He who has ears, let him hear

by Don Hartness

Each Sunday before service, I meet with a men’s group that I have come to love. The group is filled with seasoned veterans of the discipleship journey, not all of which have a gray head. We talk, discuss, argue, laugh, and love. Most of all (as I’ve stated elsewhere in this blog), disagreement is not only allowed, but encouraged. Regardless of our views, we all agree on one thing: none of us has ever been involved with a group like this one.

Right now, we are studying and discussing a book by Kenny Luck called Risk. Kenny is the men’s ministry leader at Saddleback Church (re: Rick Warren’s church). Now, Rick Warren, et al., has many critics, but I am not one of them. Even though I might disagree from time to time with an individual teaching, the difference between him and his critics is simple: Rick Warren, along with those he mentors and leads, are matching faith with deeds, where most of his critics are not.

(To put it another way, if the journey were a football game, Warren and friends are on the field, running plays with various amounts of success, while his critics sit in the stands, munching on hot dogs and swilling beer, all while telling their neighbors, “You know, if that had been me, I would have taken it all the way for a touchdown, baby!” I have little respect for armchair quarterbacks, even less for some blog commentators, but that’s another issue altogether….)

Likewise, I’m not in disagreement with the gist of Kenny’s book. The thrust is simply this: get in the game. For it is only when you get in the game that you learn. It’s easy to talk about scoring a touchdown in theory; quite another to put forth the physical requirement to reach the goal.

With that said, Kenny used a quote from Scripture that made me shake my head (I urge the reader to read the quote in context, found here):

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” – Matthew 11:12

Kenny used this quote in the active sense, in support of the notion that men should get up off their duff and grab a hold of God. Although I agree that Christendom needs more active men in general, I didn’t see this quote as a good support for that notion. The footnote in my Bible laid out the dilemma quite well:

“The Greek here can be taken in either an active (the one used by NIV in this quote, italics mine) or a passive sense. In this context, its passive meaning would be “suffering violent attacks.” The term “forceful men”, then, would be understood in a negative sense, “violent people”. The verse would then emphasize the ongoing persecution of the people of the kingdom.”

The problem with this quote in either sense (passive or active) is that neither fits well with the teaching of discipleship. If taken in a passive sense, then it indicates that “forceful men” can, and are, seizing the kingdom by force, regardless of God’s will. If taken in an active (or “middle”, as some commentaries refer to it) sense, then it implies that one can enter by forceful means, flying in the face of a central teaching: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Or, as some have illustrated it, one enters the Kingdom on bended knee.

At first, I thought the problem was the NIV’s translation of the active, when the passive was more appropriate. As I continued to think about it, I saw problems with either approach. Hence, I did some online research. What I found was illuminating. In short, this is one instance where understanding the Greek doesn’t help.

This week, I submit two articles for anybody interested. The first is an overview of this thorny issue, with a greater illustration of support for Kenny’s view. Although it makes some great points, the explanation still left me feeling unsatisfied.

Taking the Kingdom by Force

As it would turn out, the key is to translate the passage back into the original Hebrew, thus resolving the contradiction. As it turns out, Kenny’s view is neither right or wrong: the meaning is far greater than either side presents.

Not only does this essay clarify the meaning of the quote, but it also clarifies a quote found often in Jesus teachings (and also found in this chapter): “He who has ears, let him hear.”

The article is rather long, but it is a fascinating read, especially for all Biblical scholars out there:

Kingdom Violence: Matthew 11:12