Is “Kingdom of Heaven” a Reverential Way of Saying “Kingdom of God”? image

Is “Kingdom of Heaven” a Reverential Way of Saying “Kingdom of God”?

Everybody knows that Matthew uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" to refer to the kingdom of God. Everybody knows that he does this out of respect for the name of God, which he does not want to use (what scholars call a "reverential circumlocution.") But, Jonathan Pennington says, everybody is wrong. Not only does Matthew use the word "God" even more often than he uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" - which makes the reverential circumlocution view very problematic - but there is something else going on in Matthew, and we are in danger of missing it because of an oft-repeated but poorly defended claim:

As we observed, often the circumlocution argument in Matthew stems from the recognition that Matthew’s KOH corresponds to the other evangelists’ KOG. While I agree that these terms correspond and have the same referent, the implication is that Matthew must have not wanted to use theos, thus following the supposed Jewish custom. However, as has been observed by others, Matthew shows no such aversion but in fact uses theos 51 times, even more often than KOH. As McNeile observes, it doesn’t make much sense to say Matthew systematically avoided theos in the KOH instances out of a scrupulous aversion to the name of God, but failed to do so in scores of other parallels where the Mark or Luke have “God.” There must be something going on other than reverential circumlocution.

Finally, and most importantly, there is simply a better solution with more explanatory power than reverential circumlocution: Matthew’s frequent use of heaven is part of the rubric of heaven and earth which is woven richly throughout his Gospel account. I do not have time to develop this idea here, but suffice it to say that this heaven and earth theme in Matthew is manifested by the frequent recurrence of this word-pair, the predominance of the uniquely Matthean KOH, and the repeated reference to the Father in heaven. Rather than dismissing heaven in Matthew as a reverential circumlocution, we need to understand its great literary and theological significance in the first Gospel. It does not stand alone but must be interpreted in light of the whole narrative of Matthew.

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