What is a “Church”
When the word church comes to mind, many think in terms of a building where believers in Jesus Christ assemble. That’s certainly part of the dictionary definition of the word church, but it’s not the complete definition. The important part of the definition is that it’s the whole body of believers in Jesus Christ. In the King James Version Bible, the English word church appears in the New Testament but not the Old Testament. This simple word church has an interesting background and far reaching meaning. The focus here is how the word church was used prior to the New Testament.
One unique source that will help us in our quest is a Greek translation of the Old Testament called The Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated LXX). The Septuagint was written in the 3rd century BC, in Alexandria, Egypt by a group of 72 scholars. It was widely used among Hellenistic Jews. Many Jews, spread throughout the Roman empire, were beginning to lose their Hebrew language. The process of translating the Hebrew to Greek also gave many non-Jews a glimpse into Judaism. It has also been used to translate the Old Testament into many languages. The Septuagint is important because it provides a direct link between the Greek of the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Many early Christians spoke and read Greek. They relied on the Greek Septuagint translation of most of their understanding of the Old Testament.
In the English New Testament, the word “church” is translated as the Greek word ekklesia. It is from this word we get the English word “ecclesiastical”. This word is formed from the Greek words ek, meaning “out of” or “away from”, and kaleo meaning “to call”. So ekklesia means “the called out assembly”. And of course God is The One doing the calling out! Calling us out of the world and into the Kingdom of God. So it’s no surprise that the word ekklesia is also translated as the words “assembly” and “congregation”.
Now this is where it gets interesting. In the Septuagint, the word Ekklesia is used many times to translate the Hebrew word qahal (or kahal). As we recall the Septuagint is using Greek to translate the Old Testament, the same Greek as used in the New Testament. So what we end up with is an entire Bible written in Greek. Now the Hebrew word Qahal is translated into English as multitude, company, congregation, and assembly. As we can see, two of the four definitions of qahal are identical to those of the Greek word ekklesia. Now consider the following Old Testament passages, paying special attention to how the words “multitude”, “company”, “congregation” and “assembly” are used:
“And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.” Genesis 48:4 (KJV)
“And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:3 (KJV)
“Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.” Numbers 14:5 (KJV)
“And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended.” Deuteronomy 31:30 (KJV)
“And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.” 1 Samuel 17:47 (KJV)
“I went mourning without the sun: I stood up, and I cried in the congregation.” Job 30:28(KJV)
“I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” Psalms 22:22 (KJV)
“Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.” Psalms 149:1 (KJV)
“For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken: their arrows shall be as of a mighty expert man; none shall return in vain.” Jeremiah 50:9 (KJV)
Remember, the Greek word “ekklesia” is the same word that’s translated as “church” in the King James Version New Testament. It’s also the same word that’s used to translate the Hebrew word “qahal”. So from Genesis to Revelation we see the same titles and terms given to believers. That was only a small selection of passages from the Greek Old Testament known as the Septuagint. The Greek word “ekklesia” is used many times over and often in direct relation to Israel. From beginning to end there is only one called-out assembly, they are known commonly as the “church” and to God as “Israel”.
One Body of Believers
Notice the last part of Galatians 6:14-16 – “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” So what does all this mean? It’s simple, there’s only one body of believers. Romans 12:4-5 – For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
There’s a single plan of salvation for Jews as well as Gentiles, and His name is Jesus Christ. There is no room for division, and there is no distinction between God among His people. We read in Acts 10:34-36 that God is no respecter of persons: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)”
Old and New Testament Parallels
The parallels between I Peter and the Old Testament books of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Hosea are another example of God showing no differentiation in His Word between Old and New Testament saints. In the New Testament, Peter addressed the congregation with the same titles as used in the Old Testament. This demonstrates that they share the same blessings and designations as the Old Testament multitude on Mount Sinai.
In 1 Peter 2:9 we read: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Notice the terms Peter uses to describe the Church: “chosen generation”, “royal priesthood” and “holy nation”.
Likewise in Exodus 19:5-6 similar terms to those found in 1 Peter 2:9 are used to describe God’s people: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
Similarly we see similar expressions in Deuteronomy 7:6 as we read: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.”
Here we see the same terms used to describe God’s people in the Old and New Testaments. We see terms such as: peculiar treasure, a special people, a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, an holy people and a chosen generation. The Church is the true Israel of God. Followers of Jesus Christ are the true Jews! In Romans 2:28-29 we read: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Followers of Jesus Christ have not REPLACED Israel…the followers of Jesus Christ ARE Israel. Spiritual Israel. The Church is comprised of both Jew and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ who has been born again of the water and the Spirit.