How Should the Kingdom of God Be Understood

The conclusion just reached is clear and beyond dispute. But if talk of the kingdom was so distinctive of Jesus' preaching, how would it have been understood by his first hearers? In the case of a creative person such as Jesus evidently was we must always allow the possibility that distinctive emphases emerged from his own insight or inspiration. But even so we also must assume some context of meaning for his talk of 'the kingdom of God', since otherwise it would have been a meaningless term for his hearers, and the teaching of which it was the principal theme would have been more of a puzzle than anything else.26 Nor will a narrative-critical approach be sufficient at this point: the term itself is used without definition, and the way what is said about the 'kingdom' actually illumines the term is at the heart of a long-running debate. Moreover, as we have just seen, the Evangelists themselves all assume that Jesus preached (the good news of) the kingdom of God from the first, as did also the disciples whom he sent out on mission. Alternatively expressed, the tradition shows Jesus and his mission disciples

22. Matt. 6.33/Luke 12.31; also Matt. 13.45. For possible Aramaic see Dalman, Words of.Jesus 122.

23. Mark 9.47; 10.15, 23-25 pars.; Matt. 5.20; 7.21; 21.31; 23.13; John 3.5; GTh 22, 114. Note also Luke 13.24; 14.23; 16.16.

24. The 'entering into' the kingdom words are a good example of a Jesus tradition motif which on almost any reckoning has to be attributed to Jesus, even if individual cases may be best seen as elaboration of a motif remembered as having originated with Jesus. See, e.g., F. W. Horn, 'Die synoptischen Einlassspruche', ZNW 87 (1996) 187-203 (here 193-97).

25. Pace Borg, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship 87.

26. To say "the kingdom of God is at hand" makes sense only when the hearers know "the story so far" and are waiting for it to be completed' (Wright, Jesus 226); but note already the comments of G. B. Caird, New Testament Theology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994) 367, and further below, §§12.3 and 12.6.

using the term (the kingdom of God) without explanation — as though its reference would have been self-evident to their hearers. So the question still arises: what meaning would the term have had in those circumstances?

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