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Most current translations say:

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent are forcefully taking it.

But could the Greek be actually saying:

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to eagerness, and the eager are quickly taking it.

When studying the surrounding context of this chapter, it appears Jesus was saying that in his time the righteous were eagerly pressing their way into God's kingdom by submitting to John's baptism out of eager desperation for Christ's salvation, being weary of their evil generation that was resisting John's baptism which prepared for God's Christ.

The analogy seems to be of a flock of desperate sheep eagerly pressing their way through the narrow gate into the heavenly pasture of the Good Shepherd for safety, not of wolves violently attacking the heavenly kingdom or even physically seizing it which is obviously impossible for any human to do as humans are not angels.

Are most translations incorrectly rendering this verse?

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  • @constantthin, the scriptures say that John the Baptizer was very popular. This indicates to me that violent, forceful men were trying to take over even from then! One sees the same sort of people today in many areas where popularity is important and money is to be made.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 5:52
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    @Dieter. If you are right Acts 20:29 seems to be a supporting verse. Commented Feb 13 at 7:12
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    My personal theory is that Jesus wants to say "The kingdom has exploded into existence", and that's the nearest he can get in the vocabulary avalable. Commented Feb 13 at 8:05
  • Never regarded this before but it would appear that most translators got carried away here. It would appear that you have ascertained correctly. The context definitely lends itself to your second analogy. Well delineated, + 1. Commented Feb 13 at 11:50
  • @Dieter if that were the case, consider that human men cannot subject the heavenly kingdom to violence, let alone seize it, because Jesus also said: "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man."
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 13 at 18:39

4 Answers 4

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I am highly sympathetic to the interpretation offered by the OP. However, my view does not matter. Let us examine the specific meaning of the words concerned which are two - both cognate forms of each other, one a noun and the other a verb.

βιάζω (biazo)

This word only occurs twice in the NT, Matt 11:12 and Luke 16:16, both in the same context and quoting the same comment by Jesus. According to BDAG, the meaning is uncertain so it offers the following four possibilities (the article is large so I will only reproduce the definitions):

  1. to inflict violence on, dominate, constrain
  2. to gain an objective by force, use force
  3. go after something with enthusiasm, seek fervently, try hard
  4. constrain (warmly)

The OP is essentially asking of BDAG's #3 meaning is possible - according to BDAG, it is!

βιαστής (bistes)

this is the cognate nown to the above verb. BDAG gives just one definition for this:

violent, impetuous, person

See BDAG for much more information.

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    Excellent! + 1. Upon investigating: Strongs 971 biazo verb - to force. The conclusion (the i.e.) for the second part of the verse, here in question, points to the more benign ... "... a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought for, with the most ardent zeal and the intensest exertion" Commented Feb 13 at 12:12
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    @OldeEnglish - "The kingdom of heaven has been subjected to eagerness, and the eager are quickly taking it." I believe this is what the passage is saying.
    – Joshua B
    Commented May 22 at 22:14
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Does Matthew 11:12 say that the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence or eagerness?

When I first saw the wording of this Q., I thought: "Excuse me!!" Then I thought: "Oh, the OP must be talking about the war in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon (devil)." But that was in Revelation. This Q., is about a verse in Matthew. Now being intrigued, I delved into it.

This is how the NASB translates our verse in question:

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force"

This is how the NWT translation goes:

"But from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it"

Now I know that the NWT (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures) is not everyones favorite "go to" but I think here that they have it pegged right. The context surrounding this verse, no matter what bible you care to use, is key here. We are not talking about a literal heavenly encounter, nor would we appear to be talking about "violence" per se, involving earthly perceptions.

Strongs 971 biazo verb

Meaning is "to force". Matt, 11:12, (second part): "... the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence, carried by storm". But then in their "i.e." that follows, we see: "... a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought for, with the most ardent zeal and the intensest exertion". So, there you have it. You decide. As Dottard says at the end of his answer: "See BDAG for much more information".

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  • @Olde English, Please look up the Greek words and you'll see how some translators did violence to the language to force their interpretation. I believe that such action is a betrayal of trust on the same level as removing text from the scriptures or adding text that Jesus sternly warned against in Revelation. It takes faith to to allow Christ's words unmutilated into one's own interpretations. The history of Christianity is filled with violent men doing violence in the name of Christ!
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 16:33
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    @Dieter - I did look up the Greek words and Strong's 971 went into some detail, some of which is born out in my answer. Not quite sure what you are trying to say here exactly. With regard to your last sentence however, I would say that while what you say is a true statement, I don't think it has anything to do with the verse being questioned. Commented Feb 13 at 19:01
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βιάζω is closer to “pushing by force”, “violence”; and indeed, unless we inflict violence and force, in co-action with God’s grace, upon our sins and sinful inclinations, and thus totally vanquish them (cf. Psalm 18:37), then we shall unavoidably be vanquished by them and become slaves of those inclinations, for, as in 2 Peter 2:19: “by whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave” (cf. also John 8:34).

However, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom of slaves, but of the kings, the co-kings and co-heirs of Christ - the Eternal King.

Unless you want to be a king eternally co-reigning with Christ - the King, you aren’t a Christian.

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  • Jesus himself said that he came to serve, not to be served. He commanded us to do likewise in his example. Yes, we sit with him in the heavenlies, but we should humble ourselves as he humbled himself. Otherwise, why did our beloved brother Paul introduce himself as a "slave" for Christ in his letters? We're no longer slaves to sin. Just something to think about.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 16:43
  • @Dieter Paul speaks that he finished his course of serving Christ and now awaits for eternal crown, crown is not of slave but of king; as Christ is King, so He wants is to become His co-Kings; yes, we are to serve each other and all humans, but as kings, not as slaves. Unless we aspire to be friends of Christ, as He wants us to be, and not merely His slaves, like angels are, we are not worthy of His eternal Kingdom. We are higher than angels, by far, infinitely higher, for we are kings, Christ’s co-Sovereigns, while angels abd archangels - just ministers. Commented Feb 13 at 16:55
  • "we are to serve each other and all humans, but as kings, not as slaves." Yes, and this is exactly why Jesus washing his disciples feet was so shocking to them. In doing so, Jesus didn't deny his Sonship, but told his disciples that they should imitate him if they were to be his followers. Likewise, we're to avoid being arrogant, but to be humble and kind, letting God exalt us in due course.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 18:59
  • @Dieter Yes! Humble but ambitious to become gods in God Jesus Christ, otherwise it will be a mislead humility not pleasing Him. Commented Feb 13 at 20:03
  • Was satan ambitious to become as God? What about Adam and Eve? Were they ambitious to become as gods, knowing good from evil? I think it's safer to be content to be a part of the Bride of Christ as described in Revelation.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:39
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You’re asking a difficult question that’s attracted a lot of commentary and speculation!

Jonathan Pennington addresses many relevant contextual, cultural, and linguistic factors in his excellent ~400-page book, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, which was derived from his PhD thesis on the subject. It’s a thorough academic investigation, but not an easy read.

To answer this question, one needs to understand what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of the heavens,” a new term found only in Matthew (along with “kingdom of God”), understand that it was translated into Greek from the original Aramaic, which complicates things a little, and address many questions and issues.

In the literal Greek in English word order with amplified words), we read

“And from the days of John, of the one immersing, until just now, the kingdom of the heavens is forced [Strong’s Greek 971: biazó, forced with violence] and it is snatched/seized by assailants/violent men [Strong’s Greek 973: biastés, masculine noun].”

Questions to answer:

• What exactly started in the days of John the Baptizer? Did it end with Jesus or is it continuing?

• What exactly did Jesus mean by “the kingdom of the heavens”? The term is found only in Matthew.

• Who exactly are these violent men?

• How are they seizing or snatching the kingdom of the heavens?

A hint comes from Matthew 7:21-23, again in literal Greek except for word order and a couple of interpolated words

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘O Lord, O Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me on that day, ‘O Lord, O Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons, and in your name do many powerful works?’ Then I will acknowledge to them that at no time I knew you, retreat from me O ones working lawlessness!’”

Jesus also warned his followers in John 10:1,7,8 NASB

“Truly, truly I say to you, the one who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.” So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All those who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

My conclusion from my reading and study of the issues is that there were men who were trying to insert themselves into the “Jesus Movement” of that day to try to gain control over it and become its leaders.

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  • It seems like you are, but to be clear, from this conclusion are you saying you think it should be "suffered violence, and the violent are forcefully taking it" rather than "eagerness"?
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 13 at 3:50
  • Yes, I am. That's what the original Greek words mean: Strong’s Greek 971: biazó, forced with violence, and Strong’s Greek 973: biastés, violent men. To be sure, there have been attempts by commentators to suggest that Christians should be motivated like violent men seizing the kingdom of heaven by force, but Jesus taught us that we're blessed when we're meek/gentle. He taught that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who recognize their spiritual poverty and to those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness!
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 5:46
  • @Dieter But shouldn't the humble Christian be not violent but eager in determination to work out their entrance into the kingdom of heaven?
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 13 at 17:25
  • @Joshua, Yes, I agree that Christians need to be committed, eager, and determined to following Jesus. They should not be violent men attempting to seize "the kingdom of heavens" by force of violence. That's why Dr. Pennington's research and insights are so valuable in helping us understand why Jesus used the term, "kingdom of the heavens" and what this term would mean to the first century Galileans. Dr. Pennington shows that "kingdom of the heavens," means a kingdom NOT of this earth, and that his mission was NOT to overthrow the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom at that time.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 18:42
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    In Greek, there's a word that's translated as "eager": prothymon (Strong's Greek 4289) such as used in Romans 1:15. If that's what Jesus actually meant, then the translators of Matthew from Aramaic to Greek should have chosen that word instead, right?
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:34

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