Paul and his Kingdom Problem – Part 1

By: Jason Wermuth
Saturday, April 10th, 2010

The apostle Paul is well known for many of his theological insights, such as his theology of justification, salvation, sanctification, glorification and all of the other Pauline words that, in English, end in “-ation.” Many scholars note, however, the scarcity of references to the kingdom of God in Paul’s epistles. Since this is the central theme of Jesus’ message, this would appear to be a problem!

Many suggestions have been offered in reference to the lack of kingdom language in Paul. Some suggest that he knew nothing of Jesus’ teaching, and thus he knew little of the kingdom of God. This answer is unsatisfactory, however, since as a good Jew, from the pharisaic tradition, he would have certainly been well acquainted with the promise of the coming kingdom found in places such as Daniel 7 and elsewhere throughout the Jewish Scriptures. Furthermore, Paul does indeed use kingdom language in his letters, albeit rarely.

Why do you think Paul talked about the kingdom of God so rarely?

In most instances Paul uses kingdom language eschatalogically (referring to the end of the age), and many use this fact to show that Paul knew nothing of the “at-hand” kingdom that Jesus was set on inaugurating in the present. Some, such as James Dunn (see his The Theology of Paul the Apostle, pp. 190-191) have proposed that there is more to Paul’s understanding of the kingdom of God than many have given him credit for.

Dunn contends that Paul replaced much of the kingdom language associated with Jesus’ teaching with Spirit-language and I am inclined to agree with him on this point. He shows that in the synoptic Gospels, “the kingdom” is mentioned some 105 times. In contrast, Paul uses the term kingdom of God (or related variations) only 14 times. Paul, however, mentions the Spirit over 110 times. Could it be then that through Paul’s emphasis on the Spirit we may see allusions to Jesus’ not-yet/already tension of the kingdom of God?

Next week we will look at why Paul uses the phrase so rarely and we will survey the pertinent passages in relation to Paul’s view of the kingdom to attempt to understand what Paul means when he does use kingdom language and how this compares to Jesus’ use of the phrase.

Does Paul actually view the kingdom of God similarly to Jesus? What would it mean for Christian theology if Paul truly knew nothing of Jesus’ teachings? What role does the kingdom of God play in your own theology?

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Jason Wermuth
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6 Responses to “Paul and his Kingdom Problem – Part 1”

  1. PJ says:

    Very intriguing thought. I don’t see anything wrong with what Paul was saying…in fact I see it lining up with Jesus. Jesus said God’s will was for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Paul seems to suggest the same concept when he talks about dying to yourself and letting the spirit make you a new creation.

    Jesus talked about that Kingdom of heaven and that it was near. I tend to believe that he was talking about his spirit coming down and living in each one of us. Don’t get me wrong I still believe and long to one day be in heaven and for God to come and set free the rest of the world of sin, but I believe that Jesus wants to live and reign in each of our lives. I think this is one of the most central messages in the Pauline writings. Paul was always urging and encouraging his Churches to grow closer to God and be filled with the spirit. I think this was just fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus said he would send us the comforter…His spirit and he did it at Pentecost.

    Praise him forever…we are forever indebted for what Christ did at Calvary. Christ led the way and gave us his spirit so we would become a NEW CREATION! Praise Jesus!

    • Jason Wermuth says:

      Thanks for the comment Jess. It is true that Jesus saw the kingdom of God coming in and through his own presence. He thought the kingdom of God was present and at hand. Paul also seem to have that idea in his talk about the Spirit. Next weeks post will talk more about how Paul uses kingdom language.

  2. Matt Brake says:

    I think it could also be argued, that even if Paul didn’t know anything of Jesus’ teachings, that the “kingdom at hand” that Jesus spoke of performs the same functionality as Paul’s “living by the Spirit” (which is your ultimate point…I’m just saying that it seems apparent without even saying it…even though I’m glad you said it….THANKS for saying it ;)

  3. Kristen says:

    Great post! I am looking forward to next weeks.

  4. Lorraine says:

    I really like the thought provoking context of your blog and I am looking forward to next weeks also.