Church, I (in the Bible)
CHURCH, I (IN THE BIBLE)
The important considerations about the Church from a biblical viewpoint are the original terms used for it, its adumbrations in the OT, and the development of its notion in the NT.
Original Terms. The English word "church," like the German Kirche, is derived ultimately, through the Gothic, from the Greek τò κυριακóν, "thing or place pertaining to the Lord." The words for church in the Romance languages, such as the French église and the Italian chièsa, come from the Latin ecclesia, an exact transliteration of the Greek ἐκκλησία.
In the profane Greek ἐκκλησία designated an assembly of the people as a political force; it was used in this meaning in Acts 19.32, 39, 41; its meaning in 1 Cor 11.18 was colored by its profane signification. In the Septuagint (LXX) ἐκκλησία designated an assembly convoked for religious purposes (e.g., Dt 23.2–3; 1 Kgs 8.5, 14, 22; Ps 21 .26). It is used 81 times to translate the Hebrew term qāhā1, and four times derivatives of qāhāl (1 Sm 19.20, conjectured; Neh 5.7; Ps 25.12; 67.27). Qāhāl was used in most cases to designate a religious assembly, a usage especially of the deuteronomists, the Biblical chronicler, and the Book of psalms. The word qāhāl was translated also by other words in the LXX, in particular by συναγωγή, which, however, more frequently translated 'ēdâ, "a gathering." There is little doubt that both the assonance and the similarity in meaning of qāhāl and ἐκκλησία, "that which is called forth," influenced the translators who produced the LXX.
In the NT ἐκκλησία is found 61 times in the Pauline corpus (including Hebrews), 23 times in Acts, 20 times in Revelation, and 11 in the remaining books. The meaning in each case must be derived from the context.
It was altogether natural that Jesus, in establishing a new covenant and hence a new people of God having continuity with the ancient one, would have designated this people with a biblical name for a religious assembly; in Aramaic He would have used ‘edtâ’ or k enîštâ', (both translated into Greek as συναγωγή), or q ehalâ', in Greek ἐκκλησία. Only when the break between Christians and Jews became definitive did ἐκκλησία become a purely Christian term and συναγωγή (synagogue) a Jewish term.
Adumbrations in the Old Testament. From its beginnings mankind was called to live in society (Gn 1.27;2.18), to multiply itself, to subdue and to have dominion over the earth (Gn 1.28), and to live in familiarity with God (Gn 2.8–25). But sin was committed by man and broke this special relationship to God; yet God promised mercy to a sinful mankind (Genesis ch. 3). As a result of sin, men manifested hatred for one another (Gn 4.8;6.11), showed inordinate pride (Gn 11.8–9), and lost familiarity with their Creator (Gn 3.8; 4.14).
The process of the formation of God's people commenced with the election of Abraham, which was sealed with a b erît, "covenant." The covenant was renewed and made more particular with some of Abraham's descendants during the Exodus from Egypt under Moses (Exodus ch. 19–24). The Israelites were not always faithful to God. This infidelity showed itself during the Exodus (Ex 32.1–6), notwithstanding God's special care of them (Exodus ch. 16–17), and more brazenly later on. Instead of being God's faithful spouse, Israel acted like an adulterous wife (Hosea ch. 1–3; 9.1; Ezekiel ch. 16); it violated God's laws and belied the covenant (Is 1.2–9; 5.1–7). The Prophets often predicted that only a portion of the people, the faithful and holy remnant of Israel, would be the beneficiary of the divine promises (Is 4.3; Am 3.12; 9.8–10; Jer 3.14–18). Then God would conclude a new covenant with His people (Jer 31.31–34; Ez 11.14–21). These two ideas, the faithful remnant and the new covenant, were reaffirmed during the centuries following the Babylonian Exile, and they nourished the messianic hopes of Israel (Is 54.9–10; Zec 2.11–17; 9.7; Hg 1.12; 2.2–5; 1 Mc2.49–64); they also held an important place in the teaching of the qumran community.
Development of the Concept in the New Testament. While the new and ultimate covenant was ratified by Jesus' death and Resurrection, and hence the Church began at that time, only gradually was the nature of the new community manifested as separate from Judaism and as having its own proper structure.
In the Acts of the Apostles. After the Ascension, the Apostles, whom Jesus had chosen and to whom He "had given commandments through the Holy Spirit" (Acts1.2), together with the disciples, remained in Jerusalem awaiting the coming of the Spirit; they elected Matthias as successor of Judas Iscariot at the urging of Peter to fill out the member of the twelve (Acts 1.12–26). After the coming of the Spirit they began immediately to preach to the Jews and to baptize (Acts 2.4–41; 4.2), though they met opposition (Acts 4.1; 5.17–18; 9.1; 12.1–5). The first members of the Jerusalem church voluntarily shared their possessions (Acts 4.34–5.11). Gradually the Apostles assigned to other members of the community certain duties; the deacons were given charge of charitable works, preaching, and baptizing (Acts 6.1–6; 8.5, 12–13, 31–38). Nevertheless, a certain type of imposition of hands in order to receive the Holy Spirit was a work of the Apostles alone (Acts 8.14–18). "The communion of the breaking of the bread" was a central rite (Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7,11). At an early date non-Jews were admitted to the
Church (Acts 10.44–48); outside of Palestine, especially at Antioch, the work also of proselytizing Gentiles met with success and it was at Antioch that "the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11.19–26). (see christian [the term].) Jewish dietary laws and circumcision did not bind the converts from paganism (Acts 11.1–18), though minor restrictions were imposed on some churches by an Apostolic decision (Acts 15.23–29; see jerusalem, council of). With the conversion of Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, the tempo of proselytism among non-Jews was accelerated and the tensions between the Jewish and non-Jewish elements in the Church increased (Acts 15.1–2, 35; 21.20–25). The Apostles and their converts from Judaism, however, including Paul, continued to assist at the services in the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts3.1; 5.42; 21.26). The preaching of the Apostles and other ministers centered on Jesus, who was crucified, was raised from the dead, was to reign as King over the new Israel (Acts 2.22–39; 13.16–41), and whose subjects would rise as Jesus had (Acts 23.6; 26.23). St. Luke's record of the expansion of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit ceased when the good news had reached as far as Rome (Acts 1.8; 28.28–31).
In the Pauline Corpus. The content of Paul's letters should now be examined for their teaching about the Church. The Apostle of the Gentiles, more than any other NT author, gave his personal reflections on the Church's nature. In the vision on the road to Damascus he received the revelation of the mysterious identity between Christ and the Church (Acts 9.4–5) and his later experiences forced him to delve more deeply into this mystery.
According to Paul the universal Church was composed of various local churches whose members were "saints," chosen by God (1 Cor 1.2). There was authority in the Church: Peter (Gal 1.18; 2.6–14); the Twelve and Paul himself (1 Cor 15.1–11); Timothy, Titus, and the "bishops" (1 Tm 1.3–5; 3.2; Ti 1.7; Phil 1.1; Acts 20.28; see bishop [in the bible]); elders or presbyters (Ti 1.5; 1 Tm 5.17); and deacons (Phil 1.1). There were also those possessing various charisms, among whom the Prophets had a special place; in their activity the charismatics were not to cause disorder (1 Cor 14.33, 40). The members of the Church lived in the expectation of the parousia of Jesus (1 Thes 1.10; 1 Cor 11.26) and the resurrection of the just (1 Thes 4.13–18; 1 Corinthians ch.15), but the time of the Parousia was not known (1 Thes5.1–3; 2 Thes 2.1–8). The communities were to live according to the traditions that Paul had passed on to them (1 Cor 11.2, 23–24; 15.1–3; Gal 1.6–10); the traditions were rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus (1 Cor 7.10;11.23; 2 Cor 4.5) and concerned belief (1 Cor 15.1–4), rites such as baptism and the Lord's Supper (Gal3.26–27; Eph 4.5; 1 Cor 11.23–24), and ways of acting (1 Cor 7.10). Baptism united the believer to the dead and risen Lord Jesus (Rom 6.3–11); and the partaking of the bread effected unity (1 Cor 10.16–17). Baptism and the profession of faith went together (Gal 3.26–27); faith came from hearing and accepting the proclamation of Christ's word (Rom 10.17). (see baptism [in the bible].)
Paul described the Church as God's plantation, the growth of which depended upon God's aid (1 Cor 3.6–9), as God's building whose foundation was Christ (1 Cor3.9–15), and as God's sanctuary (1 Cor 3.16). The Church was "the pillar and mainstay of truth" (1 Tm3.15), a new creation (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15), the spouse of Christ (2 Cor 11.2–3; Eph 5.22–33), the new covenant (1 Cor 11.25), and the kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col 1.13). The Church was made up of those who were in Christ, who were Christ's, and who were the body of Christ (1 Cor 10.16–17; 12.12; Rom 12.4–8).
The description of the Church as the mystical body of christ is considered by many to have been the most characteristic feature in Paul's consideration of the Church. There was a development in the Apostle's thought on this theme between the composition of 1 Corinthians (c. 57) and that of Colossians and Ephesians (c. 62). In the latter Epistles Christ was described as the head of His body (Col 1.18; Eph 5.22–24, 29–30) and the Church was called the plenitude of Christ's fullness (Eph1.22–23), notions that were not explicitly noted in the earlier letters (1 Cor 6.15–17; 10.14–22; 12.12–31; Rom 12.4–8). The idea of the many united in the one of 1 Corinthians and Romans was conducive to the more developed idea of the body as Christ in His fullness. The Church's ministries were given by Christ "in order to perfect the saints for a work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4.11–13). The members of the Church were to be "imitators of God" (Eph 5.1) and were to "grow up in all things in … Christ" (Eph 4.15). Moved as they were by the Spirit to know and confess Jesus as the Christ (1 Cor 12.3), Christ's members shared in His powers, indeed in the very principle of His life (Col 2.19; Eph 4.15–16). The Apostles were in a special sense His ministers and the dispensers of His and God's mysteries (1 Cor 4.1).
Charity was to reign in the Church; as a concrete expression of this principle, Paul organized the collection on behalf of the Jerusalem church among the believers in the Greek territories (1 Cor 16.1–4; 2 Corinthians ch., 8–9; Rom 15.26–27). This was but one way of emphasizing the fact that the Church's members formed one people (Gal 3.24–29) who were children of the one God and Father (Eph 4.1–6); thus there were among them no human divisions but all were reconciled one to another (Eph 2.11–22), Greeks and barbarians, masters and slaves, men and women (1 Cor 12.13; Col 3.11). As Christ could not be divided, neither could the Church (1 Cor 1.12–13; 3.4). Yet there were sinners in the Church, some of whom were to be expelled, though the hope of pardon was not taken away (1 Corinthians ch. 5).
In the Synoptic Gospels. The first Gospel's teaching concerning the Church was for the most part contained within the teaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. It was to have modest beginnings (Mt 13.31–33) about which men would argue (Mt 13.37–43). Entrance into it was difficult (Mt 7.13–14; 11.12), since obedience and renouncement were necessary (Mt 7.21; 12.50). It was predicted in the OT (Mt 13.35). The wise and proud would not enter into the kingdom (Mt 5.3–10; 11.25;13.10–15), but sinners and Gentiles would (Mt 8.10–12;9.9–13; 21.28–32). The last point was treated at some length in the Gospel because of the need to solve the problem that the religious Jews had generally rejected the life and teachings of Jesus, although He was the authentic fulfillment of the OT. The solution was contained in the parables and lessons recalling Israel's former infidelity (Mt 20.1–16; 21.28–32, 33–46; 22.1–10). The OT fore-told that many of the Jews would renounce their privileges because of their obstinacy (Mt 21.42; 23.34–39); the benefits would then be given to those who had a modicum of belief (Mt 5.3–12; 13.12; 25.29).
Alone among the evangelists Matthew used the word ἐκκλησία (Mt 16.18; 18.17). The three uses of the word show the communitarian interests of the evangelist and of the Judeo-Christian Church whose preoccupations he reflected; it was a Church aware that it was the new chosen people, the beginning on Earth of the Kingdom of God. It therefore put particular insistence upon Peter's role (Mt 16.16–18) and the duties of the sacred community's members (Matthew ch. 18). The new kingdom was inaugurated with the death and Resurrection of Jesus (Mt 27.50–53; 28.16–20); yet it would reach a milestone in its life with the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (Matthew ch.24). The community was to be governed by the authority constituted by Jesus (Mt 16.16–18; 18.15–18); it was to have sacramental rites, baptism (Mt 28.19) and the Eucharist (Mt 26.26–29). Its authorities were to proclaim the teaching of Jesus to the whole world (Mt 28.20). While the Church was the kingdom of heaven on Earth, inaugurated and ruled by Christ, the Church was not completely identical with the kingdom of the Father (cf. Mt 13.37–43 with 13.43 and 25.34). The concept of the Church presented in St. Mark's Gospel added nothing to the data found in Matthew.
The doctrine concerning the kingdom of God on Earth in St. Luke's Gospel was the same as that found in the other two Synoptic Gospels, but more than they, Luke emphasized its universalistic characteristics (Lk 4.25–27;24.47). While Matthew used the more Hebraic phrase "kingdom of heaven" as a title for the Church, Luke and Mark used "kingdom of God," a sign that their works were addressed primarily to non-Jewish elements within the Church.
In the Johannine Literature. In the theology of St. John, Jesus was King of a kingdom that was "not of this world" (Jn 18.36). The members of the kingdom were born, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God" (Jn 1.13; cf. 3.3–8; 1 Jn2.29–3.1–2, 9; 4.7; 5.1, 4, 18); they were by belief sons of god (Jn 1.12; 1 Jn 5.1). Their birth was through water and the Spirit (Jn 3.5). The Christian abided in Christ and in God (Jn 6.57; 15.4–7; 1 Jn 2.6, 24, 27–28; 3.6; 4.16). The Christian was to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus (Jn 6.52–57). While emphasis certainly was given in the fourth Gospel to the relationship of the individual Christian to Jesus, the allegory of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10.1–18) and that of the Vine and the Branches (Jn 15.1–7) brought out the community aspects of John's teaching concerning believers. In the fourth Gospel the Apostles were given the power to forgive sins (Jn 20.22–23). Peter was constituted the shepherd of Jesus' flock (Jn 21.15–17), which should be universally one (Jn 10.16; 17.11). The Apostles would have the duty of carrying on the mission given by the Father to Jesus (Jn 20.21).
The suffering and ultimately triumphant Church was the main subject of the Revelation. The principal figures of the Church were the woman clothed with the sun and fighting with the dragon, Satan (Rv ch. 12), and the Temple and its environs (Rv 11.1–13). Warnings against various communal sins and defects were given in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rv 1.9–3.22).
In the Other NT Literature. According to the doctrine found in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Christians did not have on Earth a permanent city but were to seek that which was to come (Heb 13.14), to which heavenly state each was called but which, to a certain degree, was already possessed (Heb 3.1; 6.4–5). The Christians' sole high priest was already in heaven interceding for them (Heb 5.1–10; 9.11–14). Christians were brothers one to another (Heb 3.1, 12), sanctified by Jesus into one brotherhood with Him (Heb 2.11–18); they were "partakers of Christ" (Heb 3.14), His house (Heb 3.6), and had been purified in His blood (Heb 9.18–28). Unlike the wandering Jews of the Exodus they were a caravan traveling in obedience toward the true, i.e., perfect, Promised Land (Heb 3.1–4.13).
In 1 Peter many figures were used to describe Christ and His Church: a cornerstone, a precious stone chosen by God, a spiritual house, "a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people" that should proclaim "the perfections of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light," a people that had now obtained mercy (1 Pt 2.4–10). The "presbyters" were to "tend the flock of God, … governing not under constraint, but willingly" (1 Pt 5.1–2). Younger members of the Church were to be subject to the presbyters (5.5).
In 2 Peter the faithful were warned against false teachers and unsound interpreters of Sacred Scripture (2 Pt 2.1–3, 3.16); the Parousia would occur suddenly but it was now delayed for the Lord did not wish "that any should perish but that all should turn to repentance"(3.9).
According to Jude, the Church's members were the "called who have been loved in God the Father and preserved for Christ Jesus" (Jude 1.1); they were to be wary of false teachers.
According to James, the Church was made up of the poor who were "heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love him" (Jas 2.5). There was, moreover, a special ritual for the sick that was reserved to the presbyters, who were to assemble and pray over the sick man, "anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (Jas 5.14–15). The prayer of faith would cure him and the Lord would raise him, and if he were guilty of sins, he would be forgiven. (see anointing of the sick, i [theology of].)
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 376–385. a. mÉdebielle, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 2:487–691. k. l. schmidt, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, ed. g. kittel (Stuttgart 1935–) 3:502–539. l. cerfaux, The Church in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959). j. a. t. robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (London 1952). m. black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (New York 1961). L'Église dans la Bible: Recherches de philosophie et de théologie publiées par les facultés S. J. de Montréal (Studia 13; Bruges 1962). d. m. stanley, "Reflections on the Church in the N.T., "Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963) 387–400. b. m. ahern, "The Concept of the Church in Biblical Thought, "Proceedings of the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine 7 (1961) 32–61. p. benoit, Exégèse et théologie, 2 v. (Paris 1961) 2:107–177, 232–317; "Qumrân et le NT, "New Testament Studies 7 (1960–61) 276–296. j. gnilka, "Die Kirche des Matthäus und die Gemeinde von Qumran, "Biblische Zeitschrift 7(1963) 43–63.
[j. j. o'rourke]