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The Kingdom of God is “Within your reach”

April 12, 2018

It’s amazing how slowly the work of papyrologists influences the work of other scholars.  Here’s an example.  In Luke 17:20-21, Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God will come, and Jesus responds exhorting that it doesn’t come “with observation” (a term used also for medical observation of symptoms) and by pointing “here or there,” for the kingdom of God is ἐντὸς ὑμῶν (“entos humon”).  

The plural form of the pronoun (“humon“) is commonly recognized as calling into question the translation of the phrase in the KJV, “the kingdom of God is within you” (as if in some sort of mystical sense.)  So, commentaries now typically prefer something like, “the kingdom of God is among you” or “in your midst”.

But 70 years ago, C. H. Roberts pointed out that the expression (and variations of it) in papyri roughly contemporary with the NT writings more reasonably meant that something or someone was “within reach,” or “to hand.”  (C.H. Roberts, “The Kingdom of Heaven,” Harvard Theological Review 41, 1948, pp. 1-8).   So, the phrase should probably be rendered:  “the kingdom of God is within your reach,” or “near to hand.”  (As commentators commonly observe, the statement here probably alludes to Jesus’ ministry as the vehicle of the kingdom of God.)

Commentators can be forgiven, I suppose, because even the important resource, the Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich/Danker lexicon of the NT and early Christian literature, buries the reference to Roberts’ article and its results well down into the entry for ἐντός.

(The phrasing of the statement in The Gospel of Thomas (logion 3), “the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you,” reflects the emphasis on interiority in this esoteric-leaning writing.)


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  1. This is surprising, given the prevalence of the English translation of “near” or “at hand” for what Jesus was found to have said other times in each of the synoptic gospels, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand / has come near” (in English translation; I’m not comparing the Greek) – Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Luke 10:9. One would imagine that perhaps the translators might compare Jesus’ intent with other passages where he said things similar. Fascinating!

  2. apoloniolatariii permalink

    Hello Dr. Hurtado,

    Have you read Prof. Ramelli’s article on this?

    She argues that it would be better to translate it as “The kingdom of God is inside you,” which also fits the syriac version.

    • Dr. Ramelli certainly mounts a big and assiduously argued case for her view. It is certainly also true that the expression was often taken as she proposes in later centuries (NB: in later centuries when the eschatological dimension had declined and more of an interiority-spirituality was favored). But there are two disappointments about her study: (1) she tends to focus on the use of “entos” rather than on the sort of expression “entos humin” that we have in Luke 17:21. Good linguistic method requires analysis of an idiomatic phrase, not simply the component word. Many of her examples obviously can only mean “within X”, but they are cases where the term “entos” is used with a singular noun or pronoun. (2) She includes a reference to Colin Roberts’ article in a footnote along with many other studies, but incorrectly lists him in support of “in your midst,” whereas Roberts argued on the basis of papyri examples (which Ramelli doesn’t engage) that the phrase likely meant “to hand” or “available to you.”

  3. john mitrosky permalink

    Larry you bring up the difference between inklings of “kingdom present” in Jesus’ activity, or in my view, simple things, like women baking leavened bread in the present, as compared to Thomas being more “esoteric-leaning”. I think esoteric is there in the canonical gospels as well (Mark 4:11, the Son/Father teaching in Matt, etc.). Thomas cannot be discounted any more than Mark or Matt, or Luke can as a source for the historical Jesus’ sometimes esoteric-leanings. One of the latest papers involved with Thomas I’ve read is by the great scholar Pierluigi Piovanelli. He does a nice summary on this matter in referring to April’s massively deep work on Thomas. Unfortunately, Michel’s suggestion is yet to be taken up. I wish he would have started with that, instead of ending with it:

    • Sorry,John. I know you cherish certain things, but the blatantly esoteric nature of GThomas is clear from the opening words: “the SECRET sayings of the living Jesus.” And logion 13 is rather clear in counterposing a secret knowledge withheld from all the other apostles, etc. We have none of this in the NT Gospels. The GThomas is more indicative of how some Christians of the second century engaged in what Wisse called “thought experiments”, and not so much a historical source for Jesus.

      • john mitrosky permalink

        You could be correct Larry. I just find it fascinating that if Thomas is beholden to “thought experiment” speculation on the Synoptic Gospels only, whomever wrote it managed to create so many compelling matches with Mark and Kloppenborg’s hypothetical Q1 layer, which comprises perhaps one half of the sayings. No doubt the document is more developed “esoterically” than the Synoptics, but that does not mean it does not contain a more primitive layer within it, that points to unknown common Greek written sources and perhaps also oral sources, which account for the Markan and Q1 parallels.

        Saying 13, for example, would belong to these late “esoteric” developments, as might approximately half of the Thomas sayings. It is the Q1 theory layer and Mark parallels that predominantly interests and fascinates, at least moi. Plus April and many others have shown that Thomas does not need apocalyptic son of man sayings to be eschatological at its primitive core. So no apologies for that my friend! .

      • John: Please!!! One final response to what I ask to be your final statement on advocating GThomas. “Q1” is a hypothetical “layer” of a hypothetical text. Let’s not make a whole lot depend on that. (See my discussion of “Q” in Lord Jesus Christ).
        Second, GThomas does preserve some forms of some sayings that have corresponding (and earlier) versions in GMark and or “Q” material. That, however, still makes GThomas secondary to those texts, not an “independent” witness. What we have, John, is not some theoretical “layer” of GThomas of some earlier period, but the text before us. And it is unquestionably an elitist and esoteric text, expressing disdain for what the authors/readers regard as the bovine level of ordinary Christians, and offering a highly ascetic and esoteric set of ideas. (See my discussion of GThomas in Lord Jesus Christ). But this is the end of this line of discussion. We’re getting nowhere, as your prior commitments are evident.

  4. I’m bilingual (Spanish-English), and I read the Christian Scriptures in Spanish, English and Koine Greek (I’m still working on my Hebrew and Aramaic). And I gotta say, the Spanish Reina-Valera version is usually better than all English versions that I’ve read. So, when it comes to GLuke 17:20-21, ἐντὸς ὑμῶν is translated ‘entre vosotros’ (among y’all), and a common interpretation has been that Jesus is referring to himself and his message.

  5. Curious: how can “within your reach” or “to hand” be understood to be in contrast with “by observation” and “here or there”? That is, how is it possible that something is none of “here”, “there” or “observable”, but at the same time it is “to hand” or “within your reach”? The only answers I can imagine are all quite esoteric-leaning!

    • Doug: Sorry that you miss the point. “By observation” = trying to calculate when or where something might come/be, in contrast to “at hand,” “within your reach”, which = it’s here, now. In context, it’s Jesus and his activities that seem to be the phenomena that represent the kingdom’s presence.

      • Larry: you say ‘ “within your reach”, which = it’s here, now’… but Jesus says, “nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ (Luke 17:21 ESV)” Those two don’t seem to fit together very well.

      • Doug: You’re really having trouble reading the text, aren’t you (or are you simply trying to be difficult?). The reference to “here or there” is part of the “by calculation” statement. It’s an expression. The contrasting statement = “no need to go looking; it’s right to hand.”

      • Larry: This is what Jesus says: “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is ἐντὸς ὑμῶν”. The words “nor will they say” do not give any indication that “here or there” is part of the “by calculation” statement. Jesus is saying that “it is here” is exactly what people will not be able to say about the Kingdom of God. (if you choose to reply, would you kindly forgo the insults next time? thanks)

      • Doug: No insult intended, just some exasperation with your continuing inability to grasp the text. Let’s start from what we do know: The entos humin phrase = “available”, “at your reach”, “to hand”. That’s not up for discussion. So, when this contrasts with “not by observation, nor by claiming ‘here’ or ‘there’,” this phrasing means something else than the entos humin. I’ve already said that the Koine expression translated “nor here nor there” is an idiom that here = searching for something that is already before your face. But, Doug, you just think what you like. We’re done.

  6. Joshua Paul Smith permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    Thanks for this enlightening post. A friend of mine pointed out that the parenthetical you include at the end kind of undermines the force of your argument; If the author of GThomas took ἐντὸς ὑμῶν to refer to some sense of mystical interiority, doesn’t that mean that early readers of Luke might have understood it in that sense, as well? Personally, I’m more inclined to agree with you, but I’m curious what your response to my friend’s question might be.

    • The Gospel of Thomas reflects a tendentious modification of Gospel sayings at a number of points, e.g., logion 13! The saying I quoted isn’t due to trying to understand the idiom in Luke, but reflects the highly individualized spirituality advocated in GThomas.

  7. Todd Scacewater permalink

    Larry, can you explain the semantic difference you see between these two phrases, “in your midst” and “within your reach”? I know we want the proper translation; I’m only wondering if both are compatible with the definition of the kingdom as dynamic, salvific power of God through the Spirit (per Vos, Ladd et al.). In both cases, the kingdom would be spatial insofar as God’s power extends into this world through the Spirit, and in that sense, it could be ‘in their midst’ (because Jesus was) or ‘within their reach’ because it was so close to them. Or does ‘within their reach’ mean more of something attainable if they satisfy the requirements? Thanks for your continued blogging efforts, they’re very often enlightening, and I frequently share with my audience at

    • Todd: The two translations you mention are not opposites, but my point is that Roberts showed the more idiomatic use of the expressions. The kingdom of God is “within reach”, close by, not something far off, its arrival to be calculated. That’s the drift of the statement.

      • Todd Scacewater permalink

        That’s what I figured, and I appreciate the clarification. Thanks

  8. Ron Minton permalink

    Thanks again for good info. I show one typo only because it could be misunderstood.
    “the kingdom is inside your and it is outside you,” should be
    “the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you,”

  9. Dr. H.,
    Thanks for this post. I was exposed to Roberts understanding a long while ago in a Sunday school. I was persuaded then and remain so now. I appreciate you pointing out the phrasing in the GT. The mystical/esoteric understanding seems out of place in Jesus’ mouth.

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