Does "go" in Matthew 21:31: imply an action happening at the time of speaking (that is, like Present Continuous Tense general usage in English) or is it more of a general idea about something that does not necessarily have to be something happening at the time of speaking (akin Present Simple Tense usage in English)?

Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:31, KJV)

I didn't find an answer to this on BLB commentaries on this verse.


The word translated go in Matt. 21:31 is προάγουσιν. It's lexical meaning is:

προάγωa: to go prior to someone else’s going—‘to go prior to, to go away beforehand.’ εὐθὺς ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν … πρὸς Βηθσαϊδάν ‘at once he made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him … to Bethsaida’ Mk 6:45. -- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 199–200). New York: United Bible Societies.

Go before you (προαγουσιν [proagousin]). “In front of you” (Weymouth). The publicans and harlots march ahead of the ecclesiastics into the kingdom of heaven. It is a powerful indictment of the complacency of the Jewish theological leaders. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Mt 21:31). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

The Greek present tense has a tendency to express continuing action. Jesus may have used the Hebrew/Aramaic imperfect tense יָבוֹאוּ as in Hebrew translations of the New Testament. The context of what Jesus said implies that the going before was happening and continuing to happen at the time Jesus made the statement. In other words there was no indication of it stopping.


I agree with Perry's answer.

Matthew 21:31 New International Version

"Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

are entering
προάγουσιν (proagousin)
Verb - Present Indicative Active - 3rd Person Plural
Strong's Greek 4254: From pro and ago; to lead forward; intransitively, to precede (participle, previous).


The Greek present tense indicates continued action, something that happens continually or repeatedly, or something that is in the process of happening. If you say, for instance, “The sun is rising,” you are talking about a process happening over a period of time, not an instantaneous event. The Greeks use the present tense to express this kind of continued action.

If the action of entering was happening while Jesus was speaking, then when did the Kingdom of God come?

Luke 17:20 And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.

People have been entering the Kingdom of God ever since.


First, in Matt 21:31, there is no verb "to go"; the operative verb here is προάγω (Proago) made of two other Greek words, "pro" = before; and "ago" = to proceed. Thus, the words means, "(a) trans: I lead forth; in the judicial sense, into court, (b) intrans. and trans: I precede, go before, (c) intrans: I go too far."

In Matt 21:31, προάγω is in the form of present indicative active 3rd person, "they are entering prior to", or more simply, "they enter prior to", or, "they enter ahead of".

I do not believe that there is a definite and discernible time element here, only one of priority.

  • This seems like the most logical reading to me. It's like saying "dogs have four legs," or "cheaters never prosper." Any reading of this sentence as having a time element would imply that this verse somehow resolves the ambiguity about the kingdom of God that is present throughout the gospels.
    – user39728
    Mar 2 at 16:36

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