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Translating Matthew 11: Violence and the Windshaken Reed

August 12th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Pastor Bayly gave a good sermon yesterday. He showed how Matthew 11 is a unified argument, its points linked. One thing he did was to note that Matthew 11 says that John the Baptist and others like him seize the kingdom of God violently (though not with physical violence, as many Jews expected). In the King James Version, Matthew 11:12 says:

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

I thought Pastor Bayly was distorting the verse, which seems to be about unbelievers attacking the kingdom of God, not believers seeking the kingdom of God. But I had my interlinear along, and from it I gather that the King James translation, and the NASB used in my church, mistranslates the verse. Here is the Greek:

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The English word “violence” has the wrong connotations. The Strong note alongside the verse implies that the word means to grasp with energy– to seize or grab. So a better translation might be

“And from the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom of heaven is seized, and the seizers grab for it.”

I’d have to research further to tell if this is all right. It does seem that the verse is ambiguous, however— no doubt on purpose.

Here’s a separate point. Matthew 11:7 says:

And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

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The words “anemou” and “anomois”, for “wind-blown” and “lawless” are similar, especially for someone who has Hebrew in his mind, in which the consonants matter a lot more than the vowels. Is there an intentional pun here?

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This also raises the question of whether Jesus was speaking in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Aramaic, most likely, but that wouldn’t rule out the Greek pun.

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