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WHO ARE THE VIOLENT ONES?

A CONTEXTUAL
READING OF MATTHEW 11:12.

CHIKAOGU D. OSSAI-UGBAH.

Apo de ton hemeron joannou tou baptistou eos arti he basileia ton ouranon
biazetai kai biastai harpazousin auten.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers
violence and the violent ones are snatching it by force.

This issue of the violent ones in Matthew 11:12 has been a subject of serious controversy.

This is because the verb biazetai can be translated either as middle or a passive. In the

middle it means the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, consequently, the

violent ones would be Jesus, his disciples and the Church by extension. On the other

hand, as a passive biazetai would mean that the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, thus

the violent ones would be the opponent’s of the Kingdom who seek to snatch life out of it

by force. Julius Schniewind speaking about this unit of scripture said “the explication of

Matthew 11:12 belongs to the most difficult questions of gospel interpretation.” 1 This

difficulty can be seen in the various interpretative opinions that have arisen from the text.

George Braumman observes that getting the meaning of the text might have been

lost by the original writer who assigns the text in the “Q” collection. However, he

maintains that the violent ones are those against the message of the Church. 2 J. Weiss

sees the text as repudiation by Jesus of the Zealotism which the Ministry of John the

Baptist had awoken.3 Otto Betz on his part states that the text sees Jesus as a warrior

King against adversaries of the Kingdom.4 Albert Schweitzer identifies Jesus and his

disciples as the violent ones in the text through their Ministry and preaching of

repentance.5 Suzanne de Dietrich sees the text as a commendation of John the Baptist by
Jesus for wresting the Kingdom by force of “asceticism and heroic obedience”.6 Another

view proposes that the gospel belongs to those who contend for the Kingdom.7 Richard

H. Hiers in his very incisive work says “whether the Kingdom of God has been coming

violently or suffering, the meaning is approximately the same: the struggle for dominion

over the earth has started. In war, both ‘suffer violence’ and the end, victory, ‘comes

with violence’”.8 Can a single text have dual meanings for the original author and for the

original audience? The text itself might presuppose both.

However, the problem with the difficulty in locating the meaning of the text arises

from non situation to the text within the contextual parameter of the Matthean pericopae

(Matthew 11:2-15), and the book itself. This is because, words only gain meaning within

a specific context. The intention of this researcher is to attempt a contextual reading of

the text within the contextual unit and the generality of meaning in the book of Matthew

as a whole. When this is done, it would become clear that the violent ones are

adversaries of the Kingdom. An investigation of the history of the text, contextual

relationships, grammatical relations, and its contemporaneous application would justify

the above assertion.

A. THE HISTORY OF THE TEXT

The gospel according to Matthew was originally anonymous without a designated

author, just like the other synoptic gospels were. The term “according to” was a later

attachment by the Church as they sought authenticity for the writings. This is because;

the writers of these books never knew that they were writing Scripture when they

embarked upon the project of didactic historicization of the Jesus event.


However, the book of Matthew appears to have been written by Matthew,

formally called Levi, a Jew, a former tax collector and later, a disciple of Jesus Christ

(9:9). Some of the factors that favour this association are: church tradition, the

Jewishness of the gospel (6:1-18, Chap. 8-9, 23, 27:62-66, 28:11-15, as in the use of the

Kingdom of Heaven, the consistent pattern of promise and fulfillment citation of Old

Testamernt passages (Cf:5:17-20, 8:16, 21:4), and the imposing use of the title “Son of

God” for Jesus (2:15, 3:17, 4:3, 6, 8:29, 14:33, 16:16, 17:5, 21:37, 26:63, 24:36, 27:40,

43, 54, 28:19). Above all, the overriding theme of the book “Jesus is King” establishes

the basis for the major emphasis on the King and the Kingdom.9 The book of Matthew

was probably written around 60-75AD.10 The note of ignominy, persecution and conflict

against the Kingdom of Heaven (Cf. 22:7, 24:1-28) establishes the basis for the

contention found in our text. This is where an investigation of the contextual

relationships in the text becomes imperative.

B. CONTEXTAL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE TEXT.

The term contextual is derived from context: con and texus: to weave together.

These are two Latin words which points to a story or narrative woven together by the

same setting or trend of though. Thus, the gospel of Matthew is located within a cultural

context of Kingdoms initiation and authority. Jesus, Yahweh’s Yeshua is pictured as the

sum total of Yahweh’s promised Kingdom, while John the Baptist is the proclaiming

voice about the Kingdom of Heaven. The opposition to both the initiation and

proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven reaches feverish peak in Matt. 11:12. The

opposition earlier cited begins from Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus at infancy (2:16-23),

Satan’s attempt to distract Jesus from the goals of the Kingdom (4:1-11), Jesus’
confrontation with the Pharisee’s over the purpose of the Kingdom (9:1-8), the

empowerment of the twelve over powers of evil (10:1-4) and the revelation of the

patterns of persecution over the kingdom (10:16-24).

It is the sort of confrontation that builds up into the violence that the kingdom of

heaven is subject to in 11:12. So, the foundational structure of Matthew’s gospel shows

that the violence that comes into play in our text cannot be positively located for the

advantage of the kingdom of Heaven. Rather, it is detrimental to the kingdom for,

Matthew shows violence to be the manifest attitude of Satan and his aid’s to frustrate the

purpose of the kingdom of heaven. And analysis of Matthew’s life situation, grammar and

context will support the view that the violence of Matthew 11:12 is not positive for the

kingdom of heaven and bearers of its proclamation.

The book of Matthew follows a five fold Pentateuch formular.11. The context of

Matthew 11:12 is located in this general pericopae of Jesus discourse about john the

Baptist (11:1-20). However, the immediate context of our text is within Jesus exposition

of the activities o9f Satan (11:1-13, 52).it is within this unit that John as the proclaimer of

the kingdom announces, “the kingdom of heaven has come upon you” (11:28). The

emphasis of the proclamation is the realization of god’s eschatological plan, and it is this

purpose that meets the opposition. So, the action and attitudes of Herod Antipas are

contextually revealed in our text as illustrative of the violence that the kingdom of heaven

faces. This view can also be supported by the grammatical relationship found in the text.

C. GRAMMATICAL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE TEXT

From the days of john the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers

violence and the violent ones are snatching it by force.


The syntactical structure of our text shows that there are tow independent clauses.

These are: the kingdom of heaven is being violently attacked and, violent ones are

plundering it. Thus, the sentence has two independent subjects with the kingdom of

heaven as the subject of the first clause, while the violent ones serves as the subject of the

second clause. However, being attacked functions as predicate to the first clause and, is

plundering it functions as the predicate of the second clause. The verbs in both clauses

“being attacked” and: are plundering it: have the same root meaning in biazo which does

imply negative violence.12

Furthermore, it has to be pointed out that “being attacked” (harpazousin) as used

in the text is an: intransitive passive verb” employed in the sense of a hostile and violent

opposition to God’s kingdom reign (Cf: matt.5: 3b, 7:21, 11:27, and 29). The passive

nature of the verb suggests that the subject of the first clause: the kingdom” (GK: he

basileia ton ourannon) is the receiver of the violent action put up in the verb being a

passive subject. On the other hand, the subject of the second clause “violent ones”

(biastai) has a negative association. For instance, the term “violent ones” (biastai) has a

variety of meaning which in both primary and secondary meanings denote: to oppress, to

maltreat an individual through the use of force as in military, sexual or religious

harassment.13

In continuation, the predicate of the first clause “are plundering” (harpazpousin

auten) means to steal, plunder or capture in a raid or robber.14 But most importantly, all

through the New Testament the verb “plunder” (harpazo) is used in a context of

opposition to the purposes of the Kingdom of Heaven (Cf: John 10:12, 28, 29, Matt.

12:29, 13:19). Consequently, the noun-subject, “violent ones” (biastai) and the verb
“being attached” (biazetai) cannot have a positive usage in Matt. 11:12 since it will create

a problematic structure to the other New Testament usuages where they are used

negatively (Cf: Matt. 5:3b, 7:21, 11:27, and 29). Above all, the predicate of the second

clause “are snatching it” (harpazousin auten) explains the nature of action in the first

clause.

Similarly, in Greco-Roman history and literature, as exemplified in the works of

Plutarch, Lucian and Josephus, the terms “violent ones (“biastai) and “plunder”

(harpazo) are used in the negative sense to describe hostile, plundering activity of thieves

and robbers.15 The term is use to describe the activities of daredevil armed robbers who

maim, paralyze, forcefully and tear apart their victims. Thus, the Matthean concepts of

“plunder” (harpazo) are “violent ones” (biastai) describe “those who resist the rule of

God and (seek to) plunder it”. In summary, “being attached” (biazetai) and “plunder”

(harpazo) define the activity of Satan and all who carry out his mode of plundering

activities. It is important here to note that harpazo translated as “take” by some Bible

versions cannot be correct since other Greek words perfectly mean “take”. These Greek

words are: lambano (receive, take), dechomai (take, receive) and airo (take up). The

former has an appendage to grace because it actually emphasizes “to receive”. Based on

the foregoing, this paper shall now seek to apply the text in its concurrent setting.

D. CONTEMPORANEOUS APPLICATION OF THE TEXT

Something that is worthy of note is the pericopae or unit in which our text is

found, that is the imprisonment of John, the proclaimer of the Kingdom of Heaven, by

Herod Antipas. John’s imprisonment is illustrative of the opposition/harassment that the

Kingdom of God faces. It must not be forgotten that Satan stands in unmitigated
opposition to the values, principles and pattern of the Kingdom of God in the Matthean

text. (Cf: 6:10, 13, 22, 24, 24-29, 13:39) and here in Matt. 11:12. Herod Antipas fully

demonstrates the nature of Satan by antagonistic opposition, seen in other places in

stealing the word from people’s heart (13:19) and by setting Peter at cross-purposes to the

values of the Kingdom (16:21-23).

The three outlined understandings of “violence” (harpazo) which refers to

plundering activity shows negativity in violence, stealing and cross-purposes which are

still demonstrable activities of Satan today. The reign of the Kingdom of God in peoples

lives is being forcefully resisted by the aggression of Islam in Ibadan, Northern Nigeria,

Indonesia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijsan, North Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, and Iran among

others. This violent resistance comes by way of armed attacks and lives of several

Christians are lost. This shows that Satan as in Matt. 11:12 is on the offensive against the

Kingdom of Heaven. Similarly, the devil continues to steal the word from people’s hearts

and set them at cross-purposes through various demonic attractions by sensual models,

nude clothing, false religions and oppressive governmental legislations.

So, “violent ones” (biastai) cannot be seen in a positive sense of spiritual warfare

in attacking the satanic host to wrest the Kingdom from the enemy. Rather, the text

supports the fact that the Kingdom of God is the subject of deliberate and sometimes

unwarranted violent attacks from the Kingdom of darkness. This is because, “plunder”

(harpazousin) and “violent ones” (biastai) “form a synonymous parallelism”.16

Therefore, Matthew 11:12 portray a conflict where the Kingdom of God is subjected to

violent murder. So, the violent one (biastai) is Satan and all who oppose the proclaimers

of the Kingdom of God like Herod Antipas. The violent are seen today in imperialistic
decrees, undemocratic legislations, ancestral and even marital opposition to live the

Kingdom life in Jesus of Nazareth here on earth. Such conclusion would fit into

Matthews’s meekness Christology of Jesus and the Kingdom.


END NOTES
1
Julius Schniewind, Das Evangelium nach Matthaas, (Gottingen, 1950), 144
quoted by Richard H. Heirs, The kingdom of God in Synoptic Tradition , (University of
Florida Humanities monograph Number 33), (Gainesville: University of Florida Press,
1970,)36.
2
George Braumman, “Dem Himmerlriech Wird Gewalt”, ZNW, 52, (1961), 106,
107 quoted by Richard H. Heirs, The Kingdom of God in Synoptic Tradition, 36.
3
J. Weiss, Die Predigt vom Reiche Gottes, (Gottingen, 1892), 15, 24 quoted by.
Richard H. Heirs, The Kingdom of God in Synoptic Tradition. 36.
4
Otto Betz, “Jesu Heiliger Kreg”, New Testament, 2, (1958), 125-128 quoted by
Richard H. Heirs, The Kingdom of God in Synoptic Tradition. 37.
5
Albert Scheweitzer, The Mystery of the Kiingdom, (New York, 1960), 64.
6
Suzanne de Dietrich, The Gospel According to the Kingdom, (Richmond, 1961),
70.
7
This view is supported with scholarly passion and precision. According to the
author when you “Compare Luke 16:16, Our roles may be determined by grace, but grace
does not erase human responsibility. Many people though that God’s Kingdom would
come by violent revolution against the Gentile nations, a view that Jesus clearly rejectec
(Mt 5:5, 9, 41); some think Jesus is rejecting such a program here, censuring
revolutionaries or social bandits (for example, Cullmann 1956b:20-21). Other take the
more likely approach that Jesus censures those oppose Jesus, John and the Kingdom (for
example, Catchpole 1978). But especially in Like’s form, the text does not read like
censure, and it is not clear that Matthew intends the saying in this sense either. This
saying may be a wisdom teacher’s riddle (Stein 1978:18). Jesus regularly borrowed
images from his society and applied them in shocking ways, and thus may speak
favourably here of spiritual warriors who were storming their way into God’s Kingdom
now (10:34-35; compare Vermes 1993:140). One second-century Jewish tradition praises
those who passionately pursue the law; God counts it as if they had ascended to heaven
and taken the law forcibly, which the tradition regards as greater than having taken it
peacefully (Sipre Deut. 49.2.1). These were the people actively following Jesus, not
simply waiting for the Kingdom to come their way. (Scholars frequently object that such
language of violence is always used negatively, but Jesus’ parables show that he did not
hesitate to employ shocking images for the advances of God’s reign, such as brutal
tyrants, an unexpected thief, unjust judges and perhaps a naively benevolent landowner:
Mt 18:25, 34; 24-43; Lk 18:2; Mk 12:6). If John is Elijah (Mt 11:14-15; see comment on
vv. 9:11), then he introduced the Kingdom (Mal 4:5), a time of greater blessing and
greater responsibility”. This is wholly taken from
http://www.biblegateway.com/resources./commentaries/index.php?action=getchapterSect
ionss&cid=1&source=1&schap=11
8
Richard H. Heirs, The Kingdom of God in Synoptic Tradition, (University of
Florida Humanities monograph Number 33), (Gainesville: University of Florida Press,
1970), 41.
9
See S. McKnight, “Matthew, Gospel of”, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels,
Edited by J.B. Green, S. McKnight, and I.H. Howard, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity,
1992), 526-541 and John Stott, Men with A Message, Revised by Stephen Motyer,
(Suffolk, England: Evangelical Literature Trust, 1994), 29-35. See Michael White,
“Matthew’s Jewish Christian Community” in http://www.pbs.org /wg bh /pages /front
line/shows/religion/, Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew (Cambridge
University Press, 1995) and W.D. Davies and D.C. Allinson, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical
Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (ICC; Edinburgh 1988-1997) for
issues of place of composition and origin of the Son of God title in Matthew. See also
Howard Clarke, The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the
First Gospel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).
10
Micheal Green, The Message of Matthew. (BST), A Edited by John Stott,
(Leicester: Intervarsity, 200), p. 38. See also http://www.1-electric.com/articles/85 for
issues of dating of this gospel and Chuck Missler “The Gospel if Matthew” in
http://www.khouse.org/articles/2000/205/
11
Jack Dean Kingsbury,
12
See G. Schrenk, “Biazomai”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
Vol. 1, G. Kittel, ed., Trans by G. Bromiley, (1964 ed.), 610-11, D.A. Carson, The
Expositors Bible Commentary, 8, (Matthew, Mark and Luke), 1984 ed., p. 266, W.C.
Allen, International Critical and Exegetical Commentor on the
EXPLICIT LYRICS MAKE TEENS TRY SEX – STUDY

A Study advises parents to monitor the type of music their teenage children are

exposed to so that they won’t be victims of moral depravity

Adeyeye Joseph

Sexually-explicit lyrics may be doing more harm than merely irritating the ear, going by

the findings of a new study. Findings from a study conducted by American scientists

shows there is a strong link between some of the most popular music and early sexual

behaviour.

“The more teens listened to degrading sexual music content, the more likely they

were to subsequently initiate intercourse and progress in their non-coital activity.

Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music or reducing young

people’s exposure to music with this type of content could help delay the onset of sexual

behaviour,” the report says. The study, which was carried out by a group of Scientists

with Rand Corporation and the University of California, is published in the latest edition

of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Early sexual activity is a major problem in most parts of the world. In the United

States where the study was carried out, three of five young people engage in intercourse

before their 18th birthday. In Nigeria, research conducted last year by Messrs. E.O. Orji

and O.A. Esimai of the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, showed that 50 per cent of

a 300 populated mixed secondary school were sexually active. The age group of these

students was 15-19 years and the study also showed that 68.7 per cent avoided

contraception the first time.


In recent times, the Nigerian music scene has witnessed an increase in sexually-

explicit songs. Sexually-explicit videos showing scantily dressed teenage dancers have

also become common. Most of these shows also take place during the morning and

afternoon belts.

The study says that listening to musicians sing about having sex with no

unfavourable consequences will lead teens to perceive this behaviour as appropriate and

desirable and also increase the likelihood that teenagers will initiate the behaviour. It

notes that unplanned pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases are more common

among those who begin sexual activity earlier.

According to the study, the average American youths spends between 1.5 and 2.5

hours listening to music daily, excluding the time spent watching films with background

music.

“Although listening to music may often be only a secondary activity for many

youth to music may often be a secondary activity for many youth, the sexual references in

many popular songs may be difficult for them to ignore, because the language used to

describe sex has become increasingly direct. The interest in sex expressed in these lyrics

is unlikely to be lost on many teens.

“For example, teens who listen to music by artists who use degrading sexual

imagery in their songs probably also watch music videos by these artists, in which case

the effect of these songs is likely to be greatly enhanced,” it says.

The researchers advise parents to monitor the type of music to which their

children are exposed, to set limits on what they can purchase and listen to, and to be

careful not to listen to sexually-degrading music when children are around. They also say
that parents should discuss the sexual content of music with their children, offering their

own perspectives on the sexual themes to which their children are exposed. “Finally, the

recording industry could be made aware of the potential negative impact of sexually

degrading music,” the report says.