Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "MATTHEW"
THE TERMS - "Kingdom of
Heaven" and "Kingdom of God" Synonymous
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
THE TERMS - "KINGDOM OF HEAVEN" AND "KINGDOM OF GOD" - SYNONYMOUS
Compare Dr. Scofield's note 1 on Matthew 6:33, in which he elaborates on a
supposed distinction between these alternate phrases. The net result of this
attempt to distinguish the two phrases is that it baffles even Scofield's
friends and gives enormous comfort to his enemies. One writer (George Ladd,
Crucial Questions Concerning the Kingdom of God) feels he has completely
shattered the whole argument for our view (that the Kingdom Christ offered
Israel was rejected and postponed) by the simple expediency of showing that by
all natural language laws the two terms are synonymous. Dr. Ladd is both right
and wrong--right in asserting that the two phrases are properly equated, but
very, very wrong in saying that the argument for the postponed kingdom rests on
the distinction some early premillennial writers made between the kingdom of
heaven and the kingdom of God. (The New Scofield helps very little here.)
The reasons for urging there is no distinction between the two phrases may
- Verbal inspiration argument
Jesus said something about a new form of the kingdom when He gave the parables
of Matthew 13 (Luke 13; Mark 4) that day. What did He say? Matthew records He
said "kingdom of heaven (exceptions--6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31,43). Mark and
Luke record He said "kingdom of God." If the two terms mean different things,
then plainly Matthew misquotes our Lord, or Mark and Luke misquote Him. If
this be true, then the Bible is in error and verbal inspiration is disproved.
To imagine that our Lord is saying approximately the same thing on another day
to another crowd, but with another meaning, is wishful thinking.
- The argument from Daniel's use of the words
The two phrases come to us from Daniel, where the Holy Spirit directs him to
write a great deal about "the kingdom" of the "God of heaven" (Dan. 2:37). God
rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He wills. "The heavens do
rule" (Dan. 4:17,25-26,32; 5:21; "Lord of heaven, 5:23; 7:18,25,27; 7:13-14).
Note that "God, " "the Lord," "the Most High," and "the heavens" are said to
rule. Hence His rule might be called "The Kingdom of (the) God of (or)
Heaven.” Since God's dwelling place is the third heaven, by metonymy "heaven"
is used as a synonym for "God, " just as, e.g., Jesus used "the cup" in
instituting the Lord's Supper as a metonym of that which the cup contains
--"the blood" of Christ (Mt. 26:27; Lk. 22:20). No one stumbles over the
alternate use of "cup" for its contents, "blood" or "wine," Why should we
stumble over the use of the word "heaven" (in the phrase "kingdom of heaven")
as a metonym for "God, " who dwells there?
- The argument from Jesus' use of "heaven" as a synonym
As a matter of fact, the Hebrews used the two terms as synonyms, as witness
the occasion when the prodigal came to his senses and proposed to return to
his father. He planned to say: "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and
before thee" (Lk. 15:18). It is absolutely certain that he meant "I have
sinned against God." Any other idea would make nonsense.
- Scofield's arguments invalid
The arguments for supposed distinctions between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom
of heaven" given in the old Scofield at Mt. 6:33 are not valid.
- Scofield's argument from silence concerning omission of the parables of
wheat and tares and dragnet is invalid. No gospel writer includes
everything. This is the point of the Holy Spirit's guidance in the selection
of materials (Jn. 21:25). Matthew omits Mark's "Parable of Gradual Growth"
(Mk. 4:26-29), not because it says "kingdom of God" (for Luke also omits
it), but because it is not pertinent to his purpose in writing (nor that of
- As to the parable of the leaven, how could Pharisees, Sadducees, and
Herodians be the representatives of errors, if the "kingdom of God" means
only the good and the true? Since both Luke and Matthew use it, they must
have been recording what our Lord said about the same thing, not two
different things. If not, which recorder is wrong?
- The elaborate attempt to show a distinction between the two kingdom
phrases ("of God" and "of heaven") is proved false and artificial by the use
of both phrases by our Lord, speaking to the same men in the same context of
two succeeding verses (Mt. 19:23-24).
- The simpler and better solution is therefore to recognize that the
terms are synonymous. To the objection that our Lord sometimes refers to that
which is good, sometimes that which is bad, sometimes that which includes true
and false, sometimes that which is plainly only the true, it is urged that the
differences are not explained by the phrases "kingdom of heaven" or "kingdom
of God, "but rather by context and the flexibility with which these phrases
are capable of being used. The "kingdom of God" is not always the good, nor
"kingdom of heaven" both the good and the bad, as Scofield urges. Note the
evidence of the following chart showing at least three different possible
||"Kingdom of Heaven"
||"Kingdom of God"
|a. both true and false together
|.....the parable of the soils
||Mark 4 & Luke 13
|.....the parable of wheat and tares
|.....the parable of the dragnet
|b. the true only
|.....the parable of gradual growth
|.....the parable of hid treasure
|.....the parable of the pearl
|c. the false only
|.....the parable of mustard tree
||Mark 4 & Luke 13
|.....the parable of the leaven
It will be observed that Matthew uses "kingdom of heaven" of all three
combinations, and that likewise the "kingdom of God" is used of all three
combinations by Mark and/or Luke. Thus, each of these two phrases is used in the
same way as the other with three different meanings determined by context.
- Lest this should seem confusing or be thought strange, let it be
remembered that we use the word "church" in different contexts to mean
these three things:
- We use "church" to mean Christendom, the true and the false in
the whole professing body of Christ or in any given local area or local
- We use "church" to mean all true believers, those who have been
baptized into the body of Christ, whether we consider the whole period from
Pentecost to the Rapture, or whether we mean all true believers at any one
point of time on earth.
- We use "church" of a heretical group who claim to belong to
Christ, e.g., Church of the Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, or the
Christian Science Church!
Thus, it is perfectly true that sometimes our Lord is talking about the whole
group or sometimes about one part of the group (either the true or false, good
or evil). But He does this regardless of whether He is using the phrase "kingdom
of heaven" or "kingdom of God." The difference is not a distinction between the
words "heaven" or "God, " but a distinction of thought while using the same
words, or using the different words interchangeably.
David Baron, the great Hebrew Christian author, sponsors this view,
suggesting that Matthew in writing to the Jews is aware of their reticence to
use the name of Deity, because of which sensitivity they very often substituted
the word "heaven," used by metonymy for "God." Thus, as our Lord spoke, He used
both terms freely as synonyms, but each writer used the word best suited to his
readers; Matthew used "heaven" (for Jews); Mark, "God" (for Romans); and Luke,
"God" (for Greeks).
It is interesting that in the first ten chapters, Matthew uses "God" 18
times; Mark, 29 times; Luke, 55 times; John, 53 times. Matthew uses "Father" for
God over 40 times; Luke, less than 20 times; Mark, less than 4 times. This tends
to support a disposition on the part of Matthew to avoid overuse of "God."
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