January 30, 2023

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and the first of the so-called beatitudes. I have read, and even repeated as true, that Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God” as other gospels do, because he was, or was writing to, devote Jews who would have found it a breach of the commandment not to use the name of the Lord your God in vain to do so in the phrase “kingdom of God.” But later in the beatitudes he tells the pure in heart that they shall see God and that the peacemakers will be called children of God. Why can he use God in these phrases and not in “kingdom of God.” And what about Matthew 6:33 where the King James version quotes Jesus as saying “seek ye first the kingdom of God?” I did come across a writer that shared my concern. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity school when she wrote this, states in Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, “Since Matthew also uses ‘Kingdom of God’ as well as the word God about fifty times, heaven cannot be a stand-in for God. Rather, Matthew is setting up a contrast between heaven and earth: heaven is where God’s will is done” (xiii). It’s a nuance for sure but it reminded me not to assume everything I’ve read is without question. Kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

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