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Kingdom of God vs. Kingdom of Heaven: A Meaningful Difference?

Having seen in the prior posts (1 | 2) the priority of the kingdom in the gospels – both in declaring Jesus the rightful king over all and in Jesus’ own preoccupation with the kingdom – we must ask an important question. Is there a meaningful difference between the term “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”? Matthew, in his gospel, always uses the term “kingdom of heaven” while Mark and Luke both use “kingdom of God.” Is there a difference?

Let me suggest that the difference is not of meaning in the term but rather primarily with respect to audience. Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience which held names for God in the utmost of respect. Heaven, then became a word used as a substitute for the venerable name of God. Last year, I was presenting at a conference on leadership. While attending another session at the conference, one of the presenters, Jewish by descent, wrote and spoke of “G-D.” That is, even today, rather than use the name of God, he inserted a dash for the vowels. That is what we are talking about here. Matthew, knowing his primary audience was Jewish, substituted the word “heaven” for the word “God” in deference to their tradition.

Mark and Luke, on the other hand, were writing to more Gentile audiences (Luke himself was a Gentile). A phrase like “kingdom of heaven” would not have had context or meaning to their audiences. So, they use the phrase “kingdom of God” because it was more contextualized and meaningful to their audience.

So, in short, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are not two different expressions with two different meanings. No, they are one and the same, contextualized for the original audiences of the gospel writers.

Interact: What expressions do we contextualize in our culture to help our audience understand us and make sure our message is clear?



One Response

  1. Thanks for explaining the reason behind the two versions of this important phrase. You are correct — the two phrases are equivalent.

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