NIV 2011 on Matt 11:12, 16 and 19

I am happy to see that the NIV2011 has kept the TNIV rendering of this verse as opposed to the old NIV. It says:  “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”

While it is not clear to me what raiding the kingdom of heaven means, I suppose the readers may get the idea of people attacking it and trying to get rid of it. The Greek verbs are present tense, which is lost in the RSV and other versions influenced by it, like NIV2011. Herod stopped John the Baptist from announcing the kingdom by putting him in jail, and Jesus has many opponents in these chapters of Matthew. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians opposed Jesus for each their own reasons. What they had in common was a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah as well as much of his teachings and actions. The English “until” is also misleading, but that is another topic in itself.

I am not really surprised (though a bit disappointed) that the NIV2011 is close to TNIV and still essentially a literal translation, but this verse is one place where NIV2011 is better than NLT and most other English versions.

V. 16 is very unclear and misleading: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others.” Jesus often used a special phrase to refer in an oblique way to those in his audience who lacked faith and opposed him. The phrase has come into Greek as τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην. The phrase does not mean this generation. For any who are interested, there is an article about it called Who is this generation? here. Jesus is referring to those opponents who are attacking both John the Baptist and himself in various ways.

The introduction of the parable is also misleading. The parable or illustration talks about two groups of children. One group is inviting another group to either a festive or sombre event. The other group refuses to join them in both cases. The festive invitation is from Jesus: listen to the good news of God’s kingdom, while the sombre  invitation is from John the Baptist: Repent and turn from your sinful life! The children who refuse are a picture of the people characterised as “this generation” (i.e. some people). They accuse Jesus of being a glutton and drunkard, and accuse John of being crazy. They will not join either of them.

Finally, in v. 19, NIV2011 says: But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. One problem here is with the genitive her deeds. A person or the personified wisdom can not testify about itself. It is not wisdom who does any deeds/actions. It is people who act as a result of hearing words of wisdom. It is a genitive of source, acts resulting from wisdom. The parallel in Luke 7:35 has “all her children”. It may well have been a proverbial saying. The intended association with children is probably obedience as well as likeness to parents. A possible translation could be: And wisdom is vindicated by those who follow it. (I am sure an English speaker could do better.) Even though there are many who reject the wisdom of John and Jesus, there are some who believe and follow the wisdom they brought, and it is those people who will realize that it was in fact wisdom. They will understand that John was not crazy, and Jesus was not a glutton and drunkard.

31 thoughts on “NIV 2011 on Matt 11:12, 16 and 19

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    Iver, you obviously have studied Koine, and Matthew, and your observations are valuable, but I think you may have overstated something in your paper when you said that hOUTOS is *always* anaphoric (backward looking). There appear to be other instances, even in Matthew:

    Mat 2:5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet:

    Mat 18:14 In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that one of these little ones be lost.

    And I disagree with your take on Matt 5:17-19, that “these minimal commands” refers to the law of Moses; rather in my view, it looks forward to the “law of Christ” that he proceeds to give, not from Sinai, but from the mount.

    Also, I’m not sure how you want to translate GENEA in verse 16. I know you object to “generation” or “people of this day” but missed where you offered your preferred reading.

    I do think that it might refer to the Jews (because the NT and even the OT are full of obnoxious claims that the Jews are a particularly hardhearted race/people, vicious dogs, brood of vipers, etc).

    But given the context, I’m not certain that he isn’t referring to the then current generation.

    Finally, I wanted to point out an important anaphoric reference later in this passage:

    Mat 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid **these things** from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

    “These things” are John and Jesus’ calls for repentance, no?

    If so, then this gives credence to the “men of these days” reading, because these particular cities at this particular time were exalted, educated, rich etc, rather than easily convinced “babes.” The gospel message is not tailored to a sophisticated palate, but to a practical one:

    1Co 1:22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom,
    1Co 1:23 but we preach about a crucified Christ,23 a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

  2. John Hobbins says:

    Here, here, for the fact that NIV2011 is “an essentially literal translation.” It accomplishes that while avoiding stilted syntax, by and large, at the same time.

    I differ with you, Iver, about Wisdom. Wisdom is personified in places in the Bible, beginning with passages in Proverbs and Job. Since wisdom is presented as a person, she is also presented as having deeds. I would distrust a translation that sees fit to erase this fundamental trope

  3. Iver Larsen says:


    I agree that hOUTOS is occasionally cataphoric. That is section 1.4 in my paper. I said that it is basically and normally anaphoric, not that it always is. Your two first references to Matthew use the adverb hOUTWS, which I did not discuss in my paper, but the adverb is more commonly cataphoric than the adjective.

    Concerning the translation of GENEA hAUTH, it depends on the language as well as the context. In some languages you can say “some people” and it works very well. In 11:16 it may be better to say “people like this/these” or “that kind of people”. I do not agree that it refers to the Jews as such, but to a small, but vocal and strident, subgroup within the Jewish audience, the disbelieving ones, the self-righteous ones.
    Many people and some translators do think it refers to a current generation. Vulgate used GENERATIO, and this was borrowed by early English versions. It is possible that early English had a different sense of “generation”, something we occasionaly find in a “new generation of computers/phones etc.” That is, a new kind of computers. Or Google chrome, a new breed of web browsers. Or a “new generation of superplastics”. Otherwise we are dealing with a misunderstanding based on a borrowed word.

    I agree with you on Matt 11:25. Here we find an anaphoric reference of the substantive TAUTA (these things). It refers to both John’s call to repentance and Jesus’ proclamation of the good news, or if you want the wisdom that the self-wise reject. The cities in v. 21 are denounced, not because they were rich, but because they did not believe in Jesus in spite of the miracles they had witnessed, nor did they repent. The cities were Jewish, and Jesus has commented on how the Gentiles at times had greater faith than the Jews. Just think of the Roman officer in Matthew 8:10 and the syrophoenician woman in Luke 7:24. And think about how the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus even more, so much so that he could hardly do any mircles there.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    In English “from X until now” with the present perfect tense is a normal way of saying that the action which started at time X is continuing in the present. If that is what the Greek means, that is a correct way of expressing it in English. It does not mean that the action is past in the sense of having terminated. So NIV 2011 is correct there. But perhaps “since X” would be a better way of putting it, and in that case “until now” is redundant.

  5. Iver Larsen says:


    Since you like a literal translation and I like a communicative translation, we won’t agree on which translation we prefer.

    It seems to me that you are ignoring both context and genre. My aim is not to de-personify wisdom, where it is clearly presented as personified. That applies a few times in Proverbs, although it is not personified in most instances. I could not find any personification of wisdom in Job.

    My aim is to point to the dangers of “literal” translations of a genitive construction which make people do their exegesis based on an unclear translation rather than the Greek text.

  6. Iver Larsen says:

    Thanks, Peter.

    You are right. It would be better to make “until now” implicit and keep the present perfect. I had forgotten that this is exactly what we did it in our Danish translation.

  7. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…While it is not clear to me what raiding the kingdom of heaven means, I suppose the readers may get the idea of people attacking it and trying to get rid of it…

    I think it may be helpful to consider what Matthew’s referent is when he says “the kingdom of the sky”… (where other gospels have “the kingdom of God”). Clearly this is circumlocution (“beating around the bush”) for God’s kingdom, the terrain of which is actually there in the middle east (the land promised to Abraham). So he was saying “this [sacred] land endures violence, and violent men take this land by force.”

    John was perhaps a man with a History of Violence (I love that movie!!) and seems to have conceived of the role of Jesus as one of violent overthrow of Roman rule to reclaim a sovereign kingdom of God. This is what he meant when he said that the God’s lamb would take away the sins of the unholy community:

    Joh 1:29 On the next day John75 saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God76 who takes away the sin of the world!

    He has no conception of sacrifice, but of violent purging of the promised land:

    Mat 3:10 Even now the ax is laid at14 the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

    This is also what he means by “baptize with fire”:

    Mat 3:11 “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am — I am not worthy15 to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.16

    This process eliminates the undesirables:

    Mat 3:12 His winnowing fork17 is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse,18 but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.”19

    We see this again in Revelation:

    Rev 6:16 They62 said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb,63

    But this expectation of violence ends (for the time being) with Jesus:

    Luke 7:20 When72 the men came to Jesus,73 they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask,74 ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ “75

    The insurrectionists on either side of Jesus might have been disciples of John.

    In the revelation, the John there has Jesus actually inflicting incredible acts of violence and terrorism to rid the promised land of the unholy, while Michael and the angels war in the sky to clean house there.

    The conquest of the first Yoshua will finally be completed by the last Yoshua, in preparation for the reign of God from Jerusalem (preceded by a 1000 year reign by Jesus, in preparation).

    If my reading is correct, then “until now” is an explicit reference to a particular time and is not redundant.

  8. John Hobbins says:


    That’s a very interesting dichotomy you are proposing: literal vs. communicative translations.

    There’s truth to it, too.

    But those of us who prefer “close translations” and close readings of close translations think of close translation as more richly communicative than so-called communicative translations.

    Nonetheless the denser texture of a close translation requires more time to digest, a lifetime perhaps. It is the ultimate slow food. Translations like NLT, on the other hand, are the equivalent of fast food. They are for people who don’t have time, who are on the run, and who have no one but themselves to interact with in the moment of interpretation.

    A close translation requires interpretation. It is the first step in an interactive feedback loop of communication. If the close translation also situates itself in a tradition of translation, it creates a dialogue with the ages in the way a fresh translation cannot.

    For more on the concept of “close translation,” go here:

  9. WoundedEgo says:

    I just read an interesting passage from “Joshua” Anchor Bible Commentary:

    “…The NOTES are dedicated to the proposition that “One of the first tasks of scholarship is… the careful undoing of the effects of time” (Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literatrue, 57). We shall bear in mind that the “effects of time” may be found in the reader and the the commentator as well as in the text…”

    Quite wise!

  10. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nonetheless the denser texture of a close translation requires more time to digest, a lifetime perhaps. It is the ultimate slow food. Translations like NLT, on the other hand, are the equivalent of fast food. They are for people who don’t have time, who are on the run, and who have no one but themselves to interact with in the moment of interpretation.

    I’d build the metaphor differently. You prefer your steak so raw it moos. I prefer one succulently prepared for the enjoyment of the palate.


    Perhaps better: I would much prefer to raise my own beef (analysis from the original text and context using linguistic, historical, and theological resources). However, when I finally eat the steak, I want it cooked, though not overdone (translated into my language so that it is accurate, clear, and natural).

  11. Gary Simmons says:

    Iver: Though the TNIV is flavorful and idiomatic in Matt 11:12, I find it to be too interpretive. Specifically, it assumes that Jesus is referring to those who oppose the Kingdom and it precludes the possibility that Jesus is condemning Zionists who seek to establish the Kingdom by force. Pace WoundedEgo, I think it’s possible to see “Kingdom of Heaven” as a deliberate rewording rather than circumlocution. The implication may be that the Kingdom is not an earthly political entity and is not referring to Canaan or any other earthly province.

    Take, for instance, John 6:15 where “the Jews” want to make Jesus king by force because he can multiply bread. Heh, the Romans can siege Jerusalem all they want, but it won’t make a bit of difference if they have a king who can multiply something a thousandfold by praying over it.

    Then, of course, one could contrast Jesus of Nazareth with Jesus Barabbas and his followers.

  12. WoundedEgo says:

    I just noticed that the disciples linked the baptism that John spoke of with the overthrow of Roman rule:

    Act 1:4 While he was with them,11 he declared,12 “Do not leave Jerusalem,13 but wait there14 for what my15 Father promised,16 which you heard about from me.17
    Act 1:5 For18 John baptized with water, but you19 will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
    Act 1:6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him,20 “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

    Jesus had made no mention of the baptism by fire, though, for that is still future:

    Act 1:7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know21 the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

    I read the Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation some years ago and the author (Ford) suggested that John (the Big Dipper) had written the original version of the Revelation (only his version was called “Apocalypse NOW”!) Later it was merged with the letters to the assemblies of Asia. Her reasoning rested partly on the fact that Jesus refers to him as the greatest prophet, which would be weird if he didn’t write a great prophecy!

    I found this a fascinating idea and I contacted her. To my surprise, she said that she abandoned that idea, but she did not explain why.

    But, if it is true, then the violence John imagined for Jesus’ kingship was unparalleled. He sees Jesus as “the son of man” and “the lion of Judah” who receives the commission from God to open the seals on the scroll which unleash every kind of holy terror imaginable. This is a grisly view of the role of the son of man that is given in Daniel in a perfunctory manner:

    Dan 7:27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

    I think it is worth noting that the other dominions are subjugated as servants, not destroyed. We see this in Revelation as well:

    Rev 21:24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.

    The Revelation describes the everlasting kingdom of God (aka kingdom of the sky) as a sacred land in the midst of unhallowed but subjugated peoples who bring tribute but may never enter its gates:

    Rev 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
    Rev 22:15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

    But the conquest and subjugation are not performed by “flesh and blood”:

    1Co 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot [“lacks the power”: OU DUNATAI] inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

    Instead, the new Yoshua subjugates from the sky, then descends on a white horse and lops off heads. This John envisioned, but Jesus failed to deliver… yet. The Final Crusade is delayed, to give people time to repent…

  13. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…I think it’s possible to see “Kingdom of Heaven” as a deliberate rewording rather than circumlocution. The implication may be that the Kingdom is not an earthly political entity and is not referring to Canaan or any other earthly province….

    Yes, I think that may be spot on.

  14. Iver Larsen says:


    Although I would not quite describe the TNIV/NIV2011 rendering of Matt 11:12 as idiomatic, I do believe they have chosen the correct intepretation as opposed to the former NIV and the NLT which depends heavily on NIV. The translation could be improved, if it were to be truly idiomatic. But the goal of the NIV/NTIV/NIV2011 is not to be idiomatic, or at least that goal is less important than several other goals. I chose to study this verse in detail years ago because it is often misunderstood and misused when taken out of context. Let me send you directly some of the exegetical work that lies behind my judgment as to what is the intended meaning of the text in its context.

    Your comment about too much interpretation highlights the need for very careful and thorough exegetical reasoning. I just looked at France’s commentary on Matthew, but he does not have a thorough exegesis of the verse. Morris does much better.

    A meaning-based translation that is based on careful linguistic, cultural, religious, and contextual reasoning will open the way for a translation that is more accurate in terms of conveying the intended meaning. That includes eliminating certain interpretations that are considered very unlikely to be intended, like the one you mention. That, of course, is risky, since people already have strong opinions on such verses. We have a 9-line footnote at this place in our translation.

  15. Gary Simmons says:

    Iver, I would be blessed if you would share your wisdom. Thank you in advance. As far as “idiomatic” goes, I just find “raid” to be a higher-level vocabulary word than I would expect, given that I more or less grew up on the 1984 NIV. It’s “flavorful” in that it’s less cliche, less Biblish.

  16. Joel H. says:

    I’ve never been comfortable with “wisdom” being personified in English. In English, “wisdom” is always “it/its/etc.” (This is a change in English since the KJV, when “its” was just coming into being.)

    For that matter, if there were a personification of “wisdom,” the word would at the very least get a capital letter: “Wisdom.”

    I also don’t know why “wisdom” is a “she” in English. If the only goal is to personify “wisdom,” why not “he”?

  17. WoundedEgo says:

    I think I should expound on my last enigmatic post…

    Forrest Gump, when called “stupid” by others would respond, as his mom taught him, “Stupid is as stupid does.” The point is that Forrest never actually **does** anything stupid (while the “smart” ones around him constantly do). So Forrest is vindicated by his deeds.

  18. Dannii Willis says:

    Joel said: I also don’t know why “wisdom” is a “she” in English. If the only goal is to personify “wisdom,” why not “he”?

    Isn’t it feminine in the Hebrew? Considering how strongly many people want to link Wisdom with the Word and Jesus, if there was the choice of gender why would they choose something that hinders that link?

  19. Joel H. says:


    Yes, it’s feminine in Hebrew (and Greek). But I don’t think that preserving grammatical gender in translation has much merit, because grammatical gender plays a very different role in English than it does in Greek or Hebrew.

  20. Peter Kirk says:

    Joel and Dannii, surely the reason why wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs, as also is folly, lies in the content of the early chapters of that book, especially the contrast in chapter 9 between the invitations of wisdom and of folly. Folly is clearly pictured as an adulteress seeking to trap men. The feminine imagery of wisdom is not so clear cut – but it would clearly be unacceptably sexist to make wisdom into a man while folly remains a woman!

    Another less serious reason: Proverbs 8:12 (NIV 1984) “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence”. As Prudence is clearly a woman and Wisdom doesn’t seem to be married, I should hope that Wisdom is not male. 😉

  21. WoundedEgo says:

    ISTM that hO LOGOS is wrongly made masculine in John 1. “utterance” is not a “he” but an “it.”

    Joh 1:3 All things were made by means of it; and without it was not any thing made (that was made).

  22. iverlarsen says:

    A little PS on Greek GENEA, wrongly translated as “generation” in most modern English versions.
    Jesus did not actually say this Greek word. He probably used the Hebrew word “dor” (less likely an Aramaic equivalent which I don’t know.)

    I found this note in the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament under “dor”:

    “By a natural transition this word is used widely with a metaphorical sense to indicate a class of men (sic!) distinguished by a certain moral or spiritual character. Thus God is “in the generation of the righteous” (Ps 14:5) and those whose “hands” and “heart” are clean are “the generation of them” that seek God’s face (Ps 24:6). The wicked “fathers” of Israel were “a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright” (Ps 79:13). This usage is frequently employed (see Prov 30:11, 12, 13, 14; Jer 2:31; 7:29).
    This usage via LXX becomes, in the word genea, a Hebraism of frequent striking occurrence in the mouth of Jesus in the Greek NT (e.g. Mt 11:16, 12:29,45, 16:4, 17:17, etc.).”

    As far as KJV English is concerned, the Oxford English dictionary gives the following, now
    obsolete (latest attested use 1727), sense of “generation”: “class, kind or set of persons.”

    What the dictionary does not mention is that this usage is still attested in Bible translations that use obsolete language, including the NIV2011 and the “Common English Bible”, almost 300 years since it went out of use in common English.

  23. daniel says:

    Iver, you say Jesus did not say GENEA, rather he probably said dor. Which manuscript are you using? Don’t the actual manuscripts outweigh our suppositions? Where do stop inserting words based on “this is what he really meant”?

  24. Paul D. says:

    I can’t remember for the life of me where I read it, but IIRC, scholars recently found some hellenic document from that period which casts light on that verse. Apparently it has nothing to do with violence at all, but is a legal term from that period with a particular meaning.

  25. iverlarsen says:

    Thanks Paul D. for the link. I have read the article with interest, and I agree with the general thrust of what Stephen says even though I do not think we can go as far as saying the word has nothing to do with violence. It is not Jesus who encourages violent behaviour, but he is lamenting that many of his opponents (whether Herod or fanatic Pharisees) do use violence to try to stop the Kingdom of God from advancing.

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