But wait a minute you say, “Doesn’t the New Testament contain many references to the “Gentile Church?” As far as English translations go, this is often the case. It is my goal in this post to prove to you that this is the result of systematic errors in translation which are the result of either inattention to what the Greek text is saying, or an inability to see it clearly due to a theological disposition.
A little Greek
It is now time to take a deep breath and try to concentrate. We need to review a little grammar. (If you are reading this casually from your cell phone, you might want to book mark this and come back when you can devote your full attention.(And by all means stop driving!)) In English as in Greek, the preposition “of” can have a host of meanings. Consider the phrase “gospel of King Jesus.” It could mean the good news about King Jesus, or it could mean the good news proclaimed by King Jesus.
Now consider “that bucket of metal next to the bucket of wood.” If you see a bucket full of wood chips and one full of nails, you know the one referred to. On the other hand if you see a steel bucket next to a wooden one, you also understand. In the first case “of” referred to the contents, and in the second it referred to composition.
In the New Testament the idea of “of” in all its many forms can be expressed by a special form of nouns called “the genitive case.” (For a simple intro to the genitive click here, or here for a more comprehensive one.) For plural nouns this is always done by adding the letters omega nu (ῶν) to the end of the word. That means that the word “of” need not be present; it can be expressed by the form of the word. As with English, it is up to the context to decide the exact meaning. Additional words may be added to eliminate ambiguity when introducing a topic, if the context is not clear.
The ekklesia separated from the nations, or the Gentile Church?
In Acts 15 we see the new ekklesia in action, trying to come to terms with the work the Holy Spirit is doing in forming this new assembly of citizens. While they clearly recognize that God is creating a new nation based on the work of their King Jesus, most of them naturally assumed that this new nation was being taken out of the old one. Their terminology is clear and consistent on this point. What came as a shock was that the Holy Spirit was not restricting Himself to this pool of potential members, but was taking members out of the other nations as well.
The terminology in Acts 15 is critical because the decision rendered at the Jerusalem council provides the foundation for all later New Testament teaching on the subject. As a result Dr. Luke is at pains to add the prepositions needed to avoid ambiguity.
In Acts 15:14 Luke tells us that God was “taking from among the nations a people for His name.” The Greek “labein ex ethnon laon” (λαβεῖν ἐξ ἐθνῶν λαὸν) uses both the genitive of nations (ethnon) and the clarifying preposition “ex.” A term you will immediately identify as the source of our word exit. The clear unambiguous meaning of the genitive construction and the preposition ex means “to take out of, or remove, from the other nations.” The passage makes clear that these new converts (remember what that word means) were no longer considered members of their former nations.