Kingdoms in Conflict: Examining the Use of “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew

Tim Miller

[1]
Matthew is the only New Testament author to use the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven.” While the other gospels frequently reference the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven is uniquely Matthean. His extensive use of this phrase (thirty-two times) invites the question, What does Matthew mean by this Kingdom of Heaven?

Two main answers have been given to this question in modern church history. The first answer, given by the early dispensationalists (Scofield, Walvoord, Darby, Larkin, Chafer, Feinberg, and early Ryrie), argued for a denotative difference between Kingdom of God (KG) and Kingdom of Heaven (KH).[2] They believed that the KH could be distin­guished from the KG. The other answer, given by nearly every non-dispensationalist and almost all later dispens­a­tionalists (Saucy, Toussaint, McLain, and later Ryrie), argued for a connotative difference between the phrases. They believed that Matthew used KH, not to indicate a difference between the two kingdoms, but to avoid using the divine name.

The purpose of this article is to argue that both of these answers are mistaken. Instead, Matthew used KH for a theological purpose, which had important implications for Matthew’s readers. To get to these implications, however, we will need to show why the two prevailing answers to why Matthew uses KH are fundamentally flawed. Next, we will develop Matthew’s theological purpose in using KH. Having laid this groundwork, we will then be able to show how applicable Matthew’s theme of the KH was to his audience.

Denotative Difference:
Kingdom of God vs Kingdom of Heaven

While denotative distinctions between the KG and the KH have been proposed elsewhere,[3] the distinction became widely known through the popular Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield noted five ways to distinguish between the KH and the KG.[4] The essential differences, however, can be sum­marized in two points. First, the KG only contains beings who willingly subject themselves to the rule of God—whether human or angelic. The KH, however, contains only earthly creatures who profess to be subject to God. Thus, the KH contains both believers and unbelievers, while the KG contains true believers. Second, the KG is eternal and spiritual in nature, while the KH is temporal[5] and physical in nature.[6]

While early dispensationalists used this distinction as a way to argue for their dispensational, premillennial posi­tion,[7] it is widely understood that maintaining a distinction between the phrases is not essential to dispensationalism.[8] Walvoord, while arguing for the distinc­tion, noted that maintaining the difference “does not affect premillennialism as a whole nor dispensationalism; and the system of theology of those who make the terms identical can be almost precisely the same as that of those who distinguish the terms.”[9] In other words, one does not challenge dispensational theology when he denies that there is a denotative difference between the two phrases in the gospels. This is important to recognize, as some still maintain that this distinction is essential to dispensational thought.[10]

There are significant exegetical reasons to doubt the denotative distinction between KH and KG. While the limitation of space does not allow for an extended treatment,[11] I would like to indicate three central problems with the distinction. First, parallel passages show that Matthew’s use of KH matches the use of KG in the other gospel writers. Out of Matthew’s 32 uses of KH, 12 are within narratives which are also recorded in either Mark or Luke (and sometimes both).[12] In every parallel account, the other synoptic writer (Mark, Luke, or both) chose to use KG instead of KH. This would indicate that what Matthew called the KH, the other gospel writers identified as the KG. For example, in Jesus’ famous Sermon in Matthew 5–7, Matthew records that the poor in spirit will inherit the KH. Luke, citing the same sermon, records Jesus as saying that the poor will inherit the KG.[13]

The second exegetical reason to doubt the distinction between the KH and KG is based on the synonymous parallelism evident in Matthew 19:23–24. In verse 23 Jesus declared that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and in verse 24 he declared that the rich man could not enter the kingdom of God. Here Matthew mentions both the KH and the KG, connecting them with “again I say to you,” signaling a repetition of the same idea.[14] If there is a distinction between the two kingdoms, it is difficult to imagine why Matthew does not explicitly express this distinction. Indeed, it appears that the proponent of the distinction has to bear the burden of proving that Matthew makes a clear distinction.[15]

The text just referenced provides the third textual reason to avoid making a distinction between the KH and the KG. Jesus argues that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the KH. But if the KH is merely the realm of Christian profession (and not necessarily true possession), it does not appear that entrance into this kingdom would be as difficult as Jesus claims. Further, Jesus in Matthew 7:21 maintains that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” but saying “Lord, Lord” without a submissive heart attitude appears to be the very definition of mere profession![16]

These three exegetical insights should cause great caution to those who would propose a denotative distinction between the KG and the KH.[17] Combining these insights with the following facts indicates that we should look elsewhere for an explanation of Matthew’s use of KH: (1) no other author in Scripture argues for a distinct KG, (2) Matthew sometimes uses Kingdom without delineating to which (KG or KH) he is referring, and (3) Matthew never explicitly expresses a distinction between the two phrases even though he uses both KG and KH.

Connotative Difference:
Kingdom of Heaven as Circumlocution

That Matthew used KH in order to avoid using the divine name is the nearly unanimous view of modern Matthean scholarship.[18] It is widely accepted that the Hebrews avoided using God’s name to avoid breaking the third of the Ten Commandments. Rather than using God’s name, the Jews would practice circumlocution, which derives from the Latin circum and locutio meaning “to speak around.” In sum, the Jews would substitute another word or phrase for the divine name in order to avoid accidently breaking the divine law.

Circumlocution appears to be found in the Jewish intertestamental literature[19] and may also be evident in Scripture. For instance Mark 14:61 appears to use circumlocution for the divine name when the High priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Luke 15:18 comes closer to Matthew’s use when the prodigal, in rehearsing his repentance speech, says, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” Daniel 4:26 likewise indicates that Daniel, in his speech to Nebuchadnezzar, refers to heaven when clearly referencing God. These latter two texts give evidence that, at least at times, Jewish custom allowed for heaven to be substituted for the divine name. If so, could Matthew’s use of KH align with this reverence for the divine name?

Jonathan Pennington argues strongly against the circumlocution view: “The history of the reverential circum­locution idea [in Matthew] is an example of an unsubstantiated suggestion becoming an unquestioned assumption through the magic of publication, repetition, and elapsed time.”[20] Nearly all literature related to the circumlocution view in Matthew traces back to the seminal work of Gustaf Dalman.[21] However, Pennington shows that there are substantial reasons to doubt the validity of Dalman’s conclusions.[22] If so, the entire foundation of the circumlocution view is shaken and another explanation for Matthew’s use of KH should be sought.[23] Regardless of whether the faulty view can be traced back to Dalman, there are two clear reasons within the Gospel of Matthew to reject the circumlocution view.

First, according to the circumlocution view Matthew avoided the use of the divine name for one of two reasons. He could have avoided the use so that he would not accidently break the third commandment, or he could have avoided the use in order to avoid offending the Jews for whom he was writing.[24] That Matthew wrote to avoid using the divine name for the sake of his own conscience appears indefensible in light of the teaching of his gospel. The avoidance of the divine name was an example of the multiplication of human traditions and rules Jesus argues against in the gospel of Matthew (15:1–8). Hagelberg concludes, “It is not conceivable that Matthew could have held to and been motivated by this false view of holiness.”[25] For this reason, the nearly unanimous view of commenta­tors has been that Matthew used heaven to avoid offending his audience.[26] But this proposal is likewise suspect. Matthew does not appear reticent to offend the Jewish brethren elsewhere within his gospel.[27] For instance, Matthew’s background as a tax collector could potentially incense their Jewish sensibilities.[28] Further, the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) is an attack against the Jewish system of thought that was at the root of the circumlocution habit. If Matthew was using circumlocution to avoid offending the Jews, it appears strange that he was not reticent to offend them in other ways.

The second reason circumlocution is a poor explanation for Matthew’s use of KH is Matthew’s expansive use of God’s name. If Matthew sought to substitute the divine name for another term, why does Matthew use the divine name 51 times in his gospel?[29] Further, if Matthew is seeking to avoid the formulaic KG, why does he fail to substitute KH for KG in four instances (12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43)?[30] John Drane, who believes in the circum­locution proposal, argues that these four instances “can readily be understood if we suppose that Matthew overlooked these four occurrences of the word.”[31] Not considering how this explanation could potentially affect one’s understanding of inspiration, it is simply unbelievable that Matthew overlooked these four texts. For example, in the text already examined above, Matthew synonymously related the KG and the KH (19:23–24); it is hard to imagine that Matthew changed KG to KH in one sentence and forgot to do so in the very next sentence. Overall, Matthew shows little reluctance to use the divine name; therefore, while the circumlocution proposal has enjoyed nearly universal acclaim in Matthean studies, it does not hold under the weight of careful study.[32]

Metonymic Difference: Kingdom of Heaven
vs Kingdoms of the Earth[33]

Sensing the failure of the circumlocution proposal, some scholars have attempted to propose alternate explanations. For instance, while D. A. Carson is not willing to completely overturn the circumlocution thesis, he argues that there seems to be more to Matthew’s choice than merely avoiding the divine name. Perhaps Matthew intentionally avoided KG in order to leave open the possibility of Jesus also being King.[34] Leon Morris adds that Matthew may be stressing the comprehensiveness of the kingdom by using KH, denoting that the kingdom not only pertains to the earth, but is also expressed in the heavenly realm.[35] Margaret Pamment and James Gibbs suggest that KH pertains to the future kingdom while KG references the present kingdom expressed in the lives of Jesus’ disciples.[36] Stanley Toussaint offers another perspective, arguing that KH references the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, while KG speaks of the character of God’s kingdom.[37] A final proposal, given by J. Julius Scott, contends that Matthew avoided KG because of its military connotations among his Jewish audience.[38] While the present article will not be arguing for any of these positions, the multiplicity of suggested explanations for Matthew’s use of KG shows that the classic explanation has been found wanting. The rest of this paper will give an alternative explanation that honors both the theology and text of Matthew’s Gospel.

A careful study of the first Gospel will reveal that KH is not an isolated element of Matthew’s gospel; instead, Matthew maintains a theme of heavenly language that orientates the reader to the distinction between the kingdom that will come from heaven and the kingdoms of this world.[39] Hagelberg summarizes,

“The Kingdom of Heaven” is used by Matthew because it supports and supplements Matthew’s theology which is centered around the concept of the two kingdoms in conflict; this support and supplementation is by the natural pairing of the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of earth and by the culture’s stock of ideas, ie. [sic] when the kingdom of heaven was mentioned, its opposite, the kingdom of earth, came to mind.[40]

The distinction between heaven and earth is a primeval fact in Scripture (Gen 1:1). Later revelation would confirm that the heavens are the abode of God, while the earth is the abode of man (Ps 115:16). Further, the kings of the earth battle against the God of heaven (Psalm 2). Each of these Old Testament themes was evident to Matthew and his audience. Most important to Matthew, however, was Daniel 2:44, which reveals that the God of Heaven will one day establish a kingdom that will replace the kingdoms of this world.[41] The idea of this kingdom from the God of heaven quickly and pervasively caught the hearts of the Hebrew people, who longed for political freedom. This longing remained in their hearts from the time of Daniel through the inter­testamental period all the way to the writing of Matthew’s gospel.[42]

Matthew, writing to Jews who still embraced the hope of a future kingdom from the God of heaven, termed the KG as the KH to directly correlate the kingdom Jesus will establish with the long awaited hope established in Daniel 2–7.[43] While it is possible Matthew could have used the more general phrase KG to denote this kingdom, he chose to use KH to remind his readers of Daniel and to make a contrast with the kingdoms of this world. Just as Daniel’s original audience took hope under the oppressive regimes in the exile, so Matthew’s audience could take hope under the oppressive regime of the Romans in their present day.

While the preceding explanation is theologically possible, the reader may be wondering whether it is exegetically tenable. This article will seek to prove that it is exegetically sound by examining the language of Matthew’s text. First, Matthew emphasizes the heavenly realm in his gospel. A simple comparison of the use of οὐρανός (“heaven”) will show that Matthew (82 uses) speaks of heaven much more than Mark (18), Luke (35), or John (18).[44] In fact, Matthew speaks of heaven more than all the other gospels combined! Further, Matthew connects heaven with the Father more than twenty times (Heavenly Father or Father in Heaven), while the only other gospel to connect these terms is Mark, and he connects them only once.[45]

Second, it is clear that Matthew’s gospel centers on the concept of Kingdom. Matthew, of all the gospel writers, references the kingdom the most (fifty-five times). In fact, Matthew references the kingdom more than all of the non-gospel NT books put together.[46] Whereas Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam, Matthew takes pains to show that while Jesus’ lineage runs all the way back to Abraham (stressing Jewish heritage), it runs through David as well (stressing kingship). The careful reader of Matthew will not miss that the kingdom appears at the most central parts of Matthew’s text: the genealogy of Jesus (1:1); the start of John the Baptist’s ministry (3:2); the start of Jesus’ ministry (4:17); the Sermon on the Mount (5:3, 10; 6:9–13); the kingdom parables (13:1–52; 20:1–16; 22:1–14; 25:1–46); the Passover meal (26:29); and the Great Commission (24:14; 28:18).

These two major themes in Matthew—Heaven and Kingdom—come together in Matthew’s unique phrase KH. But it is not yet clear why Matthew connects these two ideas. The third point will fill the gap: Matthew frequently emphasizes the distinction between heaven and earth. This distinction is evident in each of the synoptic gospels but is particularly emphasized in Matthew. While Matthew con­nects language concerning heaven and earth in more than 20 instances, Mark does so twice and Luke only five times.[47] Further, as Pennington notes, “The language of ‘heaven and earth’ as contrasting realities is found at the most important theological points throughout the gospel such as in the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–10), the ecclesiological passages (16:17–19; 18:18–19), and the Great Commission (28:18–20).”[48] Taking it all together, it is hard not to conclude with Pennington that “Matthew is consciously developing a heaven and earth theme.”[49]

Putting all of Matthew’s themes together presents the reader with God as the King of the heavenly realm, which stands in opposition to the earth. However, Matthew’s emphasis on the earth also includes the idea of kingship. From the very beginning of his gospel (2:1–3), Matthew notes that Jesus is the king in opposition to Herod as the archetypal earthly king: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Here Matthew sandwiches the Kingship of Jesus between the two proclamations of Herod’s kingship.[50] Later Matthew brings into stark contrast the kingship promised to Jesus from the Father in heaven with the kingship offered from Satan, king of this world (4:8; cf. 12:26). In this passage, Matthew speaks of the kingdoms of the earth in both human and satanic terms, an analogy likely derived from Daniel 10:13.[51] This theme of heavenly kingship and earthly kingship runs throughout the text, crescendoing in the Great Commission when Jesus notes that the authority in heaven and earth has been given to him.[52]

The clearest text in Matthew that brings all of these themes together is the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–10):

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.[53]

The prayer begins with a recognition that the Father is in the heavens, from which the Kingdom will come. Further, it presents a contrast between the things done on earth and those done in heaven. The implication is that God’s will is accomplished in the heavens because that realm is presently subject to his kingly authority. The earth, by contrast, is not presently under the kingly authority of God, but one day, in God’s timing, will be subject to him. The prayer further recognizes that though the earth is not in total subjection at the present moment, God has control over the physical (earth’s resources) and spiritual (forgiveness) aspects of existence on earth.[54]

Implications for Matthew’s Readers

On the basis of the findings above, KH in Matthew is not designed to show a denotative difference between the KH and the KG. Neither is it designed to avoid the divine name. Instead, KH functions to orientate the Jewish reader back to Daniel 2–7, where the Kingdom from the God of Heaven was promised to supplant the kingdoms of the earth. This understanding matches Matthew’s themes perfectly, and it provides a rich understanding of Matthew’s theological purposes.

First, it is clear from the intertestamental literature that the expectations for the coming Kingdom were not going to be fulfilled as many Jews expected. In fact, even the expectations of Jesus’ followers were off mark. For example, John the Baptists’ doubt appears to have been motivated by his lack of understanding how the future King’s ministry could be almost entirely non-political (11:2–6).[55] For this reason, Matthew intentionally emphasized the prophetic language of Daniel by calling the kingdom the KH, affirming the kingdom Jesus promised was the same one Daniel predicted years before. While the kingdom was to progress in ways the Jews were not prepared for (13:31–33), it was the same kingdom, and it would one day usurp all the kingdoms of the earth.

Second, just as the Kingdom coming from the God of Heaven reassured Daniel’s listeners that God’s plan was still functioning despite their historical context in Babylon, so Matthew’s KH reassured his readers that God’s plan was still moving forward despite the historical context in Rome. In both situations, the Jews wanted to be free from the political reigns of a domineering captor. And in both situations, God, through his inspired writers, gave glimpses of the future fulfillment of that hope. Rome, the final beast, will be conquered, and the kingdom from heaven will be finally and fully established. Though many hoped it would be fully established at Jesus’ first coming, the future is still secure—the statue will be toppled (Dan 2:35).

Third, Matthew’s use of KH assured his readers that those who embraced Jesus were on the side of the God in heaven who would establish his kingdom in the future on the earth. Though the kingdoms of the earth presently persecute Jesus’ followers (5:10; 23:34), believers will one day inherit the earth as members of God’s kingdom from heaven (5:5, 10). Their treasures, likewise, are stored in heaven for them (6:19–21). Though they appear fatherless in this world (23:9), they have a devoted Father in heaven (5:16; 12:50). On the other hand, the religious leaders have Satan as their father (13:38–39). They joined with the rulers of this world (both spiritual and political) against the KH (27:1–2), and they will share in the fate of the spiritual ruler of this world (25:41). They are of the type who will mourn when the Son comes from the heavens to take his throne (24:30). The contrast could not be presented more sharply. In the popular religious thought, Jesus’ followers were deceived and received persecution as a result of being found on the wrong “team.” Matthew’s gospel clearly displays that persecution is not proof that people are on the wrong team; rather it is proof they are on the right team (5:12)! They were not members of the kingdoms of this earth but had been granted access to a new family and kingdom through obedience to Christ (12:50). While it appeared they were missing the true Kingdom, Matthew assured his readers that they were the true recipients of God’s coming kingdom.

Finally, Matthew used KH to stress the superiority of heaven over earth. Because Matthew’s readers were sons of the Father in heaven, they should be confident in the future establishment of the Kingdom. That the King sitting in heaven has control over the earth is evident throughout Matthew’s Gospel. First, Matthew masterfully weaves two Old Testament references together when he identifies heaven as the throne of God, the earth as God’s footstool, and Jerusalem as the city of the Great King (Ps 48:1, 2; Isa 66:1; Matt 5:34, 35).[56] Hupopodion (“footstool”) denotes subjec­tion to a superior force.[57] This terminology is often used to describe a victor putting his foot upon the conquered enemy’s neck.[58] Second, Matthew records Jesus describing the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” (11:25), a clear indication of God’s sovereignty over the earth. Third, Matthew describes God as having power over the earth through earthquakes. Matthew is the only gospel to record the earthquake at the crucifixion, noting that the “earth shook and the rocks broke in pieces” (27:51). Matthew is referring his readers back to the Old Testament’s depictions of God’s power and anger expressed through earthquakes.[59] Matthew is also the only Gospel writer to record that the angel who rolled the stone away caused an earthquake.[60] Clearly the weight of the stone itself did not cause the quake; instead, God was expressing his power over the earth through the resurrection of his Son. Though Jesus was three days in the heart of the earth (12:40), God’s power is shown in conquering both the spiritual (Satan) and political (Roman and Jewish) kingdoms of the earth in the resurrection of his Son. The earthquake serves as a vivid expression of God’s sovereignty over the world. Overall, Matthew’s emphasis on God’s power over the kingdoms of the earth served to give his readers confidence that though they were sometimes persecuted, reviled, and killed, God maintained ultimate control over the earth. Though the kings of the earth may appear to have power, they are unaware that even now their neck is under the foot of God, awaiting the day when God will bring his kingdom from the heavens to the earth.

Conclusion

While this paper has emphasized the effect Matthew’s KH language would have had on the original recipients, it has a significant impact on modern believers as well. In union with historic believers in Babylon and Rome, modern believers can also have hope that, while the world’s king­doms continue to rage against the King of Heaven (Ps 2), the KH will one day supplant all the unrighteousness of this earth. And while these kingdoms appear independent of the sovereignty of the Father, they are subject to his power. Though modern believers are often ostracized and rejected, they are ultimately members of the KH. Though presently strangers and exiles, they will be united to Jesus in his kingdom at his second coming. They share in common with both Daniel’s and Matthew’s readers the hope of the future earthly kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew masterfully concludes his gospel with the promise of this kingdom, noting that though the kings of the earth hate the king of heaven, Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth (28:18). He will return on the clouds of heaven to take his royal throne (24:30; 26:64). The battle is already over, and those aligned with God’s kingdom await the future victory march.


[1] Mr. Miller is a Ph.D. candidate and an Assistant Professor in the Bible Department at Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary.

[2] This position is not limited to early dispensationalists. See Michael Pearl, Eight Kingdoms: And Then There was ONE (Pleasantville, TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2006).

[3] For instance, see Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (New York: R. Carter & Brothers, 1856), 4: 158.

[4] C. I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Reference Study Bible (1917) (New York: Oxford, 1996), 1003.

[5] It is temporal until it merges with the KG at the end of the Millennium.

[6] For more on the distinctions in Scofield and the early dispensationalists see Herbert W. Bateman, “Dispensationalism Yesterday and Today,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views, Herbert W. Bateman, ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 24–31.

[7] Charles L. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism? (New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1961), 299–303.

[8] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 154–57; Robert Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensa­tionalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 19; Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 65.

[9] John F. Walvoord, “Kingdom of Heaven,” Bibliotheca Sacra 124.495 (1967): 205.

[10] See Pearl who says that the KH and the KG are not the same. He then notes that this distinction is important because, “It is the difference between being a dispensationalist or not.” Pearl, Eight Kingdoms, 1.

[11] For extended critiques see, David Edward Hagelberg, “The Designation ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’” (Masters Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1983), 11–24; George Eldon Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 109–111; Toussaint, Behold the King, 65–67.

[12] C. C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, ed. (Grand Rapids: IVP Academic, 1997), 426.

[13] Walvoord and Feinberg defended their position by stating that the phrase “Kingdom of God” could be used to denote the KH because (1) the two kingdoms are quite similar, and (2) the KH is an aspect of the KG. They both use geographical illustrations, arguing that one could truthfully speak of being in Dallas, Texas to one friend and speak of being in the library at Dallas Theological Seminary to another. Since the library is within the geographical bounds of Dallas, Texas, it is not illegitimate to substitute the one for the other. The analogy breaks down, however, when we consider the specifics of the analogy. In the case of geography, the larger sphere contains 100% of the smaller sphere (i.e., all of Dallas Seminary’s library is included in Dallas, Texas), but in the KH/KG analogy, the larger sphere (KG) does not contain 100% of the smaller sphere (KH). That is, there are members of the KH (unbelievers) that are not a part of the KG (only believers). Therefore, the analogy breaks down at its most crucial point. If there are two distinct kingdoms being spoken of at the time of Jesus, and if these kingdoms contain different mem­bers, then it does not appear that one could legitimately substitute the phrases without some form of duplicity. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism?, 301–302; Walvoord, “King­dom of Heaven,” 199, 201. Earl Miller unwittingly establishes the failure of the analogy when he argues, “Topographically the Kingdom of Heaven is within the bounds of the Kingdom of God, but a great deal of what is considered in the Kingdom of Heaven is not generically in the Kingdom of God.” Earl Miller, The Kingdom of God and The Kingdom of Heaven (Kansas City: Walterick, 1950), 60–61.

[14] Matthew uses the same clause to connect two ideas in Matthew 18:18–19, reiterating the authority he has given to his church.

[15] Hagelberg not only argues that the proponent has to bear the burden of proof within the Matthean text, but he also notes that the burden is significantly more burdensome due to the lack of distinction in pre-Matthean literature. If Hagelberg’s research is correct, there was some understanding of the kingdom of Heaven preceding Matthew’s text. This literature makes no distinction between KG and KH. Therefore, Matthew is using two terms that have historically been synonyms. If he wants to make a distinction, he must be very clear how he differentiates them. If he fails to make a clear case for the differences, then his audience will automatically assume he is speaking of the same kingdom. Hagelberg, “The Designation,” 1–10, 22.

[16] While it could be argued that these passages are referring to the future aspect of the KH when it merges with the KG, it is hard to understand why Matthew does not simply use KG, which he is not unafraid to use four other times in the gospel. For another text indicating difficulty entering the KH see Matthew 18:3–4.

[17] Foster provides another reason to doubt the distinction as formed in early dispensationalism; namely, KH is used only once (in thirty-two occurrences) in speeches to unbelievers, while KG is used only once in relation to disciples. Foster recognizes the initial implication of this raw data: “Initially, these statistics indicate that KG refers to God’s rule over both the obedient and disobedient, while KH exclusively designates his reign over those who become his family through faith in Jesus.” In other words, this data leads him in the exact opposite direction of early dispensational thought. See Robert Foster, “Why on Earth Use ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?: Matthew’s Terminology Revisited,” New Tes­ta­ment Studies 48.4 (2002): 494.

[18] “The assumption of reverential circumlocution is so widespread that it functions as a consensus in Matthean studies.” Jonathan T. Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 32.

[19] Ladd, Crucial Questions, 123, fn 6.

[20] Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 36.

[21] Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus, D. M. Kay, tr. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), 91–94.

[22] Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 13–37.

[23] “It is often the case that the literary/rhetorical practice of circumlocution is used with no motive of avoidance of the divine name, but instead for other reasons: style, variety, literary allusions, word-play, or theological purpose.” Ibid., 36.

[24] Hagelberg, “The Designation,” 25.

[25] Ibid., 30.

[26] It is clear that Matthew’s gospel is written to the Jewish people. The formulaic Old Testament references (Matt 1:22–23; 2:5–6; 2:15; 2:17–18; 2:23; 4:14–16; 8:17; 12:17–21; 13:35; 21:4–5; 27:9–10:2) and the fact that he traces his lineage back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1) indicate that he was writing to the Hebrew people.

[27] Hagelberg, “The Designation,” 30.

[28] This is dependent on the authorship of Matthew. The present author agrees with Leon Morris that there is more evidence for the apostle Matthew’s authorship than present scholars generally give credit. See Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 12–15.

[29] While Matthew does use theos less frequently than the other gospel writers, the difference is not as striking as one would suppose if Matthew were actively seeking to avoid using the divine name. For a statistical analysis of Matthew’s and Luke’s uses of theos see James M. Gibbs, “Matthew’s use of ‘Kingdom,’ ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’” The Bangalore Theological Forum 8.1 (1976): 60–77.

[30] There is a textual problem in Matthew 6:33. It may be simply “Kingdom.”

[31] John William Drane, Introducing the New Testament, Completely Rev. and Updated (Oxford: Lion, 2000), 115.

[32] Cremer offers another argument against the circum­locution view, suggesting that when heaven is a replacement for God it is always used in the singular. In Matthew, however, the phrase KH is always in the plural. See Herman Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, tr. William Urwick, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, n.d.), 662–63.

[33] Pennington holds to a distinction between circumlocution and metonymy. He notes that they are certainly not hermetically sealed terms that never overlap. Instead, he argues that circumlocution has taken on such baggage that it is no longer useful to understanding Matthew’s point. Matthew is not primarily using KH for the sake of avoiding the divine name, but for the sake of pointing out an aspect of God through the name he is ascribed. In this case, Matthew is using KH to make a theological point. Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 36.

[34]  D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 100. Schweizer offers a similar reading in Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew (Westminster: John Knox, 1975), 47.

[35] Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 53.

[36] Margaret Pamment, “The Kingdom of Heaven According to the First Gospel,” New Testament Studies 27.2 (1981): 211–232; Gibbs, “Matthew’s use of ‘Kingdom,’” 60–77.

[37] Toussaint, Behold the King, 68.

[38] J. Julius Scott Jr., “The Synoptic Gospels,” in Introductory Articles, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zonder­van, 1984), 1: 508.

[39] Some scholars have suggested this or a very similar theme in the past. Especially take note of Jonathan Pennington’s book length defense of essentially the same position the present author is arguing for. This essay is designed to build on and popularize the position offered by these authors. Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon; Hagelberg, “The Designation”; Foster, “Why on Earth Use ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?: Matthew’s Terminology Revisited”; Pennington, Heaven and Earth.

[40] Hagelberg, “The Designation,” 34.

[41] Daniel 2:31–45 speaks of the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in which a statue representing the kingdoms of the world is crushed by the stone from heaven, which grows and becomes a great mountain filling the whole earth. Daniel reveals that the stone is the kingdom, which will supplant all earthly kingdoms and which will be an eternal kingdom.

[42] See Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 268–272.

[43] Daniel 2 has been explained above. Daniel 7 adds to the context of the coming everlasting kingdom by noting that the earthly kingdoms will be usurped by the God of heaven, who will give the kingdom to the Son of Man.

[44] Foster, following the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, finds 34 uses in Luke, but a lemma search with the Logos Greek morphology tool indicates that there are 35 uses. See Foster, “Why on Earth, ” 490; Logos Greek Morphology, Logos Bible Software (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013).

[45] Jonathan T. Pennington, “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12.1 (2008): 47.

[46] Ibid., 45.

[47] Ibid., 46.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Hagelberg, “The Designation,” 39.

[51] Hagelberg notes, “This combination of human and super­natural leadership over the kingdom of earth is reminiscent of Daniel 10:13 where the angel speaks of his battle with the ‘Prince of the Persian kingdom,’ the ‘King of Persia.’” Ibid., 40.

[52] While Matthew does not explicitly mention the kingdom in Matthew 28, he does mention that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world in Matthew 24, which seems to be fulfilled through the Great Commission. Further, the reader who has caught the constant repetition in Matthew between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth will not miss the implication of Jesus’ statement when he declares that all power has been given to him in heaven and earth. Perhaps Matthew is suggesting that all is in place so that Jesus can receive the authority promised to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14. Daniel’s text argues that the kingdom will embrace people from every tribe and tongue, and Matthew’s text expresses the authority of Christ to those who are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

[53] “For thine is the kingdom, power, and glory forever and ever amen,” the latter portion of verse 13, is usually excluded on the grounds that the earliest MSS do not include this doxology. On these grounds, most scholars have concluded the phrase is not an original portion of the Gospel of Matthew. On the other hand, Leon Morris argues, “The case for the doxology is stronger than many students assume.” On the basis of the present study, one can see that the doxology fits nicely with Matthew’s central themes. Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 149.

[54] Matthew stresses God’s provision over both of these in other places in his text. For instance, in Matthew 9:6 Jesus states that He has been given authority on earth to forgive sins. And in 6:33 he notes that seeking God’s kingdom results in God’s meeting the believer’s physical needs.

[55] Nolland expresses this view when he says, “John needed to come to terms with the fact that the one of whom he had now been hearing such remarkable things was, despite the quite unexpected form of his ministry, the one whom he had heralded as eschatological judge and deliverer—‘the one coming after’ John (Mt. 3:11).” John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 450–451.

[56] Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 122.

[57] Philo notes that the idea of earth as footstool serves the “purpose of displaying that even the whole world has not a free and unrestrained spontaneous motion of its own, but God, the ruler of the universe, takes his stand upon it, regulating it and directing everything in a saving manner by the helm of his wisdom.” Philo of Alexandria, “Confusion,” The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, Charles Duke Yonge, tr. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 98.

[58] William Walter Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1050.

[59] For instance, see 2 Sam 22:7–8, where God hears from the heavens and shakes the earth in his anger. Also see Nahum 1:6, where God’s anger causes the rocks to break in pieces. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 1213.

[60] Notably, Matthew emphasizes that the angel had come from heaven to execute God’s will.