And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people are seizing it as a prize. Bible see other translations

“advancing.” Matthew 11:12 has been an enigma for generations of Bible scholars for a couple reasons: the vocabulary in the Greek New Testament is unclear due to multiple possible definitions of some of the Greek words, and also the verb baizetai (“suffers” or “has been forcefully advancing”) can be either passive voice or middle voice. Because of that the verse has been translated in two different ways, represented by the two versions below.

ASV “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force.”

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.”

There are two basic possible interpretations:

  1. The passive voice of baizetai (i.e., “suffereth”) would indicate that the Kingdom of Heaven is being attacked. The context shows that John was in jail and Jesus was being persecuted. Furthermore, “violent” (the Greek word is usually used in a negative sense) men are trying to “take” it, i.e., trying to overcome it and stop it.a
  2. The middle voice of baizetai would indicate that the Kingdom is “forcefully” (instead of violently) “advancing itself,” i.e., it is moving forward, and those men who are forceful and determined are the ones who will seize it. The context shows that the Gospel message is being preached and people have to make a decision about it.b

The more likely interpretation of the verse is as we have in the REV, also represented in the NIV. The first interpretation, that the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence is less likely due to the qualifying phrase, “from the time of John the Baptist until now.” The Kingdom had always suffered violence, it had always been attacked. This is clear from the time when Cain killed his brother on down through the centuries, so it does not seem proper to say that it has suffered violence from the time of John. In contrast, with the appearance of John and Jesus, the kingdom was forcefully advancing. Both John and Jesus were preaching that “the Kingdom is near.” John was ministering in the power and spirit of Elijah, even as Gabriel had said to Zechariah (Luke 1:17), and Jesus was ministering more powerfully than any prophet before him. There is a third possibility that seems less likely, and also hard to represent fully in the English. Since the Greek can be legitimately translated both ways, it is possible that both interpretations are valid. In that case, this verse would be an example of the figure of speech amphibologia, literally, “a throwing in both directions.”c However, in the REV we have gone with the translation we consider more likely.

[See figure of speech “amphibologia.”]

“are seizing it as a prize.” The Greek is harpazō (#726 ἁρπάζω), and it means “to make off with someone’s property by attacking or seizing, steal, carry off, drag away, to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away” (BDAG). It is commonly used with seizing or dragging off someone else’s property. Thus in this case the clear implication of the word is that forceful men grab hold of the kingdom as a prize for themselves, not just that they “seize it.” Lenski writes: “…the kingdom itself, with all its gifts, treasures, and blessings put power and courage into them “to snatch,” let us say “to grab” it all. Williams translates the last half of the verse: …those who take it by storm are seizing it as a precious prize.” This verse helps us to understand the effort it takes to walk in the blessings of the Kingdom. We must each make up our minds to “grab” the kingdom blessings, and that usually takes both desire and effort.

Cp. Robert H. Mounce, Matthew [NIBCNT]; Morris, Gospel According to Matthew [PNTC], 281.
Cp. Lenski, St. Matthew’s Gospel, 472; Bullinger, Companion Bible, 1331.
Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 804.

Commentary for: Matthew 11:12