Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Israel and the Church." Part one.

There is a Modern teaching that God has not one, but two separate peoples of God: Israel and the Church. This teaching was developed in the 1830's by J.N.. Darby, who sought to divide the Bible into passages for Israel and the Church. According to Darby, Jesus came to deliver the kingdom to the Jews, but the Jews rejected Him and caused Him to die on the cross something unforeseen by God. Thus, Christ's death on the cross was not part of God's plan, and as a result, the coming of the kingdom was postponed. Christ's rejection caused a "parenthesis" in time in which the "prophetic clock" stopped ticking. Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, God created the Church as a Plan B that Darby claims was wholly unanticipated, even by the Old Testament prophets.

Christ's death was not an unfortunate accident brought on by the unanticipated rejection by the Jews. On the contrary, speaking of the cross, Jesus said "But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27). The Church is not a parenthesis lying between God's dealings with Israel and the Church, but rather, the Church is Israel and therefore the "fullness of God.

That sounds like heresy to many people and I understand that feeling because of what we have traditionally been taught. However, there was a time when such a statement would cause no reaction at all. This is very difficult for people to accept and some have asked: "If the church is not God's Plan B, why don’t we read about the Church in the Old Testament?" Since some have asked about that, it seems probable that others are wondering, and this article will be an effort to answer that question.

The word "church" does not appear in English translations of the Old Testament (as it does in the New Testament). The Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint or LXX) uses the word ekklesia (from ek- + kaleo, "to call," "called out," "assembly," "congregation"). Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai, where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people (Exodus 19).

Many Jewish Christians in the first century relied heavily upon the Septuagint LXX, and the New Testament is filled with quotations from it. Thus, the early Jewish Christians were well acquainted with the biblical concept that God's church in Old Testament times was made up from the nation of Israel.

It was no accident that Stephen, a Jewish Christian who followed Greek customs, called Israel the "church;" for his Bible, the LXX, regularly uses ekklesia to refer to Israel. Acts 7:37-38 KJV: "This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was (in the church in the wilderness) with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.

Under the Old Covenant the Church was the "congregation" and "assembly" of Israel. Exodus 12:6: Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. Too often, the Church is called the building of God.

When we speak of the church, the thought is a Gentile organization of believers, going to church. We think of a building, starting a church, the authority of the church, the organization of the church, and the list could go on. The point is that we really use the word as it is defined in the dictionary, which is proper, but it only proves that the English word church agrees with the meaning given in the English dictionary.

So the question naturally arises as to whether the Church is an extension of the Old Testament Israel, or if it refers to something entirely new in God's plan and purposes in the New Testament. This is perhaps the crucial question, and a lot of the discussion concerning the relationship between the "Church" and "Israel" hinges on how we decide to answer it. The reason I am providing all of this detail is because in the New Testament the word ekklesia is translated as "Church" in our English Bibles.

Jesus used the Septuagint LXX, to teach and speak in either Greek or Aramaic and we must depend on translations to determine what He actually said. Since our earliest manuscripts are in Greek, that is what we must work from in order to understand the "original." Our Savior said, Upon this rock I'll build my ekklesia Christ promised to build an assembly, congregation, group, family or community that would be uniquely His. He came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) not to build a religious institution.

Building upon the Old Covenant ekklesia church, "congregation" and "assembly," Jesus said to the Samarian woman at the well, "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). The "New Covenant church" was therefore born from among the Jewish people.

Another fact from first century history that is not widely known is, there were no Gentiles in the early church, at the start of the New Covenant from AD 32 to 42. The first followers of Jesus (Yeshua) were all Jews, as were all the apostles and writers of the New Testament, except for Luke.

Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost (i.e., Shavu'ot) was entirely Jewish, copiously quoting from the prophets and David, which would have meant little to a Gentile in earshot (if there were any). These earliest members of the new church met regularly in the Temple, where Gentiles were explicitly excluded (Acts 2:46).

Note that the apostles Peter and John are recorded to have gone to the Temple for prayer during the time of the minchah (afternoon) sacrifices (Acts 3:1). The ministry of the Apostles continued exclusively among the Jewish people, among whom were "thousands who believed and were zealous for the Torah" (Acts 21:20). Do you see now that the "church" is not God's Plan B? When Stephen was called before the High Priest and the council, he gave a defense that was thoroughly Jewish, encompassing the entire history of Israel before he was martyred (Acts 7).

The Gentiles did not start coming into the Church until ten years later at the Jerusalem council. In Acts 15:1-17, Peter said: "Simon has declared how God at first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name (v. 14)." This is the meaning of ekklesia. It is impossible for the Gentiles to have started the church when they did not enter the church until ten years later. The Church was already started.

The New Covenant ekklesia, was started from a remnant of the Old Covenant ekklesia. Romans 11:5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See also Rom. 9:27; Joe 2:32)

Out of that ekklesia, His assembly, His congregation, His group, His gathering, would be made up from all kinds of people. Galatians 3:28 states, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. This ekklesia is also the Israel of God. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16).

In the New Testament sense, the word "ekklesia" refers to the group of "called out" people (from every tribe and tongue) in covenant with God by means of their trust in Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:9-10 says "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."

That is the meaning of ekklesia! Notice all of the descriptive terms used in this passage, each one emphasizing a different facet of this ekklesia. How can we fail to understand this?

It appears to be a major fault of various English translations of the "Christian Bible" that the word "Church" was translated from the Greek word ekklesia in the New Testament, since this suggests an anti-Jewish bias in their work by implying that there is a radical discontinuity between "Israel" and the ekklesia of Jesus (i.e., the "Church").. In other words, if the same Greek word (ekklesia) is used in both the LXX and the NT, then why was a new word coined for its usage in the English translation of the New Testament? Why not rather translate the word as it was used in the LXX, or better still, as it was used in the OT Scriptures?