LIBERATION THEOLOGY: THE BIBLICAL ANCHORAGE
ibemtion theology bases its claims mainly on four themes of the
Bible - the Kingdom of God as the ultimate plan of God's creation, the
exodus as the new paradigm for liberation, the notion of poverty and the image
of God as a God of justice - which together with other themes constitute the
central message of Jesus' teachings. Liberation theology makes use of these
ideas as central reference points in its advancement. The image of God to be
found in the Bible is that of a God who liberates, who is compassionate and
concerned with justice. Each of these themes, needs to be looked into in some
The Kingdom of God is one of the central themes in Jesus' teachings.
How thii Kingdom of God can be made meaningful to the contemporary world
has proved to be a contentious issue. To grasp its full import, the term 'Kingdom
of God' has to be studied in the context of attempts made to translate it into
modem idiom. One has to find out what it meant for Jesus and what it can
mean for the world today; that is to say, it has to be analysed as it is employed in
the Bible, and as interpreted by the liberation theologians as a dynamic world
The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament
Although the phrase "the Kingdom of God" does not occur in the Old
Testament, the kingship of God is frequently stressed, especially in the psalms.
Most exegetes agree that the term "malkut" translated as 'Kingdom' is associated
with Yahweh. Now, the God of Israel- Yahweh - manifests Himself in terms
of an active power operating through history: not in terms of a kingdom, literal
or figurative, constituted by that power. When the kingship of Yahweh is
described "the emphasis is on kingly rule and domination rather than on a
territory or a place." There are various dimensions to this kingship as He is the
great king over all the earth (PS 47:2), He rules over all (Ps 103:19), and His
kingly control encompasses past, present and future (Ps 145: 13). Along with
thii general notion, God is also king of the covenant people and, exclusively,
Jacob's king (Is 41:21). The covenental kingship gives hope during national
decline and even in exile. The reign of God will be realised through the
"Messiah" who will bring salvation and blessing to aU people (Is 2: 1-4; 49: 7;
Mic 4: 1-5). Israel's experience of Yahweh, as the personal God and as the Lord
of history who cares, protects, forgives and makes a covenant with his people,
was unique to them. As a king, "Yahweh", creates a people, directs and
organises their ranks, redeems them, imparts justice to them all. This religious
experience might be said to prefigure the idea of the Kingdom of God as it is
fully and finally evolved under the new covenant.
The Kingdom of God in the New Testament
The phrase "the kingdom of God" occurs frequently in the NT,
especially, in the synoptic Gospels where it is the central theme in the
proclamation of Jesus. The fourth Gospel (St. John's) rarely uses the term and
when it does, the term is synonymous with "eternal life" (Jn 3:15). The "Acts of
the Apostles" preaches the kingdom (Acts 8:12; 1923) and Paul speaks of
inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor 6 9 ; Gal 521) ; for Paul, the kingdom of God is
also a "present" reality (Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 420) . The expectation of God's
coming rule pervades and dominates the whok New Testament.
Jesus never defined the kingdom of God or the reign of God in the
concrete but presented hi message in "kingdomn parables which, it must be
admitted, were the most effective means of putting over the idea to the
unlettered and the uninitiated among hi audience.
In the Bible the jubilee tradition is interpreted as a "great year of favour,"
the ultimate visitation of God, a time of great solace and salvation to His people.
Jesus announced this final visitation of God not as a future event but as having
occurred with his advent, once and for all. And so he said: "the kingdom of God
is at hand" (Mk 1:14). In Lk 1721, it is a present reality, one that is within our
reach (Lk 17:21). Thii effective presence is manifested through exorcisms
(Mt 12:28), healings and forgiving of sins. However, not all Gospel passages
support the idea that the kingdom of God has, indeed, been actualised. Though
it is made manifest in Jesus' m i n w , its fulfilment is still to come and much of
Jesus' teaching points to thii (Mk 9:l ; Mt 6:lO; Lk 11:2). "This creates the
tension of the "already" and the "not yet". Traditional theology stressed the
"not yet" to the detriment of the "already".
Thii kingdom of God is a gracious gift from Above. It is God who gives
the kingdom (Lk 12:31). It is a good offered to men and at the same time a
challenge to the people (Mt 25: 1430) as the parable of the talents and of the
treasure in the field (Mt 1344) make clear. The kingdom of God is "a purely
religious kingdom" and Jesus rejects outright all suggestions of a splendid
earthly kingdom (Lk 19:ll; 23:42; 24:21).
The "kingdom of God" or the "reign of Godn is a "saving event for the
sinners" and not a judgement of vengeance for them. Jesus' invitation to the
people for repentance invokes God's mercy and not Hi anger as John, the
Baptist, did. The revelation of God's love for sinners is a sign of Hi reign. The
reign of God "demands rather a radical decision for God. The choice is clear;
either God and hi reign or the world and its reign." Nothing should prevent
one from making thii choice.
Albrecht Ritsehl (1822-89) was the first scholar to examine Jesus' own
understanding of the kingdom and interpret it in ethical terms, according to
which all must strive to achieve the goal set by the kingdom. In reaction to this,
Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) argued that the background of Jesus' kingdom
preaching is the Jewish expectation of the manifestation of God's activity in the
future. Albert ~chweitzerl~ dewloped the ideas of Weiss and traced the Jewish
understanding to the apocalyptic literature. According to Schweitzer's
"consistent eschatology," the kingdom of God was for Jesus a universal
catastrophe along the lines of Jewish apocalyptic thinking and so no longer
meaningful to the present day world. Charles Ilodd5 speaks of a "realised
eschatologyn according to which the kingdom of God was a present reality for
Jesus and so for the believers, too.
It is clear that the "kingdom of God" is open to a variety of
interpretations. AU agree that Jesus preached the "kingdom of God" and
demanded a response from the hearers so that the ultimate goal of the kingdom
is to transform the whole creation.
The Theology of Liberation and "the Kingdom of God"
The theology of liberation tries to see the "kingdom of God" in the
context of "hiirical liberation." In order to understand the kingdom of God in
terms of the new theology, one has to have a certain knowledge of "doingn that
theology and the preconceptions on which it is based. It is important to look at
the changes that have been taking place in the past two hundred years in man's
self- understanding and hi rok in hiitoy.
A new hiirical situation wanants a new human self-understanding and
a re-thinking and a re-reading of the Bible. Thii new historical situation has
emerged from the industrial revolution which revealed man's ability to transform
nature, and the French Revolution which proved man's potential to change the
social and political order. The new human self-understanding is, thus, backed by
the awareness of man's capacity to transform both nature and the socio-political
order. Thii means that man has an active role in the transforrnation of hiitoy.
It implies a new manner of being a human person whereby individuals
have greater command over themselves and over their lot in h i r y . It implies,
also, a new way of b e i i a Christian in thii world. In thii context, the theology
of liberation occupies itself with the question posed by the poor and the
oppressed as they struggle to free themselves from the shackles of injustice and
try to create a just and equitable society. It is not to the "non-believern but to the
"non-person" to which liberation theology addresses itself. In the light of this
new historical situation, liberation theology attempts to rethink the concept of the
kingdom of God in its h i r ica l , social, political dimension and in its
Gutierrez on the "Kingdom of God"
To Gustavo Gutierrez, the idea of the kingdom of God is bound up with
the notion of "salvation" which embraces all of human history, transforming it
and leading it to its fullness in Christ. The opposite of the "kingdom" is "sinn
which is seen as a radically inb-hiirical reality - the kind of evil that Je