While we do not agree with Bro. Carroll on his view that in Heaven all will be in the Church, we believe this scholarly old Southern Baptist ought to be heard and commend the article other than this one thing.
Ecclesia – The Church
by B.H. Carroll
“And I say unto thee, lhat thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” – Matthew 16:18, 19.
This passage, Matthew 16:18, 19, has been for many centuries a battle-ground of theological controversies. Though millions of the disputants have passed away, the questions which arrayed them against each other still survive to align their successors in hostile array.
The most important of these divisive questions are:
- What is the church?
- Who established it and when?
- What the foundation?
- What the “gates of hell?”
- What the “keys?”
- What the “binding and loosing?”
In this lecture there will be time for answer to the first question only:
What is the Church?
From the given list of passages, taken from the Englishman’s Greek Concordance, and which you may verify by reference to the Bible, it appears that the word Ecclesia, usually rendered “church” in our version, occurs 117 times in the Greek New Testament (omitting Acts 2:47 as not in the best texts).
Our Lord and the New Testament writers neither coined this word nor employed it in any unusual sense. Before their time it was in common use, of well-understood signification, and subject like any other word to varied employment, according to the established laws of language. That is, it might be used abstractly, or generically, or particularly, or prospectively, without losing its essential meaning.
To simplify and shorten the work before us, we need not leave the New Testament to find examples of its classic or Septuagint use. Fair examples of both are in the list of New Testament passages given you.
What, then, etymologically, is the meaning of this word?
Its primary meaning is: An organized assembly, whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs. This definition necessarily implies prescribed conditions of membership.
(1) This meaning, substantially, applies alike to the ecclesia of a self-governing Greek state (Acts 19:39); (2) the Old Testament ecclesia or convocation of National Israel (Acts 7:38); and (3) to the New Testament ecclesia.
When, in this lesson, our Lord says: “On this rock I will build MY ecclesia” while the “my” distinguished His ecclesia from the Greek state ecclesiaand the Old Testament ecclesia, the word itself naturally retains its ordinary meaning.
Indeed, even when by accommodation, it is applied to an irregular gathering (Acts 19:32, 41) the essential idea of assembly remains.
Of the 117 instances of use in the New Testament certainly all but five (Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 42; Heb. 2:12) refer to Christ’s ecclesia. And sinceHebrews 2:12, though a quotation from the Old Testament, is prophetic, finding fulfillment in New Testament times, we need not regard it as anexception. These 113 uses of the word, including Hebrews 2:12, refer either to the particular assembly of Jesus Christ on earth, or to His general assembly in glory (heaven).
Commonly, that is, in nearly all the uses, it means: The particular assembly of Christ’s baptized disciples on earth, as “The church of God which is at Corinth.”
To this class necessarily belong all abstract or generic uses of the word, for whenever the abstract or generic finds concrete expression, or takes operative shape, it is always a particular assembly.
This follows from the laws of language governing the use of words.
For example, if an English statesman, referring to the right of each individual citizen to be tried by his peers, should say: “On this rock England will build her jury and all power of tyrants shall not prevail against it,” he uses the term jury in an abstract sense, i.e., in the sense of an institution. But when this institution finds concrete expression, or becomes operative, it is always a particular jury of twelve men, and never an aggregation of all juries into one big jury.
Or if a law writer should say: “In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the court shall be the judge of the law, and the jury shall be the judge of the facts,” and if he should add: “In giving evidence, the witness shall tell what he knows to the jury, and not to the court,” he evidently uses the term “court,” “jury” and “witness” in a generic sense. But in the application the generic always becomes particular – i.e., a particular judge, a particular jury, or a particular witness, and never an aggregate of all judges into one
big judge, nor of all juries into one big jury, nor of all witnesses into one big witness. Hence we say that the laws of language require that all abstract and generic uses of the word ecclesia should be classified with the particular assembly and not with the general assembly.
As examples of the abstract use of ecclesia that is in the sense of an institution, we cite Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 3:10, 21.
Matthew 18:17 is an example of generic use. That is, it designates the kind (genus) of tribunal to which difficulties must be referred without restriction of application to any one particular church by name. I mean that while its application must always be to a particular church, yet it is not restricted to
just one, as the church at Jerusalem, but is equally applicable to every other particular church.
As when Paul says: “The husband is the head of the wife,” the terms “husband” and “wife” are not to be restricted in application to John Jones and his wife, but apply equally to every other specific husband and wife.
But while nearly all of the 113 instances of the use of ecclesia belong to the particular class, there are some instances, as Hebrews 12:23, andEphesians 5:25-27, where the reference seems to be to the general assembly of Christ. But in every case the ecclesia is prospective, not actual. That is to say, there is not now, but there will be a general assembly of Christ’s people. That general assembly will be composed of all the redeemed of all time.
Here are three indisputable and very significant facts concerning Christ’s general assembly:
(1) Many of its members, properly called out, are now in heaven.
(2) Many others of them, also called out, are here on earth.
(3) An indefinite number of them, yet to be called, are neither on earth nor in heaven, because they are yet unborn, and therefore non-existent.
It follows that if one part of the membership is now in heaven, another part on earth, another part not yet born, there is as yet no assembly, except in prospect.
And if a part are as yet non-existent, how can one say the general assembly exists now?
We may, however, properly speak of the general assembly now, because, though part of it yet non-existent, and though there has not yet been a gathering together of the other two parts, yet, the mind may conceive of that gathering as an accomplished fact.
In God’s purposes and plans, the general assembly exists now, and also in our conceptions or anticipations, but certainly not as a fact. The details of God’s purpose are now being worked out, and the process will continue until all the elect have been called, justified, glorified and assembled.
Commenting on our lesson, Broadus says: “In the New Testament the spiritual Israel, never actually assembled, is sometimes conceived of as an ideal congregation or assembly, and this is denoted by the word ecclesia.” Here Broadus does not contrast “spiritual Israel” with a particular church ofChrist, but with national or carnal Israel.
The object of the gospel, committed to the particular assembly in time, is to call out or summon those who shall compose the general assembly in eternity.
When the calling out is ended, and all the called are glorified, then the present concept of a general assembly will be a fact. Then and only then actually, will all the redeemed be an ecclesia. Moreover, this ecclesia in glory will be the real body, temple, flock of our Lord.
But the only existing representation or type of the ecclesia in glory (i.e., the general assembly) is the particular assembly on earth.
And because each and every particular assembly is the representation, or type, of the general assembly, to each and every one of them is applied all the broad figures which pertain to the general assembly. That is, such figures as “the house of God,” “the temple of the Lord,” “the body,” or “flock.”The New Testament applies these figures, just as freely and frequently, to the particular assembly as to the general assembly. That is, to any one particular assembly, by itself alone, but never to all the
particular assemblies collectively.
There is no unity, no organization, nor gathering together and, hence, no ecclesia or assembly of particular congregations collectively. So also the term ecclesia cannot be rationally applied to all denominations colIectively, nor to all living professors of religion, nor to all living believers collectively.In no sense are any such unassembled aggregates an ecclesia. None of them constitute the flock, temple, body or house of God, either as a type of time or a reality of eternity. These terms belong exclusively
either to the particular assembly now or the general assembly hereafter.
A man once said to me, “How dare you apply such broad terms as ‘The house of God,’ ‘The body of Christ,’ ‘The temple of the Lord,’ to your little fragment of a denomination?” My reply was, I do not apply them to any denomination, nor to any aggregate of the particular congregations of any or of all denominations, but the Scriptures do apply every one of them to a particular New Testament congregation of Christ’s disciples.
Here the Word of God:
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul says: “In whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21, 22, R.V.).
Here are two distinct afirmations:
First – Each several building or particular assembly growth into a holy temple of the Lord. That is by itself, it is a temple of the Lord.
Second – What is true of each is true of the church at Ephesus, “In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Just before this he had written of the church as an institution, or abstractly, in which Jew and Gentile are made into one. But the abstact becomes concrete in each several building.
To the elders of this same particular church at Ephesus he said: “Take heed to yourselves, and to aIl the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” – Acts 20:28.
This flock, this church of the Lord, purchased by His own blood, is a particular assembly.
Again to the particular church at Corinth Paul wrote: “Ye are God’s building – ye are a temple of God and the Spirit dwelleth in you… Now ye are thebody of Christ, and severally members thereof” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 12:27).
When concerning the body of Christ he says: “And whether one member suffereth all the members suffer with it,” he is certainly not speaking of the Ecclesia in Glory, all of whose members will be past sufferings when constituting an ecclesia.
Again concerning the particular church at Ephesus, he writes to Timothy whom he had left in that city: “These things write I unto thee hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know, how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of theliving God, the pilIar and ground of the truth.” He is certainly not writing of behavior in the general assembly in glory. The things he had written touching behavior were, when and how the men should pray, how the women should dress and work, and the qualifications of bishops and deacons. Even that remarkable passage, so often and so confidently quoted as referring exclusively to some supposed now-existing “universal, invisible, spiritual church,” namely: Ephesians 1:22, 23, “And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, filled unto all the fullness of God,” is presently applied, in his prayer, to the particular congregation (Eph. 3:19).
It may be asked, but why, if already filled, pray that each particular congregation might be filled unto all the fullness of God? The reply is obvious. Each particular assembly is an habitation of God, through the Spirit. The Spirit occupies each several building. Into each he enters not with partial power, but in all the fullness of Omnipotent power.
But though the fullness is there, the church is so dim-eyed – so weak in faith – so feeble in graces – it does not realize and lay hold of and appropriate this fullness of God. Hence the prayer that the eyes of their understanding might be open to see the fullness, their faith increased to grasp and appropriate it, their graces enlarged to corresponding strength to stand and work in that fullness. So fulfilled they realize in experience that fact that the Holy Spirit in all the fullness of God had already entered this particular body of Christ, and was only waiting to be recognized. It is like the expression, “Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God,” etc., Romans 5:1. That is, we are entitled to it, let us take it.
In a great revival of religion we see Paul’s prayer fulfilled in the particular body of Christ. Gradually the church warms up to a realization of the fullness of God dwelling in them through the Spirit. Their spiritual apprehension becomes eagle-eyed. The grasp of their faith becomes the grip of a giant. Presently they say, we “can do all things.” No barrier is now insurmountable. And as more and more they comprehend the height and depth and width and length of the love of God, they glow like a spiritual furnace. Thus it is proven that all these broad terms appertaining to the future general assembly, are equally applied to the present particular assembly, and that, too, because it is the only existing representation of the prospective general assembly.
This leads to another conclusion: All teaching in the direction that there now exists a general assembly which is invisible, without ordinances, and which is entered by faith alone, would likely tend to discredit the particular assembly, which does now really exist and which is the pillar and ground of the truth.
More than once when I have inquired of a man, are you a member of the church? The reply has been, I am a member of the invisible, universal, spiritual church.
To make faith the exclusive qualification of admission into the general assembly is more than questionable and naturally generates such replies.
The general assembly, by all accounts, includes all the saved. But infants, dying in infancy, are a part of the saved. Yet never having been subjects of gospel address they are saved without faith. But it may be said that such use of the term faith is only a way of saying “a new heart,” and dying infants are not without regeneration. To which we may rejoin that generation alone is not sufficient to qualify for membership in the general assembly. All the regenerates we know have spots and wrinkles, while the general assembly is without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
Nor does complete sanctification of soul go far enough. There must also be glorification of body.
Enoch, Elijah and probably those who rose from the dead after Christ’s resurrection are the only ones as
yet qualified for membership in the general assembly. And they must wait until all whom God has called
and will yet call have arrived with the like qualifications, before there can be a general assembly in fact.
As has been intimated, all organized assemblies have prescribed terms or conditions of membership.
In the Greek state Ecclesia membership was limited to a well-defined body of citizens. Not all residents
of the territory could participate in the business of the ecclesia. So with the Old Testament ecclesia or
national convocation of carnal Israel. One must have the required lineal descent and be circumcised or
become a proselyte and be circumcised. Correspondingly the conditions of membership in the church on
earth are regeneration and baptism.
But for the church in glory the conditions of membership are justification, regeneration and
sanctipcation of soul and gloripcation of body.
We submit another conclusion:
Some terms or descriptives commonly applied to the church by writers and speakers are not only
extra-Scriptural, that is, purely human and post-apostolic, but may be so used as to become either
misleading or postively unscriptural. For example, to put visible, referring to the particular assembly
alone, over against spiritual as referring to the general assembly alone, as if these terms were opposites or
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incompatible with each other.
The particular assembly or church that now is, is both visible and spiritual.
To confesss Christ before men, to let our light shine before men, to be baptized, to show forth the
Lord’s death in the Supper, are both visible and spiritual acts of obedience. And when the general
assembly becomes a reality instead of a prospect, it, too, will be both visible and spiritual.
Speaking of the general assembly, John says: “I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down
out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”
When the king came to the earth in His humiliation He was visible. And when He appears in glory
every eye shall see Him.
A city set upon an earthly hill cannot be hid. And the New Jerusalem on Mt. Zion, the city of the
living God, will be the most conspicuous and luminous object the universe ever saw.
The confusion wrought by these human appellatives is manifest in the growth of what is commonly
mis-called “The Apostle’s creed. ” In its earliest historic forms it says: “I believe in the holy church.”
Later forms say: “l believe in the holy catholic i.e., universal church.” Still later: “in the holy catholic
and apostolic church.” Still gathering increment from other creeds it becomes: “The holy Roman catholic
and apostolic church.” Then comes “visible vs. invisible,” or “visible, temporal, universal vs. invisible,
spiritual, universal,” and so ad infinitum. But the Bible in its simplicity knows nothing of these
scholastic refinements of distinction. In that holy book the existing church is a particular congregation of
Christ’s baptized disciples, and the prospective church is the general assembly. But mark you:
These are not co-existent.
ONE CANNOT BE A MEMBER OF BOTH AT THE SAME TIME. WHEN THE GENERAL
ASSEMBLY COMES THE PARTICULAR ASSEMBLY WILL HAVE PASSED AWAY.
To impress more deeply the scripturalness of these reflections, let us consider the subject from
A house is built for an inhabitant. Unless the tenant is hard pressed, he will not move in until the
building is completed. God is never hard pressed.
A long time may be consumed in getting out and gathering together and preparing the material of a
house. It is not a house, however, except in purpose, plan or prospect, until it is completed and ready for
In this light let us take a look at some Bible houses:
(a) The house that Moses built.
This was the Tabernacle of the Wilderness, or tent for God. The 40th chapter of Exodus tells of the
completion of this house. When it was finished and all things ready for the occupant it became a house,
and then the cloud, that symbol of Divine glory, moved in and filled the tabernacle.
(b) The house that Solomon built.
The 6th, 7th and 8th chapters of 1 Kings tell us about this house. When it was finished and furnished
and dedicated, it also being now a house, then the cloud symbol of divine presence and glory, that had
inhabited the tabernacle, left the tent as no longer useful and moved into and filled the new house.
(c) The house that Jesus built.
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The gospel histories tell us about it. John the Baptist prepared much material for it. Receiving this
material from John, and adding much of His own preparation, Jesus built a house. That is, He instituted
His ecclesia on earth. At His death the veil of Solomon’s restored house was rent in twain from top to
bottom. Henceforward, it was tenantless, and, being useless, soon perished. But though the new house
was built, it was empty until our Lord ascended into heaven, and fulfilled His promise to send the Holy
Spirit as the indweller of this new habitation. Acts 2 tells us how this house was occupied. The useless
temple of Solomon now passes away as the useless tabernacle of Moses passed away for its successor.
The only house of God now existing on earth is the particular ecclesia of our Lord. But it in turn must
have a successor in the general assembly.
(d) The house Jesus will build.
The tabernacle, the temple and the church on earth are all forecasts of the coming church in glory.
The work of gathering and preparing material for the general assembly has been in progress for six
thousand years. But material, much of it yet in the quarry or forest and much of it fully prepared, does
not constitute a house. God is not hard pressed. His patience is infinite. Millions and millions have
already been called out to be members of this prospective assembly. God is calling yet and will continue
to call throughout the gospel dispensation. His mind is fixed on having a general assembly indeed – a
great congregation – “a great multitude that no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and
people, and tongues, to stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and with
palms in their hands.”
The time of the constitution of this assembly is at the second coming of Christ and after the
resurrection of the dead and the glorification of the bodies of Christians then living. The processes of
constitution are clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Ephesians 5:27;
It has now indeed become a church – a glorious church, or church in glory – to be presented to
himself. When He comes He will be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe.
That ecclesia, like the one on earth, will be both visible and spiritual.
Recurring to the figure of a house, Revelation 21 and 22 exhibit it as at last completed and occupied.
At last completed God Himself inhabits it, for says the Scripture, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with
men, and he shall be with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be
their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither
sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” Mark
that, brethren, “The former things are passed away.” Former and latter things are not co-existent. The
tabernacle of the wilderness passes away for the more glorious temple of Solomon. The temple then
passes away for the still more glorious church on earth. In like manner the church on earth must pass
away for the infinitely glorious church in heaven. There is a Jerusalem on earth, but the heavenly
Jerusalem is above. It is free, and the mother of all the saved. But, brother, the general assembly is not
yet. The church on earth, the house that Jesus has already built, the house of the living God, which is the
pillar and ground of the truth – this house has the right of way just now. It is the only existing assembly.
Honor the house that now is.
Quite naturally, if tabernacle and temple had been co-existent; one then living would have preferred
the temple and discredited the tent.
Equally so if the particular assembly and general assembly are now co-existent, side by side on
earth, could you seriously blame a man for resting content with membership in the greater and more
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But as the Scriptures represent these two assemblies, one existing now on earth, the other
prospective in heaven, if a man on earth and in time, not qualified by either sanctification of spirit or
glorification of body for the heavenly assembly, shall despise membership in the particular assembly
because claiming membership in the general assembly, is not his claim both an absurdity and a pretext?
Does he not hide behind it to evade honoring God’s existing institution, and the assuming of present
responsibilities and the performing of present duties? Yet again, if one believes that there are co-existent
on earth and in time, two churches, one only visible and formal, the other real, invisible and spiritual, is
there not danger that such belief may tend to the conviction that the form, government, polity and
ordinances of the inferior church are matters of little moment? Has not this belief oftentimes in history
done this very thing? And is it not an historical fact that, since Protestant Pedobaptists invented this idea
of a now-existing, invisible, universal, spiritual church, to offset the equally erroneous Romanist idea of
a present visible, universal church, reverence and honor for God’s New Testament particular church have
been ground to fine powder between them as between the upper and nether millstones? Today when one
seeks to obtain due honor for the particular assembly, its ordinances, its duties, is he not in many cases
thwarted in measure, or altogether in some cases, by objections arising from one or the other of these
And when some, endeavoring to hedge against the manifest errors of both these ideas, have invented
middle theories to the effect that the church on earth is composed either of all professing Christians
living at one time, considered collectively, or of all real Christians so living and so considered, or of all
existing denominations considered as branches of which the church is the tree, have they not multiplied
both the absurdities and the difficulties by their assumed liberality of compromise?
Finally, replying to some of your questions:
- When our Lord says, On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail
against it, does He refer to the church on earth or to the church in glory? My answer is, to the particular
assembly on earth, considered as an institution. The church in glory will never be in the slightest danger
of the gates of hell. Before it becomes an assembly, both death and hell, gates and all, are cast into the
lake of fire (Rev. 20: 14; 21:4). It is the church on earth that is in danger, from the fear of which this
glorious promise is a guaranty.
- Does your idea of a “general assembly” depend exclusively upon that phrase of doubtful
application in Hebrews 12:23, which many good scholars, including prominent Baptists, construe with
“myriads of angels” instead of with “the church of the First Born?” Certainly not. Though I myself
strongly hold with our English versions in referring both the panegyros (general assembly) and the
ecclesia (church) of that passage to saved men and not to angels. The idea of general assembly is clearly
in other passages as Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 7:9; 21:2-4).
- If the figure, “body” applies to each particular church, does not that teach that Christ has many
bodies? My answer is, first, that your objection, or supposed difficulty, lies not against my view, but
against the express teaching of many Scriptures. What the Scriptures teach is true, and difficulties and
objections may take care of themselves. But, second, the objection is specious and the difficulty only
apparent, since each particular assembly is a representation or type of the general assembly, and
therefore the broadest figures of the antitype may be applied to all its types without being obnoxious to
the criticism. There may well be many representations of the body of Christ.
- Do you dis-fellowship your Baptist brethren who teach the present existence of “an universal,
invisible, spiritual church?”
Most certainly not so long as they duly honor the particular assembly and its ordinances, as
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multitudes of them do, in spite of the natural tendency of their theory to discredit it. Many of them,
known to me personally, are devoted to the particular church and its ordinances, responsibilities and
It will take a wider divergence than this to make me disfellowship a Baptist brother, though I
honestly and strongly hold that even on this point his theory is erroneous and tends practically to great
harm. Yes, I do most emphatically hold that this theory is responsible for incalculable dishonor put upon
the church of God on earth. I repeat that the theory of the co-existence, side by side, on earth of two
churches of Christ, one formal and visible, the other real, invisible and spiritual, with different terms of
membership, is exceedingly mischievous and is so confusing that every believer of it becomes muddled in
running the lines of separation. Do let it sink deep in your minds that the tabernacle on Moses had the
exclusive right of way in its alloted time and the temple of Solomon had the exclusive right of way in its
allotted time – so the church of Christ on earth, the particular assembly, now has the exclusive right of
way and is without a rival on earth or in heaven – and so the general assembly in glory, when its allotted
time arrives, will have exclusive right of way.
Had I lived in the days of Moses I would have given undivided honor to the tabernacle – in the day
of Solomon to the Temple alone – and when the general assembly comes, that shall be my delight. But
living now I must honor the house that Jesus built. It is the house of the living God, the pillar and ground
of the truth. To it are committed the oraces and promises of God. To it is given the great commission. It
is the instructor of angels and in it throughout all the ages of time is the glory of God. If I move out of this
house, I must remain houseless until Jesus comes. It is the only church you can join in time.
- What is the distinction, if any, between the kingdom and the church?
My answer is that the kingdom and church on earth are not co-terminous. Kingdom, besides
expressing a different idea, is much broader in signification than a particular assembly or than all the
particular assemblies. The particular church is that executive institution or business body, within the
kingdom, charged with official duties and responsibilities for the spread of the kingdom.
In eternity and glory, church and kingdom may be co-terminous. Like the church, the kingdom in
both time and eternity has both visible and spiritual aspects.
- As a sufficient reply to several other questions:
Let it be noted that this discussion designedly avoids applying certain adjectives to the noun
“church,” not merely because the New Testament never applies them to Ecclesia, but because they are
without distinguishing force when contrasting the particular assembly with the general assembly.
For example: “Local,” “visible,” “spiritual.”
Locality inheres in Ecclesia. There can be no assembly now or hereafter without a place to meet.
When existing in fact, both the particular assembly in time, and the general assembly in eternity, are both
visible and spiritual. Why attempt to distinguish by terms which do not distinguish?
Katholikos (Catholic or Universal) is not a New Testament word at all and hence is never applied by
inspiration to Ecclesia. Nor is it a Septuagint word at all.
In post-apostolic times it crept without authority into the titles of certain New Testament letters, as
“The First Epistle General (Katholikos) of Peter.” And even there it could not mean “universal,” since
Peter, himself, four times limits his address:
(a) First to Jews (not Gentiles).
(b) Then to “elect” Jews (not all Jews).
(c) Then to elect Jews of the Dispersion (not to Jewish Christians in Palestine).
(d) Then to elect Jews of the Dispersion in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” i.e., the
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comparatively small district of Asia Minor (not in the rest of Asia, Europe and Africa). Neither in the
sense of every place, nor of every person in the universe, can the English word “universal” be applied to
It was not the original purpose to extend the discussion of the question, What is the Church, into a
second lecture. It was supposed that you would be able of yourselves to classify all New Testament uses
of ecclesia under the several heads of abstract, generic, particular and prospective, by applying the
principles of the first lecture.
But the nature and variety of your new questions constrain me to enlarge the discussion somewhat
and to supply you with a wider usage of the word than the New Testament affords. Of the great number
of instances from the classics, read to you, at my request, by Mr. Ragland, our Professor of Greek, your
attention is recalled to a few, specially pertinent.
(1) Those which so clearly show the distinction between ecclesia as an organized business body and
all unofficial gatherings, e.g., “Pericles seeing them angry at the present state of things – did not call
them to the ecclesia or any other meeting.” –Thucydides.
Again, “When after this the ecclesia adjourned, they came together and planned – for the future still
being uncertain, meetings and speeches of all sorts took place in the market. They were afraid the
ecclesia would be summoned suddenly. ” – Demosthenes. Compare this distinction with the town-clerk’s
statement in Acts 19:39, 40.
(2) Those concerning the ecclesias of the several petty but independent Greek states, Sparta, Athens
and others, bringing out clearly the business character of these assemblies, their free and democratic
deliberations, their final decisions by vote, and reminding us so forcibly of the proceedings of
independent Baptist churches of our day.
(3) Those showing the discriminating character of the Greek mind in the use of panyegyros, as
distinguished from ecclesia. Ecclesia was the particular and independent business assembly of any Greek
state, however small. Panegyros was the general assembly of the people of all the Greek states. It was a
festive assembly looking to rest, joy, peace, glory, and not to business and war. Let not the
Lacedaemonians come up armed to this assembly.
It was a happy Greek conceit that all the Heavenly beings were present at these Olympian meetings.
How felicitiously does the inspired author of the letter to the Hebrews adapt himself to this
discrimination, when in contrast with the particular ecclesia on earth, he writes of the general assembly
and church of the first born in glory – panegyros kai ecclesia. There, not Zeus, but God the judge. There
not a pantheon or inferior deities and demi-gods, but myriads of angels, and the spirits of just men made
perfect. There war and toil have ceased, and peace and rest reign forever. There are bestowed not fading
laurels, but everlasting crowns of life, righteousness, joy and glory. (See 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas.
1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 2:10; 9:7).
That general assembly is not bound by the limitations of the one Greek nation but infinitely
transcends the Olympian gatherings in a countless multitude out of every nation, tribe, tongue and
kindred. Jew, Greek, Roman, Scythian, barbarian, bond and free mingle in one tide of brotherhood (Rev.
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Some of your questions induced me to supply you with the entire Septuagint usage. You have
before you now all the instances of this use of ecclesia, including the readings of the several texts, in
both the canonical books and Apocrypha. To these have been added the additional instances from other
Greek versions of the Old Testament, Aquila (A.D. 130), Theodotion (A.D. 160), Symmachus (A.D.
193), et al; i.e., so far as they are cited in the concordance of Abraham Trommius (A.D. 1718) and the
new mammoth concordance of Hatch & Redpath, Oxford (1893). These instances, about 114 in all,
nearly equal the New Testament number, giving us a total of about 230 uses of the word not counting the
classics. This is every way sufficient for inductive study. Of course the post-apostolic versions of
Aquilla, Theodotion and Symmachus had no influence in determining the earlier New Testament usage,
but as the work of Jews in the second century they confirm that usage.
It was to the classic and Septuagint usage the first lecture referred in saying that the New Testament
writers neither coined the word nor employed it in an unusual sense.
They wrote in Greek, to readers and speakers of Greek, using Greek words in their common
acceptation in order to be understood. With this usage before us let us seek an answer to your new
- As in the Septuagint ecclesia translates the Hebrew word qahal, does it not mean, “All Israel,
whether assembled or unassembled?”
My reply is, I see not how this question could have risen in my mind from a personal, inductive
study of all the Septuagint passages, since in every instance of the 114 cited the word means a gathering
together – an assembly.
You can see that for yourselves by the context of your English version. The Septuagint usage is as
solidly one thing as the Macedonia phalanx. Unfortunately in our broad theological reading our minds
become so preoccupied with the loose generalizations of the great Pedobaptist scholars, Harnack, Hatch,
Hort, Cremer and others, that we unconsciously neglect to investigate and think for ourselves. Let not
admiration for distinguished scholarship blot out your individuality. Accept nothing blindly on mere
In determining this question, have nothing to do with the meaning of qahal in its other connections.
Rigidly adhere to the passages where ecclesia translates it. Because a word sometimes serves for another,
do not foist on it all the meanings of the other word.
It is well enough to illustrate by synonyms, but do not define by them. Definition by supposed
synonyms was the curse of the Baptismal controvery. Because a question about purifying arose between
a Jew and John’s disciples, Edward Beecher must write an illogical book to show that Baptizo means
only to purify, and, of course, by any method. Study Carson on Baptism and you will learn much about
the principles of accurate definition.
- “But,” another question asks, “do not some of these Septuagint passages justify the meaning of
unassembled?” While I accepted Pedobaptist ideas, I thought so, but never since I looked into the matter
for myself. I do not know of even one such passage. I never heard of a definite claim being set up to more
than four out of 114. Turn now to these four in your Revised English Bibles. They are 1 Kings 8:65; 1
Chronicles 28:8; Ezra 10:8; Ezekiel 32:3.
The first two settle themselves by a mere reading. In Ezra “the assembly of the captivity” might be
supposed to refer, in a loose way, to the people while captives in Babylon. But in fact it has no such
reference as the context shows. It simply means the 42,360 who returned from captivity as a definite
Jerusalem assembly, repeatedly called together. In Ezekiel 32:3, an unreliable reading has ecclesia for
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the English word company. But even then the idea is the same. “Many peoples” in that sentence signify
nothing against the usual meaning of the word. They do not constitute an ecclesia until gathered into a
company. Xerxes, Timour, Napoleon, the White Tzar, and many others have formed a great company out
of the contingents of many people.
Heretofore the advocates of the present existence of “an universal, invisible, spiritual, unassembled
church” have boldly rested their case on the Septuagint usage. The premise of their argument was, that
the New Testament writers must have used the word in the sense that a Jew accustomed to the Greek Old
Testament would understand. A fine premise, by the way. But to save the theory from total collapse some
new line of defense must be invented. And that is intimated in your next question:
III. “As Christ was establishing a new institution, widely different from the Greek state ecclesia,
was not ecclesia in the New Testament used in a new, special and sacred sense? Does not the word in the
New Testament commonly mean the same as the Kletoi, or the called, without reference to either
organization, or assembly?”
On many accounts I am delighted with the opportunity to reply to this question. The reply is
couched in several distinct observations:
(1) This question demonstrates hopeful progress in the controversy and prophesies a speedy and
final settlement. It not only necessarily implies a cleancut surrender of the old line of defense, but also
narrows a hitherto broad controversy into a single new issue, susceptible of easy settlement. If this new
position proves untenable there is no other to which the defense can be shifted. This is the last ditch. And
the fact that it is new indicates the extremity of its advocates.
(2) Like the former contention, this, too, is borrowed from the Pedobaptists. They tried hard and
long to make it serve in the Baptismal controversy. Their contention then was that though Baptizo meant
to dip or immerse in classic Greek, yet in the Bible it was used in a new and sacred sense. The
scholarship of the world rebuked them. Words are signs or ideas. To mean anything they must be
understood according to the common acceptation in the minds of those addressed. I know of no more
dangerous method of interpretation than the assumption that a word must be taken to mean something
different from its real meaning. Revelation in that case ceases to be revelation. We are at sea without
helm, or compass, or guiding star.
(3) There is nothing in the difference between Christ’s ecclesia on the one hand, and the classic or
Septuagint ecclesia on the other hand, to justify a new sense in the word. The difference lies not in the
meaning of the word, but in the object, terms of membership and other things.
(4) This proposed new sense destroys the two essential ideas of the old word, organization and
assembly, and thereby leaves Christ without an institution or official, business body in the world. From
the days of Abel the Kletoi, or called, have been in the world. If therefore, the New Testament ecclesia
means only the “called,” then what did Christ establish in His time?
(5) If by ecclesia, only the called in their scattered capacity are meant, why use both ecclesia and
Kletoi? How can there be a body of Kletoi if the essential ideas of ecclesia are left out? If there be no
organization, no assembly, how can there be a body? Micellaneous, scattered, unattached units do not
make a body.
(6) Finally there is not the slightest evidence that ecclesia has any such arbitrary meaning. But this
will more clearly appear if you examine the usage passage by passage.
- “But when Paul says, I persecuted the church, surely that can only mean that he persecuted the
But it does mean much more. It means exactly what it says. The mere individuals as such counted
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nothing with Paul. It was the organization to which they belonged, and what that organization stood for.
As proof of this our Lord arrested him with the question: “Why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus whom
thou persecutest.” Jesus was not persecuted in person by Saul.
So when “Herod the King put forth his hand to afflict certain of the church” he aimed at the
organization, in what it stood for, though directly his wrath fell only on James and Peter.
- “But if the church means assembly does not that require it to be always in session?” No ecclesia,
classic, Jewish or Christian, known to history, held perpetual session. They all adjorned and came
together again according to the requirements of the case. The organization, the institution, was not
dissolved by temporary adjournment.
- “But if the earthly ecclesia exists now, though many of its members forsake the assembling of
themselves together, and if it continually receives new members, why may we not say the general
assembly exists now, though all be not actually assembled, nor all its members yet born?” This is the
most plausible objection yet offered, and one that greatly perplexes some minds. Your rigid attention,
therefore, is called to the reply. It is admitted that the particular assembly on earth is not always in
session either as a worshiping or business body. The word ecclesia never did require perpetual session.
Nor does it now. There has been no change of requirement in that respect from the days of Pericles till
now. Nor does the word require that all its Kletoi or members shall be present at every session. Nor does
the word itself forbid the accession of new members.
Moreover, a particular ecclesia might continue as an historic institution so long that there might be
an entire change in the personnel of its members many times. There are particular Baptist churches now
existing in which these changes have actually occurred. Seldom does the roll of members remain the
same even one year. Some die, some are excluded, some move away into other communities, new
members are received. The attendance upon the sessions for worship and business continually varies.
Some are sick, some travel, some backslide. Conditions of weather, politics or war affect the attendance.
Yea, more, storms, plagues, or persecution may for the time being scatter the members of a particular
church over a wide area of territory. None of these things in the slightest degree affect the meaning of the
Ecclesia remains throughout an organized assembly whose members are properly called out from
their private homes or business to attend to public affairs.
The difference between the earthly and heavenly ecclesia in regard to the foregoing mutations does
not arise at all from the word but from the nature of the case.
By its very nature the earthly ecclesia is imperfect. It is a time institution. By the conditions of its
earthly existence there are fluctuations in attendance and membership. By its location in a world of lost
people and by its commission to save them, there is constant accession of members.
The changed nature of the case and of the conditions make these things different with the general
assembly. It can not increase in members because there is no salvable material from which to gain
accessions. Character has chrystalized and probation ended. The lost then, are forever lost, and Hell
admits of no evangelism. The word would not forbid evangelism but the nature of the case does.
Not only the word, but the nature of the case renders present existence of the general assembly
impossible. Into the earthly house material enters according to credible evidence of regeneration as men
judge. There is no absolute guaranty against self-deception or hypocrisy. Moreover, this material even
when the profession of faith is well founded, is never in a perfect state, but must be continually made
better by progressive sanctification of soul. The earthly ecclesia is a workshop in which material is being
prepared for the Heavenly house. Death is the last lesson of discipline for the soul. The resurrection and
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glorification of the body, its last lesson. No rough ashlar goes into the Heavenly House – no unhewn,
un-polished, unadorned cedar timber. No half-stone or broken column would be received. If a soul, even
one of the spirits of the just made perfect, were now put into that wall, the building would have to be
reconstructed and readjusted to admit the body-part of that same living stone after the resurrection. There
is no sound of hammer, axe, or chisel when that building goes up. AIl preparatory work of every stone in
that building, and of every timber, must be completed before that building goes up.
It was this heavenly ecclesia, which as a coming event, cast its shadow before David and Solomon
and constituted their inexorable plan for the typical temple. Because the plan given them was a shadow
of better things to come they were not allowed to vary a hair’s-breath from the pattern of the Divine
There is nothing in the word ecclesia itself to forbid its application to “the Spirits of the just made
perfect” now in heaven and continually receiving accessions. They are an assembly in fact. And Thayer
seems to so understand Hebrews 12:23. I do not agree with him in making “general assembly and church
of the first born” synonymous with “the spirits of the just made perfect.” To my mind, they represent two
very distinct ideas. But he is certainly right in supposing that the assembled spirits of the righteous dead
may be called an ecclesia. But when one defines the general assembly to be the aggregate of all the elect,
and then affirms its present existence, he does violence to philology, common sense and revelation. The
earthly eccIesia is an organization now, an assembly now, though not always in session. The general
assembly is not an organization now, is not an assembly now, and therefore exists only as a prospect.
VII. You ask for a particular explanation of several Scriptures which seem difficult to harmonize
with the contentions of the first lecture, all of which in turn will now receive attention:
(1) Acts 9:31 – “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being
edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, was multiplied” (R.V.)
To my mind, this is the only use of ecclesia in all Biblical or classic literature that is difficult of
explanation. The difficulty is frankly confessed. Nor am I sure that such explanation as I have to offer
will be satisfactory to you. In any event, nothing is ever gained for truth by lack of candor. Judging from
the uniform use of the word elsewhere one would naturally expect here a plural noun with plural verbs as
we have in the King James Version. And this expectation would be entirely apart from a desire to serve a
theory. The difficulty here does not help the theory of “the now-existing universal, invisible, spiritual
It is quite easy to explain it so far as any comfort would accrue to that theory. The difficulty lies in
another direction entirely, and seems to oppose a Baptist contention on another point, in whose
maintenance my Baptist opponents in the present controversy are fully as much concerned as myself. On
its face the passage seems to justify the provincial or state-wide – or national use of the word church on
earth which all Baptist deny. That is the only difficulty I see in the passage. All the context shows that
the reference is to the earthly church and not to the heavenly. The limits of this lecture forbid a
discussion of the text question. 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.
Now for the explanation:
(1) The reading, “Churches,” followed by the common version may be the right one, leaving nothing
to explain. In all other cases, whether in Old or New Testament, where the sense calls for the plural, we
have it in the text. Not to have it here is an isolated, jarring exception. See Acts 15:41; 16:5; Rom. 16:4,
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6; 1 Cor. 7:17: 11:26; 14:33, 34; 16:1, 19; 2 Cor. 8:1, 18, 23; 11:8, 28; 12:23; Gal. 1:2, 22; 1 Thess. 2:14;
2 Thess. 1:4; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20; 2:7, 11, 17, 20, 23; 3:6, 13, 22; 22:16; Psa. 26:12; 68:26; Ecclesiasticus
24:2. It is well to note that Murdock’s translation of the Peshito Syriac cites a Greek plural in the margin.
(2) But accepting the singular, according to the Revised Version, then, says Broadus, “the word
probably denotes the original church at Jerusalem, whose members were by persecution widely scattered
throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and held meetings wherever they were, but still belonged to
the one original organization. When Paul wrote to the Galatians nearly twenty years later, these
separate meetings had been organized into distinct churches; and so he speaks (Gal. 1:22), in reference
to that same period, of the churches of Judea which were in Christ. ” – Com. on Matt., p. 359. This was
the church which Saul persecuted and of which he made havoc. Concerning the effect of this persecution
the record says “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” – Acts 8:1.
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as
Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word” – Acts 11:19. So, when in the paragraph just
preceding our Scripture, there is an account of Saul, as a convert, worshiping and preaching with the
church he had formerly persecuted, we may not be surprised at the statement “So the church throughout
all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace.” Meyer says the “So draws an inference from the whole
history in vv. 3:30: in consequence of the conversion of the former chief enemy and his transformation
into the zealous apostle.”
But you may say, when they are thus scattered does not that break up the assembly idea in the word?
This question has been previously answered in this lecture. It has been said that a storm, like that which
swept Galveston, or a plague, like the yellow fever in Memphis, or war, as during the colossal strife
between the states, or persecution, as in this case, might scatter far and wide, for the time being, the
members of a particular church, but that would not change the meaning of the word church. When
Tarleton made a dash at the Virginia legislature the members fled in every direction. When Howe moved
on Philadelphia the Continental Congress dispersed and sought rest in safer places, but who would infer
from these cases a change of meaning in legislature or congress? Under the advice of Themistocles the
entire Athenian ecclesia abandoned their sacred city and sought safety from Persian invasion on their
ships, but ecclesia retained its meaning.
(3) There is a third explanation possible. You may like it better than I do. It is not in harmony with
one statement of my first lecture. It certainly, however, excludes comfort from the theory of the invisible
Meyer understands ecclesia in Acts 9:31 in a collective sense, not of Christians collectively, but of
churches collectively. His language is: “Observe, moreover, with the correct reading ecclesia (singular
number) the aspect of unity under which Luke, surveying the whole domain of Christendom comprehends
the churches which has been already formed, and were in process of formation.”
Note that he says that the word church “comprehends the churches,” not Christians. Some Baptists
follow Meyer. Hovey, in Hackett on Acts, seems to quote Meyer approvingly. This explanation
necessarily implies the existence, at this time, of many organized assemblies in Judea, Samaria and
Galilee of which we have no definite historic knowledge. True, Philip had evangelized the city of
Samaria and there was time enough, in the three years since Paul’s conversion for forming some
churches, if only the record would say as much. If Meyer be right, of course, I was wrong in saying that
ecclesia could not be used in the collective sense of comprehending many particular churches.
My own explanation is given in (1) and (2). Now, if a theory harmonizes all of 231 uses of a word
but one, and gives a possible explanation of that one, the theory is demonstrated.
VIII. The next class of Scriptures which you wish explained is represented by Ephesians 1:22, 23;
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Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 3:6; John 10:16.
My first remark is that the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians were circular letters, meant to
be read to other churches with equal application. Hence the use of the term church in a more general way
than in other letters. The general use, however, does not forbid, but even requires, specific application to
any one particular church, as Ephesians 2:21, 22, R.V., shows. In like manner Peter’s first letter was
written to Jewish saints of the dispersion in Asia Minor, but not specifically to any particular church.
Hence, when he says, “Ye, also, as living stones are built up a spiritual house,” he does not mean that all
the Jewish saints in Asia Minor constitute one church. To say the least of it, that is certainly an
unbaptistic idea. It also contradicts the record in Acts showing the planting of many particular churches
in this section, made up of Jews and Gentiles, and also ignores the seven churches of Revelation, all in
the same section. But Peter means, using the word “house” in a generic sense, that whenever and
wherever enough of you come together to form a particular church, that will be a spiritual house in which
to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Just as in Ephesians 2:21, 22
R.V., the apostle in the same breath converts the general or abstract idea of church into particular
churches. Murdock’s translation of the Syriac Peshito reads: “And ye also, as living stones, are builded
and become spiritual temples” in 1 Peter 2:5.
It is characteristic of circular letters to use terms in general form that must find concrete expression
in particular forms. A man writing a circular to Texas Baptists at large, or to all Baptist churches of
Texas would find it difficult to refrain from using some general expressions which must be left to the
common sense of each particular church for making specific application. It is a matter of congratulation
that since the circular, called the letter to the Ephesians, employs more of these general terms than any
other letter, we have been so thoroughly safeguarded from misconstruction of its generalities by three
distinct instances of specific application, in Acts 20:28, 29; Ephesians 2:21, 22; 1 Timothy 3:14, 15, to
this Ephesus church.
The epistle to the Hebrews is even more general in its address than the two just considered, and we
have only to apply the same principles of interpretation heretofore set forth to understand Hebrews 3:6 –
“Whose house are we.” The writer certainly never intended to convey the impression that all Hebrew
Christians constituted one church. That also, to say the least of it, is an unbaptistic idea. We know it to be
an unscriptural one, because it contradicts Paul in Galatians 1:22. It is utterly illogical to claim either
Hebrews 3:6 or 1 Peter 2:5 for examples of the so-called “universal church” idea. If the advocates of this
idea insist on denying the particular church in these cases because one letter was addressed to all the
Hellenist converts of Asia Minor, and the other was addressed to all the converted Palestinean Hebrews,
then I demand that they also stick to the text, and claim for either case Jews and Jews only. This not only
shuts them off from the general assembly in which Jew and Gentile form one new man, but forces them
to the absurdity of having on earth one Jewish church big as Asia Minor – that big – no more – and the
other big as Judea, that big, no more, and that leaves still running at large all the rest of the converted
Jews of the dispersion, and puts them in conflict with Scripture history which shows many particular
churches in these sections. To show you the difference between the general use of the term “church” in a
circuIar of miscellaneous address and its direct and particular use in a document addressed to specific
churches, compare the use of church in Revelation with the use of church in the letter to the Ephesians.
In the twenty times of Revelation we have more than one-sixth of the New Testament usage.
A few words will dispose of John 10:16 – “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I
must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock, one shepherd.” This passage
is strong confirmation of my first lecture. Considering the church abstractly, that is, in the sense of an
institutiton, Christ purposed to make of twain, Jew and Gentile, one new man. In each particular church
where Jew and Gentile blend, Christ’s purpose is partially fulfilled. But in the general assembly in glory
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it is completely fulfilled.
When in some of the foregoing Scriptures, Christ is represented as head over all things to the church
– His body, you easily meet all the requirements of the language by saying:
(1) He is head over all things to His earth church as an institution.
(2) He is head over all things to any particular earth church.
(3) He is head over all things to His general assembly in glory.
There remain for consideration only two other Scriptures and then all your questions are answered,
Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 12: 18-24. And these will receive particular attention because they were
cited in the first lecture as referring to the general assembly. On Hebrews 12:23, you inquire, Does not
the tense of the verb “Ye are come… to the general assembly, etc.,” prove the present existence of the
general assembly? How else can it be said, ye are come to it?
To wich I reply:
In Galatians 4, Paul says that Hagar and Sarah, under an allegory, represent the two covenants.
Hagar, or Mt. Sinai, in Arabia, answering to the Jerusalem that now is, is the law-covenant gendering to
bondage. Sarah, or Mt. Zion, answering to the Jerusalem above, is the grace-covenant gendering to
So, when in Hebrews 12 it says, “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched” (i.e., Mt.
Sinai), it simply means ye are not under the law-covenant, with its threats and horrible outlook. And
when it adds: “Ye are come to Mt. Zion, etc.,” (perfect tense), it simply means that we are under the
grace-covenant with its promises and glorious outlook. In other words, what we have actually reached is
a covenant, a regime, a standard of life, and are under its requirements and incited by its glorious
But an exegesis, based on the tense of that verb, which claims that Christians have already attained
unto all the alluring elements of the outlook of the grace-covenant, enumerated in that passage, is as mad
as a March hare.
That Jerusalem is above, and because not yet, is contrasted with the Jerusalem that now is. It is the
city and country set forth in the preceding chapter, toward which the faith and hope of the patriarchs
looked. It was a possession to them only in the sense that they were the heirs of a promised inheritance
reserved in Heaven. Abraham, with the other heirs of that promise, patiently dwelt in tents, “for he
looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And all the patriarchs “died
in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them afar off, yea, promises,
but having seen them and greeted them afar off, yea, “and these all, having had witness borne to them
through their faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better things for us, that apart
from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11). And so we also (Heb. 12:1) run the race set before
us, not yet having attained the goal or received the prize (Compare 1 Cor. 9:25-27; Phil. 3:7-14; 2 Tim.
Our Lord Himself held out the promise, “The pure in heart shall see God.” But not yet have we
actually come “to God, the judge.” But John, in his apocalypse of the Heavenly City, with its general
assembly, tells the time of attainment: “And they shall see his face” – Revelation 22:4.
The imagery of Hebrews 12, is that of the Olympic races. A goal marked the terminus of the race.
There sat the judge, who, when the races were over, awarded the prize to the victor. In the Christian race
the goal is the resurrection and then only comes the prize (See Phil. 3:7-14 and 1 Tim. 4:6-8). It is then
we come to God the judge who awards the prize.
The example of our Lord is cited, Hebrews 12:2, “The joy set before him” was prospective and
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reached when he sees the travail of his soul and is satisfied.
The angels of that category, make unseen visits to us now in our earthly home, but then we shall in
fact go to the myriads of shining ones in their celestial home.
Now, on earth, with the blood of Christ, our consciences, are cleansed from dead works to serve the
living God. But there, we enter the true Holy of Holies, and behold where Jesus, the mediator of the new
covenant, did place the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things for us than the blood of Abel, on
the true Mercy-seat to make atonement for sin. As our fore-runner, the Lord, Himself, has passed
through the veil. But to us, this safe passage, is as yet only a glorious hope set before us; which we have
as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” – Hebrews 6:17-19.
We, yet in our bodies, have not joined “the spirits of the just made perfect” nor entered “the general
assembly and church of the first born, who are written in heaven.” When we read Revelation 21 and 22,
we sing: “O when, thou city of my God, shall thy courts ascend!”
Your question on Ephesians 5:25-27 is similar. “Verse 29 decalres that Christ nourishes and
cherishes the church, as a husband does his wife. Does not this demand the present existence of the
To which I reply:
(1) The nourishing and cherishing of verse 29 refer to after marriage conduct, as the context shows,
and Christ’s marriage with the bride is far away in the future (See Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9, 10).
But let it be misapplied to the prenuptial state – it matters not. The force of any argument in the
question is all in the tense of the verbs “nourisheth and cherisheth.” Let us turn that argument loose and
see what it proves. In the whole passage, Christ and the church come before us under the figures of
bridegroom and bride. The church is conceived of as a unit, a person, and all the verbs employed,
namely, “loved – gave himself for – might cleanse – might present-nourishment and cherisheth” follow
the requirements of the figure. But when we come to historical facts we find:
(1) That the love, in eternity, preceded the existence of any part of the church.
(2) The giving Himself preceded the existence of the greater part of the church.
(3) The cleansing (and the nourishing and cherishing if misapplied) applies to the process of
preparing the members, as each in turn comes upon the stage of being throughout the gospel dispensation
from Adam to the second advent.
(4) The presentation of the completed and perfected church follows the second advent.
(5) The nourishing and cherishing (rightly applied) of the perfected church follows the presentation.
Now if the present tense of the nourishing proves present existence of the general assembly, does
not the past tense of “loved” prove past existence of the general assembly before man was created? Why
should the tense of one of the verbs have more proof force in it than another in the same connection? To
grant this, however, proves too much and so the argument based on tense is worthless in this case.
The object of this appendix is to enable the “average” preacher with few books, and who knows
nothing of Greek, to form his own conclusions as to the meaning of ecclesia, based upon an inductive
study of the usage of the word. A few instances only are cited from the classics, out of the great number
read to my class in second lecture, but enough for the purpose. These citations will be particularly helpful
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in showing the distinction between the particular ecclesia, or business body of even the smallest Greek
state, and panegyros (general, festive assembly) when the people of all the Greek states assembled. By
this means even an uneducated preacher may understand the fitness of calling the great heavenly
gathering in glory the “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (panegyros kai ecclesia) in
contra-distinction to the particular business assembly on earth.
The New Testament usage is given entire because so few country preachers have the Englishmen’s
The Septuagint usage is also given entire so far as the Tromminus Concordance (A.D. 1718) cites
instances. This usage is regarded as particularly valuable for three reasons:
(1) Only about one preacher in a thousand has access to a Septuagint concordance.
(2) Nearly all their ideas of the meaning of the word in the Greek Old testament have been derived
from the loose generalizations of the great Pedobaptist scholars, Harnack, Hatch, Hort, Cremer, et. al.,
who seeing that ecclesia sometimes translates the Hebrew word “qahal,” foist upon ecclesia all the
meanings of qahal in other connections. You have nothing to do with qahal except where ecclesia
By an inductive study of all the ecclesia passages, you will see for yourselves that in the Septuagint
it never means “all Israel whether assembled or unassembled, but that in every instance it means a
gathering together, and assembly.
(3) This classic, and particularly this septuagint usage, are specially valuable to you, because as the
first lecture states, the New Testament writers neither coined this word nor employed it in an unusual
sense. The apostles and early Christians were more familiar with the Septuagint than with the Hebrew
Version. From it they generally quoted. They wrote in Greek to a Greek-speaking world, and used Greek
words as a Greek-speaking people would understand them.
It is a fiction of Pedo-baptists that they used “baptizo” in a new and sacred sense. Equally is it a
fiction that Ecclesia was used in any new, special sense. The object of Christ’s ecclesia, and terms of
membership in it, were indeed different from those of the classic or Septuagint ecclesia. But the word
itself retains its ordinary meaning. In determining this meaning we look to the common, literal usage. If
occasionally we find it used in a general or figurative way, these few instances must be construed in
harmony with the common, literal signification.
Ecclesia. Primary meaning. An organized assembly of citizens, regularly summoned, as opposed to
Thucydides 2:22: – “Pericles, seeing them angry at the present state of things… did not call them to
an assembly (ecclesia) or any other meeting.”
Demosthenes 378, 24: – “When after this the assembly (ecclesia) adjourned, they came together and
planned… For the future still being uncertain, meetings and speeches of all sorts took place in the
marketplace. They were afraid that an assembly (ecclesia) would be summoned suddenly, etc.” Compare
the distinction here between a lawfully assembled business body and a mere gathering together of the
people in unofficial capacity, with the town-clerk’s statement in Acts 19:35, 40.
Now some instances of the particular ecclesia of the several Greek states –
Thucydides 1,87: – “Having said such things, he himself, since he was ephor, put the question to
vote in the assembly (ecclesia) of the Spartans.”
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Thucydides 1,139: – “And the Athenians having made a house (or called an assembly, ecclesia)
freely exchanged their sentiments.”
Aristophanes Act 169: – “But I forbid you calling an assembly (ecclesia) for the Thracians about
Thucydides 6,8: – “And the Athenians having convened an assembly (ecclesia)… voted, etc.”
Thucydides 6,2: – “And the Syracusans having buried their dead, summoned an assembly
This historical reading concerning the business assemblies of the several petty but independent,
self-governing Greek states, with their lawful conference, their free speech, their decision by vote,
whether of Spartans, Thracians, Syracusans or Athenians, sounds much like the proceedings of particular
and independent Baptist churches today.
Panegyros – A general, festive assembly of the people of all the Greek states.
Decret. ap. Demos 526,16: – “Embassies to the festal assemblies (panegyros) in Greece.”
Plato, Hipp. 363: – “Going up to Olympia, the festal assemblies (panegyros) of the Greeks.”
Pindar: – “The general assembly (panegyros) in honor of Zeus (Jupiter).”
Isocrates 41 A: – “I often wondered at those who organized the general festivals (panegyros).
Aeschylus Theb. 220: – “May this goodly, general company (panegyros) of gods never fail the city
in my life time.”
Thucydides 5, 50: – “And fear was produced in the general assembly (panegyros) that the
Lacedaemonians would come in arms.” Upon this usage note how bright and discriminating the Greek
This general assembly was not for war but peace. Let not the Spartans come to it with arms in their
hands. It was not for business but pleasure – a time of peace, and joy and glory.
In the happy Greek conceit all the heavenly beings were supposed to be present. How felicitously
does an inspired apostle adapt himself to the Greek use of the word, and glorify it by application to the
final heavenly state. God the judge, not Zeus, is there. Myriads of angels, not Greek demi-gods and
inferior deities, are there.
There is a general assembly in magnitude, multitude and constituency, transcendantly above the
poor limitations of a small Greek nation – this is made up of every tribe and tongue and kindred, Jew,
Roman, Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free. Here warfare is over and rest has come. Here crowns
are awarded, not of fading wreaths of time, but crowns of life, righteousness, joy and glory.
Ecclesia – Usage in Septuagint
Cited in the concordance of Abraham Trommius (1718). Chapters and verses here given according
to Revised Version for Canonical books; and according to Haydock’s Douay Bible for Aprochryphal
Greek text used for verification Henry Barclay Sweet – Cambridge, 1891.
The English word in italics is the translation of Ecclesia.
Lev. 8:3 – “Assemble thou all the congregations.”
Here the verb (ecclesiazo) is used. Though Trommius cites a reading which has the noun.
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Deut. 18:16 – “In the day of the assembly” (referring to the convocation at Sinai).
Deut. 23:1, 2, 3, 8 – “Shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord.” Here four times used to
proscribe certain specified classes from admission into the Lord’s assembly.”
Deut. 31:30 – “And Moses spake in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song.”
Josh. 8:35 – “Joshua read before all the assembly of Israel.”
Judges 20:2 – “And the chiefs of all the people presented themselves in the assembly of the people
of God.” The place of this assembly was Mizpah.
Judges 21:5 – “And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came
not up in the assembly unto the Lord.”
Judges 21:8 – “There came none to the camp from Jabesh-Gilead to the assembly.”
1 Sam. 17:47 – David said, “That all this assembly may know there is a God in Israel.”
1 Sam. 19:20 – And when Saul’s messenger “saw the company of the prophets prophesying.”
1 Kings 8:14, 22, 55, 65 – “Blessed all the congregation” – “in the presence of all the congregation”
– “blessed all the congregation” – “and all Israel with him, a great congregation.”
1 Chron. 13:2, 4 – “David said unto all the assembly of Israel” – “And all the assernbly said.”
1 Chron. 28:2 – “David stood up upon his feet – (in the midst of the assembly).” Nothing in Hebrew
text for the words in parenthesis, and hence nothing in English version.
1 Chron. 28:8 – “In the sight of all Israel, the congregation of the Lord.”
1 Chron. 29:1 – “The King siad unto all the congregation.”
1 Chron. 29:10 – “David blessed the Lord before all the congregation.”
1 Chron. 29:20 – “David said to all the congregation.”
2 Chron. 1:3, 5 – “Solomon, and all the congregation with him.” “Solomon and the congregation
sought unto it” (the altar).
2 Chron. 6:3, 12, 13 – “The King turned his face and blessed all the congregation.” “He stood… in
the presence of all the congregation.” “He kneeled down…before all the congregation.”
2 Chron. 7: 8 – “Solomon held the feast… and all Israel with him, a very great congregation.”
2 Chron. 29:5, 14 – “Jehosaphat stood in the congregation.” “Then upon Jahaziel… came the spirit
of the Lord in the midst of the congregation.”
2 Chron. 23:3 – “And all the congregation made a covenant with the King.”
2 Chron. 28:14 – “So all the armed men left all the captives and the spoil before the princes and all
2 Chron. 29:23, 32 – “And they brought…the sin offering before the King and the congregation” –
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“And the number of the burnt offerings which the congregation brought.”
2 Chron. 30:2, 4, 13, 17, 23, 24, 25 – “The King, his princes and all the congregation.” “In the eyes
of the king and all the congregation.” “A very great congregation.” “Many in the congregation who had
not sanctified themselves.” “And the congregation took counsel.” “Hezekiah did give to the
congregation.” “And all the congregation.”
Ezra 2:64 – “The whole congregation together was 42,360.”
Ezra 10:1 – “There is gathered together a very great cong regation.”
Ezra 10:9 – “That whosoever came not within three days… should be himself separated from the
congregation of the captivity.”
Ezra 10:12 – “Then all the congregation answered.”
Ezra 10:14 – “Let… rulers of the congregation stand” (Sinaiatic)
Neh. 5:7 – “And I held a great assembly against them.”
Neh. 5:13 – “And all the congregation said Amen.
Neh. 7:66 – “The whole congregation together was 42,360.”
Neh. 8:2 – “Ezra brought the law before the congregation.”
Neh. 8:17 – “And all the congregation of them… made booths.”
Neh. 13:1 – “An Ammonite and Moabite shall not enter the congregation.”
Job 39:28 – “I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.”
Psa. 22:22 – “In the midst of the congregation will I praise.”
Psa. 22:25 – “Of thee cometh my praise in the great congregation. “
Psa. 26:5 – “I have hated the congregation of evildoers.”
Psa. 26:12 – “In the congregations will I bless the Lord.”
Psa. 35:18 – “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation.
Psm. 49:9 – “I have published thy righteousness in the great congregation.”
Psa. 68:26 – “Bless ye God in the congregations.”
Psa. 89:5 – “Thy faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.”
Psa. 107:32 – “Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people.”
Psa. 149:1 – “Sing his praise in the assembly of the saints.”
Prov. 5:14 – “In the midst of the congregation and assembly.”
Jer. 31:8 – “A great assembly” – instead of “company” is a variant reading.
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Lam. 1:10 – “They should not enter into the congregation.”
Ezek. 32:3 – “Here Codex A. has assembly (ecclesia) instead of “company.”
Joel 2:16 – “Sanctify the congregation.”
Mic. 2:5 – “Cast the line by lot in the congregation of the Lord.”
6:2 – “Ozias took him from the assembly to his house.”
7:29 – “Great weeping in the assembly.”
13:29 – “In the assembly of the people.”
14:6 – “Saw the head of Holofernes in the hand of one of the assembly.” (A reading.)
15:5 – “In the midst of the assembly she shall open his mouth.”
21:20 – “The mouth of the prudent is sought after in the assembly. “
23:34 – “This woman shall be brought into the assembIy.”
24:2 – “Wisdom shall open her mouth in the assemblies of the Most High.”
26:6 – “My heart hath been afraid of the assembly of the people.”
31:11 – “And the assembly shall declare his alms.”
33:19 – “Hear me, ye rulers of the assembly.”
38:37 – “They shall not go up to the assembly.”
39:14 – “The assembly shall show forth his praise.”
44:15 – “Let the assembly declare his praise.”
50:15 – “Before all the assembly of Israel.”
50:22 – “Lifted up his hands over all the assembly of the children of Israel.”
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2:56 – “Caleb for bearing witness before the congregation.”
3:13 – “Judas has assembled a company of the faithful.”
4:59 – “Judas, his brethren and all the assembly.”
5:16 – “A great assembly met.”
14:19 – “Read before the assembly in Jerusalem.”
Remark on Septuagint Usage
The testimony here is univocal. It is as solid as the Macedonian phalanx. Some have tried to make it
appear that four of these ninety-two instances refer to an unassembled ecclesia. Look at them, read the
context and judge for yourselves. The four passages are: 1 Kings 8:65; 1 Chron. 28:8; Ezra 10:8; Ezek.
32:3. The first two settle themselves.
In Ezra “the assembly of the Captivity” simply means the 42,360 that returned from the captivity
and are repeatedly gathered together.
In Ezek. 32:3 an unreliable reading has ecclesia in the place of company. But whether company or
ecclesia the idea is the same. The “many peoples” signify nothing, they do not constitute an ecclesia until
formed into one company. Xerxes, Timour, Napoleon and many others formed one great company out of
the contingents of many nations.
Observe prescribed conditions of membership in Deuteronomy 23 and Nehemiah 13.
The new and mammoth Septuagint Concordance of Hatch and Redpath, five folio volumes,
Oxxford, 1893, gives the following additional instances (not cited by Trommius) from one text or
Deut. 4:10; 9:10; 1 Kings 12:3 (from Codex A.); 2 Chron. 10:3; 29:28, 31; 30:25; all rendered
assembly in our Revised Version, Ezek. 32:23 (from Codex A.) rendered company.
Judith 6: 19, 21 assembly.
I Maccabees 14:9 (assemblies instead of streets).
From Other Greek Versions of the Old Testament
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Lev. 4:14, 21; 16:17; Psa. 40:9, 10; Prov. 26:26; Jer. 26:17; 44:14. All rendered assembly in our
Revised Version. And Ezk. 23:47, 26:7; 27:27; 32:22, all rendered company.
This makes the Old Testament usage amount to about 114 cases, nearly equal in number to New
Testament usage. In no one of the 114 instances does it mean an unassembled ecclesia.
New Testament Usage of Ecclesia
Matt. 16:18 – “I will build my church.”
Matt. 18:17 – “Tell (it) unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church.”
Acts 2:47 – “the lord added to the church daily.”
Acts 5:11 – “fear came upon all the church.”
Acts 7:38 – “he, that was in the church.”
Acts 8:1 – “the church which was at Jerusalem.”
Acts 8:3 – “He made havoc of the church.”
Acts 9:31 – “Then had the churchesrest.”
Acts 11:22 – “the church which was in Jerusalem.”
Acts 11:26 – “assembled themselves with the church.”
Acts 12:1 – “to vex certain of the church.”
Acts 12:5 – “without ceasing of the church unto God.”
Acts 13:1 – “Now there were in the church.”
Acts 14:23 – “elders in every church, and had.”
Acts 14:27 – “had gathered the church together.”
Acts 15:2 – “on their way by the church.”
Acts 15:4 – “they were received of the church.”
Acts 15:22 – “elders, with the whole church.”
Acts 15:41 – “confirming the churches.”
Acts 16:5 – “so were the churches established.”
Acts 18:22 – “gone up, and saluted the church.”
Acts 19:32 – “for the assembly was confused.”
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Acts 19:39 – “determined in a lawful assembly.”
Acts 19:41 – “thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.”
Acts 20:17 – “called the elders of the church.”
Acts 20:28 – “to feed the church of God.”
Rom. 16:1 – “is a servant of the church.”
Rom. 16:4 – “all the churches of the Gentiles.”
Rom. 16:5 – “the church that is in their house.”
Rom. 16:16 – “The churches of Christ salute you.”
Rom. 16:23 – “mine host, and of the whole church.”
1 Cor. 1:2 – “Unto the church of God which.”
1 Cor. 4:17 – “I teach everywhere in every church.”
1 Cor. 6:4 – “least esteemed in the church.”
1 Cor. 7:17 – “so ordain I in all churches.”
1 Cor. 10:32 – “nor to the church of God.”
1 Cor. 11:16 – “neither the churches of God.”
1 Cor. 11:18 – “come together in the church.”
1 Cor. 11:22 – “or despise ye the church of God.”
1 Cor. 12:28 – “God hath set some in the church.”
1 Cor. 14:4 – “that prophesieth edifieth the church.”
1 Cor. 14:5 – “the church may receive edifying.”
1 Cor. 14:12 – “to the edifying of the church.”
1 Cor. 14:19 – “in the church I had rather speak.”
1 Cor. 14:23 – “The whole church be come together.”
1 Cor. 14:28 – “keep silence in the church.”
1 Cor. 14:33 – “as in all churches of the saints.”
1 Cor. 14:34 – “keep silence in the churches.”
1 Cor. 14:35 – “for women to speak in the church.”
1 Cor. 15:9 – “I persecuted the church of God.”
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1 Cor. 16:1 – “to the churches of Galatia.”
1 Cor. 16:19 – “The churches of Asia salute you.” – “with the church that is in their house.”
2 Cor. 1:1 – “unto the church of God which.”
2 Cor. 8:1 – “on the churches of Macedonia.”
2 Cor. 8:18 – “gospel throughout all the churches.”
2 Cor. 8:19 – “was also chosen of the churches.
2 Cor. 8:23 – “the messengers of the churches.”
2 Cor. 8:24 – “to them, and before the churches.”
2 Cor. 11:8 – “I robbed other churches taking.”
2 Cor. 11:28 – “the care of the churches.”
2 Cor. 12:13 – “were inferior to the churches.”
Gal. 1:2 – “unto the churches of Galatia.
Gal. 1:13 – “I persecuted the church of God.”
Gal. 1:22 – “unto the churches of Judea.”
Eph. 1:22 – “gave him (to be) the head over all (things) to the church.”
Eph. 3:10 – “might be known by the church.”
Eph. 3:21 – “glory in the church by Christ Jesus.”
Eph. 5:23 – “Christ is the head of the church.”
Eph. 5:24 – “the church is subject unto Christ.”
Eph. 5:25 – “as Christ also loved the church.”
Eph. 5:27 – “to himself a glorious church.”
Eph. 5:29 – “even as the Lord the church.”
Eph. 5:32 – “concerning Christ and the church.”
Phil. 3:6 – “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.”
Phil. 4:15 – “no church communicated with me.”
Col. 1:18 – “the head of the body, the church.”
Col. 1:24 – “body’s sake, which is the church.”
Col. 4:15 – “the church which is in the house.”
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Col. 4:16 – “in the church of the Laodiceans.”
1 Thess. 1:1 – “unto the church of the Thessalonians.”
1 Thess. 2:14 – “followers of the churches of God.”
2 Thess. 1:1 – “unto the churches of the Thessalonians.”
2 Thess. 1:4 – “in you in the churches of God.”
1 Tim. 3:5 – “take care of the church of God.”
1 Tim. 3:15 – “the church of the living God.”
1 Tim. 5:16 – “let not the church be charged.”
Philemon 2 – “to the church in thy house.”
1This work is available in booklet form along with many other books dealing with the Baptist faith and doctrine from: Challenge Press, P.O. Box 5567, Little
Rock, Arkansas.72215 or send email referenceing the Challenge Press