Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Father William Most Collection

Sense of the Words Kingdom of God

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

1.Eschatological Sense:

1 Cor 6.9-10: "The unjust... will not inherit the kingdom of God"--reach final salvation.

Gal.5.21: "They who do such things cannot inherit the kingdom of God."

Eph 5.5: "No fornicator etc.… has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." COMMENT: Seems to identify kingdom of God and of Christ- and definitely means final salvation.

Mt 5.10: "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, the kingdom of God is theirs." Church has always understood this to refer to final salvation- as in martyrs.

2.Church in this world:

Mt 21.43: "the kingdom... will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will yield a rich harvest." COMMENT: Cannot mean reign- for all are subject to that. It means favored status as People of God. It does not mean that God's call to be such is canceled- but that they are at present out of the People of God- cf. Romans 11.

Mt.13.47-50 (Parable of the net): The kingdom means the present Church- and adds that at the end, the wicked will be thrown out of the Church or kingdom, then, the eschatological kingdom. If it meant reign- there would be wicked persons included, for they do not subject selves to the reign of God.

Mt.25.1-13 (parable of wise and foolish virgins): The virgins are waiting in the present Church for return of Christ. So it refers to both present and final kingdom. If it meant reign, would include no wicked persons, for they do not subject selves to reign of God.

Mt.13.24-30 (parable of weeds in the wheat): Cannot mean reign, for reasons given for Mt.12.47-40 and Mt 25.1-13.It refers to the Church in this world, and adds on the final harvest, the final judgment.

Mt.13.31 (mustard seed): Clearly means Church at present, pictures its great rapid growth.

Mt. 21.31: "The publicans and harlots are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." = They are joining the Messianic kingdom- but since that kingdom, the Church, includes both good and wicked, this need not mean that they are morally good.

Mt.13:41: Angels will collect all evildoers out of His kingdom - so it cannot be reign, they never were part of His reign.

3.Unclear texts

Rom 14.17: "The kingdom of God is not food and drink." Probably means, membership in Church does not depend on food etc.

1 Cor 4.20: "The kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but on power." Probably means the establishment of the Church did not depend on mere words, but on showing of God's power in miracles.

Col 1.13: "He rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son." Probably means led us into the Church.

Daniel 2.37-45 and 7.13: See OT Prophecies file, on Daniel.

4. Commentators:

a) Those who identify Church with Kingdom:

John L. McKenzie, in JBC II, p. 64: "The reign of God in Mt is clearly identified with the community of the disciples."

Idem, in Dictionary of the Bible, p. 480: "In an even larger number of passages the eschatological character of the kingdom is not apparent.... The kingdom here is practically identical with the Church.... This is the kingdom formed by the saving act accomplished by the Father through Jesus...." p.481:"The identification of the kingdom with Jesus and the imposition of faith and moral regeneration by the inbreaking of the reign of God in the mission of Jesus lead naturally to an identification of the kingdom with the group formed by Jesus Himself, the Church. This identification is particularly clear in Mt, but it is not limited to this Gospel. The kingdom which contains both good and bad is most easily understood as the Church." [continues at length in same vein]

David M. Stanley, JBC II, p. 783: "the next instance of the phrase occurs in a very difficult passage [Mk 9.1] which refers to the establishment of the Church as a consequence of Jesus' death and exaltation.... Matthew distinguishes between the 'Kingdom of the Father' (13:43; 26:29) and the 'Kingdom of the Son of Man' (13:41; 16:26; 20:21) which is the Church."

Idem, p. 784: "Luke understands the Kingdom to refer to the Church when he speaks of the necessity of perseverance (9:62) and of the motivation for Christian renunciation (18:29)....

Idem, p. 784: "Luke normally thinks of the Kingdom of God as a contemporary reality, which the Father committed into the hands of Jesus as Savior and which he in the Church confided to the stewardship of the Twelve (22:28-30)."

Albright, in Matthew, Anchor, p. lxxxvi: "Matthew--and here he would appear to agree with Luke, who uses the term 'disciples' for those who committed themselves to the infant community -- identifies, 'the Kingdom' which Jesus proclaimed with the community.... There is in Matthew no facile identification of the Church with the elect." page lxxxix: "The Man is taken to mean a sovereignty which is true even when the Son's Kingdom is understood as a temporary institution awaiting the Kingdom of the Father." page c: "... in Matthew there will be two judgments in the End- time: that which the Man will execute upon the continuing community, the Church, which is properly The Man's Kingdom, and in Matthew is conceived of as temporary, and the judgment which the Father will execute upon all men, accepting The Man's judgment upon his own Kingdom."

Guenther Bornkamm, in: Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (Bornkamm did pp.1-57), Westminster, Phila, 1963, p. 44: "The existing Church is thus according to Matthew, as 13.36ff. says,the basileia of the Son of man, but it is not identical with the company who enter into the kingdom of God.... It presupposes, which is self-evident for him [Matthew] especially, the equation of the earthly Jesus with the Son of man (The Sower = the Son of man), it speaks of the Church as his earthly basileia (13.41).... p. 45: "I also hold that the saying [Mt.16.18] belongs to the period after Easter,...for the genuineness of the saying, there weighs, in my opinion, the fact that the ekklesia of Matt 16.18 cannot be comprised within the traditional thought of the Jewish people of God, but bears throughout an institutional character, characterized by the authority in doctrine and discipline of a particular apostle. Although it is an eschatological entity....yet it is an earthly future, to be distinguished from the future of the coming basileia and of the future judgment.... Peter as the rock of the Church, thus receives the office of the keys for the time after the resurrection, but before the parousia. This is the time of the Church, which Jesus calls 'my Church" and to which he give the promise that it will stand against the powers of death. Thus the Church is earthly not heavenly, to be differentiated from the basileia ton ouranon, but associated most closely with it, because its decisions about doctrine [p.46]and discipline, its binding and loosing, will be confirmed in the coming basileia, will be


R. Brown, in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, pp. 51-52: " must not overlook the fact that in some of the later sections of the NT basileia has been reified and localized, so that 'kingdom' is the only appropriate translation. One enters it, and there are keys to it. Also the kingdom and the church have begun to be partially identified. Important in this regard is Matthew's explanation of the parable about the weeds planted and allowed to grow among the wheat (13:36-43). The good seed are the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one; when the harvest comes 'the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom, all the causes of sin and all evildoers.... Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' Thus there is a kingdom of the Son of Man on earth with good and bad - seemingly the church - but only after the judgment will the just enter the kingdom of their Father. Colossians may be even more radical in equating the church with a form of the kingdom: the Father 'has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins'(1:13-14). COMMENT: This book is from 1984.In 1981 in Critical Meaning of the Bible Brown wrote, p. 116, note: "The Kingdom of God is a divine monarchy, but the Church cannot simply be identified with the Kingdom of God."

R. Brown, in Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible, Paulist,1990, "The original New Testament part of the New American translation, however, was seriously defective, in part (especially for the Gospels) because it had been heavily rephrased after it left the hands of the original translators. Some bad choices were made, e.g., to render 'the kingdom of God' by 'the reign of God.'"

b) Those who reject this identification:

M. Boucher, in The Mysterious Parable, CBQM 6, p. 55: "Likewise the early Christians, including Mark, certainly understood the Church as the body of the elect who would inhabit the kingdom in the near future. The community of Jesus' followers, and later the community of Christians,thus constituted the vestibule of the kingdom." COMMENT: Identifies Church with the body of the elect- contrary to parables of net, weeds, wise and foolish virgins. Cites Bultmann, Synoptic Tradition, p. 200 for view that the kingdom was not a human society- a Protestant notion.-- Also supposes error in Mark, that the end was to come soon.

J. Jeremias, in New Testament Theology, p. 102: "... basileia is always and everywhere understood in eschatological terms; it denotes the time of salvation, the consummation of the world, the restoration of disrupted communion between God and man." COMMENT: Notice this supposes an error by Jesus. J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism, pp. 28-29: "Finally, in some places of the New Testament there is reference to Jesus' own kingdom (e.g., Luke 23:42; John l8:36-37;Col l:13). It is not easy to say to what extent this notion of Jesus' own kingdom is primitive, derived from his teaching; it seems rather to have been born of a more developed christology (cf.1 Cor l5:24-28) or of a reflection about the relationship of the Church ( the kingdom of the son) to the kingdom of God." COMMENT. Position hard to be certain of. Probably did not think Jesus identified the kingdom with the Church. On p.27 thinks there are later ecclesiastical accretions in parables of the kingdom.

Gregory Baum, in commentary on Lumen gentium, p. 24: "... the section on the kingdom of God... carefully avoids... identifying God's kingdom on earth with the Catholic Church."

New American Bible uses reign, but Jerome Biblical Commentary changes to kingdom: Mt 5.3 & 10. Lk 14.18 and 14.20. NAB itself uses kingdom in Mt 21.43.


LG 8: "Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communions gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt." COMMENTS: We note the mention of structure and government, which seems to refer only to visible Catholic Church.

LG 3: " Christus ideo, ut voluntatem Patris impleret,regnum coelorum in terris inauguravit nobisque Eius mysterium revelavit, atque oboedientia sua redemptionem effecit. Ecclesia, seu regnum Christi iam praesens in mysterio,ex virtute Dei in mundo visibiliter crescit."

Avery Dulles, quoted in 30 Days, May,1990,pp.11-12: "The identification between the Church and the Kingdom goes against a great deal of post-Conciliar theology both Catholic and Protestant.... the paragraphs numbered 1684 to 1690 [in new catechism] convey the impression that the Church of Christ is simply identical with Roman Catholicism. Whereas the Council affirmed that the Church of Christ 'subsists'... in the Roman Catholic church - a term chosen to make room for the ecclesial reality of other Churches and Chistian communities - the present text gives misleading translations stating that the Church of Christ 'has its existence' (1687) and 'exists' in the Catholic Church."

The Relatio in the Acta of Vatican II: " Now the intention is to show that the Church, whose deep and hidden nature is described, and which is perpetually united with Christ and his work is concretely found here on earth in the Catholic Church. The visible Church reveals a mystery - not without shadows until it is brought to full light, just as the Lord Himself through His 'emptying' came to glory.... The mystery of the Church is present and manifested in a concrete society." (cited from James T. O'Connor, "The Church of Christ and the Catholic Church" in HPR Jan. 1984, p.14. Cf. also On Ecumenism §22 and LG 9 and LG 14 and on Ecumenism §3.

In DV 17: "Christus Regnum Dei in terris instauravit." Now God always reigns, Jesus did not cause that reign to start. Nor did most people accept Him in His earthly life. So the Kingdom of God he established was His Church.

A note on John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, Dec 7, 1990: 17: "Likewise, one may not separate the Kingdom from the Church. It is true that the Church is not an end unto herself, since she is ordered toward the Kingdom of God of which she is the seed, sign, and instrument. Yet while remaining distinct from Christ and the Kingdom, the Church is indissolubly united to both."

COMMENTS: This need not deny the equation we have made of the Kingdom in the Gospels being the same as the Church. Really, the Kingdom is broader, it includes the Mystical Body in Heaven. So the Church "is ordered toward the Kingdom of God, of which she is the seed". The Church is ordered toward the Kingdom in heaven, since it is to lead to there, and is the seed, which will open up and become the final Kingdom. Just as a seed contains and opens up to become the final organism, so too the Church on earth will open up into the kingdom in the next life.



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