Ekklésia - Assembly of God

The New Testament usage of the term “assembly” is based on the language and imagery of Israel when the nation was assembled before Yahweh for worship in front of the Tabernacle. The Greek noun rendered “church” in many English translations is ekklésia. It means “assembly, congregation, convocation.” In secular Greek, it could refer to an “assembly” of citizens gathered to conduct matters of state. However, that is not the sense found in the Greek New Testament.

In the Bible, the term ekklésia occurs only twice in the four gospel accounts, and both times it is found on the lips of Jesus. Thus, its original application to congregations of disciples can be traced to him (Strong’s - #G1577 - Matthew 16:18, 18:17).

Church Prayer - Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash
[Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash]

The term
occurs over one hundred times in the Greek New Testament and most often it is applied to congregations of believers. But it is Paul’s usage of ekklésia that is the most distinctive and instructive for followers of Jesus.

First, the Apostle employs both the singular and plural numbers when applying ekklésia to local groups of believers, but he does so with discrimination. Invariably, when referring to a local congregation, he uses the singular form (e.g., the “ASSEMBLY in Corinth” - 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1).

Second, when he refers to different groups of believers collectively, he uses the plural noun. For example, to the Assembly in Corinth, he wrote that God is not “a God of confusion, but of peace, as in ALL THE ASSEMBLIES of the saints.” To the believers in Rome, he remarked that “ALL THE ASSEMBLIES of Christ salute you– (1 Corinthians 14:33, Romans 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:14).

This does not mean that each city church was independent of the others, and certainly not that each maintained its own doctrinal traditions and practices. But each congregation represented THEchurch” assembled for worship in its respective location.

Several times, Paul describes the local congregation as the “Assembly of God,” and collectively, he labels all his congregations as the “ASSEMBLIES of God” - (1 Corinthians 1:2, 10:32, 11:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:14).

ASSEMBLY OF YAHWEH


Paul’s usage reflects the influence of the Hebrew Bible, especially its descriptions of the “assembly of Israel” gathered before the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. At the time, the Israelites formed a pilgrim people.

Several times in the Pentateuch, when Israel was assembled before the Tabernacle for worship, it is called the “Assembly or the convocation of Yahweh” - the ‘qahal Yahweh’. For example:

  • (Exodus 12:6) – “So shall it be yours to keep until the fourteenth day of this month, then shall all the convocation of the ASSEMBLY OF ISREAL slay it between the two evenings.”
  • (Leviticus 16:17) – “And no man shall be in the tent of meeting when he comes in to make a covering by propitiation in the holy place until he goes out. So shall he put a covering about himself and about his household and about all the ASSEMBLY OF ISRAEL.
  • (Deuteronomy 23:1-2) – “Neither he that has been mutilated by crushing nor he that has had his privy member cut off shall enter the ASSEMBLY OF YAHWEH. A bastard shall not enter the ASSEMBLY OF YAHWEH. Even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter the ASSEMBLY OF YAHWEH.

The ancient prohibition against anyone in an “unclean” state participating in the “Assembly of Yahweh” is echoed in several of Paul’s declarations about proper and improper behavior in the church. For example:

  • (1 Corinthians 11:22) – “What! Have you not houses for your eating and drinking? Or the ASSEMBLY OF GOD do you despise and put to shame those who have nothing? What am I to say to you? Shall I praise you? In this, I praise you not.”
  • (1 Corinthians 14:34) – “As for the women, in the ASSEMBLIES let them be silent, for it is not permitted them to be speaking; but let them be in submission, even as the law declares.”
  • (1 Timothy 3:15) – “But if I should tarry that you may know how it behooves you in a house of God to behave, the which is an ASSEMBLY OF A LIVING GOD, a pillar and basement of the truth.”

Rather than ritual impurities as defined in the Levitical regulations, Paul is concerned with conduct that occurs in the “Assembly of God.” Immorality and disruptive behavior should not be allowed among believers when they gather for worship, not that such behavior is tolerable in other circumstances.

Thus, in the New Testament, the “church” or “Assembly” is not a building or the designation for a sect or denomination, but the local Assembly of saints gathered before the Lord in worship, the place where God’s presence is found among His new covenant people.



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