Tidbits From the Text: The Kingdom Within Us?

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“…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” –Luke 17:21

This verse has become in my experience one of the most misused and misinterpreted verses on offer. Many New Agers and self-helpers use this often as a sort of mantra for their view of the world so they can claim to have Jesus on their side as an authoritative reference. In fact, even Deepak Chopra in his book “The Third Jesus,” has as the third chapter in Part I, “The Kingdom of God is Within1.”

We have to admit that at first glance this does seem to be what Jesus is saying, right? I mean if the kingdom of heaven is “within us” then it seems that maybe the self-helpers are right and maybe there is no “literal” kingdom of God, rather we find the kingdom is just within ourselves and we need to become conscious of it (through either some New Age invention or even through becoming a Chrisitan).

What I want to offer in this article is how referring back to the original language text (or as we shall see, even consulting multiple English translations), as well as context can clear up and eliminate many interpretive issues with a particular text. For starters, here is the full context of the passage from the King James Version2:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.”
-Luke 17:20-22

The Greek Word and Its Meanings

Now, when using the original language Greek text several meanings are given for the word translated as “within”  in the KJV. Of course “within” is an option, as well as “in the midst of” and even “among3.” Which meaning applies here? This is where context has to rule the day. We would do well when reading the Bible to ask questions such as “Who is speaking?” or “Who is the speaker speaking to?” or even “Who is the speaker talking to, as well as who is he talking about?” This really helps us avoid many translation and interpretation errors as we will see below.

Context: A “Heads-Up” If You Will!

Something that should alert the experienced reader Biblical reader right away is the fact that all through the Scripture, people enter the kingdom, the kingdom never enters people4.  The reason I refer to this as a heads-up is because anytime something seems out of place we need to be thinking that maybe there is more to this than just a surface level reading of the text can provide.  So if people always enter the kingdom and not the other way around, yet this verse seems to imply the opposite, then we rightly should judge this deserves more careful attention when interpreting it.

Context:  A Second Heads-Up!

Another heads-up alert we find in the text is that the kingdom is no where else in the text of the Bible an internal sort of thing.  The kingdom is always external.  So again, this alert should go off in our heads when we find one passage of the many on this topic that seems out of place and then see if there is more to the situation below the surface.

Context:  The Speaker and His Audience.

This to me is where we find the most critical piece of information that would actually lead us to seriously reject interpreting the Greek word as “within.”  Here is the text again below, notice verse 20:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.”
-Luke 17:20-22

Notice He answered the unbelieving Pharisees by saying to them “The kingdom of God is within you.” Isn’t that odd? Why would He tell unbelievers that the kingdom is within them5? The answer is that He wouldn’t and this is a bad translation, as it seems to me that the context renders it virtually impossible. Remember earlier our options for translating this particular Greek as either “within,” or “among/in the midst of.” Now given those options, which option is the most plausible based on the context? Of course! “Among!” The reason for this is because the very next thing Jesus says after telling this to the Pharisees is directed to His disciples. He tells them, “The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.” he says this because the King is there! So the kingdom of God was among them (the unbelievers), the King was there! It is no wonder that modern translations all render it as “among/in the midst of!”

HSCB = Among
NASB = In your midst
NIV = In your midst
ESV = In the midst of
RSV = In the midst of
NET = In your midst
NRS = Among

Conclusion

I pray this has helped you to better understand this text and encouraged you to dig deeper in your studies. Remember that Bible commentaries can be a very helpful tool when you confront a seeming interpretive problem such as the one we have been examining. I listed a few in the footnotes for those of you who would like to go deeper than what I have here in this introductory article. I also pray you see the value of considering all factors pro-con to determine the meaning of a passage of Scripture rather than just operating on hear-say or a mere perusal of these important texts.

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