Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "MATTHEW"
THE TERMS - "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Kingdom of God" Synonymous


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Return to "The Kingdom Postponed" III. 12:46-28:20 (and the Church DISCLOSED), Summary of Chapter 13

Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


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 be summarized:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    1. 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 Luke).
    2. 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?
  5. 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).
  6. 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 meanings:


  "Kingdom of Heaven" "Kingdom of God"
a.  both true and false together  
.....the parable of the soils Matthew 13 Mark 4 & Luke 13
.....the parable of wheat and tares Matthew 13  
.....the parable of the dragnet Matthew 13
b. the true only  
.....the parable of gradual growth   Mark 4
.....the parable of hid treasure Matthew 13  
.....the parable of the pearl Matthew 13
c. the false only  
.....the parable of mustard tree Matthew 13 Mark 4 & Luke 13
.....the parable of the leaven Matthew 13 Luke 13

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.

  1. 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:
    1. 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 church.
    2. 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.
    3. 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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