The Myth of a Gentile Church: What is Church—Part 5

What does a bucket have to do with the Gentile church?

Is this a bucket of metal, or a bucket of water?

Are you a part of the Gentile church, or the Jewish church? Does such a question even make sense in a New Testament context. Whole systems of theology are based on these seemingly legitimate questions. Yet my reading of the Greek New Testament convinces me that the “Gentile church” in a myth based on a misreading of the text, compounded by the use of Gentile–a word which the does not even have a Greek equivalent.

I closed my last post with controversial statement that if we want to continue translating the Greek word ethnos as “Gentile” we are forced to conclude that according to scripture, today”s Jews, who have not accepted Jesus as king, are Gentiles. Of course this makes no sense in English because in our language Gentile means “non-Jew.”This is yet another example of the kind of confusion that is generated when a word in one language is transliterated into another language and given a meaning different from its original. Gentilis is a perfectly good Latin word meaning nation or tribe. As such it conveys perfectly the meaning of the Hebrew goy and the Greek ethnos, and was used to translate those words into the Latin Vulgate. Sadly the English word Gentile does not come close to conveying the meaning of either gentilis, goy, or ethnos.

The fact is, neither the Old nor New Testaments have any word meaning “non-Jew.” As we saw in the last post, the ancient distinction between Israel and the other nations was based on the fact that they were the unique ekklesia of God—those who were to model and exercise the “royal power of God.” Their unique standing among the nations was based solely and entirely on their unique national relationship with YHWH.

Is Jesus a polygamist?

According to scripture God has announced His betrothal to a new ekklesia, taken out of all nations (including Israel). Anyone wishing to join this new ekklesia must take the same stance as Ruth who renounced her former citizenship and declared: “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

While this seems strange to our ears; this is exactly what is entailed in believing that Jesus is the christos. 1 John 5:1 tells us that this is the prerequisite for the new birth.

If we are to avoid wrong thinking we must recognize that God has only one ekklesia, only one nation. This biblical perspective is the clear background for the for both the Old and New Testaments. We have but one King—Jesus, and He has but one nation, one body, and one bride. Jesus is not polygamous.

(Before continuing I should point out that I am not advocating supersessionism, the idea that the new assembly of citizens has replaced Israel in God’s eyes and that all the prophesies about Israel now apply to the Church. Whether or not that idea holds is a matter for systematic theology, which is way beyond me. I am operating strictly at the level of translation and hermeneutics—what does scripture say and mean. At this point I am content to leave the development of systems to others. That said, I am suspicious of any system that avoids certain passages or twists them out of their clear contextual meaning. In other words, I know of no systematic theology that does not arouse my suspicion.)

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.

In verse 23 we see the ambassadors using the exact same construction again in their letter to their new brethren who had been removed from the other nations to become part of the new nation God was creating.

prepositions for a gentile church

A visual representation of ex and apo

In Acts 15:19, our historian uses a different preposition in conjunction with the genitive of nations: apo ton ethnon (ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν). This combination is possibly even more potent that the use of ex. Apo does not simply mean taken out of, it means separated from, taken away from. It implies spatial or conceptional distance. As if to say they were no longer in the same ballpark. Is this significance being conveyed in the translation you use?

Luke’s history provides the backdrop and prerequisite understanding for the rest of the New Testament. Once this understanding is established one may continue to show the state of separation by simply using the genitive form of nations, and only using apo or ex when clarification is needed.

So it is that we find verses that we have looked at before which seem to make no sense in English. Verses like 1 Corinthians 12:2 and Ephesians 2:11 which make clear that followers of our king are no longer members of the other nations. Verses like Ephesians 4:17 and 1 Peter 2:12 which call the king’s followers to hold to different standard than the nations they used to be a part of. The nations of the world exist as one great kingdom of darkness subject to their dark lord. We have been transferred out of that kingdom into the kingdom of light.

Am I rightly dividing the word, or simply a heretic dividing the Church?

To see the danger implicit it the lax treatment of the genitive form of ethnos, consider Romans 16:4: “…who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the gentiles.” Here the NIV certainly makes it look like I am a fool, or heretic for calling the Gentile Church a myth. But when we look at the Greek we find that Paul used the simple genitive form of nation. The NIV, and many other translations make this look like Paul was referring to churches made up non-Jews. This is in spite of the fact that Greek had no word meaning non-Jew. Had the translators rendered this “churches of the nations,” it would have been acceptable Greek, but not acceptable theology. Translating it as “churches out of the nations” is true to both the Greek and the New Testament message.

In closing I would like to give one more example of the subtlety involved in the correct handling of the genitive case. You will remember when I was experimenting with the word ekklesia, I tried it out on Galatians 1:1-2

Paul, an ambassador (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through King Jesus and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, To the assemblies of citizens from Galatia– Galatians 1:1-2

Observant individuals will note that I changed the NASB “of Galatia” to “from Galatia. The word “of” is not explicitly in the Greek, being derived from the genitive form of “Galatia.” It is clearly an ablatival genitive indicating source or origin. While “of’” communicates this in English (eg Saul of Tarsus) in this case it may cause confusion with the genitive of material. Paul was not addressing citizens of Galatia, but citizens of God’s kingdom from Galatia.

I do not believe that our king expects all His subjects to learn the original languages of scripture. But we can at least recognize that what we read has been filtered through the limits and sometimes theology of human vessels. This makes it all the more important that we “study to show ourselves approved…”

As I struggle to get this message out, I hope you will take part by asking questions, or commenting below. If you think this is important please like, share and plus this page and sign up for our updates by clicking here. May our king grant you His favor as you seek to be faithful to Him.

For the king,

Chris

photo credit: Pip R. Lagenta via photopin cc

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18 thoughts on “The Myth of a Gentile Church: What is Church—Part 5

  1. Hi Chris, I don’t have much to comment except to say that I think you are absolutely right in this matter. Even if down the ages Christians have not always clearly recognised this point they have in practice, when led by the Spirit, behaved according to this – hence movements like the Celtic missionaries, Anabaptists and early Methodists, and modern missions like the China Inland Mission, who broke free from convention and at whose very heart was the sense of being called out of worldly distinctions to be part of a wholly new and distinct people. I think you also uncover that sense that many of us who are illiterate in Hebrew and Greek sometimes feel – that certain Bible passages just don’t seem right – not because we doubt their inspiration but because their translation is not really correct. Many preachers have appeared inspired merely by saying what a passage really means because it brings relief to the hearer ( “I knew it !!”). Keep up the good work. I wouldn’t wish upon you any new enemies but this current theme pulls the rug out from a lot of the illogical focus on Israel in certain quarters, which I fear is at best a distraction and at worst a stumbling block to not-yet believers who may be made to feel they this is a part of Christianity..

    • Thank you Zoran for the encouragement, and for the warning. Those who live godly in king Jesus will indeed experience persecution. It is sad that often that persecution comes at the hands of those claiming to follow the same king.

      Our great challenge is to allow our theology to be determined by scripture rather than the other way around. I have already been banned from one site that I thought (and maybe truly) is serving our Lord for simply asking a question.

      I simply asked if they thought a Hebrew translation made from the Greek N.T. had more authority than the original Greek. I was told that my question evidenced bigotry towards Jewish believers and they would not answer such questions. When I apologized for appearing bigoted and asked what made me appear so, I received a reply saying I was blocked and to make no further efforts at contact. :-(

      Personally I consider any group that discourages people from questioning their positions as dangerous. I am sure that this does not hold for all who disagree with me, which is why I keep appealing for questions and open conversation. Few seem to be willing to engage on these issues.

      • Here again, Chris, why hold back from us what is “truth in love” by telling us about your challenge but keeping the name of the organization from us?

        Is not “truth told in love” a “Conjoined Twin”?

        Was Jesus’ style not care-frontational when appropriate?

        • Brother Gary, I think my posts give sufficient evidence that I don’t mind being confrontational 😉

          On the other hand there is a biblical order to follow when a person or group is claiming to follow our king. My next step is to alert the members of the group that I still have access to. They may deal with the situation in house, in which case it need go no further. If nothing changes I may well do post on my experience with them.

          I will probably do that on my G+ acct. since that is where the problem occurred. At this point I will simply say that it is a “Messianic Jewish” group.

          • Thank you Chris! My experience with the religiosity of some Messianic Christians has been mixed as well.

            BTW, your responses to my comments are NOT coming to me by e-mail as the box below says. They are getting buried, and usually lost, in my G+ notifications.

            Could you set up your WordPress site to notify us by e-mail, not G+, if we click the former box?

            Blessings!

  2. In my opinion there is no such thing as a Jewish Church or Gentile church. I don’t think that even the NIV is stating that. It’s a bit like this: I’m part of the Canadian church. That simply means I’m a Canadian and I’m in the Church. It is a geographical or cultural adjective describing the part of the Church we happen to be talking about.

    I know this is often misunderstood. But in my opinion the Church is above and beyond such distinctions. The Jerusalem council was called to deal with this question, and did so, quite effectively, I think.

  3. Thanks Lester. I agree with you that there is no Jewish or Gentile Church, and that the Jerusalem council dealt definitively with this question. It is also true that in a geographic sense you are a Canadian. The rub comes when geography becomes confused with identity.

    Via your 1st birth you became a Canadian (or U.S.) citizen and your country was your sovereign. Your second birth occurred when you acknowledged a new sovereign–King Jesus. Canada is no longer your sovereign/final authority like it was before. According to my understanding of scripture you are no longer Canadian in your former sense. You are now a sojourner/pilgrim in Canada, an alien and stranger there, and a citizen of heaven from whence we expect our king to return–Phil.3:20.

    It is common to take these scriptural teachings as metaphors. I submit that they are to consist to be such. To interpret the N.T. correctly we must recognize that we are no longer “of” the nations we are in. There is no gentile church–There is only one church. She is taken out of Israel, and out of the other nations. To try and maintain the national identity we held before coming to our king, is to hold on to an authority structure in opposition to Him.

    I hope this makes sense.

    • This reminds me a quote I read one time that was along the lines of, “There are too many Americans who happen to be Christians instead of Christians who happen to be American.” Now that Jesus is my King, I consider myself to be American only as a consequence of my (first) birth, in a similar sense as I was born with brown hair.

      The Moravian movement was famous for its widespread missionary efforts in the 1700s. The Christian communities they founded were noted for the harmonious fellowship between believers from many different nations and races–almost unheard of in that time period. It was possible because their citizenship in heaven was more important than the nation they came from. There is a fascinating book about the Moravians called Behold the Lamb that can be downloaded for free here:

      http://www.elmendorfbooks.com/btl/

  4. Chris, you write above:
    “… 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.”

    I enjoy reading your documented, logical explanations of mis-translations in the New Covenant. But once you prove your point to the non-defensive reader, I’d suggest you use the simple phrases “demonic denial” or “intentional error” for everything after the “or” in the text I quoted above or in similar passages.

    I’m unsure which you mean.

    What you’re writing about probably already offends some traditionalists. So why not simply be clear and non-politically correct, if that’s what you’re doing using all the potentially redundant words?

    • Wow, I’m impressed… I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that I was politically correct before! 😉

      Seriously however, most deception is demonic, or self induced, and I see intentional error as an oxymoron. As I noted in “The Problem with Christ,” I think most translators are sincere in their desire to communicate God’s word. It is the rare individual that can see past the spirit of the age that engulfs them. For the fish in a stream it is the rocks that move; they presume their static state in error. I don’t know why, but it seems that if I have any gifting, it is that God has let me see the tint in the water.

      • Thank you Chris.

        We’ll agree to disagree. Personally, what I find oxymoronic is a knowledgeable Translator of The Word of God’s communications, plus the organization employing them, being “sincere” while continuing in poor translation while knowing it’s only tradition and without, at least, a footnote, e.g., Christ, Christian, Church, plus the others you’ll be sharing to we non-Greek-speakers.

        If I read your comment above correctly, I also find it scary that your experience would suggest that rare Jesus Followers are the only ones to overcome the war with our flesh outlined in Gal. 5:16-26 and the “wiles” of Satan. I thought 1 Cor. 2:9-16 and 2 Cor. 4:3-4 reserved demonic denial ONLY for Non-followers of Jesus not Jesus Followers “living in the Spirit”.

        Hopefully, Translators are, prayerfully, “in the Spirit” when translating notwithstanding that there is no such thing as a “Christians publisher” any more than a “Christian country”.

        Please forgive me if I misunderstand what you meant? Help me if I’m misreading the New Covenant!

        Blessings!

        • Experience of Charismatic/Pentecostal organisations (ie appointed and presumably vetted executives) – who teach that believers can enter into a deeper spirit baptised life, AND reformed organisations that teach that all believers receive the Holy Spirit at the commencement of their new life, reveals some desperate examples of dishonest, self-serving, authoritarian and unmistakeably sinful behaviour. Was the Holy Spirit not indwelling them, was He not speaking – or was He ignored by the individuals concerned and their colleagues who should have challenged them? Sometimes people just switch off. The New Covenant doesn’t make one impervious to either to the wiles of demons or the weaknesses of the flesh (laziness, fear of rocking the boat, mistaken humility as in “who am I to say I am right and others are wrong – let he who is without sin……..” etc). When Paul says to the Galatians “who has bewitched you” – his choice of words might imply that some demonic deception has occurred perhaps taking advantage of an initial failure to challenge false teaching, for whatever reason. Which is why NC believers must not neglect to put on the whole armour of God. Failure to withstand one “wile” (literally “method”) makes us vulnerable to more damaging ones,
          A friend who is doing Bible translation in a demon infested country has certainly come across demonic deception in respected translation organisations regarding, for example, the choice of the word used to translate “God” (chosen to be more acceptable to locals) which completely misrepresents the nature of our Lord and Father. They have in reality, to return to Chris’ teaching, come under the jurisdiction of the ruling demonic power instead of challenging it. He reports that it results in locals failing to come fully into new life, and many remaining unchanged within.

  5. The focus is clearly stated in your last paragraph to Lester – “There is only one church.” Each one of us is still geographically in a human nation and a citizen of that nation for human affairs. But, as you state, in heavenly affairs we are citizens of heaven. In the one church there is no Jew nor Greek, as we read in 1 Cor 12:13, Gal 3:28, and Col 3:11. To me, the present application of these verses is “no American, no Japanese, no Latino, no German, no Black, etc, etc.”

  6. Brother Don, I am tempted to simply thank you for your comment and move on, but then I would be living up to Gary’s charge of political correctness above. 😉 You certainly are in good company in your distinction of heavenly and earthly affairs, and eternity may show you on the side of truth.

    Unfortunately for me (because it has complicated my life greatly) I cannot see that kind of distinction being made in scripture. In fact I see in both scripture and in the early church, a refusal to participate on the level of citizenship in earthly affairs. I have written a couple of posts on this that you might want to look at. Two that come to mind are http://radicalfish.net/ultimate-allegiance-of-christians/ and http://radicalfish.net/early-christian-blogs-christians-in-politics/

    If you disagree, please hang around and continue to engage me on this point, Like I said, you may indeed be correct, and well mannered opponents who love our king are our best hope of convincing us of the error of our ways. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

    For the king… Chris

    PS: And yes–thank you for the comment! :-)

    • Chris , you speak of a refusal to participate on the level of citizenship in earthly affairs but was it not rather a refusal to AUTOMATICALLY participate….. in ALL earthly affairs – i.e. they would seek God’s direction in all things. I think there are dangers when groups take and voice a stance which actually they cannot and were not meant to maintain, especially when difficulties arise and leaderships then begin to define what is acceptable (and we’ve all seen where that leads!) – the Amish come to mind although I’m not knowledgeable enough to say if that’s a good example. Paul was willing (led?) to take advantage of his Roman citizenship when it suited the situation. I guess our priority must always be that we are FOR the king and give Him first allegiance and obedience (trusting Him to guide us through the minefields), rather than what we are against, while “not being ignorant of Satan’s devices”. Coming from England we have of course the classic example of the muddle you speak of in “the Church of England” – and actually it does epitomise the English preference to compromise and shun extremism. It also explains why so many groups left – refusing to “conform” – and created new denominations! You have good precedence for the former Chris although I suspect you have no wish to follow through with the latter!

      • Zoran, I appreciate your wisdom and attitude almost more than I can say. You evidence both our king’s wisdom and heart–thank you.

        As I told Don, you very well may be right in an ultimate sense and certainly are on a number of particulars. You correctly note that I have no wish to see another denomination created and do see conformity with the world as something to eschew.

        The only point that I get hung-up on is your phrase “… give Him first allegiance…” I understand your heart (I think) and agree with you. My problem is that, as I understand the demands of worldly governments, and those of our king; neither of them will accept your terminology.

        I deal with this in these two posts; http://radicalfish.net/ultimate-allegiance-of-christians/ and http://radicalfish.net/why-christian-allegiance-matters/.

        It is not my place to judge those who disagree with me on this point. In truth, at times I come close to envying them. Why won’t my conscience allow me the slight turn of phrase which would make the government happy and unlock the door to privilege?

        I am reminded that had early Christians acted in accordance with you and Don (truly brothers I love) they would have avoided both flame and tooth. The Jews could honor YHWH as God as long as they honored Caesar as their king. (This was the backdrop for the crucifixion.) Our king’s followers were unwilling to do the same and paid with their lives.

        It is no coincidence that the Constantinian synthesis was accomplished when the government declared Jesus as God, and the “church” declared Constantine king.

        As to Paul, that is another post. Suffice it to say I see in it another translation error combined with a misunderstanding akin to the Gentile church.

        For the king… Chris

        • Hi Chris, I didn’t make myself clear in that I didn’t mean that we an initial allegiance but then try to accommodate other allegiances – rather that He is our supreme allegiance and all other acts of allegiance or compliance are allowed only where they are not in conflict with the first. Joseph and Daniel would be good OT examples, in the NT perhaps ” those of Caesar’s household” . The Lord had no problem with rendering to Caesar what was his – and in Matt 17:24-26 He seems amused by the situation Peter presented him with, sweetly made His point but, to avoid offence, covered Peter by drolly providing him with the drachma for both of them.
          We can act as good citizens in all respects that do not conflict with our King, but when we are called to account for actions and words that earthly kings will not accept, our supreme allegiance must be voiced and the consequences faced. Interestingly Namaan the Syrian had a conscience about this once he had been touched by God – is the implication from scripture that if he wasn’t asked about his new spiritual views he needn’t volunteer the information? I don’t think this is being dishonest (Matt 10:16 wise as serpents yet innocent as doves?) – it is perhaps refusing to invite other kings to set our agenda (in my younger days Brother Andrew addressed this in God’s Smuggler, praying for seeing eyes to be made blind). If in Costa Rica a local official prohibits your work, will you cease, will you openly refuse to comply or might you say as little as possible and continue to work (differently if God leads) and if you are discovered honestly admit all?

          yours appreciatively Zoran

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