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Luke 16:16

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone (βιάζεται) into it.

Grammatically, the verb βιάζεται could be either middle or passive. Most translations seem to take it as middle (the NET is the only notable exception I found). I have studied the passage in context and am hoping to find what contextual clues could shed light on what voice the verb should be read in. The answer dramatically impacts an interpretation of the verse.

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    "A man, therefore, who regulates his course by the law, even if he be a lover of money, straightway puts force upon his own disposition; lending to the needy without interest, and cancelling the debt of the incoming sabbath. " 4 Maccabees 2:8 How does the verb βιάζεται behave?
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 20:05
  • The default verb voice for this Greek syntactic construction is the active voice, however, due to the antagonistic forces of free will or predestination, the gospel author opted for the indecision of the intermediate voice.
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 21:16
  • Robert, could you explain what you mean by "antagonistic forces of free will or predestination" and how that may have impacted the author's choice of voice? Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 21:28
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    Antiquities of the Jews 7:169 She also advised him to speak to his father about this affair; for he would permit him [to marry her]. This she said, as desirous to avoid her brother's violent passion at present. But he would not yield to her; but, inflamed with love and blinded with the vehemency of his passion, he forced his sister "βιάζεται τὴν ἀδελφήν" Antiquities of the Jews 7:169.
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 4:39

4 Answers 4

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New International Version Luke 16:

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way [G971] into it.

is forcing his way
βιάζεται (biazetai)
Verb - Present Indicative Middle - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's 971: From bios; to force, i.e. to crowd oneself, or to be seized.

For this usage, the subject/actor is a person. The person is forcing himself (middle voice) into the kingdom of God.

There is a parallel account in Matthew 11:

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence [force G971], and violent people have been raiding it.

has been subject to violence,
βιάζεται (biazetai)
Verb - Present Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular

The spelling is identical to the one in Luke. But now, the subject is the kingdom of heaven. The voice usage is either middle or passive. The actors are the people.

Ellicott's explained:

The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.—The Greek verb may be either in the middle voice, “forces its way violently,” or passive, … but there is little doubt that the latter is the right rendering. The words describe the eager rush of the crowds of Galilee and Judæa, first to the preaching of the Baptist, and then to that of Jesus. It was, as it were, a city attacked on all sides by those who were eager to take possession of it.

Pulpit concurred with the voice usage:

In Luke it is middle, "Every man entereth violently into it;" and though it is certainly passive here.

Both passages are talking about people raiding/forcing their way into the kingdom of God.

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  • Reading your excellent argument reminded me of the graft cited in Rom. 11:17, 19, 23.
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 14:05
  • This answer is good, but it assumes Matthew 11:12-13 narrates the same scene that Luke 16:16-17 narrates. After a comparative analysis of the two passages, I believe they narrate different scenes, though there are some similarities. Why do you take Matthew 11:12-13 and Luke 16:16-17 to narrate the same scene? Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 16:18
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Matthew verse is a better reference for contextual interpretation, as the next phrase clearifies it.

Matt 11:12
(SBLG) ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται, καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν.
(NET) From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it.
(NIV) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.
(BSB) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subject to violence, and [the] violent lay claim to it.
(CPDV) But from the days of John the Baptist, even until now, the kingdom of heaven has endured violence, and the violent carry it away.

Here the referent is the kingdom for the verb. It says the Kingdom has been rushed or has forced itself forward, and the men forcefully claim it. Luke writes the kingdom has been preached and men are rushing into it βασιλεία εὐαγγελίζεται καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται. The context shows the sense is clearly middle, not passive. The Kingdom is forcing itself, and the men are forcefully claiming it. The lexicons also indicates the same. The biased translations like NET should be ignored.

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It must be a middle, or even deponent, i.e. a medio-passive in form, but active in meaning, for actually its active form βιάζω is very seldom used and by and large substituted with βιάζομαι with the same active meaning.

Actually, here it must be active, because it is we who inflict violence on our fallen nature and not succumb to its urges, but fight against it “a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7-8) through God’s aiding grace in us, with which we freely co-act - for we are called to be co-actors of God /1 Cor. 3:9/ who powerfully acts in us /Col. 1:29/ - or, to express the same otherwise, jointly with Christ fight against our sinful passions, becoming their victors and masters, rather than being defeated and enslaved by them (2 Peter 2:19).

This is what “to power through”, or “to inflict violence” means, for it is our sins that block Holy Spirit’s presence in us, and when we defeat through grace of God our sins, then Holy Spirit reigns in us and we are truly free (2 Cor. 3:17), which freedom is called also a citizenship of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Yet, it can have a meaning kneaded into it that, while acting in synergy with God, we simultaneously undergo a salvific action of His grace, but only if and whenever we co-act with it. To give an analogy: Glen Guld undergoes a pleasure of performing Bach’s music on piano, so as that he even audibly moans with a pleasure, but this undergoing is happening with him only if he co-acts with the energy of Bach’s invisible and unheard music that potentially and causally precedes him playing it and enjoying it.

Such verb can be called an “active-passive” one, even if no such category is there in Greek grammar books; but who cares about grammar books when a spiritual reality is to be conveyed or explained?! For the entrance into the Kingdom is not through letters and grammar, but power of God assumed and put to practice in vanquishing our sinfulness: Quia non cognovi literaturam, introibo in potentias Domini (Psalm 71:15).

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  • I appreciate your theological synthesis, Levan. However, is there anything you might add in the way of exegetical insights or observations from the surrounding context that would support your conclusion? Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 19:34
  • @StoneDavidson Thanks! I have added few clauses, but that is so clear: we should overpower and perfectly vanquish our sinful drives to establish Kingdom of God in our hearts. God cannot grant it to us, unless we fight for it: as Plato said, “nobody becomes a geometre in an accidental way!” Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:58
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"A man, therefore, who regulates his course by the law, even if he be a lover of money, straightway puts force upon his own disposition; lending to the needy without interest, and cancelling the debt of the incoming sabbath. " 4 Maccabees 2:8

How does the verb βιάζεται behave?

The default verb voice for this Greek syntactic construction is the active voice, however, due to the antagonistic forces of free will or predestination, the gospel author opted for the indecision of the voice.

She also advised him to speak to his father about this affair; for he would permit him [to marry her]. This she said, as desirous to avoid her brother's violent passion at present. But he would not yield to her; but, inflamed with love and blinded with the vehemency of his passion, he forced his sister "βιάζεται τὴν ἀδελφήν" Antiquities of the Jews 7:169

Now Herod had compelled Salome, while she was in love with Sylleus, the Arabian, and had taken a fondness for him, to marry Alexas (Antiquities of the Jews 17:10) βιάζεται τῷ Ἀλεξᾷ.

lashed with a spur from within, compelled to announce my message Sibylline Oracle 3:5.

The term βιάζεται also appears in Demosthenes-Speeches 6:1; 21:150, 205; 25:38 and in Demosthenes-Speeches 25:27

"βιάζεται τοὺς νόμους" where it is possible to understand the full semantic scope of the Greek term: "ruffian's defiance of the laws".

"Vilest of all living men! Shut out from your right of speech, not by barriers or doors which any man might break open, but by so many heavy penalties, which are registered in the temple of the Goddess, you are trying to force your way in and to approach those precincts from which the laws exclude you.Debarred by every right that holds good in Athens, by the decisions of three tribunals, by the registers of the archons and of the collectors of taxes, by the indictment for wrongful entry in which you yourself are the plaintiff, curbed, I might almost say, by chains of steel, you wriggle and force your way through all and imagine that by weaving excuses and trumping up false charges you can overturn all the principles of justice." Against Aristogeiton 1 :25

So this is a totally pertinent contextual example of the use of the verb βιάζεται. Jesus was claiming that men, Gentiles were forcing their way into the Kingdom of God before the Jews, which was a violation!

Jesus explains this situation, at least once, in Matt. 15:26 and Mk. 7:27 " It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs" clearly a violation! βιάζεται

Now, how did this process take place? "but the sounds of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Mattews 8:12 NET

being the voice of the verb ἐκβληθήσονται crucial for understanding how these antagonistic forces of free will and predestination act in the final action by God.

In Matthew 8:12, the Codex Bobbiensis presents the textual variant ἐξελεύσονται (will go out) and not ἐκβληθήσονται (will be thrown out). This variant is supported by two Greek manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, by the Syriac Curetonian Gospels (syrc), Syriac Sinaitic ((syrs), Peshitta (syrp), pal, arm, Diatessaron[UBS4, p26]

This violence is explained by Paul in Chapter 11 of the letter of Romans:

For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:24 KJV)

Note: Same verbal voice as ἐκβληθήσεται in John 12:31

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  • You seem to be confusing biazo (to force/rush) with ekballo (to throw)
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 14:18

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