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The Basileia Movement

The “Basileia movement,” as I use that term, it’s taking up the Greek word, basileia, which means kingdom, or which means empire.  And so, the empire of Rome would have been the basileia, but in the synoptic gospels in particular, and particularly in Matthew’s gospel, it is strong that the preaching of Jesus is the preaching of the Basileia of God or in Matthew, more particularly, the Basileia of the heavens or the empire or the kingdom is what we normally translate it.

I want to use the Greek term actually; and I do that in some of my writing because I think that alerts us to the fact that it’s the word for the empire and that in the first century, the hearers of the gospel would have heard in that preaching of Jesus, the same word, but the Basileia not of Rome, but the Basileia of the heavens.

And so, what I would call the Basileia movement is the Jesus movement which is offering an alternative, an alternative to the empire of Rome.  So when Jesus begins his preaching or in Matthew when John begins his preaching in Matt 3:2, when Jesus begins his preaching in Matt 4:17, it’s preaching this new empire. 

But it’s not an empire that will be like Rome, an earthly empire…but actually, in my ecological work, I wanted to translate it as the “Basileia of the skies,” because ouranoi [means] the skies.  I think it’s an alternative, but just one little rider to that, one of the problems with that vision and Warren Carter talks about this in his book, is that when the church becomes the empire in the fourth century, then that alternative vision no longer functions alternatively, but is supports the church becoming an imperial power.  So, it’s like all images, you have to keep renewing them and critiquing them I think.

  • Elaine Wainwright

    Elaine Wainwright is professor and head of the School of Theology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is a New Testament scholar specializing in the Gospel of Matthew. Her latest book is Women Healing/Healing Women (Equinox, 2006). Her revision of the Matthew volume of the Sheffield Phoenix New Testament Guides will be published early in 2014. Along with Sueng Ai, she is preparing the feminist commentary on The Gospel of Matthew for the new Wisdom Commentary Series.