Jesus's words to the crowds have created quite a debate among scholars since the Greek can be readily read both ways. Before analyzing the grammar and theology, here are few of the modern renderings:
Subject: “the kingdom of heaven” - In the book of Matthew it is agreed that Christ is speaking about the Kingdom, the already and not yet reign of God; however, in “Luke 16:16 the subject is not the kingdom of heaven, but the 'people' who 'force their way into' it” (France, 419). France continues that with this difference in subject it is difficult to reconcile Matthew's statement in light of Luke, thus He states that since the subject is the Kingdom of Heaven a positive sense of biastai and arpazw become “hardly possible.”
Main verb: “has been forcefully advancing” - Two major renderings of the verb βιάζω (biazw) state that the subject is conducting the forceful advance (middle voice) or is the recipient of the forceful advance (passive voice), that is “suffered violence.”
Subject: “forceful men” - βιασται (biastai), or forceful men, are either seen as acting in one of two ways: As “enthusiastic adherents” (Howell, 123-24) since John's ministry marked the beginning of God's reign expanding to include those other than the Jews, and thus the “passionate disciples to live under and promote his rule in the world” (Howell 124). As men with “evil intent” since the context “speaks of John's imprisonment and of 'this generation's' rejection of both John and Jesus” (Elwell, 735).
Main verb: “lay hold of it” - Depending on how the verb αρπάζω (arpazow) is translated the “forceful men” either act synonymously or adversely to the kingdom, “laying hold of it” or “violently attacking it.” Many seem to hold that “the last three words of the Greek seem to say that violent men grasp it with hostile intent,” to indicate that the “great final struggle has begun,” as men try to snatch or seize the kingdom blessing away from men (Filson, 138-139).
Which rendering and why: Contextually, the verb in βιάζω (biazow) is best taken in the middle voice, since other than John's recent imprisonment (his beheading had not yet occurred), little seems to have occurred that would deserve the powerful words “suffered violence.” Instead, it seems far more fitting that with the start of the John's preaching (the fulfillment of the prophets) and the coming of Christ, the Kingdom had dawned and was indeed advancing forcefully (though in the spiritual sense not in the literal militaristic or political sense). The subject βιασται (biastai) is best interpreted in light of the verb, which is again best understood contextually. Since αρπάζω (arpazow) literally means “seize, catch, pluck, pull, or take by force” it is best to interpret it in a positive sense (despite France's doubt), since it seems “hardly possible” (under the presupposition that the Kingdom of Heaven is “God's Reign”) that violent men or even Satan himself could “seize, catch, pluck, pull or take” the Kingdom of Heaven by force. They may oppose the kingdom, and they certainly try, but that is not the lexical definition of the verb Christ used. Thus, the NIV (the original NIV) would seem to offer the best rendering, seeing the forceful people “like the Samaritans, the Roman centurion,...the 12 apostles” and the rest of the Gentile world laying hold of it through “repentance and radical submission to the King...” (Howell, 124).
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.