(By the way, I tried to get the Greek translated each time below; if you see garble on your screen, and you want to read the Greek, download a free demo model of Accordance Bible Software, and you should, in that way, get the fonts on your computer.)
Eph. 5:23 reads:
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
This, and the other texts in Ephesians 5, are good illustrations of the generic use of nouns. “The husband,” “the wife,” and “the church” are generic nouns. There is no universal husband or universal, invisible wife, and there is no universal, invisible church here either. Each husband is the head of his own wife, and Christ is the head of each church.
Similarly, in Colossians 1:18, in the phrase ("the head of the church," hJ kefalh\ touv sw¿matoß), thvß ekklhsi÷aß both sw¿matoß and ekklhsi÷aß are generic nouns, just as in Ephesians 5:23 aÓnh/r, kefalh\, gunaikoß, ekklhsi÷aß, and sw¿matoß are generic in reference (cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, pgs. 253-254, for a variety of other examples). Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 5:23 do not teach the doctrine of a universal, invisible church—such a concept is not either approved or rejected in either passage. They simply state that Christ is the head of the church generically, that is, of every particular local, visible church. Each particular church is identified as the body of Christ in this text (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27, where the particular church at Corinth is called the body of Christ—the body metaphor emphasizes that each member of the assembly, as a different and important body part, needs to minister to the other members of his particular congregation in accordance with his God-given gifting), and each church has Christ as her head. “The husband is the head of the wife” hardly means that all the husbands in the world are one universal, invisible husband who is the head of one universal, invisible wife. “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20, pouv sofo/ß; pouv grammateu/ß; pouv suzhthth\ß touv ai˙w◊noß tou/tou;) hardly means that all the wise men in the world are one universal, invisible wise man, nor that there is one universal, invisible scribe or disputer. No more does “Christ is the head of the church” affirm that Christ is the head of a universal, invisible church; the text teaches that Christ is the head of each particular church, just as the particular husband is the head of his particular wife.
Advocates of the universal, invisible church must find one or more undisputably clear references where ekklesia does not mean either a particular congregation or is employed as a generic noun, or they cannot affirm that their doctrine is Biblical. Since they are the ones who are affirming that ekklesia assumes a sense it does not have in any pre-Christian literature, they bear the burden of proof in demonstrating that their doctrine is clearly in the NT. The attempt fails in Ephesians 5:23, and in every other text in the NT—consequently the NT does not teach the existence of a universal, invisible church.
Examining Ephesians 5:23 somewhat more deeply, the phrase “Christ is the head of the church” is one of the very few passages that advocates of a universal church employ support their doctrine. Apart from the fact that the verse uses the noun church in a generic sense, one should compare the following New Testament texts:
Ephesians 5:23: o¢ti oJ aÓnh/r e˙sti kefalh\ thvß gunaiko/ß, wJß kai« oJ Cristo\ß kefalh\ thvß ekklhsi÷aß, kai« aujto/ß e˙sti swth\r touv sw¿matoß. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body,
1Corinthians 11:3: qe÷lw de« uJma◊ß ei˙de÷nai, o¢ti panto\ß aÓndro\ß hJ kefalh\ oJ Cristo/ß e˙sti: kefalh\ de« gunaiko/ß, oJ aÓnh/r: kefalh\ de« Cristouv, oJ Qeo/ß. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
The singular nouns “the husband” “the wife” “the woman” “the man” imply zero about a universal, invisible husband, wife, woman, or man. Absolutely nothing affirms the existence of a universal church in the phrase “Christ is the head of the church.” The Lord Jesus is the head of every particular local, visible congregation.
Note also 2 Kings 10:6, LXX:
kai« e¶grayen pro\ß aujtou\ß bibli÷on deu/teron le÷gwn ei˙ e˙moi« uJmei√ß kai« thvß fwnhvß mou uJmei√ß ei˙sakou/ete la¿bete th\n kefalh\n aÓndrw◊n tw◊n ui˚w◊ntouv kuri÷ou uJmw◊n kai« e˙ne÷gkate pro/ß me wJß hJ w‚ra au¡rion ei˙ß Iezrael kai« oi˚ ui˚oi« touv basile÷wß h™san e˚bdomh/konta a‡ndreß ou∞toi aJdroi« thvß po/lewß e˙xe÷trefon aujtou/ß And Ju wrote them a second letter, saying, If ye are for me, and hearken to my voice, take the heads [Gk. singular, “head”] of the men your master’s sons, and bring them to me at this time to-morrow in Jezrael. Now the sons of the king were seventy men; these great men of the city brought them up. (Brenton’s LXX translation—also below).
Nothing at all is implied about anything universal or invisible with the singular. Each son had his own particular head (until he lost it!). “the head of the sons” is teaches nothing other than that each son had his own head. So “Christ is the head of the church” teaches that Christ is the head of each particular church. Compare 2 Kings 10: 8, where the plural is used:
kai« h™lqen oJ a‡ggeloß kai« aÓph/ggeilen le÷gwn h¡negkan ta»ß kefala»ß tw◊n ui˚w◊n touv basile÷wß kai« ei•pen qe÷te aujta»ß bounou\ß du/o para» th\n qu/ran thvß pu/lhß ei˙ß prwi÷. And a messenger came and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king’s sons. And he said, Lay them in two heaps by the door of the gate until the morning.
Psalm 139:10, LXX (Eng. 140:9):
hJ kefalh\ touv kuklw¿matoß aujtw◊n ko/poß tw◊n ceile÷wn aujtw◊n kalu/yei aujtou/ß. As for the head of them that compass me, the mischief of their lips shall cover them.
Note that both the Greek translated “them that compass” and “the head” are both singular nouns, just as in “Christ is the head of the church.” Each particular head of each particular enemy surrounding David would be judged.
Lamentations 2:15, LXX:
e˙kro/thsan e˙pi« se« cei√raß pa¿nteß oi˚ paraporeuo/menoi oJdo/n e˙su/risan kai« e˙ki÷nhsan th\n kefalh\n aujtw◊n e˙pi« th\n qugate÷ra Ierousalhm h™ au¢th hJ po/liß h§n e˙rouvsin ste÷fanoß do/xhß eujfrosu/nh pa¿shß thvß ghvß. All that go by the way have clapped their hands at thee; they have hissed and shaken their head at the daughter of Jerusalem. Is this the city, they say, the crown of joy of all the earth?
Note that the plurality, the “all” shake the singular “head.” There was no universal, invisible head or universal, invisible person opposing Jerusalem. Each person shook his own particular head at Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 1:22, LXX:
kai« oJmoi÷wma uJpe«r kefalhvß aujtoi√ß tw◊n zw¿ˆwn wJsei« stere÷wma wJß o¢rasiß krusta¿llou ektetame÷non e˙pi« tw◊n pteru/gwn aujtw◊n epa¿nwqen. Andthe likeness over the heads [Gk. singular] of the living creatures was as a firmament, as the appearance of crystal, spread out over their wings above.
“The head of the living creatures” meant that each particular living creature had its own particular head.
Ezekiel 10:1, LXX:
kai« ei•don kai« idou\ e˙pa¿nw touv sterew¿matoß touv uJpe«r kefalhvß tw◊n ceroubin wJß li÷qoß sapfei÷rou oJmoi÷wma qro/nou ep∆ aujtw◊n. And the likeness over the heads [Gk. singular] of the living creatures was as a firmament, as the appearance of crystal, spread out over their wings above.
“The head of the living creatures,” again, means each living creature had its own particular head.
Josephus, Antiquities 4:112 (184.108.40.206)
Kai« oJ me«n tauvta touv qeouv keleu/santoß h¢kei pro\ß Ba¿lakon dexame÷nou de« aujto\n touv basile÷wß e˙kprepw◊ß hjxi÷ou proacqei«ß e˙pi÷ ti tw◊n ojrw◊n ske÷yasqai pw◊ß to\ tw◊n ÔEbrai÷wn e¶coi strato/pedon Ba¿lakoß d∆ aujto\ß aÓfiknei√tai to\n ma¿ntin su\n basilikhØv qerapei÷aˆ filoti÷mwß aÓgo/menoß ei˙ß o¡roß o¢per uJpe«r kefalhvß aujtw◊n e¶keito touv stratope÷dou stadi÷ouß aÓpe÷con e˚xh/konta. When God had given him this charge, he came to Balak; and when the king had entertained him in a magnificent manner, he desired him to go to one of the mountains to take a view of the state of the camp of the Hebrews. Balak himself also came to the mountain, and brought the prophet along with him, with a royal attendance. This mountain lay over their heads [Gk. singular], and was distant sixty furlongs from the camp.
The singular mountain was over each person, each of whom had his own particular head.
Gospel of Peter 10:40:
kai« tw◊n me«n du/o th\n kefalh\n cwrouvsan me÷cri touv oujranouv, touv de« ceiragwgoume÷nou uJp∆ aujtw◊n uJperbai÷nousan tou\ß oujranou/ß. [A]nd the heads [Gk. singular] of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led by them by the hand overpassing the heavens.
Each particular individual here had his own particular head.
Philo, Allegorical Interpretation 1:71:
w‚sper ou™n kefalh\ me«n prw◊ton touv zwˆ¿ou kai« aÓnwta¿tw me÷roß e˙sti÷, For as the head is the principle and uppermost part of the animal,
Each singular animal had its own singular head. There was no universal head of a universal, invisible animal.
Philo, On The Life of Moses 2:290:
qauma¿sia me«n ou™n tauvta: qaumasiw¿taton de« kai« to\ te÷loß tw◊n i˚erw◊n gramma¿twn, o§ kaqa¿per e˙n twˆ◊ zwˆ¿wˆ kefalh\ thvß o¢lhß nomoqesi÷aß e˙sti÷n. These things, therefore, are wonderful; and most wonderful of all is the end of his sacred writings, which is to the whole book of the law whatthe head is to an animal.
Likewise here, each animal had its own head.
Philo, On Rewards and Punishments 125:
tauvta d∆ aÓllhgorei√tai tropikw◊ß e˙xenecqe÷nta: kaqa¿per ga»r e˙n zwˆ¿wˆ kefalh\ me«n prw◊ton kai« a‡riston, oujra» d∆ u¢staton kai« faulo/taton, ouj me÷roß sunekplhrouvn to\n tw◊n melw◊n aÓriqmo/n, aÓlla» so/bhsiß tw◊n e˙pipotwme÷nwn, to\n aujto\n tro/pon kefalh\n me«n touv aÓnqrwpei÷ou ge÷nouß e¶sesqai÷ fhsi to\n spoudai√on ei¶te a‡ndra ei¶te lao/n, tou\ß de« a‡llouß a‚pantaß oi–on me÷rh sw¿matoß yucou/mena tai√ß e˙n kefalhØv kai« uJpera¿nw duna¿mesin. But all these statements are uttered in a metaphorical form, and contain an allegorical meaning. For as in an animal the head is the first and best part, and the tail the last and worst part, or rather no part at all, inasmuch as it does not complete the number of the limbs, being only a broom to sweep away what flies against it; so in the same manner what is said here is that the virtuous man shall be the head of the human race whether he be a single man or a whole people. And that all others, being as it were parts of the body, are only vivified by the powers existing in the head and superior portions of the body.
This very interesting reference by Philo shows that, as in a single animal there is a single head, so “the virtuous man,” a generic noun, not one particular man named X, is “the head of the human race,” and this is whether he “be a single man or the whole people.” The others are as “parts of the body,” are only “vivified” because of “the head” that is “the virtuous man.” The parallel to Christ as the head of the church is very clear. Nobody would think of saying that there is literally one universal, invisible virtuous man, nor that there is one universal, invisible body of people, since Philo’s point is that whether one speaks of a single man, or a group of any size, in both situations the [generic] virtuous man is the [generic] head.
Ephesians 5:23 is the capstone of the very small number of New Testmant texts that advocates of a universal church position believe provide support for their doctrine. However, the passage teaches nothing of the kind. It simply affirms that Christ is the head of every particular church, just as each particular husband is the head of his particular wife. There are no verses in the Bible where the noun ekklesia, church/assembly/congregation, refers to all believers as an already existing group.