Sunday, August 07, 2005

Variations on a passage: Matthew 11:12

One of the things I like to do when I am faced with a puzzling, hard, or “difficult” passage is to pull together as many translations of that passage as I can. Then I meditate on them, holding them up before the Lord. I reread the context, as well.

This one has caused me problems for years.
Matthew 11:12. NASB95
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
Matthew 11:11-15. NASB95
11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.
14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.
15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Matthew 11:12. Amplified
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until the present time, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize—a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought with most ardent zeal and intense exertion].
Matthew 11:12. Wuest Expanded Translation
Indeed, from the days of John the Baptizer until this moment, the kingdom of heaven is being taken by storm and the strong and forceful ones claim it for themselves eagerly.
Matthew 11:12. NIV.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it.
[NIV Study Bible Commentary: They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever present persecution.]

Matthew 11:12 ESV.
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, [or has been coming violently] and the violent take it by force.
The pastors of the church that I have walked in for almost 25 years uniformly hold that Jesus is describing something good. [A view apparently shared by the NIV Study Bible, the Intravarsity Press (IVP) commentary and Matthew Henry in his “Concise Commentary.”]

I could not see why “the kingdom suffers violence” would be something that Jesus would approve of. I am not violent by nature or by circumstance. Additionally, I first read this passage using the NASB Bible. It does not present any evidence that the violence and force are approved by Jesus.

Other versions had variations that seemed to support my pastors. However, I do not know Greek. I did not know how much of the alternate versions were more like commentary than a translation of what was literally in the Greek.

Initially, I thought that this passage might be talking about false prophets or others who claimed to be advancing God’s kingdom but were actually acting for themselves. Although that did not make much sense in context.

My interpretation of this passage changed when I saw a key question, “How can God’s kingdom be taken by anyone?” It is obvious that God simply would not allow that to happen. Therefore, the people who are violently taking His kingdom are doing so with His permission, leading, and instruction. The commentary in my NIV Bible then makes sense:
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever present persecution”
The kingdom of heaven needs to be aggresively pursued. It is not for the sluggish, the slacker, the faint-hearted, or the passive. Jellyfish need not apply. That is, unless they are willing to be "transfromed by the renewing of [their] mind."

And that is another reason that this passage has been difficult for me. I tend to be passive. The idea of taking the kingdom of heaven by force repelled me. But I need to repent from that. I need to be more aggressive for Jesus (submitted to His leading and to the word, of course).
Matthew 10:34-35 Amplified.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to part asunder a man from his father, and a daughter from her mother, and a newly married wife from her mother-in-law.
Jesus was not a Man of political warfare and political peace. He was a Man of spiritual warfare and spiritual peace. I am not using “spiritual warfare” in the way it has come to be meant, binding demons, casting them out, praying against principalities, etc. I am using it in the sense that “taking the kingdom of heaven by force” is, in itself, an act of spiritual warfare, both for God’s kingdom, and against any other kingdom, whether “seen or unseen.”

I intend to return to Matthew 11:12, sometime soon. Look for “I repent.”

PS. This one is dedicated to Brian.


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