My questions were as follows. How can the kingdom of heaven suffer violence? How can the violent take it by force? How are men pressed into the kingdom of God? Do others press them in or are they pressed in themselves? Ladd has a study on this but I wanted to do something independent of the conclusions that he had come to. First off, here is how the NIV words the verses.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.
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 his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
While I’m not overly fond of the NIV, the translators here have uncovered something that others may have overlooked. The word in the Greek which is translated "suffer violence" in the KJV is biazo which has the idea of applying force. It can have the idea of violence, but the rendition in the passage in Luke which uses the exact same Greek word seems better suited to carry the idea of force instead of violence. Here is what my friend Daniel had to say. Bold type mine.
The Greek verbs are in the present tense. It was something happening
in John’s time. Although we can read that present tense for our time
Different versions render that verse differently. The differences
stem from what voice the translators ascribe to the verbs. If one
uses a middle voice, the kingdom is being forcefully advanced, if you
use the passive voice, the kingdom is being attacked. It seems the
KJV chose the passive voice which would mean it’s something being
done to the kingdom. But the middle voice makes the action come from
the kingdom of heaven. Here is what The Expositor’s Bible
Commentary says is the best way to understand it:
"The best solution is to take the verb in it’s most likely voice,
middle deponent, and the noun and verb of the last clause with their
normal evil connotations: viz., from the time of John the Baptist
until now, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing; and
violent and rapicious men have been trying (conative present) to
So, we have two clauses: the first one involves God advancing his
kingdom, and the second is people opposing it’s advancement. In the
first century, those attacking the preaching of John the Baptist were
in opposition to the kingdom of God.
My first thought was that there is an inconsistency in what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary sets forth. You see, the word which is rendered "violent" in the KJV is the Greek word biastes which has the same root as biazo. The root here has the idea of forceful, as in forceful men. It can mean violent in certain contexts, but since the kingdom of heaven would best be termed as advancing forcefully, the related root word would be used in the same context since it is in the same context, it being in the same sentence of Christ.
My friend Zelma posted several commentaries which proved to be quite helpful. Here are a couple that she posted.
The great commendation of John the Baptist was, that God owned his
ministry, and made it wonderfully successful for the breaking of the ice, and
the preparing of people for the kingdom of heaven. From the days of the first
appearing of John the Baptist, until now (which was not much above two years), a
great deal of good was done; so quick was the motion when it came near to Christ
the Centre; The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence – biazetai – vim patitur,
like the violence of an army taking a city by storm, or of a crowd bursting into
a house, so the violent take it by force. The meaning of this we have in the
parallel place, Luk_16:16. Since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and
every man presseth into it. Multitudes are wrought upon by the ministry of John,
and become his disciples.
Mat 11:12 –
And from the days of John … – That is, from the days when John began to
preach. It is not known how long this was, but it was not probably more than a
year. Our Saviour here simply states a fact. He says there was a great rush or a
crowd pressing to hear John. Multitudes went out to hear him, as if they were
about to take the kingdom of heaven by force. See Mat_3:5. So, he says, it has
continued. Since “the kingdom of heaven,” or “the gospel,” has been preached,
there has been a “rush” to it. People have been “earnest” about it; they have
come “pressing” to obtain the blessing, as if they would take it by violence.
There is allusion here to the manner in which cities were taken. Besiegers
“pressed” upon them with violence and demolished the walls. With such
“earnestness” and “violence,” he says, people had pressed around him and John
since they began to preach. There is no allusion here to the manner in which
individual sinners seek salvation, but it is a simple record of
the fact that multitudes had thronged around him and John to hear the gospel
Mat 11:12 –
The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence – The tax-gatherers and heathens, whom
the scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom of the Messiah,
filled with holy zeal and earnestness, seize at once on the proffered mercy of
the Gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those learned doctors who
claimed for themselves the chiefest places in that kingdom. Christ himself said,
The tax-gatherers and harlots go before you into the kingdom of God. See the
parallel place, Luk_7:28-30. He that will take, get possession of the kingdom of
righteousness, peace, and spiritual joy, must be in earnest: all hell will
oppose him in every step he takes; and if a man be not absolutely determined to
give up his sins and evil companions, and have his soul saved at all hazards,
and at every expense, he will surely perish everlastingly. This requires a
Now for Ladd’s view. Here it is from Presence of the Future. Bold type mine.
…there is no reason why the two parts of the sentence must describe the same thing, vis., the treatment of the Kingdom by the violent. In fact, the passage makes better sense when the two halves of the sentence are taken to be complementary. To say that "the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men assault it" is redundancy. To say, "The Kingdom of heaven acts powerfully and requires a powerful reaction" makes much better sense. It was this factor which set Jesus’ teaching apart from rabbinic Judaism. The rabbis taught that men should taken upon them the yoke of the Kingdom and accept the law as the norm of God’s will. Jesus taught that because God has acted, because the dynamic power of his Kingdom has invaded the world, men are to respond with a radical reaction.
In other sayings, Jesus demanded violent conduct of those who would be his disciples. "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). He said that he came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34). In his parables, he taught that a man should be willing to surrender everything he possesses to secure the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:44). He told a rich man that he must rid himself of all his earthly possessions to enter into the Kingdom (Mark 10:21). The presence of the Kingdom demands radical, violent conduct. Man cannot passsively await the coming of the eschatological Kingdom as the apocalyptists taught. On the contrary, the Kingdom has come to them, and they are actively, aggressively, forcefully to seize it. This idea could not be delineated more spiritedly than by the acute wordplay on biazetai and biastai.
This dynamic interpretation is supported by the fact that Luke understood it in this way. He renders this saying, "The good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently" (eis auten biazetai) (Luke 16:16). …it embodies the same fundamental idea as Matthew 11:12. The same three elements appear in both sayings: the violent response of men to the Kingdom of God; the contrast between the action of the Kingdom and the reaction of men; and the dynamic working of the Kingdom.
The phrase "The Kingdom of heaven acts powerfully and requires a powerful reaction", I believe Ladd gained from studying others. I like the phrase and think it helps us gain great insight into the way Christ’s ministry broke onto the scene beginning actually in John the Baptist’s preaching. Some of the following is a little Orange Mailman Theology which has grown out of this study.
The violent take it by
force, or forceful men lay hold of it seems to be the influx of those
whom the Pharisees deemed "beneath" the kingdom sort of taking center
stage by storm. A few fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and a
bunch of nobodies seized the kingdom of heaven for themselves while
the Pharisees just sat there like bumps on a log.
Also, my study seems to continue to point in the direction that John
the Baptist came preaching repentance in order to enter the kingdom
of heaven which was at hand. Christ came preaching the same
message. Christ showed them that the kingdom was for the poor in
spirit who were willing to suffer as they took up their cross (death
sentence) to follow Him. A believing remnant repented at the
preaching of John and ministry of Christ. Christ established His
covenant with the believing remnant of Israelites, baptized them into
the kingdom, then shone as a light to the Gentiles as prophesied in
the OT, specifically Isaiah 42.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman