Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Church or Assembly...or?

By Gabriel Rutledge
May 28 at 7:10 AM

I grew up in church and all my life I heard common phrases like 'the New Testament Church', 'we are a New Testament church', or finally, 'we want to be an Acts 2 church'. I never thought to question this notion of the Church's inception being found the book of Acts until recently. It turns out, I may have been wrong. The first time we find the English word 'church' in the Bible is in Matthew 16 where Jesus is having an exchange with Peter and says the all too familiar phrase 'on this rock I will build my church'.

At first blush one would read the Bible in English and determine something similar to Lewis Chafer's conclusion when he writes "An entirely new word is used, it would seem, that there should be no confusion of what this word represents with any Old Testament revelation." His conclusions back in 1915 are not unique. In a study conducted in 1958, Roy Ward of Abilene Christian University writes, "Following the earthly ministry of Jesus, there arose an institution in response to his person and his mission. This institution was a community of persons who sustained a certain relationship to Jesus Christ, and it existed by virtue of that relationship. The most common term used to describe this institution was ekklesia, which we translate, church."

Many theologians with limited resources and access to the original languages in which the Bible was written have come to a lot of faulty conclusions and theological frameworks, one of which being that 'where Israel failed the church will succeed' or 'there was an age of law/Israel but now there is an age of church/grace'. Today, in the age of all things digital, we can click a mouse less than 10 times and view original manuscripts, read transliterations, and audit those long-standing conclusions that have been handed to us by our predecessors. As Daniel 12:4 puts it, "…knowledge shall increase". With increased knowledge comes increased responsibility however.

So I pose the question in a posthumous challenge to Lewis Chafer and many other theologians before {and after} him: Was that an entirely new word? Sure one cannot find the English word 'church' prior to Matthew 16 but was the Bible really written in English? Do we not have to dig deeper and lift the veil through which we've been kissing our bride? So we stand at a crossroads—do we dig deeper and potentially threaten our long-standing dispensational concepts of 'the church age', or do we continue to operate under the notion that what we've been taught is true?
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

For some of you this is old information for others this is new: the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew and the New Testament primarily in Greek (even though many of the NT characters spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Koine Greek)*. These two languages in which the Bible was written are both very different. So, in the NT testament for example, we have words which were spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic (two similar languages) but have been recorded or 'clothed' in Greek. We have characters who, for the most part, thought like Hebrews and studied the Hebrew scriptures yet had their stories and words recorded in a completely different language. Don't get me wrong, this was for the better as it enabled the Gospel to spread rapidly across Asia-minor and Rome. We run into problems however when we find 'new' words like 'church' and have no record of them being used in the testament written in Hebrew. Fortunately, we have a version of the Old Testament in Greek. This translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint—called so because 70 Rabbis put their heads together in the translation process of the text.

This is a great tool with which we can pull words from the Greek back into the Hebrew. This gives us the ability to find the Hebrew equivalent for most Greek words found in the NT. So let's get digging.

The Greek word behind the English 'church' in Matthew 16 is ἐκκλησία – ekklesia which means 'the called forth ones'. So, in order for the 'church age theory' (the theory which submits that God has started a new age of the church which, through the replacement of Israel, serves as a new vehicle for the Gospel and plays by a different set of rules) to hold water at this point, there needs to be an absence of this Greek term anywhere in the OT-let's test it.

By searching for the Greek 'ekklesia' in the OT one comes upon its usage in Deuteronomy 31:30 which reads "Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly (ekklesia) of Israel…(ESV)" He then goes on to recite the famous 'Song of Moses' which begins a chapter later in Deuteronomy 32. So why didn't the translators, when translating the Bible into English, decide to translate this usage of 'ekklesia' as 'church'? Conversely, why didn't the translators translate 'ekklesia' in Matthew 16 'assembly'? There is an inconsistency here. Let's keep digging.

The second notable usage of 'ekklesia' in the OT is found in Joshua 8:34-35 which reads: "And afterward he read all the words of the law (Torah), the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law (Torah). There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly (ekklesia) of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them (ESV)". Again, we have an inconsistency here. I would add that if the translators were consistent in their work, these aforementioned verses would create some significant problems in the church's theology.

The Hebrew word behind this Greek 'ekklesia' is קְהַל – qahal. In other words, 'qahal' is the Hebrew word the 70 Rabbis determined would be best represented in Greek by the word 'ekklesia'. 'Qahal' is found (as best I could count) 80 times in the OT and not in a single instance is it translated as the English 'church'. It is always found in the English as 'assembly' or 'congregation'. Surely this is just a mishap or an oversight on the English translators' part, right? What if we test the Greek 'ekklesia' in the same manner but in the NT?

The Greek 'ekklesia' is used a total of 114 times in the NT and 111 of those instances it is translated as a 'new' English word…you guess it, 'church'. So why were the three occurrences translated as something other than 'church'? Well, the first time we see 'ekklesia' translated something other than 'church' in the NT is in Acts 19.

A silversmith named Demetrius, who made a living making shrines (idols) of the goddess Artemis, apparently got really worked up that Paul and others were teaching the Ephesians to turn away from their idol worship and towards the one true God of Israel. Demetrius stirs up the crowd against Paul and is concerned that his business will go under due to this truth being taught-for the sake of the local economy, the townspeople join in. They beg Paul to stay away from the theater in Ephesus as his words might damage the local economy which was based largely on the manufacturing and selling of idols. In verse 32 of chapter 19 we see "The assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there." This is the same 'ekklesia' that shouted for two hours in verse 34, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" The second time this 'ekklesia' was not translated as 'church' is in the same story but found later in verse 39. It would obviously be very problematic if the translators decided to translate 'ekklesia' as 'church' here as these we clearly a group of pagan idol worshippers. The translators can't have a 'church' hailing Artemis.

Interestingly enough, we see Stephen, when making his final defense before being stoned to death, use 'ekklesia' when referring to a time when Israel was in the wilderness. Surely the translators would do Stephen justice and consistently translate this occurrence of 'ekklesia' as 'church', right? This is even in the NT! Nope, because it does not fit the narrative of church theology Stephen's usage of 'ekklesia' is translated as 'assembly' and 'congregation' by all English translations except the King James Version. So we can clearly see that the 'church' is nothing new. God's 'called out ones' were in existence prior to Acts chapters 2 and this is in no way a new 'entity'.

Another great example of translators' bias can be found in James 2:2-4 which reads: "For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (ESV)" One would think that the Greek word behind the English 'assembly' here is 'ekklesia' but further investigation reveals that James employs the Greek 'συναγωγὴν-synagogen' (where we get the English 'synagogue'). 'Synagogen' is used 56 times in the NT alone. In not a single English translation do we find this Greek word transliterated as 'synagogue' in this particular verse in James 2. Keep in mind too that James is writing to the "twelve tribes in the Dispersion" and using 'synagogue' here in a possessive context by saying 'your synagogues'—not 'their synagogues'. It is important to note he is not just writing to a Jewish audience within Jerusalem. This is reminiscent of Acts 15 when the Jerusalem Council expected gentiles coming to faith in the Messiah to be in the 'synagogues on every Sabbath' hearing Moses (the law) preached.

56 to 1, the translators decided to stray from their consistent translation here in this future-tense admonition of the Messianic believers. I would submit that this too does not fit the narrative. The translators can't have the early believers and followers of Jesus meeting synagogues! That's what the Jews did! We however are the new deal-the plan 'B', right?. They especially can't have the head of the Jerusalem 'church', as they call it, speaking of believers still meeting in synagogues…on the Sabbath!

But let's give the translators the benefit of doubt, maybe they translated all other occurrences of 'synagogen' as 'assembly'. Let's take a look. Hebrews 10:25 we find a varied cognate of the Greek 'synagogue' but the translators chose the English 'don't forsake the assembling together'—another blatant inconsistency. The translators did however choose to be consistent in Acts 19 verses 8 and 9: "And [Paul] entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.". You can see an intentional and fabricated rift being created by the translational bias in all of our English Bibles. Two last notable occurrences of the Greek 'synagogen' in which the translators maintained the meaning can be found in Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9 when they both speak of 'the synagogue of Satan'.

But Gabe, wasn't there a new covenant made? There is SOMETHING new right? Yes, there absolutely is a New Covenant that was initiated but was that New Covenant made with 'the church'? Let's take a look: "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NIV)
So we can see here that the new covenant is made with the house of Israel and the people of Judah. There isn't any mention of a 'New Testament Church' or 'new entity' separate from the commonwealth of Israel.

So what's the lesson here? Well for one, we see the translators taking great liberty in what they translate as 'church' and what they translate 'assembly'. So if we are to walk in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:15 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are to test and examine everything that is handed to us and called truth. Nothing escapes from Paul's injunction to 'test everything'. In this particular case, we see there was and is an agenda—an agenda which started back in the early years of our movement once called 'The Way' and further compounded by Constantine. This dichotomy was created to distance Christianity from all things Jewish and prove the church is the 'new and improved'—the Israel 2.0. Our more evolved cerebral capacities have enabled us to truly be 'children of God' as opposed to the limited capacities of the Jews. We've embraced a hybrid form of Christian-Darwinism and applied it to our theology and translations. Fortunately, there is time to return to our roots and embrace our Hebraic heritage which we've so desperately tried to sever for the past two millennia. In conclusion, I would submit that the 'church age' began long before our religious leaders have led us to believe and the evidence lies just below the surface.

I had to post this after I found it great JOB

In HIS Perfect Peace,

Pastor Dan Catlin

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