, you have

". . . the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it."

There is not a great difference between the two translations, but the NET does soften violent to forceful, and by force to lay hold of.

Here is what Constable says in his commentary on this passage in the NET Bible:

"Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own carnal way while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced. This view explains satisfactorily Jesus’ reference to the period from the beginning of John’s ministry to when He spoke. Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him."

Clearly, the reception Jesus received up to this point in His public ministry was anything but pleasant. Quite the opposite in fact. We read in Luke 4:29-30 NIV,

"All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way."

What had set His fellow Jews in the synagogue off, to the extent they wanted to kill Him? In context, it was Jesus' words about their failure to believe His message of the kingdom, which was to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (ibid., v.19). In His hometown synagogue Jesus spoke of the people to whom He came, and they were not the gatekeepers in Judaism; rather, Jesus came to preach good news to

  • the poor

  • the prisoners

  • the blind

  • the oppressed

Many of the overtly religious people in Jesus' day would hardly identify with the underclass of humanity the way Jesus did. Jesus knew this, which is why in the synagogue He goaded them further by reminding them of the spiritual nadir to which the Israel had sunk in the days of Elijah and Elisha.

"'Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian.'" All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this . . ." (ibid, vv.26-28).

The very suggestion by Jesus that God would rather reach out to the Gentiles with His loving provision for a widow and His healing powers for a leper infuriated Jesus' listeners in the synagogue that day. The inferred correctly what Jesus was implying: the Gentiles of their day who believed his message were worthier of God's news than they were!

All this to say that the religious establishment within Judaism--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and the experts in the law--were the perpetrators of the violence to which Jesus referred. As Constable put it,

"Moreover in 23:13 Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go. They also snatched the kingdom from the people by rejecting the Messiah. The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas. John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men" (my emphasis).

Here is Matthew 23:13:

"'But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in.'"

By failing to accept Jesus' offer of a kingdom within the hearts of people, not only were the hypocritical religionists in Jesus' day not entering that kingdom but they were doing everything in their power to prevent others from entering as well. Obviously, Jesus' enemies were more interested in maintaining their power and influence within Judaism than they were in submitting to the King of the peaceable kingdom, none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

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The meaning of "violence" in Matt. 11:12 depends upon how one understands the Greek verb βιάζεται (a form of βιάζω). Different ideas are expressed by βιάζεται, and how it's understood depends on if the reader interprets it reflexively, passively, or in another manner.

For example:

"So then in Matt. 11:12 the form can be either middle or passive and either makes sense, though a different sense. The passive idea is that the kingdom is forced, is stormed, is taken by men of violence [who] seize it like a conquered city. The middle voice may mean ... 'forces its way' like a rushing mighty wind" (Robertson's Word Pictures in the NT).

"Suffereth violence (βιάζεται). Lit., is forced, overpowered, taken by storm" (Vincent's Word Studies).

You might want to consult the approved biblical commentary of your preferred religious organization to see how they spun βιάζεται.

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Defering to doctrinal frameworks is great in principle, but you seem to dodge the bullet a little early here. Interpretation in not done in a vacuum, but it isn't pure 'spin' either. What are the possibilities and what factors have to be in place to interpret the word one way or another? It seems like there should be more groundwork done in the text itself before layering on doctrinal considerations. – Caleb Feb 21 '14 at 23:14

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