We are now ready to look at the Old Testament Church. Well not exactly… We are going to look at how the word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) was used in the Old Testament in hopes of understanding what it means in the New.
(As an aside I should point out that this is the first week I am using a new plugin which divides the post into pages or allows viewing as a single page. You can choose “next,” or “single page,” at the bottom of this page. Please let me know if it causes any problems.)
Last week we began our series on what is Church by looking at the English dictionary, and the Greek word ekklesia which the New Testament authors used, and is almost always translated as church.
We saw that the English word has little relation to the meaning of the word used in the New Testament. In fact “church” in English is derived from the transliteration of two Greek words meaning “a lord’s building!”
The Old Testament Church/Ekklesia
It is well known that most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. It seems less well known that King Jesus and His ambassadors usually quoted from the Greek translation of those scriptures known as the Septuagint. (I am planning a separate post on this subject for the future.) Since the Old Testament informed the New Testament authors understanding of the words they used, it is important to look at how the Septuagint treats the Hebrew text. In this case we find that ekklesia is one of two words used to translate the Hebrew word “qahal”(קהל) which has as its core meaning the idea of a gathering of people.
At this point, in the interest of full disclose, I need to point out that I am not pretending to understand Hebrew. I consider myself fairly competent in New Testament Greek, but must depend on others when it comes to Hebrew.
Back in 1931 an Anglican Priest by the name of Edwyn Hoskyns, along with Francis Davey wrote a fascinating little book called “The Riddle of the New Testament.” In it they give a wonderfully comprehensive word study of ekklesia; It is unfortunately out of print now, but I was able to find a paperback edition from 1963 which is quoted here. After citing much the same information that we have already covered, they cite a number of passages in which they demonstrate that the Greek denotation of ekklesia is clearly not sufficient to explain its usage in the New Testament. They then go on to detail the use of ekklesia in the Septuagint. Given the thoroughness of their analysis, and its applicability to our subject, it seems an extended quote is in order: