Briefly explain the usage of ekklhsia in Classical Greek, Hebrew, LXX and the N.T koine refuting the idea of a church in the Old Testament.

Posted on June 26, 2009


    The Hebrew word lhq is the word that the translators of the Septuagint translated ekklesia.. The word qhl has several different meanings ranging from “contingent”[1] to a “post-exilic cultic community.”[2] The first time qhl appears is in Gen. 28:3 where God tells Jacob that God will give him a “multitude of people.”  In Ex. 32:1, it is used to describe Israel; however, in Ezek. 32:22 the word is used to describe people with Asshur. The way that lhq is used, when translated in the Septuagint as ekklesia, in the Old Testament is in reference to groups of people. Radmacher concludes on the usage of qhl “seems to be the necessity of a physical meeting for a specific purpose, immediately or remotely displaying the prerogatives of autonomous action.”[3] The topic of the meetings did not necessitate spiritual content for these meetings could be on secular matters as well. In other words, this word is used to describe meetings in general.

    In the Septuagint, ekklesia is used not as many times as the qhl is used which makes one conclude that it is not a one-for-one counter part, but rather it is a good translation of the idea that was being presented in the Hebrew. Ekklesia is used 102 in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha.[4] This word is in reference to groups of people meeting for a reason. Some examples would be Deut. 4:10, where God calls Israel to assemble because He wants them to hear His words. In Judges 21:5 again the people of Israel were to meet with the Lord. The way that ekklhsia is used is in reference to assemblies or groups of people.

    The range of meaning that ekklesia in Classical and Koine Greek seems to vary a lot just as the Hebrew qhl varies in meaning. However, in Greek it is always in reference to a group called out for a purpose. The word could be used as “assembly, as regularly summoned political body,”[5] i.e. Acts 19:39. However, another way in which it is used is in reference to either the Body of Christ, Acts 2:47, and as a local church, Rev. 2:1. Words are defined by the way in which they are used. When one starts to study the New Testament, one can see that God defines what the church is in the New Testament. From Acts 2 one can notice that it is no longer a general assembly of people but it is certain people, i.e. those who are saved, who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, 1 Cor. 12:13 says that it is the Holy Spirit that puts one in the Body of Christ, or as some like to call it the universal church.[6]

    While there are some characteristics that are similar between the Old Testament qhl, the Septuagint ekklesia, and that of the New Testament idea of the Body of Christ and the local church, yet there are great differences. These differences- baptism of the Holy Spirit 1 Cor. 12:13, Church is the Bride of Christ Eph. 5:22-27 – make it impossible for the references found in the Old Testament concerning an ekklesia to be one and the same as that of the New Testament Church of God. Barr states, “the suggestion that the use of ekklesia constitutes a claim to be the true ‘Israel of God’ seems to presuppose that qahal is the term par excellence in which the nature of Israel as the people of God is expressed.”[7]

    [1] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 1079.

    [2]Ibid 1080.

    [3] Earl D. Radmacher, What the Church is all About” (Chicago: Moody, 1972), 129.

    [4] Westminster Hebrew OT Morphology, BibleWorks Software (2005).

    [5] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 2nd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973), 240.

    [6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005), 17.

    [7] James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 127.

    Posted in: Ecclessiology