Last month I wrote a short paper about the definition of the term “kingdom of God” for my Fuller class on the Gospels. Originally, I was going to wait until I received a grade for the paper before I posted it online…but since it looks like Fuller is taking their time grading it, I figure I would go ahead and start posting sections of the paper for your reading enjoyment. 🙂
Note that while I am going to save the full bibliography until the end, I will try to include references throughout the journey so that you (and all the copyright lawyers out there) will know where I gathered my information. 😛
The Gospel texts declare that the central message of Jesus Christ was the “kingdom of God” (Mt 4:17; 9:35; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 4:43). Unfortunately, the phrase is not defined in the Gospel texts as the Biblical writers most likely assumed their readers would already know the meaning of the phrase. This leaves the modern reader in the predicament of having to define the phrase based upon the Old Testament writings, Jewish intertestamental literature, and the particular contexts in which Jesus used the phrase. Accordingly, this paper will seek to briefly define the phrase the “kingdom of God” and look at its impact on the teachings of Jesus.
The most logical place to start when defining a phrase is with the definitions of the words used in the phase. The writers of Luke and Mark used the Koine Greek words “βασιλειαν του θεου,” or, if using Latin characters, “Basileia tou Theou.” The last word of the phrase, “Theou,” is fairly simple and straight forward, meaning “God.” The writer of Matthew, on the other hand, substitutes the word “ουρανων” or “heaven” for “God” as they were writing to a primarily Jewish audience which does not like to directly refer to or mention God’s name [George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 61.]. The use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew is exactly the same as the way Mark and Luke use the words “kingdom of God.” As such, we can assume that if we discover the meaning of one phrase, the other will follow.
Having defined the last word of the phrase “Basileia tou Theou,” let us turn our attention to the first word of the phrase. The Greek word “basileia” can be used to describe the geographical realm over which a king rules [George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 18-19.]. This can be seen in the words of Jesus when he talks about entering into the “kingdom of heaven” as if it was a physical realm into which people can enter (Mt 7:21; 8:12; Mk 9:47; 10:23; Lk 18:24). Or, in Mark 13:8 where Jesus says, that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (New International Version).
“Basileia” can also be used to refer to the authority or rule of a king over his people. Jesus’ parable of the ten minas in Luke 19:12-15 is a good example of this use of “basileia.” In this parable, “basileia” has been translated as “kingly power” (Revised Standard Version) or “appointed king” (New International Version) [George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 21]. Both translations carry with it the view that a “kingdom” is less of a physical realm and more of the rule or reign of a king.
In the Old Testament, this view of the rule and reign of God can be found through the Hebrew word “malkuth” as the idiom “kingdom of God” is not used [George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 19-20]. For example, Ezra 8:1 talks about the return of Israel from Babylon “in the kingdom” or “rule” of Artazerxes. II Chronicles 12:1 uses the word to describe the rule of Rehoboam over the nation of Israel. In both cases the word “malkuth” is translated as “basileia” in the Greek Septuagint, giving greater weight to the concept of “basileia tou Theou” being the active rule and reign of God versus simply being a physical or spiritual realm into which one enters.