I did a search and saw that the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" appears exclusively in the Gospel according to Matthew. However, the phrase "Kingdom of God" appears a few times in Matthew, but is also quite prevalent in Mark and Luke. It also appears twice in John 3, several times in Acts and Paul's letters.

Clarence Larkin has a diagram that seems to distinguish between the two kingdoms somehow as well:

The Kingdom of God vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

What, then, is the difference or distinction between these two kingdoms?

  • Does you have a reference where he explains this chart? – Ryan Frame Apr 4 '13 at 13:23
  • @RyanFrame No, I have a book at home that may have it in there. – Narnian Apr 4 '13 at 13:23
  • Just by the nature of God I think one should say the Kingdom of God is everything that is; that is why Eternity is shown outside of it. The Kingdom of Heaven has more to do with the church and the saved. – fгedsbend Apr 4 '13 at 15:22
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    Mr. Larkin has done quite a few charts. – fгedsbend Apr 4 '13 at 15:23
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The idea of a kingdom in the biblical sense is not just a sphere under the royal power of a monarch, but a living supra terrestrial life of which God sits on a throne as a redeemer, priest, prophet, judge and king. All in this sphere are redeemed by his blood and born into this invisible realm by faith. Jehovah in Christ is their God, master and royal Lord. Christ is that single person who possesses everything under his rule and so he is filled with royal glory.

The idea of God's kingdom is related to those images found in David and promised in Messiah, but it is God himself in his divinity that is the root of the definition:

And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:3-5, NIV)

As far as the term 'kingdom of God' verses 'kingdom of heaven' there is no difference. Mathew wrote primarily to a Jewish audience that preferred to avoid the term God, as it was taboo to speak his holy name. However, the other evangelists seem to prefer 'kingdom of God' as Gentiles would more easily understand the Messianic aspect from that term, rather then revert to their own philosophical notions of 'heaven'.

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  • The chart in the original posting, however, implies a relationship, but also a difference between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God. Actually, looking closely, the chart implies a timeline of sorts. – fгedsbend Apr 4 '13 at 18:58
  • @fredsbend (and @Narnian): but is the question asking for the differences between the kingdoms, or specifically Clarence Larkin's interpretation of the differences? – Ryan Frame Apr 4 '13 at 20:33
  • Well, looking closely again, the chart implies that in the end they are merged and become one. I think Narnian is asking for a little of both. – fгedsbend Apr 4 '13 at 21:11
  • @fredsbend - I think the question should be according to a the dispensational view of Clarance I was focusing on the title and never noticed the question is quite narrow. I don't think my answer is that good if I am right. – Mike Apr 4 '13 at 22:57
  • Perhaps. This chart is very similar but not identical. Hints the same timeline thing. – fгedsbend Apr 5 '13 at 0:01

Presupposing a difference between the two was popular towards the beginning of the 20th century. Most modern scholars, however, conclude there is no difference. A simple parallel study of the New Testament usage shows why.

  • Matthew was written to the Hebrews and refers mainly to to the 'Kingdom of Heaven' (with the exceptions of Matthew 6:33; 12:28; 19:14,24; 21:31,43).
  • The rest of the New Testament only ever uses the term 'Kingdom of God'.
  • When the Gospel accounts are viewed in Parallel, in the places where Matthew uses the term 'Kingdom of Heaven', the Luke uses the 'Kingdom of God'.

As Jesus likely spoke in a language other than the Greek the writers of the Gospels used, the Holy Spirit inspired each writer to translate whatever language Jesus used into these respective phrases. Hence, there is also no contradiction, because the exact language Jesus spoke is not represented.

See also the answers to the same question at BH.SE.

George E Ladd was a prominent theologian who wrote on the topic of the Kingdom of God. In his notable work, "The Presence of the Kingdom", he laid out what many have come to call the 'already but not yet' approach to understanding the concept of the Kingdom of God.

In a footnote #11 in chapter 4, he writes,

No difference of meaning is to be seen between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" (Greek: the kingdomofthe heavens) although the latter may place somewhat more emphasis on the trancendental source and character of the Kingdom. It is the Kingdom which comes from heaven and enters this world (H. D. Wendland, Eschatologie [1931], p. 15). The difference of expression is linguistic, reflectingthe Semitic and Greek elements in the Gospel tradition. "The Kingdom of the heavens" a is Semitic idiom which would be meaningless to the Greek ear. Matthew alone has the Semitic idiom (34 times) except for some manuscript tradition in John 3:4. "Kingdom of God" is found everywhere in Mark and Luke as well as in Matthew 12:28, 19:24 (?); 21:31, 43. Probably Jesus favored the semitic form of the expression, thus following the usual rabbinic form.

GE Ladd, The Presence of the Future, Revised Edition, p 110.

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  • Kingdom of God does occur in Matthew in 6:33, 12:28, 19:24, 21:31 and 21:43. There is a very strong tendency, but it's not complete. – curiousdannii Dec 4 '14 at 23:12
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    @curiousdannii Interesting. Edited to reflect. – user16825 Dec 4 '14 at 23:15
  • @curiousdannii: However, majority of those probably have textual variants. Did you review any critical apparatii? – user900 Dec 5 '14 at 1:27
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 I didn't. Was just commenting on BH's then blanket statement that it never appears in Matthew. Maybe some or all might not be original, but that's something for someone else to put in an answer. – curiousdannii Dec 5 '14 at 1:38
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 I was still looking for my source after curiousdannii corrected me.. seems like it was Ladd or Dodd or someone like that, but still looking. – user16825 Dec 5 '14 at 16:00

Because we now know (*) that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were substantially based on Mark's Gospel, and because the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have additional material in common, believed to have come from the hypothetical 'Q' document, we can compare the three gospels and look for passages where other gospels use 'kingdom of God' where Matthew uses 'kingdom of heaven'. If such passages exist, they will point to there being no material difference between the two terms, with the choice of 'kingdom of heaven' simply being a stylistic difference.

One parallel in which Mark was the original for the passage in Matthew is Matthew 13:11, which uses 'kingdom of heaven', while the original in Mark 4:11 uses 'kingdom of God':

Matthew 13:11: He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Mark 4:11: And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

One parallel in which Matthew and Luke have similar passages, from the 'Q' document (where minor differences in wording exist, most scholars believe Luke is closer to the original in Q):

Matthew 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 6:20: And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

Examples such as these show that the author of Matthew chose to use 'kingdom of heaven' even when copying a passage that used the term 'kingdom of God'.

However, sometimes our author chose to use 'kingdom of God', in line with his sources, for example:

Matthew 19:24: And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

(*) John Dominic Crossan, in The Birth of Christianity, page 110-111, speaks of a massive consensus among scholars in favour of Markan priority. He says there is a smaller, but still substantial majorityof scholars who believe that the hypothetical 'Q' document was the source of other material on which Matthew and Luke agree.

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