Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ancient Greece rose out of the earliest cultures of Europe around the shores and islands of the Aegean Sea. Long before Homer, ancestor worship made family ties very strong and after that the families came together to form tribes and then villages. Villages joined to form the polis, city, from which our word "politics" comes. The government of these Greek city states was called ekklesia, assembly, the town meeting. The first known assembly was held as early as the reign of Draco in 621 B.C. At each meeting of the assembly certain topics were discussed and voted on. The assembly would also gather in cases of emergency and in cases of trials of law in which the assembly became a jury. Votes were taken by a tally of hands raised. After being tallied the majority decision ruled and carried.

Throughout the Greek world right down to New Testament times (see Acts 19:39), ekklesia was the designation of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state, "called out of" (ek--out of, klesia--called) their homes by the kerux, the herald, for the discussion and decision of public business. Translators of the Hebrew Old Testament used ekklesia to render the Hebrew qahal, which means "congregation." We see Stephen in Acts 7:38 call the Old Testament congregation of Israel the "ekklesia in the wilderness."

Jesus thought the same about ekklesia. Ekklesia occurs only twice in the gospels. It is clear from the second usage in Matthew 18:15-20 that Jesus had in mind an almost identical meaning to the historic usage of the word. He used ekklesia like the people hearing him in that day would have understood the word. It was a congregation possessing powers of self-government in which questions of discipline were to be decided by the collective judgment of members.

The only other times after Matthew 18 that we see Jesus speak of the ekklesia are the nineteen occasions in Revelation 1-3 in which in each case is a distinctly local, functioning, and organized assembly of people. Those attempting to discern a definition of ekklesia based on His usage of the word would see it as something like the governments of the ancient Greek city states. The major differentiating factor was that these assemblies to which He referred were His assemblies, now sacred not secular. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that that He would build "my assembly" differentiating it from the then congregation of Israel and the secular Greek town meeting.

If I said that Greek cities operated with the government of the city-state, no one would assume that there was only one. They would assume that each city had its own town meeting. When Jesus said He would build up (oikodomeo, "edify") His ekklesia, we should not assume that He meant that there was or would be only one in number either. His ekklesia would be how the Lord Jesus Christ would operate on earth until He left and after He was gone.

Hebrews 2:12 accounts for the ekklesia of Jesus functioning while He was still on earth and not yet ascended into heaven, when it says: "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." Jesus sang in the ekklesia. He could not have done that if His ekklesia had not yet started. He was not standing in the midst of every believer on earth.

When the Lord Jesus incorporated the term ekklesia, He took a word with distinctly local and visible connotation. He sanctified it for His own use, but He did not give it a whole different meaning. The word excludes anything broader than a meeting or gathering. The concept of universal or global contradicts the meaning of the word. If Jesus wanted His governing institution on earth to have some larger context than local, he could have used "kingdom" or "family" or "nation" or "empire" or "state." But He didn't. He used ekklesia.

In both 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 1:1, Paul writes: "unto the church of God which is at Corinth." To make the ekklesia something more than local only deviates from the meaning of the word. An ekklesia must be at some local context---city, town, village, area. All believers did not reside in the city of Corinth. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae and he told that church to pass that letter along to the church of the Laodiceans, seeing that those were two separate churches (Colossians 4:16). Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians (1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He said that the bishop, the pastor, is to "take care of the church of God" (1 Timothy 3:5). One man isn't responsible to take care of all believers on earth. At the end of 2 Timothy, the afterwords say that Timothy, to whom 1 Timothy 3:5 was written, was "ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians."

A church is local only because that is what ekklesia, the word translated "church," means. I'm not trotting out landmarkism or Baptist bride-ism. Those who make ekklesia anything other than local only are reading something into the word that isn't there. It never has been.


philipians2511 said...

I think that was just the sound of the universal, invisible church theory exploding.

This was neat for me, a layman. A little over my head.

But, once I slogged through, I understood.

Bravo Mr Brandenburg.

Respectfully Submitted,

Br Steve

Gal. 2:20

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Steve. Good to see you back.

d4v34x said...

Brother Brandenburg,

I would be interested to hear your take on the following passages in which the word church is used. My plain reading of them seems to indicate a synonymy with the entire Body of Christ.

Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish . . .32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Also very interesting is Acts 9:31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.

What is the greek word for church in that passage, and is it singular or plural?


Gary Webb said...

Brother Brandenburg,
Thanks again for a good article. As you know, I grew up in a Presbyterian church, saying the Apostles Creed each Sunday morning, which professes belief in the "holy catholic church". After being saved & being called to preach, I attended PROTESTANT Bob Jones University, which also professes such belief. Trying to pastor a Baptist church & to understand NT separation, there were continually conflicts in my thinking & practice because I assumed that the word "church" in the NT did refer to all Christians - even though they were never assembled & could not be united in doctrine. Once I realized - like I hope d4x34x will - that passages like Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:25, etc. were using "church" in a generic sense to refer to all churches & not to a universal church, then those passages became very clear for me. We could say that "The automobile has been a wonderful invention" but we would not be talking about a "universal automobile". That would be absurd. Instead, we would be using the word automobile in a generic sense to refer to all automobiles. Of course, the idea of a "universal assembly" is also absurd. I look forward to the assembly of all saints in Heaven (Hebrews 12), but the only NT assembly now is a local assembly. Nobody is every born again into the church or even to the "body of Christ" (look at the NT uses of that phrase). Rather, they are born again into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). The "universal church" doctrine, along with the critical text doctrine, are probably the 2 greatest doctrinal errors of Fundamentalism."

Joshua said...

I'm sure Kent can answer the others easily enough, as I have seen him do so in other posts, but as to your question in Acts 9 I find that particulaly interesting.

Dr Caroll, in his otherwise excellent study on ekklesia, likewise stumbled at that verse, but only because the "oldest and best manuscripts" had it as the singular, while the text behind the KJV had it as a plural. I've always considered that a proof text for the lie that "no doctrine is changed by modern versions following the CT".

*disclaimer: I know no Greek, I'm just taking Caroll's word for it.

Joshua said...

The texts vary. Some manuscripts and versions have the very plural noun with its plural verbs that one would naturally expect from the uniform usage elsewhere. The King James Version follows these. The oldest and best manuscripts, however, have the singular noun with corresponding verbs. The Revised Version follows them.

The above is an exact quote from Carrolls second lecture dealing with Acts 9:31. He freely admits this is a tough question he can't really answer, but stays with the lco position. Once again the "oldest and best" is spreading confusion and disunity among the scriptures.

Anonymous said...

d4v34x - In each of those passages, "church" is used synecdochally.

d4v34x said...

Gary, interesting point about automobiles, and I believe you are wrong. I would posit that if someone were to say, "The automobile has been a wonderful invention," they are referring to the automobile in the abstract, of which each individual automobile is a manifestation. Fine point, but . . .

Josh, interesting point on the manuscript divergence.

Titus, while I love poetic devices of all types, how do you know synecdoche is being employed in the passages in question?

Gary Webb said...

How can you refer to the automobile in the abstract? Each individual automobile is "a manifestation"? You may believe I am wrong, but you will have to do a little better than that "abstract" reasoning to prove it. Since ekklhsia means an assembly, you can do all the abstract reasoning you want to do about that, but it doesn't disprove that a NT church is still an assembly. By the way, it is fully recognized by those who believe in the "real church" or whatever you want to call it, that the concept of such a "universal" or "invisible" or "true" church was first developed by Augustine. Personally, I don't have much use for Augustine's doctrine, and would rather just stick to the grammatical, historical interpretation of SCRIPTURE to get my doctrine.

Joshua said...

"Gary, interesting point about automobiles, and I believe you are wrong. I would posit that if someone were to say, "The automobile has been a wonderful invention," they are referring to the automobile in the abstract, of which each individual automobile is a manifestation. Fine point, but . . ."

Sir, I think you're getting very close to it now.

They say that the automobile is a wonderful invention refers to it in the abstract, but when we get down to the specifics we find individual, local cars. They are not "manifestations of a universal, invisible car", it's just that when you find an example of this wonderful invention, it's always singular and local.

In the same way we could describe a Bill as an attack on the rights of the family. By "the family" we are refering to the institution of the family. This isn't some monolithic, universal entity to which every family belongs, and of which every particular family is a manifestation. Instead, it simply is a collective reference to each individual, local family made up of husband, wife and child.

There is no giant, universal, invisible family (that we are a part of) that is cowering before an aggressive Bill.

In the same way, there is no universal, invisible church that we are all a part of.

We could say that the institution of the church is a wonderful thing - but just like the automobile, wherever we find examples of this wonderful thing it's always local and concrete. It is not just a local manifestation of a universal entity, but it is the actual entity itself. There is no universal entity.

I do understand your struggle. I started out assuming the Universal Church, and it took me a while to get my head around the fact that it's Local Only, because my brain kept assuming the Universal.

d4v34x said...

Gary, all concrete items are manifestations of abstract concepts. The auto was conceptualized before it was built. In a very real sense, the concept is what was invented. And abstraction is a ligitimate part of reasoning, even when it comes to matters of faith.

Beyond that, my point was not that the use of the word "church" in those passages was such an abstraction, but that we were probably talking autos and oranges.

How many Brides of Christ are there? Does each church make up
the bride or is each church a separate bride. This pertains particularly to the Eph passage.

Or Titus, if a synecdoche is one part representing a whole, what is the whole represented by one church in these passages? Lots of separate churches? Tough sell there.

Gary Webb said...

Concerning your question about how many "Brides of Christ" there are, I believe that there are 2 Scriptural answers to that question. First, Paul said that he wanted to present the local church at Corinth to Christ as a "chaste virgin", meaning as a bride to Him: "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (II Cor. 11:2). Second, John refers to "THE bride, the Lamb's WIFE" in Revelation 21:9, which seems to include Old Testament and New Testament saints (see Rev. 21:12-14). So, my friend, how many Brides of Christ are there? Is Corinth the only church that is to be presented to Christ as a chaste, virgin bride or are all pastors supposed to labor to present their church to Christ as a chaste, virgin bride? I will be interested to read your answer. I don't expect many to agree with me, but I do know that I have looked at every single NT reference on this subject. If you can enlighten me more, have at it.

Kent Brandenburg said...


All nouns are used in singular number. It can only be singular or plural. When they are used in the singular, there can be only two usages. They are either a particular or are generic. As a generic they represent a class. That's what these men have been giving you as an example. Grammar necessitates that ekklesia, when used in the singular, must be one of those two. There is no other existent usage of the singular noun. What theologians have come along and done, to make room for something that doesn't exist, that is, a non-assembling assembly, given only this one singular noun an entirely different usage, making the generic singular into a mystical, universal, nebulous singular, inventing that out of thin air. This is called eisegesis, i.e., reading into the text.

As far as the metaphors that Paul uses to describe the church. Paul says present you "as" a chaste virgin. He doesn't say that the church is a chaste virgin. He wants the church at Corinth, which he planted, to be like that. In that sense, only in the sense of the metaphor used, the church is LIKE a virgin bride, in her purity, her single-heartedness. You read into that way too much if you attempting to visualize more than that in the simile (comparison using like or as) that Paul uses there.

When the singular noun is used as a generic, the noun is still what it is. The assembly is still an assembly, even when it is used as a generic.

The phone
The car
The team
The store
The building
The bedroom
The wife
The husband

I've got a few questions to ask you, just to be consistent here.

Consider one of these generic singulars for ekklesia in Eph 5:23:

"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."

If "the church" here is something more than an assembly, more than a church, something universal and invisible for instance, then why is "the husband" and "the wife" also not universal and invisible. Where is the universal, invisible husband and wife? If church is an actual mystical thing here, then husband and wife must be too.

Another one for you:

1 Timothy 3:12, "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well."

Why did Paul want several deacons to be married to one woman here? Isn't this kind of strange that all of the deacons would be married to just one woman?

d4v34x said...

"Where is the universal, invisible husband and wife? If church is an actual mystical thing here, then husband and wife must be too."

Paul expressly states he is explaining a previously hidden concept ("mystery") using concrete examples we are quite familiar with. Although I am more than willing to stipulate he may be referring to husband and wife in the abstract.

And you're nearing silliness with that deacon/wife business as a literal reading of the English does not require a polygamous understanding.

Also, I wasn't really referring to the I Cor passage with the Bride of Christ passage, but Eph 5:27 "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish . . ." where obvious bridal language (in the midst of an analogy referencing a literal bride/wife) is used, if not the word itself.

Also, you did not specifically adress the Colossians passage, but your singular/plural paragraph basically gives me your thoughts there.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You say I'm involved in silliness, but you know I'm highlighting the grammar. You asked, which bride is Jesus married to if each church is his bride? I think that is the exact equal in silly as saying that the one wife in 1 Tim 3:12 must be married to all the deacons.

Eph 5 is about marriage, not about the church. Christ's relationship to the church is used as a picture to illustrate the husband's relationship to the wife. Like Christ sanctifies the church, He sanctifies His wife. How does that change the definition of ekklesia? Jesus sanctifies the church, loves the church, but a church is still an assembly.

The whole idea of universal church came out of the Catholic Church, which means Universal Church. The Donatists went to Augustine and asked how the church could be universal if it was so corrupt? He answered that there were two churches, the visible catholic church and the invisible. Augustine was a Plato fan. He was inventing on the spot the platonic church, the invisible church.

The mystery of the church that illustrated marriage in Ephesians 5:32 wasn't that it was something universal, but that it was intimate. That the Messiah would have such a relationship with His institution on earth. That's the mystery, and it is the mystery that fits the way that it describes marriage. Jesus would not be detached from His church, but that He would work with it like a man does a woman. The oneness between a man and a woman is also a mystery.

It is interesting to me that men are silent when I present the grammar. Why? They are willing to make room for something that is nowhere found in and contradictory to scripture and defy the grammar of the language to do so. We are supposed to get our interpretation from the grammar, not force our interpretation on the grammar. I would at least expect you to show me another example of the platonic singular noun, a special grammatical usage. But no one produces this.

Gary Webb said...

I would like for you to answer my question. Since Paul referred to the church at Corinth as a "chaste virgin" to be presented to Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:2, how many brides of Christ are there? Also, since Paul said to the Corinthian church, "ye are [the] body of Christ" in I Corinthians 12:27, how many bodies of Christ are there? (I put [the] in brackets because there is no Greek definite article before "body" in that verse.)

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bro Webb,

Just because there is no definite article in the Greek in 1 Cor 12:27, doesn't mean that "body" is not definite. It is still "the body of Christ" just like "the Word was the God" not "a god" in John 1:1. If the context suggests that the predicate is definite it should be translated definite, which is why every Bible translation translates it "the body of Christ."

Gary Webb said...

Brother Brandenburg,
I am not arguing against it being "THE body of Christ". The lack of the definite artical emphasizes quality. If "body of Christ" had the article, that would communicate that the church at Corinth was the ONLY body of Christ, which would be inaccurate. Right?

Terry McGovern said...

I have a question/comment on this from the church history side. However, first let me state my position: I do not beleive in a catholic/universal church. I think it is very clear in scripture. Now on to my question. It seems Augustine is taking the blame here for the doctrine of universal church. Is it not true the idea of a catholic church (universal) was already being taught by the second century? I agree Augustine advanced the beleif, but it was around a few hundred years before him. I beleive Cyprian used the term many times, as well as other "church fathers". The "Catholic church" was already in full swing by the time of Augustine. I also think the split already occured of the Catholic church (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Catholic)before Augustine. Is that correct? I find it interesting how many bad doctrines started to come into play at the end of the 2nd century and throughout the 3rd century. (ie. baptismal regeneration, elevation of clergy, universal church, communion becoming a sacrament.)

Kent Brandenburg said...


You are correct that catholicism began much earlier than the invisible body teaching. However, with Augustine was invented the universal, invisible church made up of just believers that was embraced by the reformers.

d4v34x said...

Kent, I would argue the exact opposite, that marriage is given to us as an elucidation of the relationship Christ has with the church. Eph 5:32-33 "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband."

Gary, there's one bride, one body, one kingdom.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You're going to have to do a little better at proving your point there. The section starts in Eph 5:18 with v. 19 and following down to 6:6 being the results of the filling of the Spirit. The section expands on the result of "submitting ourselves one to another." The relationships we have are a submission one to another based on God's design. It is about marriage, not about Christ and the church. The relationship of Christ and the church are being used to teach about marriage, not vice versa. The marriage relationship is a result of Spirit filling, just like thankfulness, and singing in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

To your comment to Gary Webb, if there is one numerical body as in one invisible body of all believers, then Paul wasn't in it, because in 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul said, "ye are the body of Christ," excluding himself. All believers would also need to reside in the Corinth area.

Bro. Webb,

I don't believe "the body" is qualitative in 1 Cor 12:27. When you have a genitive like "of Christ," and "Christ" is anarthrous and yet definite, "body" too must be definite. This is is a rule of Greek grammar. Or else Christ would also need to be qualitative, which He isn't. We're on the same side of this, but I differ on this grammatical point.

Gary Webb said...

Glad you finally answered. But, you give no response to the passage in II Corinthians 11. Is it because you cannot answer? It is good for us to give consideration to the "whole counsel of God" and not just to those passages upon which we can force our interpretation while ignoring the rest of Scripture.

d4v34x said...

Gary, I would view that passage as a stand alone metaphoric/simile thingy. :) To view it otherwise would create some interesting doctrinal ramifications as it includes a third party presenter.

In the Eph passage the husband presents his wife on the day of judgement just as Christ presents His Church(es).

While we're asking "what do you make of this?" What about Eph 3 in which Paul seems to refer to an inclusive body, a family with members in both heaven and earth, and a church that transcends ages, interchangeably?

I don't want to sound contentious, and, believe me, contention is not at the heart of this discussion for me. But I think it is good for me to probe the boundaries of my understanding of these things with people who know what they believe.

Indeed, "Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."

Gary Webb said...

Thanks for returning to this discussion.
I believe you have misread Ephesians 5. It doesn't say anything about a husband presenting his wife on the day of judgment. It says that Christ is going to present the church to Himself. In the II Corinthians passage, Paul is working to present that particular church to Christ in purity, just as I am also working to present Calvary Baptist Church to Christ in the same manner. I do not see any problem there.
In Ephesians 3:15, "family" yes; "church" no. The family of God and the church (assembly) are 2 different things. There is not an assembly that is in Heaven & earth at the same time. As I said previously, there is a Heavenly assembly in Hebrews 12. You are confusing "church" [assembly] with "family" & with "kingdom of God". For example, in John 3 people are born into the "kingdom of God." The Bible never says we are born into the church. Baptized [with water] yes; born no.
When we are honest [I am not saying you are dishonest; maybe not yet willing to let the Scriptures say something different than what you think they say] with the meaning of ekklhsia & see in the Bible that the local, NT church is the place for God's genuine saints who serve Him & live holy lives & love Him - THEN we have no problem with the Bible saying "Unto Him be glory in the [NT] church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages". It is in the local assembly of believers that the grace of God brings glory to Christ.