“Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Questioning alternate readings of Lk 17:21

I find no English translator before the late 19th century rendering the last words in Luke 17:21 by any other than the classic phrase, “the kingdom of God is within you.”   The interpretive glosses “…in your midst” and “…among you” appear as early as the 16th century (commentaries by the Protestant Beza and the Catholic Maldonatus).  But these interpretive expansions were always part of the commentary, never the text.

By contrast, modern translations began including these interpretations as alternate readings in footnotes over 100 years ago.  And finally these glosses have graduated to the text itself, completely displacing the original literal sense.  Examples of the trend can be seen by comparing the American Standard Version with the RSV or New American Standard Version. See also the New International Version vs. Today’s NIV.  And there are many more.

I think this development is remarkable for the fact that it has not come about as a result of any new textual discoveries.  The variant usages of this particular Greek phrase are found in no Biblical text whatsoever.  By contrast, “within you, in your hearts” has the authority of Ps. 38:4, 108:22, 103:1, Isa 16:11, Dan 10:16, Ecclus. 19:23.

Why then, are the variant readings proliferating?  If a textual basis is ruled out, there must be a theological principle afoot – either that or we must call it only a matter of theological taste among the dominant type of Christian mind, or a prevailing direction in the theological wind.

Behind all this, I think, is the fact that Luke’s commentators are almost unanimous in their disbelief that Jesus could have intended the literal meaning of his words “within you” to apply to the small group of unsympathetic Pharisees who questioned him.  What makes it so hard for a Christian to accept a teaching of Jesus which would extend the reign of God to his enemies?  Which of his friends, by contrast, has completely escaped temptation and rebellion?  Neither would the spirit of God be lacking in patient love for men and women even in the face of their misunderstanding and antipathy.

I think the next theology faces three tasks in this matter of Luke 17:21;  first, the bulky problem of sorting out the history of ecclesiastical and theological tastes in regard to the “Kingdom of God.”  Second, the examination of the predjudice among Lukan commentators against inclusion of Jesus’ enemies in this kingdom.  Third, the useful task of rehabilitating the literal sense of this precious text.


17 thoughts on ““Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Questioning alternate readings of Lk 17:21

  1. 21 neither shall they say: Lo, here or there; for behold, the kingdom of God is within the frame of your [mind].

    21 ουδε ερουσιν ιδου ωδε η εκει ϊδου γαρ η βασιλεια του θυ εντοσ ϋμων εστιν

    εντός Within the frame of mind; in the field of; in the range of; In the inner part; inwardly; internally, within, inside

    It would be ambigious to say the Literal Kingdom of God resides just on the inside of you.
    But rather that your frame of mind invisions the actual Kingdom of God as it will stand physically, upon the Earth and all nations will bow down to Him in his Kingdom.

    Mt 6:9 Then, in this way you pray: Our Father, who in the heavens, your name is consecrated ,
    10 Let your Kingdom come; as in heaven, let your will come into being, also on earth:

    So that we know from inside of our hearts and by our faith that He will come to Earth, and that we shall inherit the Land as promised and reside in His Garden.

    • Well I’m grateful to have this new translation: “within the frame of your [mind]” I would like to know what version of the New Testament you are using.

      I’m not very familiar with theologies describing God’s literal Kingdom on Earth, but I agree with you that a literal kingdom with physical standings and bowing nations creates an ambiguity in combination with an internal process, and forces us to imagine something more like the envisioning process that you mention.

      But I still think it is truer to consider the teaching as one which recommends the pursuit of an internal reign of God in every heart as a requirement of the coming of the external reality.

      Thanks for writing

      I’m not sure Jesus was telling those Pharisees that it was a vision thing.

  2. You are not sure it was a vision thing?
    Mr 13:26 And then they shall see with eyes wide open, the Son of man coming, in an aura with many powers and glory.

    Lu 18:8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

    Lu 17:20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God does not come with observation: {with…: or, with outward shew}

    NOW if you will observe the following:
    Lu 19:11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.

    Da 2:44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

    And to show that God will set up a Literal Kingdom here on Earth:
    Ac 1:6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

  3. I am not somebody who would simply lay out a half-dozen scripture texts and expect that anyone should know what I am talking about.

    And your half-dozen here are a fair example, I think, of the tendency of such a procedure to involve one in ambiguous assertions. We could do this all day, but I am not going to presume to re-interpret the whole Bible for you piece by piece from my perspective – I perceive you are quite satisfied that you know what you’re talking about.

    However, just to take your citation of Lk 19:11 and Ac 1:6, to me they only show that the apostles and disciples were minded to interpret our Lord’s teaching about kingdoms in terms of images they derived from sources akin to the Book of Daniel, and that these images pleased them so much that they continued to embarrass Jesus right to the end with their tendency to imagine coming physical kingdoms whenever he spoke to them of spiritual.

    I am at least grateful that one of your texts adjoins directly the one that I myself have expressed interest in – except that it seems to defeat your point.

  4. Let us see what “The Kingdom of God suggests:

    The inspired Word of God makes it abundantly plain: The “good news” that Jesus Christ brought was about the Kingdom of God! The “gospel of Jesus Christ” is simply the message of good news that Jesus preached—not a message about Jesus.

    His prophecy through Jacob to his sons also predicts a coming King, saying of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10)…. a Scepter shall rise out of Israel. .. . Out of Jacob One shall have dominion” (Numbers 24:17, 19).

    I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

    Matthew 5, Jesus says that the poor in spirit receive the “kingdom of heaven,” while the meek “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3, 5; see also Psalm 37:11).

    “And You have made them a kingdom (royal race) and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth!” (Revelation 5:10, The Amplified Bible). Notice Revelation 11:15 .

    “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Ps. 34:16).
    “Let the wicked be ashamed and let them be silent in the grave” (Ps.31:17).
    “For evil doers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth; for yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be; but the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Ps 27:9-11).
    “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it” (Ps 27:34).
    “Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked BE NO MORE” (Ps 104:35).
    “The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it; but the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (Prov. 2:21, 22).
    “As the whirlwind passes, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation …. The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth” ,(Prov. 5: 25, 30).
    “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5: 5).

    He (Christ) was the first of the ripe fruit of the life-harvest which God proposes to raise for His own glory in the earth (I Cor. 15: 23: see the shadow in Lev. 23: 10-20, in the presentation of the first sheaf of fruit, which coincided in point of time with Christ’s ascension).

    Now the rest of the harvest must follow in the same process of raising. Christ attained to life by faith and obedience (Phil. 2: 9; Heb. 5: 7). His brethren of the present dispensation attain it in the same way through him.

    They do not “live on to the end” of the times of the Gentiles. They die as other men. The principle observed in the process of their development requires this. This principle is faith, which is confidence in the promise of God.

    If, the moment a man believed in the gospel, his mortal life were made sure till the coming of Christ and the change to the incorruptible, the principle of faith, by which a man honors God, “against hope, believing in hope,” would be destroyed.

    It is, therefore, an absolute necessity for the exercise of faith that there should be no present apparent difference between those who serve God and those who serve Him not, but that this difference should only be perceived in the day of recompense (Mal. 3: 18).

    ” But each one in his own order; the firstfruit Christ, afterward those that are Christ’s at his coming: when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:23-26).

    That this destruction of death involves resurrection, is illustrated in the case of “those that are Christ’s at his coming.” Death in their case is “swallowed up (or destroyed) in victory,” in their being raised from the dead no more to see corruption.

    The figure that likens the 144,000 to “first fruits,” requires that they should be followed by a harvest in the resurrection of all who come to moral ripeness in the age, but physically fall asleep, as all the fathers have done.

    The time of judgment for those then in probation for eternal life is “when the thousand years are expired.” The dead, small and great, come forth. The sea gives up the dead: death and hades give up the dead which are in them, and they are judged every man according to their works (Rev. 20: 12-13). Every one not found written in the book of life is given over to the second death (15).

    John wrote “the first resurrection.” Whichever way this is treated, it implies another resurrection. Rev. 21 first four verses, introduces to view the post-millennial blessedness on earth when death is abolished.

    It would in that case be on a par with the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Christ: “On earth peace, and goodwill toward men,” and not was to begin immediately when Christ was born; but, as experience has taught us, it only meant that peace would come on earth at last through the born Deliverer.

    Paul states in the following words:
    “Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power; for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

    The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death and when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15: 24-28).

    From this we learn that Christ at the end of the thousand years is to abdicate the position of absolute sovereignty, which he occupies in the earth during that period.

    The idea will be apprehended in the light of Paul’s statement that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ IS GOD.

    The Kingdom of God will lead us by a bridge of a thousand years from the age of sin and death defection to the age of restoration to the bosom of the Deity, in righteousness and life eternal.

    Lu 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

    • Sir, how dare you drop a comment of over 1200 words on my blog! And one which is so lacking in understanding of what this space is about.

      Such lengthy self-justifications should in the future be reserved for your own blog, with only a brief paragraph and link provided here.

      Your first paragraph is not disagreeable and shows some respect for the intent and purposes of this blog. But I postponed further reading after the second paragraph (life is too short, sir). I will just say that what little I have already seen of your view is not new to me, and I judge it to be in error.

      If I choose to delete your “comment,” it will be after I have finished reading it (that chore is not at the top of my list this morning, giving you time to copy your material to your own blog in case you do not have anything saved).

      But I’m putting you back on “monitor,” so don’t expect that you will have free access to this space in the future.

  5. As adopted sons/daughters we wait patiently for the Kingdom to come on Earth.

    “if children, then heirs” (Rom. 5:18; Titus 3:7; Rom. 8:17)
    the “white stone” of absolution, or justification, and the “new name” of [νιοθεσια] adopted sons of God, go together in the gift of Christ to the overcomer (Rev. 2:17).

    To the blessing itself, openly and actually to enjoy it in time, and to the inheritance adopted to; but this blessing itself was provided and bestowed in the everlasting covenant with Abraham to inherit the Kingdom of God, that is the Promised Land, extended to us through grace, in which the elect of God had not only the promise of this relation, but were in it given to Christ under this relation and character (Eph 1:5; 2 Cor. 6:18; Heb. 2:13)

  6. Ok, I will try to stay on the point here. John, I agree with your point that a future theology must move beyond modern dualisms and the metaphysics that caused these divides as you’ve explicated above. I would also note that Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill makes the same ontological suggestion that you’ve implied utilizing the Lukan passage above, “for in Him we live and move and exist.”

    Modern thought, had a way of creating metaphysical categories that, I would argue, are not as coherent as first imagined. We may now be able to re-read these types of passages free of this categorizing.

    I can understand thefarm’s hesitancy to accept such a claim, because modern thought cannot categorize such a claim into a good/evil, or what I would assume saved/unsaved category. While I agree that we Christian’s must be careful as to how far this ‘metaphysical shift’ of a ‘next theology’ may take us, I am not ready to write it off just because I fear some sort of universalism is looming, because as John has brought to our attention, there was a shift over the past few centuries to divide and categories things. So what’s to say that we aren’t, in a way, reverting back to pre-modern categories of thought? Is that any more ‘wrong’ than when we first adapted modern categories?

    Ultimately, I believe that Christianity will triumph regardless of its context, and perhaps with the dawning of the postmodern world, Christianity may be able to make inroads into secularized modernity that it could not do with modern thought.

    Thanks John!

    • Thanks for writing, Michael

      I don’t foresee indifference and atheism amounting to anything worthy of the word “dawning,” so I would qualify your comment about the dawning of the postmodern world just to that extent. OK with you?

      My faith is that the Holy Spirit has the power to eventually disolve the imaginary foundations of atheism and free the secular for a more cosmically honest approach to its non-religious tasks.

      The result will not be a true kingdom of God (that’s a much later phase, in my opinion) but a chastened and purified secular that allows a flourishing and inclusive theism.

      The theological task, in my opinion, will come out of a firm faith in the Incarnation, and stay linked in prayer to the perspective of the unique Spirit bestowed at Pentecost. I trust that this spirit must be attempting to show us the next step in the direction of the ultimate triumph of the One who poured it out upon the whole world. But I’m not sure that many brands of Christianity are ‘on board’ in the form in which they now comport themselves.

      I perceive you are tying the issues to the thought of John Milbank (is that the “John” you mention in your third paragraph?). I just started his “Word Made Strange” this morning and see some light.

  7. John, if you’d like me to clarify what I meant by postmodernity, I was simply talking about our current context, and the shift away from foundationalism and dogmatism,and dualism of modernity. I don’t necessary link postmodernity and atheism if that’s what you are implying. I, like milbank (because most of what i see is informed by his work, and i will alway give credit where its due), see this ‘dawning’ as an opportunity to place theology back in its proper place, and hopefully avoid the pitfalls you’ve properly illuminated above.

    I like your explanation of the true kingdom of God. I too would like to see a purified secular, but then again, i wouldnt really consider something as purified to be secular any longer. That would be nice.

    I really like how you explained that you trust the spirit is in all this, as most other dont seem to. That is the exact stance I have as well. i think others are so afraid to let go of fleeting absolutes, and this causes reactions to suggestions like yours above.

    I was actually referring to you when i said John! But, again you are correct that a lot of what you hear from me is informed by milbank’s RO.

    Great thoughts.

  8. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find a completely different Illuminated Understanding of the life and teaching of Saint Jesus of Galilee via these 3 references.

    [spam deleted by blog owner]

    Plus a radical critique of what is usually promoted as religion via:

    [spam deleted by blog owner]

    • Hi John from Australia

      I’d be interested to hear in your own words how any of the [deleted] links you included above are concerned with the subject of this post.

      Meanwhile, I did not click to see what has you so excited. Because I’m not interested in communications which resemble random invitations from religious spammers.

      Hoping we can establish common ground…

  9. Pingback: Preface to a theological turn « next theology

  10. Interesting, did no one think that the Pharisees had the “Word” in them. “In the beginning was the Word….” If the Word was in them, which it was, they should have recognized the Word made flesh. The kingdom of God was in them yet they knew it not and knew Him not. THE KINGDOM OF GOD WAS IN THEM, and they ignored it. Sorry about the all caps, but you had it in bold print. Does no one consider that Jesus was calling the Pharisees to task to recognize what they had? And what was before them? Interesting.

    • Thanks for writing, Rebecca.

      This text is huge for the rise and fall of Christianity, now and forever – to my mind anyway. I will be referring back to this initial post in the future when I can find the strength to take it to the ‘next level.’

  11. Pingback: I’m taking a stand on this one (Luke 17:21) « next theology

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