The Witnessing Community
Studies in the עדה
by Douglas A. Wheeler, PhD, Thd
The term “Church” is not a new one. In fact, it is quite ancient. Contrary to the interpretation of many modern scholars the Church was not born in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. We are over 2000 years removed from the events at Pentecost in Jerusalem, but we are over 4000 years removed from the true beginning of the Church. The Church was not born in Jerusalem, nor was it born in Rome, but on the plains before Mount Sinai. When any organization is removed from its original foundation and intent, its purpose can become clouded as society changes. Only by clearly understanding original intent can evaluation take place to measure the advancement or deterioration of that original intent. Change happens slowly, and deterioration from the original model is not often felt through the course of time. God established the original intent of the Church, and any evaluation of the success or failure of the Church must begin from this perspective. This intent can be difficult to understand from a Greek or Western perspective because it was originally revealed to a Hebraic mind.
Statement of the Problem
It is apparent, and most scholars agree, that we live in an age when the world is making a far greater impact upon the Church than the Church is making upon the world. Is it possible to correct this current course without an understanding of original intent? The answer to that question, based on the present condition of the Church, is no. The present course of the Church must be evaluated in light of the original intent so that recommendations of change can be enacted. Therefore, where does one discover the original intent? If the discussion forms its foundation from only the New Testament, then original intent is ignored because the Bible is a conceptual book written within specific relationships of Torah (Law/instruction), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings), Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. The Bible is a completed conceptual whole, and any interpretation of the biblical text that considers one part to the exclusion of the whole is abstract in its approach and, therefore, subject to error.
“Instead of superimposing a meaning on a biblical text, the objective interpreter seeks to discover the author’s intended meaning (the only true meaning). One must recognize that what a passage means is fixed by the author and is not subject to alteration by readers. Meaning is determined by the author; it is discovered by readers” (Rhodes and Anthony, 2013, para. 6).
When the word “Church” is used, what is the author’s intended meaning? Meaning can be elusive, but there is a derived significance from context. The Bible is a conceptual book; it is a book of related parts. The foundation is Torah, and the totality of the Canon builds upon that foundation. A biblical study has to begin with words. A word must be interpreted in light of its context; the problem comes in with an improper definition of context.
“There is an immediate context, but the immediate context cannot ignore the context of the whole. The interpretation of a specific passage must not contradict the total teaching of Scripture on a point. Individual verses do not exist as isolated fragments, but as parts of a whole” (Rhodes and Anthony, 2013, para. 13).
This fact is established not only by the Christian hermeneutic principle of Complete Mention, but also by its source, the Seventh Rule of Hillel: Davar hilmad me’anino (Explanation obtained from Context). Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto explains this Seventh Rule of Hillel. He states:
“The total context, not just the isolated statement, must be considered for an accurate exegesis. An example would be Romans 14:1, ‘I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.’ Paul is not abrogating the kosher laws, but pointing out to Gentile believers in the congregation at Rome (within the larger context of Romans) that: 1) things are unclean not of themselves but because God said they are unclean, and 2) they must remember the higher principle, that their freedom to eat what is unclean is secondary to the salvation of unsaved Jews who are observing their behavior, as they are looking for Gentiles coming into faith of Israel to be acting in an appropriate manner as a truth test of Paul’s ministry and Yeshua’s Messiahship.”
Acts 7:35-38, in retelling the story of the Exodus states:
This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 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 Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us (KJV).
The Greek word translated “Church” is ἐκκλησία and it means “called out or forth. A gathering of citizens called out from their home into some public place; an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating” (Thayer, pp. 195-196). According to Danker, an ἐκκλησία is “a regular summoned legislative body, assembly, a casual gathering of people, an assemblage” (Danker, p. 303). It is not until the third meaning that we begin to see assembly with spiritual purpose, a shared belief system and a common interest in the God of Israel. There are historical examples of Orpheus forming an ἐκκλησία of wild animals who listened to him. It is clear that an ἐκκλησία does not have a religious function to qualify. One can have an ἐκκλησία of dogcatchers that have gathered for the purpose of discussing the number of dogs loose in the neighborhood. This definition of Church describes purpose but does not function. The root of this word καλέω simply means “to call” but has implications of divine function. What is this divine function? This can better be answered with a Hebraic understanding of God’s divine function of the Church as decribed at Sinai. Continue Reading