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Well, it finally happened. Someone asked a question through the blog and I had to pull out my Greek textbooks and relearn the passive and middle indicative. I know, that means much to you. You don’t care about the indicative mood!
The question was asked about Luke 16:16, which states in the New American Standard that “everyone is forcing his way into” the Gospel of the kingdom of God.
So I went to the quick notes in my the study Bible I have on my desk at home. No help. One commentary stated that people were so attracted to the Gospel of Christ that they would force their way past any obstacle to hear the Gospel from His lips. I found this explanation wanting because the context of Luke 16:16 is a contrasting of the Pharisee’s works-based system of righteousness and the grace-gifted righteousness of Jesus Christ, proclaimed through the Law and realized in the preaching of Christ. The story was not about the multitudes following Jesus.
After this disappointment, I went to the Greek text. Logos classifies this verb as present, middle, indicative. Indicative means that the verb, forcing, indicates something about the subject, everyone. The present middle is a voice indicated the subject’s passive participation. It is different from the active voice in this respect. So, the text is translated, “everyone forces.” Because I wanted to be thorough, I parsed the word for myself. I recognized the passive voice, not the middle. In this case, both the passive and middle are indicated by the same suffix (ται). This is why some translations will read “urgently pressed” or “suffered violence” instead of forced. All are technically correct translations and none of these translations indicates the active voice, unless of course we read an English translation out of context and fail to consider the autographical language of the text. There are some things that are lost in translation. We don’t really have a middle voice in English, so translating is tricky.
We place this in the context of Luke 16 and see that the Gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached and everyone is being forced or forcing his way into it- meaning that the Gospel of grace is the fulfillment of the Law. By the Gospel of grace, everyone is measured. Everyone is pressed against the Gospel of grace, as opposed to religiosity. We do not actively force ourselves into the Gospel. Everyone is subject to the standard of the Gospel. Jesus will go on to explain this in the parable located in Luke 16:19-31. Our hearts are either set against God’s law or toward God (Luke 16:31) and we will not be persuaded against the turning of our hearts. We always choose that which we love (Luke 16:13-14). God knows our hearts (Luke 16:15). This is why many will seek to enter the kingdom of God and will not be able (Luke 13:24).
When we encounter something in the text as interesting as this, we make the assumption, because of our own religious predispositions, that it may somehow be our responsibility to force ourselves into the Gospel, when, in fact, the message is opposed entirely to that idea. The text declares explicitly that we do not overtake the Gospel, it overtakes us and every person is subject according to Christ’s work in fulfillment of the Law, not ours. The Law will not fail to accomplish this purpose (Luke 16:17), and our hearts are revealed to either be adulterous or faithful (Luke 16:18) as we are urgently pressed or as we force our way (middle voice, not active) into the Gospel of the kingdom of God.