Ekklesia in the LXX
The Greek Septuagint (LXX) was widely read among Jews in the years prior to Christ, and Christians after the first century. Nicene writers attest to this by their frequent quotations from the Lxx in the NT. Holy Spirit used this familiarity in the word choices and the use of words that the NT used to convey thought and structure. A lot can be understood about NT words and phrases by looking at the LXX for background and contextual use.
ekklesia was used often in the LXX, including first use, which dictates law for interpretation (the law of first use). The assembly at Horeb, where the Lord spoke directly to the Israelites is: on the day of the ekklesia (Deuteronomy 4:10). Here God commanded Moses to “gather [verb for ekklesia] the people before Me” (Deuteronomy 4:10), as God made Covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 5:2). Scripture understates the importance of this day by simply recording on the day of the ekklesia (Deuteronomy 9:10; 18:16). The sacred assembly of Israel for worship and business was identified as the ekklesia of the LORD. The Law of Moses had strict regulations about who was part of the ekklesia or who were excluded from the ability to enter the ekklesia of the LORD. The emasculated were denied (Deuteronomy 23:1). Those of illegitimate birth, and their offspring for 10 generations were excluded (Deuteronomy 23:2). Ammonites, Moabites and their offspring for 10 generations could not (Deuteronomy 23:3), Edomites and their descendants for 2 generations were excluded (Deuteronomy 23:8). The Song of Moses was recited at the close of the book of Deuteronomy in the hearing of all of the ekklesia of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30).
Once in Canaan, the concept of the ekklesia as a covenantal body is maintained. As Joshua he reads the blessings, curses and commands of Moses, it is in the hearing of all of the ekklesia of Israel (Joshua 8:35, LXX 9:2). The story about the Levite’s Concubine death happened during the time of the Judges, all the leaders of the tribes came together and took their place in the ekklesia of the people of God (Judges 20:2). Failure to attend the ekklesia was harsh. They were put to death (Judges 21:5).
During the period of the kings, when David spoke to Goliath, he said that all all this ekklesia shall know that the battle is the LORD’s (1 Samuel 17:47, LXX 1 Kings 17:47). The use of the word ekklesia is more general here, as it includes the company of Philistines and the Israelites together. Ekklesia was also used to refer to smaller religious assemblies. When Saul sent his men to capture David, they came to the ekklesia of the prophets, who had Samuel as their leader. Remarkably, they also prophesied (1 Samuel 19:20, Lxx I Kings 19:20). When David was preparing to bring the ark from Kirjath Jearim he spoke to all the ekklesia of Israel, who then agreed to help David (1 Chronicles 13:2,4). At the announcement that Solomon was going to build the temple, David stood up in the midst of the ekklesia (1 Chronicles 28:2). This is where David charged the people to be faithful in the sight of all the ekklesia of the Lord and in the hearing of our God (1 Chronicles 28:8). As David gives his instructions to the people about Solomon they are repeatedly referred to as the ekklesia (1 Chronicles 29:1,10,20).
Solomon escorted all the ekklesia to Gibeon to the ark (2 Chronicles 1:3), where the ekklesia inquired of the Lord (2 Chronicles 1:5).
When the Temple was finished, Solomon blessed the ekklesia (1 Kings 8:14, 22, 55, LXX 3 Kings 8:14, 22; 2 Chronicles 6:3). Solomon stood in front of the altar and prayed before all the ekklesia of Israel (2 Chronicles 6:12,13). The ekklesia feasted for seven days (1 Kings 8:65 [LXX 3 Kings 65; 2 Chronicles 7:8). Following Solomon, all the ekklesia of Israel came to Rehoboam to ask for relief from their burdens (2 Chronicles 10:3).
Jehoshaphat stood in the ekklesia of Judah as he prayed to God (2 Chronicles 20:5). After he prayed, a prophet stood up in the ekklesia and urged them to follow Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:14). As Joash was crowned King, all the ekklesia of Judah made Covenant with him in the house of the LORD (2 Chronicles 23:3). When Hezekiah restored worship in Judah, the ekklesia laid their hands on the male goats for the sin offering (2 Chronicles 29:23), and the ekklesia worshipped with singers and trumpeters (2 Chronicles 29:28). Once they were consecrated, the ekklesia brought their sacrifices of 70 bulls, 100 rams and 200 lambs to be offered to the LORD (2 Chronicles 29:31,32). Hezekiah had all the ekklesia in Jerusalem keep the Passover, as the practice had ceased since since David and Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:2,4,13,17,23, 24,25).
The prophets a lot about about the ekklesia. It was in the ekklesia of Lord that land was divided by lot (Micah 2:5). When Joel pushed Israel to repent, Joel prodded them to consecrate
ekklesia (Joel 2:16). The ekklesia held a sacred place of importance.
Ekklesia was used as a synonym for the word therapeian, which means a service (Joel 2:15) in the same way we use the word service for our church gatherings. When Babylon conquered Jerusalem, and destroyed the Jewish Temple, Jeremiah said that those who God had commanded not to enter had come “into your [God’s] ekklesia” (Lamentations 1:10). This probably reflects an association of the place of ekklesia with the ekklesia itself.
Synagogue was used synonymously with ekklesiain. The LXX refers to religious assemblies of the Jews. By the first century a synagogue referred to an assembly and the place of the assembly. In the NT, while a congregation of Christians was most often called an ekklesia, it could also be called a synagogue (James 2:2).
In the Book of Job during his sorrow says I have stood in the ekklesia crying (Job 30:28). In the Psalms, praise happens in the midst of the ekklesia (Psalm 22:22, LXX 21:23) and in the great ekklesia (Psalm 22:25, LXX 21:26). The Psalmist stays away from the ekklesia of evildoers (Psalm 26:5, LXX 25:5). The Psalmist give thanks in the great ekklesia (Psalm 35:18, LXX 34:18). The Psalmist proclaims his willingness to talk about God’s lovingkindness and truth to the great ekklesia (Psalm 40:10, LXX 39:10). When ekklesia is used in the plural it typically refers to the smaller assemblies of each tribe, which has the overtone of the body politic as well as religious applications. The Psalmist calls for the reader to bless God in the in the ekklisias (Psalm 68:26-27, LXX 67:27-28). It can also refer to the repeated assemblying of the great ekklesia. The Psalmist also promises to bless the LORD in the ekklisias (Psalm 26:12, LXX 25:12).
Scripture declares that even the heavens praise God’s wonders and His faithfulness in the ekklesia of the saints (Psalm 89:5, LXX 88:6). The Psalmist admonishes us to exalt God in the ekklesia of people, which is exactly what happens in the ekklesia of our day, the church service (Psalm 106:32). The Psalmist admonishes Israel to worship God in the in the ekklesia of the saints”] (Psalm 149:1).
After the exiles return, Ezra prays that a a very large ekklesia of men, women and children from Israel gathered to him (Ezra 10:1, LXX 2 Esdras 10:1). When the realization that many men had pagan wives a proclamation to gather in Jerusalem was given. Whoever refused to assemble “would be separated from the ekklesia of the settlement” (Ezra 10:8, LXX 2 Esdras 10:8). When the people gathered, Ezra proclaimed that they must put away their pagan wives and all the ekklesia agreed to the stipulation (Ezra 10:12, LXX 2 Esdras 10:12]. Nehemiah recognized that Moabites and Ammonites were not to enter the “ekklesia of God (Nehemiah 13:1, LXX 2 Esdras 23:1). Ezra read from the book of the Law before the ekklesia and the assembly kept the feast of tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:2, 17, LXX 2 Esdras18:2,17).
Ekklesia Word Group
Two other words in the ekklesia family are in the Septuagint that are not in the NT: ekklesiazo a verb that means to call an ekklesia and ekklesiastes, a noun that speaks of the agency for one who speaks to the ekklesia which has the same implications of a pastor/teacher or Elder/Overseer in the NT.
The common name of the Book of Ecclesiastes is taken from the Septuagint’s title, and the reference throughout the book to the“preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2,12; 7:28; 12:8,9, 10). The verb form occurs when the people are called before the tabernacle for the consecration of Aaron and his sons: and all the synagogue was called to an ekklesia at the door of the tabernacle of testimony (Leviticus 8:3).
Scripture uses the verb is used s God tells Moses to call the synagogue to an ekklesia (Numbers 20:8). This is when Moses presumptuously strikes the rock and it gushes water at Kadesh, and he himself becomes condemned, excluded from entering Canaan. The Lord tells him you did not believe me to honor me before the children of Israel (Numbers 20:12). The verb is used when the Lord commanded the gathering at Horeb, on the occasion when God also spoke from the cloud and fire to the Israelites. God commanded Moses to call to ekklesia the people before Me (Deuteronomy 4:10). This was simply known as being on the day of the ekklesia (Deuteronomy 4:10). The verb form is used when the Law commanded the people to gather every seven years for the reading of the Law. God commanded that a call to ekklesia the people: the men and women and their offspring and the proselyte6 in your cities (Deuteronomy 31:12). When Moses called an assembly of the leaders of the tribes in order to read the Law to them, he uses the verb “call to the ekklesia before me the leaders of the tribes and the elders and the judges and the court-scribes” (Deuteronomy 31:28).
The verb is also used when David called out to ekklesia all Israel when the Ark returned (1 Chronicles 13:5). The verb is also used when a fast is called to pray for deliverance from the edict to kill the Jews in the Book of Esther. Esther sent a message to Mordecai, saying call to ekklesia the Jews in Susa and fast for me (Esther 4:16).
It is clear by the use of ekklesia in the LXX that the word had a deep and reverential meaning for the Greek speaking Jews, which was well over 90% at time the NT was written. Although an ekklesia could be merely a crowd of people as in 1 Samuel 17:47 (LXX 1 Kings 17:47) or an assembly of evil-doers (Psalm 26:5, LXX 25:5), the ekklesia of the LORD was the Covenantal Assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:10). When assembled, they gathered to worship God (2 Chronicles 29:28,31,32), present appeals to God (2 Chronicles 20:5), repented to God (Joel 2:16), and also make choices for the nation as a whole (1 Chronicles 13:2,4; Ezra 10:12, LXX 2 Esdras 10:12). Standing in the midst of the ekklesia was a major responsibility (1 Chronicles 28:2; 2 Chronicles 20:5). Failing to gather as the ekklesia was a serious let down of duty (Judges 21:5; Ezra 10:8 LXX 2 Esdras 10:8). Although the ekklesia could include men, women and children (Ezra 10:1 LXX 2 Esdras 10:1), there are no examples of women addressing what the Lxx calls the ekklesia.
In the NT ekklesia always refers to the assembly of the saints. After the NT ekklesia, like synagoge referred to the assembly and the place of assembly, with synagoge becoming exclusively a Jewish assembly, while an ekklesia was exclusively a Christian assembly.