These words introduce the process in which a new ekklesia of God is inaugurated at Pentecost and culminates with the Holy Spirit being poured out on the household of Cornelius. It was concerning this event that James cites Peter saying “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His Name.”–Acts 15:14.
The English reading “from among the Gentiles,” found in most translations hardly does justice to the simple meaning of the Greek clause “labein ex ethnon.” It simply means “taking out of, or removing from, the nations.” The same idea is expressed a few verses later when James renders his decision to the Jerusalem Council–“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles…” (verse 19). Here the preposition rendered “from among the Gentiles” is “tois apo ton ethnon.” No scholar should contest that “those out from among (or separated from) the nations” is the clear meaning here.
(Scholars will note that the prepositions ex and apo emphasize the idea of separation nascent in the genitive cases used in these verses.)
Finally in verse 24, our King’s ambassadors draft a letter to the new converts addressing them as “adelphois tois ex ethnon.” Literally this reads “to the brethren… those taken out of the nations, greetings. You can decide how well most English translations do at conveying this thought. Here is the NASB: “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings…”
What about the original ekklesia of God?
We have been wading through some deep waters in this post. The general unfamiliarity with this subject makes it even more difficult. I hope that you are willing to look at these ideas with a “Berean” attitude—to examine scripture and see if these things really are, as I am stating. I hope you are willing to wrestle with the significance of Jesus words in Matthew 21:43. If not, I am afraid that I will loose many of my readers with the next few paragraphs.
You will recall that I showed how the Greek word translated “kingdom” in Matthew 21, is not referring to a territory, but to “the royal power of God.” You will also recall that the primary use of the Greek word ekklesia was as a body executing judicial decisions. Jesus bluntly declared that the authority to execute judicial decisions was being taken away from Israel and being given to another nation.
The ekklesia of God was being transferred from Israel to a new nation being created out from all nations. In the same way that God called Abraham to surrender his previous allegiance to his country and its gods, He call us to do the same. We accept a new king who represents us before God and lets us know God’s expectations for us. He commissions us to exercise His authority on His behalf, in the midst of a perverse world.