Anyone who knows me is already familiar with the fact that I admire David Bentley Hart as a theologian, New Testament scholar and as an author.
Recently, I corresponded with him about a verse of scripture that I ran across after reading through his excellent book, “That All Shall Be Saved.”
I suppose what got me to reach out to Hart was that someone on Facebook recently asked me about how to translate the verse in Matthew about how “the Kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force.”
That question jogged my memory of a passage in DBH’s book where he had a surprising perspective on that one…or so I thought.
Anyway, here’s the exchange between myself and Mr. Hart about this question:
I know you had an alternate translation of this verse somewhere…perhaps in “That All Shall Be Saved” – that challenged the typical reading about “violent men take [the Kingdom] by force” but seemed to turn that on its head in a way I found fascinating.
Do you know what I’m referring to? Is there another way of translating that verse that is different from how you have it in your translation, and in almost every other one I’ve ever read?
Otherwise, I am imagining this and I’m losing my mind.
Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.
And then a few minutes later I sent DBH another email:
Ok…I found it. On page 102 it was your translation of Luke 16:16 [a parallel passage] which says:
“Until John, there were the Law and the prophets; since then the good tidings of God’s Kingdom are being proclaimed, and everyone is being forced into it.”
Would you say that the Matthew 11:12 passage might also be translated in this way? Or no?
To which DBH graciously replied:
No. But the two verses, while seeming to be based on a single logion, are actually extremely different. One is about the Kingdom being besieged by “the forceful.” The other is about the Kingdom being preached and “everyone” being…(?). The difference between what “the forceful” are doing in order to lay hold of the Kingdom and what happens to everyone when the Kingdom is proclaimed is so vast that obviously each Evangelist is saying something quite unrelated to what the other is saying. If you want to harmonize the two verses, read the message as this:
“The Kingdom has drawn near, the exuberantly zealous seize it with enthusiasm, but everyone—zealous or not—is being pressed into it one way or another.”
I really love this harmonization of the two passages as he expresses it here.
First, the Kingdon of God has drawn near. This is what Jesus defines as the “Good News [Gospel] of the Kingdom” all throughout his ministry.
Next, the idea that many who are “exuberantly zealous seize it with enthusiasm” – which is quite different from how most English translations render the verse as if those who are “violent” are overtaking the Kingdom “by force” [as if this were even possible].
Finally, the idea [as seen in the Luke passage] is that everyone – zealous or not – is being overtaken by Christ’s Kingdom.
This is also in line with how Jesus actually expresses what will happen “if I be lifted up” [on the cross] when he says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will drag everyone to me.” [John 12:32, David Bentley Hart’s New Testament Translation]
In other words, we are all God’s children, and we are all being wrapped up into the arms of our Father who loves us, because we are loved with an everlasting love that can never be broken, or changed, or diminished.
So, as God’s Kingdom has drawn near, let us also draw near to the King, and press our way into the loving embrace of a God who would rather die than live without us.
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Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of several best-selling books, including “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” which is available now on Amazon.