It has always been clear from lexicography that all the key terms had a breadth of meaning — Greek (basileia), early Hebrew (mamlaka), postexilic Hebrew and Aramaic (malkut). Without putting too fine a point on it, they all denoted 'kingship' in its various aspects, particularly the exercise of kingship, hence 'reign', and the territory ruled over, hence 'kingdom'.27 This insight proved helpful to a European scholarship struggling to come to terms with late-nineteenth-century imperialism and helped broaden a sense which had been too narrowed by the German translation 'Reich' and the English translation 'kingdom'.28 More to the point, the recognition that here was a term which was not monovalent but could express God's sovereignty (to use Dalman's term) in its different aspects helped make best sense of the usage attributed to Jesus. For on the one hand, talk of 'entering' the kingdom or 'reclining at table' in the kingdom, or of being 'great' in the kingdom29 obviously evokes a spatial or territorial image.30 But a more dynamic sense certainly seems to be implied in talk of the kingdom having 'drawn near', and having 'come'.31
27. LSJ, basileia; BDB, mamlaka, malkut; Dalman, Words of Jesus 91-96; K. Seybold, 'melek', TDOT8 (1997) 359-60. Dalman preferred the term 'sovereignty'.
28. Dalman's observation — 'No doubt can be entertained that both in the Old Testament and in Jewish literature malkuth, when applied to God, means always the "kingly rale", never the "kingdom", as if it were meant to suggest the territory governed by him' (Words of Jesus 94) — had a major impact on twentieth-century study of Jesus' teaching. See, e.g., G. E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology ofBiblicalRealism (London: SPCK 1966) ch. 5: God's kingdom as 'a dynamic power at work among men in Jesus' person and mission' (135).
29. 'Enter' — see n. 23 above. 'Recline' — Matt. 8.11/Luke 13.29; Mark 14.18 pars.; Luke 14.15. 'Least/great' —Matt. 5.19; 11.11 par.; 18.1, 4; 20.21.
30. But J. Marcus defends the sense of 'Entering into the Kingly Power of God', 107 (1988) 663-75.
31. In a sequence of contributions, Bruce Chilton, drawing especially on the Targum of Isaiah, has argued that the emphasis in the phrase is on 'the dynamic, personal presence of God', 'God in strength', 'the sovereign activity of God', 'the saving revelation of God Himself; see particularly his God in Strength: Jesus' Announcement of the Kingdom (SNTU Bl; Freistadt: Plochl, 1979); also 'The Kingdom of God in Recent Discussion', in Chilton and Evans, Studying the Historical Jesus 255-80; also Pure Kingdom: Jesus' Vision of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 10-16. Earlier Goppelt: 'the coming of the kingdom was seen here [in the Beatitudes] first and foremost theocentrically as the personalized activity of God among his
At the beginning of the third quarter of the twentieth century, as harbinger of a forthright postmodern hermeneutic, Norman Perrin asked whether the term was not a good deal more flexible still. Scholars have been mistaken in regarding the kingdom of God as a conception, whereas it should rather be understood as a symbol intended to evoke the myth of God acting as king. To elucidate his point Perrin drew on a distinction proposed by Philip Wheelwright between a 'steno-symbol', a symbol with a one-to-one relationship to what it represents, and a 'tensive symbol', whose set of meanings can be neither exhausted nor adequately expressed by any one referent.32 His conclusion was that 'Jesus used Kingdom of God as a tensive symbol, and that the literary forms and language he used were such as to mediate the reality evoked by that symbol'.33 The potential of Perrin's observation has been most fully exploited by those who see the myth or story evoked by Jesus' kingdom talk in more specific terms as the restoration of Israel (Meyer, Sanders),34 the 'metanarrative' of the return of Israel from exile and God's return to Zion (Wright). Or should the reality evoked by the symbol be seen rather in terms of a radical prophetic protest against the social inequalities and oppression within first-century Palestine (Horsley)36 or as a proclamation of radical egalitarianism, a 'brokerless kingdom', on behalf of Mediterranean peasantry as a whole (Crossan)?37 Or should people' (Theology 1.69). Such observations also call in question Riches's attempt to distinguish the term's 'core-meaning' from its 'conventional associations' (Jesus 18-19, 21-22, 42).
32. N. Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress/London: SCM, 1976) 5-6, 22-23, 29-32.
33. Perrin, Language 56.
34. Meyer, Aims of Jesus 125, 132-34 (index, 'Restoration'); Sanders, Jesus Part One (conclusion also 'Jesus and the Kingdom: The Restoration of Israel and the New People of God', in E. P. Sanders, ed., Jesus, the Gospels and the Church, W. R. Farmer FS (Macon: Mercer University, 1987) 225-39. Sanders criticises the tendency to reduce the conceptual content of the phrase and to regard it as totally enigmatic: 'we know perfectly well what he meant in general terms: the ruling power of God' (Jesus 125-29, here 127; the criticism is directed against J. Breech, The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], and B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983]).
35. 'Exile and restoration: this is the central drama that Israel believed herself to be acting out' (Jesus 127); 'Jesus is reconstituting Israel around himself. This is the return from exile; this, in other words, is the kingdom of Israel's God' (131); Jesus' announcement of the reign of God 'cannot but have been heard as the announcement that the exile was at last drawing to a close, that Israel was about to be vindicated against her enemies, that her god was returning at last to deal with evil. . . "the reign of God" ... spoke of covenant renewed, of creation restored, of Israel liberated, of YHWH returning' (172); see also 202-209, 227. Wright is followed by McKnight, New Vision, e.g., 70, though he also affirms that 'for Jesus the term "kingdom" was intentionally polyvalent' (80).
37. Crossan, Historical Jesus 421-22.
we speak of the kingdom of God as a 'metaphor'38 for the coming to power of God as 'the unconditional will for the good' (Theissen and Merz)?39 At all events, we should heed well the warning not to treat Jesus' kingdom talk in isolation, far less in terms of individual sayings evaluated on their own. Is there not a larger story which his teaching was intended to evoke? If so, Jesus' kingdom teaching can be properly expounded only within that context, at least in the first instance. In other words, the context in view will be not merely the immediate context of the individual occurrences of the term within the Jesus tradition or even the context provided by each Gospel as a whole. It will have to be the context of Israel's memory of its own monarchic past, of Jewish current experience under the kingship of others, and of the hopes of the faithful regarding God's kingship for the future. Here again we find ourselves caught in the fascinating interplay between history and hermeneutics.
Such hypotheses as those just indicated cannot be dealt with satisfactorily at the theoretical level. They stand or fall by their success in making sense of the data. The obvious procedure, therefore, is to set out the 'context of meaning' more fully, that is, the context of usage and association which would have informed the hearing of Jesus' audiences, or, if you like, the context of meaning which Jesus could have been expected to assume for his audiences' understanding, however he may have attempted to tweak or challenge it. In which case, the first task is to clarify the more immediate context of meaning for talk of God's malkut/basileia.
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