Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


Additional Links

VIOLENCE.—In Luke 3:14 part of the advice given by John the Baptist to the soldiers was, ‘Do violence to no man’ (μηδένα διασείσητε), the verb meaning, ‘like concutio in juridical Latin, to extort from one by intimidation money or other property’ (Grimm-Thayer). The word occurs again in Matthew 11:12, where the adjective ‘violent’ is also found in Authorized Version . The adverb ‘violently’ appears in Luke 8:33 Authorized Version , ‘the herd ran violently (ὤρμησεν) down a steep place,’ and in Luke 16:16 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , ‘every man entereth violently into it’ (βιάζεται). Interest centres chiefly on the two passages Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16, which are so much alike, though in different contexts, that they are obviously two versions of the same saying. We place them side by side in order that they may be more easily compared.

Matthew 11:12-13.

Luke 16:16.

(a) πάντες γὰρ αἱ προφῆται χαὶ ὁ νόμος ἕως Ἰωάννου προεφήτευσαν (Matthew 11:13).

(α) ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται μίχρι Ἰωάννου.

(b) ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαττιστοῦ ἔως ἄρτι.

(β) ἀπὸ τότε.

(c) ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται.

(γ) ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγ γελίζεται.

(d) καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν.

(δ) καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται.

It is evident that a, b, d closely correspond to α, β, δ; why, then, should not c be taken to convey the same idea as γ? This is the view of Melanchthon, Stier, Banks, and others, who hold that βιάζεται in Mt. is the Middle voice, as it undoubtedly is in the last clause of Luke. The translation will then be, ‘the kingdom of heaven advanceth violently,’ it forcibly introduces itself, coming with urgency and beating down all obstacles, ‘sese vi quasi obtrudit’ (Bengel, who adds ‘saepe LXX Septuagint βιάζομαι ponunt, vim adhibeo’). This is quite in keeping with the context, where Christ is extolling the work which John the Baptist had done as a pioneer and forerunner (cf. Matthew 3:5 f., Mark 1:5, Luke 7:29). It may be illustrated by the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (Matthew 13:31-33), and it has the great advantage of conveying the same sense as the parallel clause in Lk. ‘the kingdom of God is preached.’ The only serious objection urged against such a rendering by Meyer, Alford, and Bruce (in Expos. Gr. Test.) is that it would be inconsistent with the words following—‘the violent take it by force.’ Is there necessarily any inconsistency, however? May we not have here one of those passages where by a slight change in the expression, by a turning of the coin, as it were, a new and complementary truth is conveyed? Would there be any inconsistency if one were to say ‘the train is advancing quickly, and those who are quick succeed in entering it’? On the other hand, the translation of the Authorized and Revised Versions is open to the charge of being tautological.

βιάζεται is, however, usually taken as Passive in Matthew 11:12 (‘suffereth violence,’ Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ; ‘is gotten by force,’ AVm [Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.] ; vim patitur, Vulgate ; βιαίως κρατεῖται, Hesychius). The image may be taken from the storming of a city or from forcing an entrance through an opposing army: the word is used in Thucyd. Hist. vii. 70, 72, of the Athenian fleet forcing its way out of Syracuse (βιάζεσθαι τὸν ἔκπλουν), and in Xen. Hell. [Note: Hellenistic.] v. ii. 23, of cities forced into a union (πόλεις τὰς βεβιασμένας).

The further question now arises, From whom does the violence proceed? and three answers are possible: (1) from true disciples, (2) from other aspirants, (3) from enemies, e.g. the scribes and Pharisees. If the last be adopted, the meaning will then be, ‘the kingdom of heaven is violently resisted, is crushed, and violent men tear it to pieces.’ So Dalman explains the passage (see below), and similarly Hilgenfeld in Mt. (‘is violently crushed’), but he would render in Lk. ‘every man is constrained by the gospel,’ taking βιάζεται as Passive). This, however, is partly an anachronism, for the imprisonment of John hardly justifies such strong language, and is partly forbidden by the connexion with v. 13 and with what goes before (see Meyer’s note). ‘Non est h. l. querela de vi mala, nam querela incipit versu 16’ (Bengel). ‘The subject is not the resistance made to the kingdom of heaven, but the difference between a prophesied and a present kingdom of heaven’ (Alford). The second answer is based on the supposition that Jesus here meant to rebuke a wrong method, not to commend a right one, and expressed disapproval of the violence of those who, misled by the free invitations of the gospel, were inclined to force an entrance, disregarding the requirements of the Law. In its favour it may be urged that this explanation admirably snits the difficult context of Luke 16:16 and the use of πᾶς, ‘every man entereth violently into it.’ Jesus shows in v. 17 f. that ‘the same orderly methods were to obtain in the Kingdom as under the Law; so much so that the Law itself might be said to be maintained in every detail. The Gospel was not a release from, but a deepening and widening and spiritualizing of the Law’s requirements’ (Canon Bindley, who advocates this view in a paper entitled ‘The Method of the Christ,’ Expos. Times, Feb. 1905).

The first answer, however, is preferred by most commentators, viz. that the βιασταί are the disciples who seek a share in the Heavenly Kingdom with ardent zeal and intensest exertions, ‘who strive to obtain its privileges with the utmost eagerness and effort’ (Grimm-Thayer), ‘men of violence’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ; there is no art. in the Greek), ‘violent men’ (Wycl. [Note: Wyclif’s Bible (NT c. 1380, OT c. 1382, Purvey’s Revision c. 1388).] ), ‘they that go to it with violence’ (Tind. [Note: Tindale’s NT 1526 and 1534, Pent. 1530.] ), ‘the violent’ (Authorized Version , Cran. [Note: Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] , Gen. [Note: Geneva NT 1557, Bible 1560.] , Rhem. [Note: Rhemish NT 1582.] ), πάντες οἱ μετὰ σπουδῆς προσιόντες (Chrys.). Like the publicans and sinners, like Zacchaeus, they take the Kingdom by force, they drag it to themselves (ἀρπάζουσι, cf. John 6:15), they clutch at it like spoils and make it their own, ‘ut raptim, celerrima vi, perruptis obstaculis, ad se redigant bonum in medio positum’ (Bengel). This explanation agrees best with Pindar’s use of the similar word βιατάς, which has always a good sense (Meyer), ‘mighty, strong,’ and closely corresponds to Luke’s πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται, ‘entereth violently into it’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ), ‘vi ingruit pia’ (Bengel); ‘presseth into it’ (Authorized Version ) is too weak. The hindrances are like a hostile army round a city which must be broken through with force; the same strenuous effort is required which is commanded in such passages as ‘strive (ἀγωνίζεσθε) to enter in by the narrow door’ (Luke 13:24), ‘ask, seek, and knock’ (Matthew 7:7), ‘fight the good fight of the faith’ (ἀγωνίζου, 1 Timothy 6:12), ‘so run that ye may attain’ (1 Corinthians 9:24), ‘contend earnestly for the faith’ (ἐπαγωμίζεσθαι, Judges 1:3). ‘Every man’ (πᾶς) is perhaps emphatic, showing that the Pharisees and the scribes must no longer look on the Kingdom as the exclusive possession of their nation or class; it was open to all nations, and might be entered by even the lowest men, though it would appear from the warning of the following verses that not all would seek it in the right spirit. ‘Jesus uses this strong figurative expression of violence and seizure, which in their peculiar meaning were applied to the unjust, forcible appropriation of others’ goods, not because He finds the point of analogy in the injustice and violence, as if men could appropriate a share in the Kingdom of God in opposition to the Divine will, but because He sought to lay stress upon the necessity of urgent energetic laying hold of a good to which they can make no claim. It is of no avail in regard to the Kingdom of God to wait idly, as in other cases men may take a waiting attitude in regard to a gift; nor does it avail to seek laboriously to earn it: but it does avail energetically to lay hold of and to retain it. It is ready as a gift of God for men, but men must direct their desire and will towards it’ (Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, ii. 49, English translation ). It is possible, however, to take the words as a description rather than as a commendation of the disciples, and to find in them a reference to those earthly ideas of the Messianic Kingdom which even the Apostles held until the day of the Ascension (cf. Acts 1:6).

Dalman (The Words of Jesus, pp. 139–143, English translation ) in an important section, the substance of which is here transcribed, seeks to find the probable Aramaic antecedent of βιάζειται. A. Meyer suggests חסן, cf. Daniel 7:18; Daniel 7:22; but this would mean merely ‘to take possession of,’ and would hardly cause one writing in. Greek to use βιάζειν. He finds a better equivalent in חָּקף, which means in Peal ‘to be strong,’ in Aphel ‘to hold fast’; in Deuteronomy 22:25, Onkelos has וְיִחְקִף for Heb. וְהֶחֱזִיק, while the LXX Septuagint renders by βιασάμενος. It is important to remember that חְּקִף has no Passive; from this it would follow that the Passive βιάζεται, is not derived immediately from an Aramaic prototype. A solution more in conformity with the Greek may be arrived at provided אַנִם he made the starting-point, for it can mean ‘to use force’ and ‘to rob.’ The text (Matthew 11:12) thus refers to that period of the theocracy (i.e. the Kingdom of God) which was introduced by the imprisonment of John the Baptist; it is its peculiarity that the theocracy suffers violence, not, of course, from believers, but from those in authority. The words ἀρπάζουσιν αὐτήν (אִנְסוּהָא) are not intended to suggest that the violent seize the theocracy, but merely that they maltreat it in the persons of its representatives. The utterance occurs in St. Luke in an entirely different connexion. According to him, it is applied in opposition to the Pharisees, who despised the admonition as to the right use of money. Jesus declared to them that the proclamation of the theocracy since the time of John made it possible for any one to intrude himself violently into it: nevertheless it was not their own estimate, but the judgment of God that decided who was worthy of entrance. The context, however, in Lk. may be pronounced peculiarly Greek. Neither the Passive εὐαγγελίζεται nor εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται is capable of being directly rendered into Aramaic, especially if אֲנִם is used.

If it be supposed, adds Dalman, that by using (Luke 16:15-18) sayings of our Lord which originally had quite a different association, Lk. obtains the transition to a new parable, it may be surmised that he has given to Luke 16:16 its present form to accommodate it to the context. The saying which Mt. and Lk. found in their sources made mention only of the violent treatment of the theocracy since the time of John. St. Luke thought of attempted entrance into it, and thus found it natural to insert it here. St. Matthew, with greater reason, understood it to refer to the violent treatment of the preachers of the theocracy, and therefore connected it with the answer of Jesus to John. Neither by Jesus nor by the Evangelists is it suggested that any one could actually appropriate the theocracy by force. Unless absolutely driven to it, we ought not to try to discover beneath these words an idea so distinctly at variance with the whole style of our Lord’s teaching.

Literature.—In addition to the works cited above, a good article in Expos. Times, 1892–93, p. 510, by J. S. Banks, will be found useful. See also Expositor, i. iii. [1876] 252, v. [1877] 197, iv. vii. [1893] 224.

W. H. Dundas

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Violence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry