The Centrality of the Kingdom of

The centrality of the kingdom1 of God (basileia theou) in Jesus' preaching is one of the least disputable, or disputed, facts about Jesus.2 If we are looking for features which are characteristic of the Jesus tradition and relatively distinctive to the Jesus tradition, then the kingdom of God has to be one of the first to be considered.

In this we follow Mark's lead. In opening his account of Jesus' mission, Mark sets out a kind of summary statement or headline: 'After John had been handed over, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe in the (Mark 1.14-15). The repetition of the term 'gospel' is dis tinctive of Mark's own perspective:3 he sums up the whole of his presentation of Jesus as 'gospel' (1.1) and thus interlocks the Jesus tradition with the term ('gospel') which most characterized the post-Easter preaching of Paul in particular and which may have been coined by Paul for that purpose.4 The point here is that

1. I will translate Greek basileia consistently as 'kingdom', its most obvious meaning. Whether the underlying Aramaic had a slightly different connotation is something to be discussed below (§ 12.2b).

2. See, e.g., those cited by Meier, Marginal Jew 2.237 and 273 nn. 4-5; Becker, Jesus of Nazareth 100-102; the summa et compendium of Jesus' message (H. Schurmann, Gottes Reich —Jesu Geschick: Jesu ureigener Todim LichtseinerBasileia-Verkundigung [Freiburg: Herder, 1983] 23).

3. The redactional character of Mark's euangelion references (1.1, 14, 15; 8.35; 10.29; 13.10; 14.9) was first fully demonstrated by W. Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel {1956, 1959; ET Nashville: Abingdon, 1969) 117-50.

4. See my Theology ofPaul 164-69. Cf. Marxsen, Mark 138: 'The "gospel" which Mark by headlining Jesus' preaching with just this term (1.14-15) Mark indicates his own understanding that the heart of that gospel is precisely Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God.5

Matthew and Luke do not follow Mark in thus introducing Jesus' preaching as 'gospel'. But they both summarise Jesus' preaching subsequently in just the same terms: Jesus 'went about all Galilee . . . proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom' (Matt. 4.23; similarly 9.35); Jesus said to his disciples, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well' (Luke 4.43; also 8.1).6 The Q tradition also recalls that Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the very same message as Jesus: 'The kingdom of God has drawn near' (Matt. 10.7/ Luke 10.9).

These summary statements reflect the weight of the Jesus tradition itself. The phrase 'kingdom of God'7 occurs regularly in the Evangelists' recollection of Jesus' words — thirteen times in Mark, another nine times in the material shared by Matthew and Luke (q/Q), a further twenty-eight times in tradition distinctive of Matthew, and a further twelve times in tradition attested only by Luke.8 It is hardly possible to explain such data other than on the assumption that Jesus was remembered as speaking often on the subject. No doubt a number of writes is his commentary on the term "gospel" which Paul leaves (for the most part) unexplained'.

5. In parallel tradition Mark has 'for the sake of the gospel' (10.29), whereas Luke has 'for the sake of the kingdom of God' 'for the sake of my name' in Matt. 19.29); or again, 'the gospel' (Mark 13.10) as compared with 'the gospel of the kingdom' (Matt. 24.14).

6. Luke does not use the noun (euangelion), evidently preferring the verb (euangelizesthai, 4.18, 43; 7.22; 8.1; 9.6; 16.16; 20.1).

7. Matthew prefers 'the kingdom of heaven', though he does retain 'kingdom of God' in four passages (12.28; 19.24; 21.31, 43), probably reflecting earlier tradition. Why Matthew left some tradition unaltered is unclear. The usual explanation, that as a pious Jew he wished to avoid undue use of the divine name, makes sense, though, if so, it did not stop him from speaking of God frequently (though less frequently than Mark and Luke). At any rate the distinction does not amount to much (note 19.23 [kingdom of heaven] and 24 [kingdom of God]), though it is suggestive for the ambience of 'kingdom'. Cf. 1 Maccabees, which seems to have avoided use of 'God' altogether.

8. Mark 1.15; 4.11, 26, 30; 9.1, 47; 10.14, 15, 23, 24, 25; 12.34; 14.25; q/Q 6.20; 7.28; 10.9; 11.2, 20; 12.31; 13.20, 29; 16.16; Matt. 5.10, 19 (twice), 20; 7.21; 8.12; 13.19, 24, 38,41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 52; 16.19; 18.3, 4, 23; 19.12; 20.1; 21.31, 43; 22.2; 23.13; 24.14; 25.1, 34; Luke 9.60,62; 10.11; 12.32; 13.28; 17.20,21; 18.29; 21.31; 22.16, 29, 30. It will be recalled (above, §7.7) that one of the most striking differences between the Synoptics and John's Gospel is that John has only five references to the kingdom of God (3.3, 5; 18.36 [thrice]), though 3.3 and 5 strongly echo Matt. 18.3. Twenty-two of Thomas's one-hundred fourteen sayings refer to 'the kingdom (of God/heaven)'. See also P. Perkins, 'The Rejected Jesus and the Kingdom Sayings', in C. W. Hedrick, ed., The Historical Jesus and the Rejected Gospels, Semeia 44 (1988) 79-94.

the references just cited are redactional, added by the Evangelists when they composed their Gospels.9 And we may be sure that others were introduced in the various retellings of the tradition which preceded the transition to written tradi-tion.10 But we may be equally confident that such retelling and redaction reflected an awareness, on the part of both the tradents and their audiences, that the kingdom had been a prominent theme of Jesus' preaching.

In the kingdom emphases of the Jesus tradition, indeed, we should probably see a prime example of the way the Jesus tradition was performed and handed on — by re-presenting a known and familiar theme with explanatory and other embellishments appropriate to the particular situation — rather as in musical performance 'grace notes' embellish a theme and bring out its highlights. An interesting case in point is probably the parable tradition. Jesus was evidently remembered as using parables to illustrate or illumine what he had in mind when he spoke of the kingdom. This is the testimony of both Mark (4.26, 30; cf. and Q (Matt. 13.33/Luke 13.20). But Matthew's much more extensive use of the motif ('the kingdom of heaven is like . . may indicate the technique of the story-teller retelling the parables as much as Jesus' own characteristic style. The point here is that it would make little difference either way: whether or not Jesus himself introduced all these parables (and others) with this formula, he was remembered as characteristically teaching about the kingdom by using parables.12

This consistency of the Jesus tradition and frequency within the Jesus tradition contrasts both with what we know of the early churches and with the traditions of Second Temple Judaism. In both cases, the imagery of God as king and of God's kingdom is familiar. But in neither case is it as prominent as in the Jesus tradition. In the Scriptures and post-biblical writings of Second Temple Judaism the phrase itself is hardly attested, and though reference is made to God's 'kingdom' or ship', the theme is not particularly prominent.13 As for usage among the early

10. Possible examples are Matt. 7.21; 8.12; 23.13; 24.14; Mark 9.47; 11.10; 12.34; Luke 18.29; 21.31; 22.16, 29-30.

11. Matt. 13.24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47; 18.23; 20.1; 22.2; 25.1.

12. See also Jeremi as, Parables 100-101.

13. 'The kingdom of God' (Wis. 10.10; Pss. Sol. 17.3). 'The kingdom (malkut) of Yahweh' (1 Chr. 28.5; 2 Chr. 13.8); 'my kingdom' (1 Chr. 17.14); 'his kingdom' (Ps. 103.19; Dan. 4.34; 6.26; Tob. 13.1; Wis. 6.4); 'your kingdom'(Ps. 145.1 l-13;/>ss. Sol. 5.18). 'Kingship (mamlaka, meluka)' belongs to God (1 Chr. 29.11; Ps. 22.28; Obad. 21). Aramaic malkuta' (Dan. 3.33; 4.34). Latin regnum (T. Mos. 10.1). The fullest recent review is by O. Camponovo, Königtum, Königsherrschaft und Reich Gottes in den frühjüdischen Schriften (OBO 58; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1984), concluding that the kingship of God is not a major theme in early Jewish literature and that it functions 'as a symbol, not as a precisely defined concept' (437-38). The sparse findings in regard to the DSS have to be qualified by the publication of C. Newsom, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition (Atlanta: Scholars, 1985). In churches, it is true that Acts does continue the prominence of the motif14 and indeed brackets its account of Christianity's beginnings with references to the kingdom (Acts 1.3, 6; 28.31). But most of these references are to Paul's preaching. And in Paul's own letters, the dominant voice still audible to us from first-generation Christianity, the theme is hardly prominent. The strongest use of the theme is '(not) inheriting the kingdom',16 which looks as though it is traditional (also Jas. 2.5) but is not found in the Gospels apart from the Matthean 25.34. Probably the formulation emerged in early Christian thought (Paul himself?) as Jesus' talk of the kingdom was blended with the much older imagery of inheriting the land of prom-ise.17 The point is that the overt overlap between Pauline usage and the Jesus tradition is In other words, the prominence of the kingdom motif in the Jesus tradition cannot be explained as a reflection of a similar prominence of the motif within either the Judaism of Jesus' day or the teaching of the early churches. Once again, we have little choice but to attribute the prominence of the motif in the Jesus tradition to a memory of its prominence in Jesus' own teaching and preaching.

The point is all the stronger when we recall Jeremias's argument that the Jesus tradition has retained distinctive features of Jesus' teaching on the king-dom.19 The imagery used in the tradition is indeed rather striking: the kingdom 'has drawn near',20 it will 'come',21 it 'has come upon' (Q 11.20), it is to be her concordance to the often fragmentary texts (4Q400-407, 11Q17), Newsom lists over 50 references to God as 'king' (mlk) and 25 to God's 'kingdom' (mlkut), typically 'his glorious kingdom', or 'the glory of his kingdom' (424-26). The Qumran Songs can properly be described as 'the most important pre-Christian Jewish text on the theme of "God's kingship'" (A. M. Schwemer, 'Gott als König und seine Königsherrschaft in den Sabbatliedern aus Qumran', in M. Hengel and A. M. Schwemer, eds., Königsherrschaft Gottes und himmlischer Kult im Judentum, Urchristentum und in der hellenistischen Welt [WUNT 55; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991] 45-118 [here 115]). See further below (§12.2).

14. Acts 1.3, 6; 8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31.

15. 'Kingdom' appears eight times in the undisputed Paulines: Rom. 14.17; 1 Cor. 4.20; 6.9-10; 15.24, 50; Gal. 5.21; 1 Thess. 2.12; also Eph. 5.5; Col. 1.13; 4.11; 2 Thess. 1.5; 2 Tim. 4.1, 18.

17. The traditional idea of inheriting the land, which stemmed from the promise to Abraham (Gen. 15.7, 18, etc.), elsewhere in Judaism was transposed into the hope of inheriting eternal life (Pss. Sol 14.10; 1 En. 40.9; Mark 10.17 pars.; Matt. 19.29; Luke 10.25), the kingdom of God (Matt. 21.38, 43; see also 5.5), or the world to come (2 Bar. 14.13; 51.3). Cf. already Deut. 10.9: Levi has no inheritance in the land; the Lord is his inheritance. See also below, n. 73.

18. Rom. not typical of Paul, may well reflect influence from the Jesus tradition (my Theology of Paul 191-92).

19. Jeremias, Proclamation 32-34.

'sought',22 people 'enter into' it,23 and it is 'seized' and 'suffers violence' (Matt. 11.12/Luke 16.16). Such imagery is without parallel in early Jewish or early Christian literature. In the rest of the NT, only Acts 14.22 speaks similarly of people 'entering into the kingdom of God'. The Gospel motif is hardly to be explained from that isolated occurrence; rather, the latter is most obviously to be explained as an echo of the Jesus tradition.24

In short, the evidence we have points to one and only one clear conclusion: that Jesus was remembered as preaching about the kingdom of God and that this was central to his message and mission. The impact of this preaching has been retained in the Jesus tradition, though less clearly elsewhere in earliest Christian writings.

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