What was the first century concept of βασιλεία, which is translated as “kingdom” (as in The Kingdom of God)? I’m curious because I’m sure I bring twenty-first century American assumptions about the term that are anachronistic and that obscure what Jesus was teaching about the kingdom in his preaching and parables.
Biblehub.com reports that βασιλεία is derived from βασιλέως (king). Another site states that it is derived from the verb for “I rule, I am king”.
One article summarizes the scholarly opinion that βασιλέως originally referred to a headman or village chieftain and was derived from a verb meaning “to step, to march” as in “the one who goes ahead,” hence a leader of a small community with hereditary ties.
The first definition of βασιλεία (sometimes the only definition in the online lexicons I searched) is again more verb-like than noun-ish. The word is synonymous with power, authority, leadership, dominion. When a βασιλέως is doing his βασιλέως-thing, then you have a βασιλεία. The reverse should also be true-- no leader leading or no followers following, then no βασιλεία.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament makes a similar noun-that’s-like-a-verb argument. βασιλεία “signifies the ‘being,’ ‘nature,’ and ‘state’ of the βασιλέως (1:579).
For some reason I’m getting stuck here, and I’m curious about the cause for this mental cul-de-sac. A noun implies a verb . . . okay . . . so? βασιλεία and βασιλέως carry the connotation of a person acting rather than terms that only refer to a geographical place or a person distinct from his behavior. And again I ask, so what . . . what’s the big deal . . . what am I supposed to be noticing? Because that’s the way it feels, like there’s some religious truth here that I’m not picking up on, and I have to stay here until I learn it, whatever it is.
Observation 1-- there must be a βασιλέως for there to be a βασιλεία.
Observation 2-- the βασιλέως must behave like a βασιλέως for there to be a βασιλεία.
Observation 3-- without a βασιλεία, a person is not a βασιλέως.
Implication 1-- there is a divine βασιλέως
Implication 2-- the divine βασιλέως does behave like a βασιλέως (leading with wisdom, fairness, and effectiveness)
Implication 3-- Jesus faithfully follows the divine βασιλέως, whom he calls “Abba, Daddy”. Therefore, there is a small, familial divine βασιλεία.
Observation 4-- Our ability to discern and faithfully follow the leadership of the divine βασιλέως is minimal. He is not our hereditary chieftain.
Implication 4-- Our inability does not detract from the authority of the βασιλέως nor does it diminish the βασιλεία.
Observation 5-- The faithfulness of Jesus and our faith in Christ’s ability to bring us into the divine βασιλεία is the basis of our hope.
Ah! I see now. I took a lunch break and had a eureka moment. I associate the calm and peace I experience in prayer with the grace of God, and I’m persuaded by Wesley’s doctrinal argument that this is also an experience of the Kingdom of God within. In other words, a glimpse of what eternity with God will be like.
Calm and peace, that’s my religious experience, not a direct sense of God. My sense of the inward βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ is my proof of the existence of a divine βασιλέως. I glimpse the βασιλεία. Ergo, there is a βασιλέως. Not good. My faith should be based on Christ, not on an embodied perception that is subject to the vagrancy of my mind or the health of my body.
No wonder I would prefer to read about spirituality than about theology. Spirituality is my default position, my go-to proof for God, rather than a theological argument.
Cul-de-sac exited. Whew!