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Bible Q

What does “the kingdom suffers violence” mean? (Matthew 11:12, Luke 16:16)

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12, King James Version, 1611)

The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16, KJV)

The translation of Matthew 11:12 in the Authorized Version “the violent take it by force” has sometimes been misread as enthusiastic hearers pressing into it (Luke 16:16), but the meaning of the verse is clearer in many modern versions:

From the time John preached his message until this very day the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violent attacks, and violent men try to seize it. (Matt 11:12, Good News)

The Greek of the two verses is slightly different, but they have in common that they are the only place in the New Testament where the verb “take by violence” or “force” is used:

Matt 11:12  βιάζεται, και βιασται ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν  = suffers violence, and violent men seize it

Luke 16:16 και πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται = and everyone violently enters it

This suggests that what Jesus is saying is not positive, that good men were violently forcing themselves into the kingdom, but the opposite.

See also : Harry Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels ; chapter 72. The Vindication of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-19; Luke 7:18-34) 

“Therefore, far more likely is the opposite view that Jesus was reminding his hearers of how after the early days of success the message proclaimed by both John and himself was steadily losing its power to command real loyalty. Popular enthusiasm was superficial. Repeated efforts (some of them successful) had been made by “the establishment” to erode the high idealism of their teaching. Herod and the Pharisees were now openly hostile. And the word “failure”, already appropriate to John’s mission, was soon  to be equally applicable to the appeal of Jesus. After the first flush of enthusiasm, and in a true fundamental sense, the nation had not been willing to receive the message of John. Otherwise, they would not have needed his witness to Jesus, and Herod would not have dared flout public opinion by throwing the prophet into prison. “

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