The kingdom of God is within you?

Two verses I often see misused amongst Christian mystics (and I am speaking as a Christian mystic here) are “Be still, and know that I am God” from Pslam 46 and “the kingdom of God is within you” from Luke 17.

Again, context is the issue.

Psalm 46:10

Read holistically, Psalm 46 is a psalm about finding refuge in a time of trouble, most likely war. In verses immediately proceeding the one in question it is said,

“Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.”

This is the psalm of the terrified soldier not the psalm of the tranquil monk. That’s not to say the instruction can’t be transferred to other contexts, but let’s face it, it’s not the firmest verse to build a contemplative prayer ministry on.

Luke 17:21

Read holistically, Luke 17:21 is better translated as “the kingdom of God is among you” or “in your midst” than “within you”. Most bible translations acknowledge this as an alternate reading, but most scholars insist it’s the alternate reading that’s the more contextual one. Consider the verses proceeding the saying:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is [in your midst].”

Note it is the pharisees Jesus is speaking to here, not the disciples. Jesus is the king they do not recognise, ushering in a kingdom they actively oppose. It would be ironic in the extreme for Jesus to identify the Pharisees as bearers of the kingdom. More likely Jesus is making an oblique reference to himself and his activity. So again, if you are looking for a verse that expresses an experience of unity with God this in not the best one.

6 thoughts on “The kingdom of God is within you?

  1. Great job with these, Matt. Goes to the basic rule of hermeneutics: a passage cannot mean today what it did not mean to the original hearers.
    There is nothing more important that reading scripture in its bigger context (pericope/book/covenant) … it’s amazing how it informs the perspective. :^)


  2. Loving the emphasis on the context, but not sure that it wipes these two out of the running in terms of Christian mysticism. With the first I think that that connection with God in the middle of trouble & turmoil (which can be acknowledged as exactly that) is a particularly Christian aspect of prayer, that God is not away from us in difficulty, but ‘God with us’ in it all.
    With the second, it seems like whichever way you translate it, the gist is that the kingdom of God is presently here & right under your noses… which I find a good reminder from Jesus not to miss seeing him in the present moment.
    Mind, I suppose a book all about God and people might have something on that theme whichever way you cut it, lol.


  3. @Fire-girl. I agree the gist of Luke 17:21 is “that the kingdom of God is presently here & right under your noses.” But I think the subtext is “…and you’re missing it.” Jesus is throwing down the gaultlet to the Pharisees and I think this is precisely what many mystics, particularly of the ecclectic New Age variety, seem to miss. When the text is translated as “within” and ripped from its context it’s all too easy to mistake it for an affirmation of universalism. Make a mistake like that, and yes, you can end up with mysticism, but not of a particularly Christocentric variety.
    So, I’m just suggesting that Christian mysticism needs to be grounded elsewhere, in passages that are genuninely directed to disciples and genuinely speak of unitative experiences.


  4. Matt, I appreciate that you’re trying to keep it real (let’s not get started on “Go into your inner room and pray to you Father in secret” as a warrant for contemplative prayer), but I’m not sure your read of Luke 17:21 is as unproblematic as you seem to think. Unless you’re rejecting the last few decades of critical scholarship, Luke is late, and reuses older sayings sources to serve his narrative constructed also from earlier sources – this isn’t an eye-witness piece of journalism. Still, I’d be inclined to agree with your reading if it weren’t for the use of a very similar saying in Thomas (logion 3):
    Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you,
    ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’
    then the birds of the sky will precede you.
    If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’
    then the fish will precede you.
    Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
    When you know yourselves, then you will be known,
    and you will understand that you are children of the living Father.
    But if you do not know yourselves,
    then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”
    Obviously, like the author(s) of Luke, the Thomasines have their own concerns to advance, but my sense is that the saying functions in the way that mystics want it to when read across these two sources, rather than in the Lukan context alone.
    I appreciate that for Christians with a doctrinal requirement to ignore Thomas as non-canonical the reading must be restricted to Luke, so that might make this all a great deal simpler.


  5. I find the evidence of Jewish > Greek transmission far more compelling than Greek > Jewish transmission so I’m not inclined to take Gnostic scriptures as particularly authentic or, hence, authoritative in comparison to the New Testament scriptures. Particularly given the low opinion of textual transmission and high opinion of speculative mythologizing amongst ancient Gnostics. I consider Thomas worth studying, but as a contextual reference point only, not as a reference point for self-consciously Christian mysticism. I recognize you probably don’t agree with that but I’ll lay it on the table for discussion.


  6. Matt What about?
    “Blessed are the pure in Heart for they will see God” (Matthew)
    what we can take from this and other statements is “access” to god and his kingdom is from within you and not outside.
    the statmenets in the old statement, back to Adam and Eve,
    that God breathed his living spirit “inside” of man.


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