Bible Answer

Is KJV or ESV the correct translation of Luke 17:21?

Which is the correct translation of Luke 17:21 - "the kingdom of God is within you" from the KJV, or "the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" from the ESV?

The verse parsed in Greek reads:

The difference between the ESV and NKJ turns on the translators’ choice of English word for the Greek word entos. The Greek word can mean “within" or “among” so both the ESV or KJV translation is potentially appropriate. So we need to look at the context of Luke 21 to determine which translation is closest to Jesus’ intentions.

Jesus was responding to unbelieving Pharisees who were inquiring about the physical appearing of the Kingdom. While a literal, physical kingdom will arrive in a day to come, it was still centuries away in Jesus’ day. Therefore, Jesus redirected the Pharisees' attention away from the physical kingdom and toward the form of kingdom that was already present on earth: the kingdom of saints created by faith in Christ and united by the Spirit. 

So in that sense, the kingdom was in their midst (i.e., citizens of the kingdom were already standing among them). We could also say that the kingdom of God lies within the believer by virtue of the Spirit of God dwelling inside the believer. However, we cannot say that the kingdom of God is within the Pharisees, since they were not believing in Jesus. 

Therefore, the KJV is not the best translation of this verse. By translating entos to mean “within you,” the KJV implies that the Pharisees have the Spirit of God though they didn’t.  We prefer the ESV (and NASB) translation.