Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 16, 1956

The New Testament Church (IV.)

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

To simplify and aid the average reader the following statements are made: The two Hebrew words used in this article are 'qahal' and 'edhah.' Both are translated `congregation' or 'assembly' in the English Bibles. Qahal is sometimes spelled 'kahal.' Young's Analytical Concordance under the headings 'assembly' and `congregation' gives the number of times the words occur and in what verses.

Quotations are given from conservative scholars who are experts in their respective fields and some of whom have spent a lifetime in the study. The reader should profit and benefit from the observations and deductions they have made.

It is recognized that the church that Jesus built is founded upon the New Covenant; that the Old Covenant which formed the basis of the Jewish Church was nailed to His cross and terminated at that time. Nevertheless the church, though not organically joined to the Old Testament, is historically connected to it. A study of the words for assembly and congregation is important and essential and also the translation of these words in the Septuagint.

The Hebrew Text

Qahal means `to call,' `to call together.' In the Hiphil (Causative verb) `to call together, to assemble the people.' The Hiphil suggests a reason or a cause for the assembly. (Num. 8:9; 10:7; 20:8.) In the Niphal (simple passive or reflexive), `to call together, to assemble selves as a people.' (Num. 16:3.)

The Nation Fully Called, Deuteronomy 31:30.

The signification of qahal appears to be an old one from the Septuagint or Vulgate, ecclesiates, i.e., preacher; one who addresses a public assembly and discourses of human affairs, Eccl. 12:9. Properly assembling unless it derives its signification of a preacher or orator from the primary power of calling and speaking. (Gesenlus: Hebrew-English Lexicon, pg. 726.)

Edhah means an appointed meeting, an assembly of the congregation of Israel, Ex. 12:3; of Jehovah, Num. 27:17. (Gesenius, pg. 607.)

Qahal and edhah are not synonymous. "Qahal had always a human reference of some sort, gatherings of individual men or gatherings of nations." (Hort: Christian Ecclesia, pg. 4.) "Edhah (derived from the root yedh used in the Niphal in the sense of gathering together, specially gathering together by appointment or agreement) is properly, when applied to Israel the society itself, formed by the children of Israel or their representative heads, whether assembled or not assembled." (ibid. pg. 4.) "Qahal is properly their meeting together." (ibid. pg. 5) Edhah is far commoner in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Joshua but is entirely absent from Deuteronomy. In later.books edhah is scarcely ever used. It is absent from Chronicles and Kings except 2 Chronicles 5:6. Qahal is more common in the poetical books also. It abounds in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. After the return from captivity qahal is the more definite and formal word with its distinctive meanings. (ibid. pg. 7.)

Qahal becomes the technical word or term for the people of God when coupled with God's name or Israel as Ills people whether in the text or understood. (Schmidt: The Church, pg. 55.)

"Qahal (a noun related to qol (voice) of which verbal forms, causitive and reflexive, are in frequent use) means in the oldest passages the 'called up' of the people, viz., its men for counsel or war. It is so in Gen. xlix, 6 and Num. xxii, 4. It looks as if qahal means the community at Num. xvi, 33 with the meaning on which light is thrown by Micah ii, 5. The prophets speak of qehal Yawhe, the united people (Volksgesamheit) of Yawhe, the call to unity coming from Yawhe. Deut. xxiii, 2ff uses the same phrases in the same way when it lays down conditions for the admission of the maimed and foreigners.

The qahal which first established the connection between Yawhe and His people is the Sinai gathering, the day on which this great event took place is the day of the qahal.' This is why the word qahal is used for the worshipping community when Solomon dedicates the temple (1 Kings viii, 14ff) and later for the gathering at the Feast of Tabernacles ....when Ezra read the law in the presence of men, women and children.

While the qahal makes its appearance on special occasions of cultic importance, the old secular usage continues alongside; qahal is still the call up of a people for war; e.g. 1 Sam. xvii, 47 and Ezek. 24, 46 etc. A call up of a different kind is the summoning of an extraordinary gathering of the people, such as Jer. xxvi, 17 and xliv, 15 mention — the former the men only, the second including women and children. To sum up, qahal may be defined as a gathering summoned in extraordinary circumstances, whether men only, as in the case of war, or of a suddenly convened judicial assembly or of the whole people as specially in the case of Ezra. As signifying a meeting constituted by the means of a call up, the term thus comes to indicate those who are qualified to take part, as in Deut. xxiii. The development of the idea in the New Testament ekklesia is bound up with the fact that the word was used for those who shared in the covenant at Sinai; and also for those who renewed their devotion to the law under Ezra. Thus qahal is seen to connote those to whom belong the covenant and the promises." (Schmidt: The Church, pp. 55-6. From D. Rost: Die Alt Testamentum Vorstufen von Kirche and Synagoge.)

Craig believes a fundamental conception passed on to the New Testament church was "that of qahal, which expressed the religious unity of the Jews as the one people of God... She formed a divine society which had been created by God and was preserved and governed by Him; its laws were His laws." (`The Historical Beginnings of the Church,' in The Nature of the Church edited by R. N. Flew, pg. 235.)

Moses who is a type of Christ led the Israelites out of bondage. Aaron told the elders of the Israelites all the words God had spoken to Moses and the signs wrought. They believed, (Ex. 4:27-31). In the wilderness, they assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai and received the law which formed the basis of the Jewish church. This is the specific gathering that the inspired Stephen calls "the church (ecclesia) in the wilderness." (Acts 7:38, cp. Deut. 9:10.)

Congregation denotes the manner in which the Hebrew people formed a community under religious rather than political conditions. Everyone circumcised was a member but the word signifies men and women. (Lev. 4:13, 15; Num. 1:2; 20:11); the assembly for religious ends for worship, (1 Kings 8:14, 65; Num. 10:7; Josh. 8:35); the tabernacle of the congregation, the tent of meeting, the place where God met with His people, (Ex. 27:21, 25-27.)

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses' farewell speech to the Israelites. It was delivered during their encampment on the plains of Moab. In chapter 5 Moses addresses all Israel and binds upon them the covenant made at Horeb and instructs them to keep God's commandments only. Those who kept it would be blessed; those who did not would be cursed, Deut. 28.

The Israelites were commanded not to form entangling alliances with pagan nations, (Deut. 6; Lev. 18:3, 4; 20:22, 23.). These restrictions were for the protection of the purity of God's law. But from the time of David through the divided kingdom alliances were of frequent occurrences. David's friendly relations with Hiram of Tyre (2 Sam. 5:11); Solomon's alliance with the same king, (2 Kings 5:15.) Asa's treaty with Syria against Israel, (2 Chron. 20:35, 36). Pekah's alliance with Syria against Judah in the time of Ahaz, the latters alliance with Assyria, (2 Kings 16:15-17). Some of the kings married heathen wives who introduced idolatrous worship. All such was denounced by the prophets. The chosen people were seeking human aid instead of divine; they corrupted the divine by introducing human forms of worship and law; they became entangled with idolatrous nations. Two barriers were broken down, the identity of God's people was lost; the Jewish congregation was corrupted when the ways of the world were accepted. God's people have never fully comprehended this simple and plainly taught lesson. It is not possible to integrate the secular with the divine and at the same time remain scriptural. The results are inevitably the same. Digression and corruption begins; the separation and the distinction between the God given and the world is lost. The relations with the world led to the divided kingdom. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. (Matt. 12:25.) They were carried away into captivity. The apostolic church fell away for the same reasons and became an apostate church under Constantine in 313 A.D. The Restoration Movement divided over the same causes and lost much of its force. Even today we have brethren who would yoke the church with the secular. They desire to bind the colleges to the church, especially the treasury, as well as homes and other man-made institutions. How do these brethren expect to practice the same principles that led to the down fall of the Jews and hope to arrive at a different destination? Some of our institutionally minded brethren should prove by the scriptures or show an example where the Jewish Church or the church that Jesus built, accepted with God's approval, secular ideas or institutions as a means or method of carrying out God's 'will and work which He commissioned and committed unto them.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament which began in Alexandria in the third century B. C. The translation was done by Jews living in that city. They chose the word ecclesia as the proper rendering of qahal. Both are derived from a root word which means 'call.'

"In the Septuagint Ecclesia is the name for the people of Israel solemnly assembled before God (in Hebrew Kahal) whether an actual assembly is intended, or the ideal unity of Israel as before God." (Conceptions of the Church in Early Times, pg. 6.)

H. E. Dana, a noted and careful student of the original languages lists the following classifications of ecclesia in the Septuagint:

(1) Five times to indicate simply an aggregation of individuals, without reference to any specific religious character, Psalms. 25:15; 1 Kings 19:20.

(2) Thirteen times to any group assembled for a special purpose, 2 Chron. 20:5; Ezek. 32:23.

(3) Twenty-six times in reference to an assembly in a particular locality for religious purposes, usually for worship, as in Psalms 21:22; 39:9; 2 Chron. 29:28; Psalms 67:26; 88:5.

(4) Most frequent to denote a formal gathering of all the people of Israel in the presence of Jehovah. Thirty-six times. This is the Hebrew qahal. Ecclesia is the translation for qahal 120 times Sixty eight times the assemblage of the nation. Nine times those who returned from exile. Total 77 out of 120 times or 64 percent.

(5) Seven places designate Israel in an ideal sense, as the peculiar possession of Jehovah — literal nation. It refers to certain barriers to prevent one from becoming a participant in the privileges of Israel, Deut 23:23. The literal gathering of the people (Lam. 1:10) at a definite time and place.

(6) Nine references to the faithful Israel (remnant) who returned from Babylonian exile, (Neh. 8:2, 17.) (Manual of Ecclesia Copy, pg. 30.)

"It is never contemplated as a spiritual fact, independent of spatial and temporal limitations. (2) The assembly (ecclesia) of Israel as a peculiar possession of Jehovah was contemplated as an idea conception, but having its only counterpart in a definite gathering of the people. (3) The word came especially in the inter-biblical period to denote a local gathering for purposes of worship.

Resultant significance: By a combination of elements from the meaning of ecclesia as used in both classical Greek and the Septuagint, we have as a resultant conception a community of individuals possessing certain qualifications, regarded as in an unique sense a people of God, devoting themselves to the promotion of religious ends." (ibid. pp. 30-31.)

Sunagoge (synagogue) is the Greek translation for edhah.' "Sunagoge had been before N.T. times, appropriated to designate a synagogue, a Jewish assembly for worship, distinct from the Temple, in which sense it is used in the N.T. Probably for that reason, and also for its greater inherent etymological fitness, ekklesia is the word taken to designate a Christian church, a company of believers who meet for worship." (George Ricker Berry: A New Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 125.)

The word is used twice in the New Testament for the assembling of Christians. "Do not forsake the assembling (episunagogen) of yourselves together." (Heb. 10:25.) "For if there come into your assembly (sunagogen)." (James 2:2.)