the church in the old testament

There is a claim among Acts 2 dispensationalists that “church” is a dispensational term. The claim is that the church was established by Jesus or the apostles in the New Testament. After all, the word “church” is not used in the Old Testament.

This reasoning is highly flawed. It ignores one key difference between the Old and New Testament: they were written in different languages. That means both were interpreted into English, and it could very well easily be that the translators just chose not to use the word “church” in the Old Testament.

Luckily there is a way to test this claim. In the few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek. This is known as the Septuagint (LXX). This is most likely the Bible that the Jews commonly used, as they were very Helenized by the time of Jesus.

If the LXX uses the same Greek world in the Old Testament as the Greek word for “church” in the New Testament, this would be powerful evidence that the “church” is not a dispensational term. In fact, the word ekklesia (G1577), the Greek word for “church”, is used over 70 times in the Old Testament.

In Deuteronomy 4 it refers to Israel:

Deu 4:10 … Gather the people to Me…

In Deuteronomy 23, it refers to Israel (“assembly”):

Deu 23:8 The children of the third generation born to them [foreigners] may enter the assembly of the LORD.

In Kings, it likewise refers to Israel:

1Ki 8:55 And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying,

And again:

1Ch 13:4 Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.

And again:

Mic 2:5 Therefore you will have no one to determine boundaries by lot In the assembly of the LORD.

All 77 times it is used, the concept is “God’s people” (or “Church” would be a good translation).

The word “ekklesia” is used throughout the Old Testament and seems not to be represented in the English due to translation bias. This fact, contrary to the Acts 2 dispensationalists’ original claim, is very damaging to the idea that the “Church” is a dispensational idea. The Church, just like the rest of Jesus’ and the Disciples’ ministry, is a very Old Testament concept.

edit: Because the Jews of Jesus’ time used the LXX, Jesus would have been aware of the Old Testament usage of “ekklesia”. There is no reason to think he had a different meaning.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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