In the past, I have penned many numerous articles about my understanding of church, or the ekklesia of Christ. In one article, I specifically noted that, when the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were translated into Greek (called the Septuagint), the scribes used the word ekklesia to replace the Hebrew word qahal.
Now, I believe this is quite significant. Why? Well, we can identify that the Greek New Testament word, ekklesia (which we translate as ‘church’), and the Hebrew Old Testament word, qahal, are very similar in meaning. Both of these words refer to the gathered people of God.
This is something worth taking note of as one considers the relationship between Old Testament Israel (God’s true qahal of faith) and the New Testament church (God’s true ekklesia of faith).
So here are three very important points we must remember in this discussion:
- There was one particular Hebrew word used to describe the gathering of Israel in the Old Testament – qahal.
- But when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, this Hebrew word used to describe the gathering of Israel was turned into this word – ekklesia.
- When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, guess what Greek word was used to describe the ‘church’? It was ekklesia. The word ‘church’ is ekklesia.
Therefore, my conclusion is that the the New Testament ekklesia is actually the Old Testament qahal. Or, to state it another way, the church (ekklesia) is Israel (qahal). I do truly believe there is a specific connection between these two words, as Louis Berkhof also points out:
‘We should not close our eyes to the patent fact that the name ‘Church’ (Heb. Qahal, rendered ekklesia in the Septuagint) is applied to Israel in the Old Testament repeatedly, Josh. 8:35; Ezra 2:65; Joel 2:16. The fact that in our translations of the Bible the Old Testament rendering of the original is ‘gathering,’ ‘assembly,’ or ‘congregation,’ while the New Testament rendering of it is ‘Church,’ may have given rise to misunderstanding on this point; but the fact remains that in the Old Testament as well as in the New the original word denotes a congregation or an assembly of the people of God, and as such serves to designate the essence of the Church.’ (Systematic Theology)
Therefore, I truly believe that it is correct to say that the church, or ekklesia of God, did not begin at Pentecost, but rather ‘in the beginning’ when God created His covenant people. Or, again, the church (ekklesia) is the Israel of God consisting of both believing Jew and believing Gentile. These words prove apt from one theologian:
‘Pentecost did not create the people of God, but renewed them.’ (Edmund Clowney, The Church)
And that has been my premise the whole time. God did not discard His people of old, nor does He completely reject them today. Rather, He has been faithful to continue a people of faith, a people following in the footsteps of their father, Abraham (see Romans 4:11). Abraham is father to believing Jew and believing Gentile.
Therefore, in all, I believe the Israel of God is the ekklesia and the ekklesia is the Israel of God. This people are not marked by their heritage, social status, gender or whether they circumcise the male reproductive organ. This is a new covenant people of faith in Christ, a people of new creation and circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God. This, I believe, is the Israel of God. They are the qahal of the Old Testament and the ekklesia of the New Testament.
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:15-16)
Click on the link here to read my final article of the series as I consider Romans 11.