ED SILVOSO AND A MISUNDERSTANDING OF EKKLESIA

A NEW WAY OF UNDERSTANDING EKKLESIA AND ED SILVOSO

Some modern scholars, authors, and teachers are trying to reinterpret and reapply the term ecclesia (ekklesia) by narrowing its focus to political force alone, or in its non-religious usage. In other words, they are saying that the ekklesia met to govern, therefore removing the general assembly meaning, which directly affects the way we understand Church and Synagogue as gathering places for instruction, inspiration, impartation, and deployment.

This is a very troubling development in our understanding of the biblical usage of the word ecclesia. The basis of this misuse of the word is usually based on the knowledge that the term is only used twice or three times in the New Testament, and that they believe that the few times Jesus uses ecclesia was intended to be understood in the secular sense of understanding the words meaning. That is a problematic view. It begs the questions how do you know that was the original intent? What are your source references and how do they fit into a hermeneutical application? Do you understand that proper hermeneutics calls for a minimum of three references scripturally for a doctrinal position to be created? If so, how do create an elaborate re-interpretation of biblical ideas and practices?

INPORTANCE OF THE LXX AND THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES

In some instances, Old Testament quotations are closer to the LXX (Septuagint) than the modern Hebrew text, which is why we rely on the LXX over the Hebrew text, as the contemporary Hebrew Scriptures are based on the LXX. In some places, the chapter, verse, and book divisions in the Septuagint differ from what is found in the Hebrew Bible, which is what most English translations use.[1]

In the New Testament ekklesia always refers to the assembly of the saints. After the New Testament ekklesia, wordslike synagoge applied to the meeting and the place of assemblage, with synagoge becoming a Jewish assembly exclusively, while an ekklesia was solely a Christian assembly once the division between the Jewish and the Christian communities separated and became known as individual entities in Rome. The Greek word Ekklesia has used a total of 114 times in the New Testament, and the standard English translation for the word church. The words assembly and congregation are also used. It’s also one of the most common used words used for Synagogue in ancient writings.

THE SIMPLICITY OF EKKLESIA’S MEANING

Ekklesia isn’t an easy word to distort from a meaning standpoint, as there are multiple manuscripts from both the secular and religious communities of the ancient world that used it. It’s pretty easy to extract an understanding of what the word meant to them, which is a fundamental hermeneutical principle of interpretation. That is why any assertion that grants a new opinion needs to be viewed with a healthy measure of suspicion. Ed Silvoso’s claim that Jesus chose a secular entity to advance his understanding of community tells us that Silvoso does not see the Ekklesia as the body of Christ gathered together for fellowship, which has been the historical understanding in virtually every configuration the church has been known as from the New Testament forward.

Silvoso goes on to say that “during the days when Jesus walked this earth, however, the ekklesia-the Greek word translated into English as “church”-was not religious in nature or connotation at all. By the time He first uttered the word in the Gospel of Matthew, it had been in use for centuries in both the Greek and Roman empires to refer to a secular institution operating in the marketplace in a governmental capacity.” Silvoso continues by asserting that he does understand that Ekklesia is used in the LXX, but he dismisses the relevance of the LXX. His understanding of the term, as he states “granted, the term Ekklesia is present in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament to describe religious assemblies, but Jesus usage was related to the secular version.”[2]

LXX IS IMPORTANT

The problems with the casual dismissal of the LXX’s use of ekklesia is stunning, as is the disregard for common hermeneutical practices in the establishment of biblical teaching. Any credible work that purports a new understanding of the singular word that is only used twice in the New Testament would include a thourough examination of the Septuagint and its use of the word ekklesia. The LXX gives us our best window into what the Jewish scholars and interpreters of Scripture thought as they made the Word of God available to the myriads of Jewish people who spoke Greek as a primary or only language. The use of a Greek word instead of an Aramaic word is also suggestive of a minor belief among scholars that Jesus spoke fluent Greek and that Greek was His primary language. I include a piece that I wrote about this very subject, did Jesus Speak Greek?

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GOSPELS and the LANGUAGE of JESUS

A relevant question relates to Jesus and the Greek language. Did Jesus also speak and possibly write in Greek also? Could Jesus have even used Greek in His teaching on occasion, or in some conversations?

 Four significant languages played a role in Palestine at the time of the birth of the church. Greek which was the universal language of commerce and trade and the Roman empire, and Latin, which was the official language of the Roman government. Hebrew was also a language, as it was the academic language of the scribes and other scholars of the Old Testament, as shown by most of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Mishnah, although it was a dead language at the time of Christ. Then there is Aramaic, especially “Jewish Old Palestinian Aramaic,” which was the mother tongue of the Jewish people.

GREEK INFLUENCES

As the Gospels were written in Greek, it helps to see that many, if not most of the early Christians, including those who followed Jesus during His ministry time on earth knew Greek and used it, possibly as their primary language. There are multiple Jewish writings from the time of Jesus written in Greek, including works like 2 Maccabees and 1 Esdras. This doesn’t include the LXX.

All the known Gospel manuscripts are in Greek. This puts us at a disadvantage in understanding what we have with Aramaic. This is because the Aramaic words and phrases have been transliterated word for word and are in the Greek text of the Gospels. Any quotation of Jesus speaking in Greek would not stand out and would disappear in the Greek text.

I contend that many of the recorded sayings of Jesus imply that he knew Greek. This includes play on words that flow in Greek but not in Aramaic or Hebrew. That’s a strong assertion concerning Greek as the original point of thought. This works with some of the parables and teachings about things like taxes, Kings, armies, cities on hills, etc., which are allusions to Greco-Roman culture. However, any evidence for Jesus’ speaking Greek needs to be considered circumstantial, even though the evidence is weighty.

ARAMAIC EXPRESSIONS

It is also important to point out that it is highly likely that Jesus would have spoken Aramaic as his first or primary language, and that it would have been the language of a significant portion of his teaching, primarily when he was in Galilee, where Aramaic was the common language spoken by the people. Jesus probably spoke Hebrew also, as He would have learned Hebrew as a young Jewish boy in his family. His comprehension of the Hebraic language would have allowed him to read the biblical text in the Synagogue and to engage in discussions and debates with other Jewish teachers, like the Pharisees, the scribes and others.

There are Aramaic words and expressions in the Gospels Mark’s record of Talitha koum (Mark 5:41), ephphatha (Mark 7:34), and Abba in Mark 14:36. There are also definite Aramaisms or at least semiticisms in the Greek text of the Gospels. That means that, although the words are in Greek, the syntax is Aramaic, or in some cases Hebrew. Like, “the sons of the wedding hall (Mark 2:19),” is a Semitic phrase meaning “the guests of the bridegroom,” and Matthew’s use of the word “debt” to give meaning to “sin” is an idiomatic Aramaic expression (Matt 6:12).

Alexander the Great conquered Palestine in 332 B.C. Since that time; Greek became the language of government, commerce, and scholarship. Aramaic continued to be spoken, but Greek grew both in influence and acceptance. Educated Jews and Jewish business people and laborers who worked for Greek speaking people would have known and used Greek. This is like the use of English among immigrants in America or other countries. Tradesmen like carpenters and government officials would have to be versed in Greek. Many Jews would have had a rudimentary comprehension of Greek which for business and travels to the cities.

Archaeology points to the incidence and generality of Greek in Palestine. This is demonstrated by a discovery in the Nehal Heever region of the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea. A scroll was found in a cave that contains substantial portions of the Minor Prophets in Greek. The Nehal Heever Minor Prophets Scroll, which has been dated around the time of Jesus, shows the use and popularity of Greek, even among highly religious Jews.

GREEK LANGUAGE AND NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE JESUS SPOKE IT

The Gospels do not answer the question of Jesus speaking Greek or not, but they do describe situations where it’s highly likely that Greek would have been the language that was spoken. Matthew 8:5-13 contains the story of Jesus entered dialogue with a Roman centurion. The centurion undoubtedly spoke Greek. Matthew tells us that the Centurion and Jesus spoke without the use of a translator. It is possible that a translator was there, and that Matthew failed to mention it, although the Centurion could have spoken Aramaic. That’s highly improbable because of cultural considerations. Jesus’ conversation with Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion more than likely was in Greek (Matthew 27:11-14; John 18:33-38), and the story directs us to a Greek speaking Jesus. Pilate would have spoken Greek as his language. It is highly improbable that even if Pilate new Aramaic, he would not have used Aramaic in a conversation with a criminal.

So where did Jesus learn Greek? A plausible suggestion is that Jesus could have learned Greek during His years in Egypt with Mary and Joseph. An alternative explanation suggests that He would have determined Greek based on His location in Galilee. Aramaic may have been the language of preference in Nazareth. However, Jesus hometown was an hour or so walk from Sepphoris, which was destined to become a major city and a city where Greek was spoken. Jesus probably had clients in Sepphoris or worked for a construction company that used His carpentry skills, and he would most likely have spoken with them in Greek.

Due to the multiple languages that were in use culturally where Jesus lived, it is easy to assume that Jesus would have been fluent in Greek and Aramaic. This is no different than most of the world today, minus much of the American experience, due to the world’s use of English. Europeans often speak several languages, like English, German, Spanish, and French, even when their primary language is Italian. 

Can we know for sure at this point that Jesus spoke Greek? No. Is it reasonable to assume that He could speak Greek, and spoke it often? Yes. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that some of the variations in the Gospels that contain the sayings of Jesus echo that Jesus said the same things in Aramaic and Greek. 

MATTHEW AND EKKLESIA

It’s difficult to say that Jesus coopted the term ekklesia for the biblical community as a political force. I humbly say this based on the minuscule number of references in Matthew 16:16 and 18:17, which is a paltry two or three instances in the Gospels. One is a redundant inclusion, in the Gospels. In both Matthean instances where Jesus used the term ekklesia, it was used in the direct context of building His body, or community, not governing His body. James uses both ekklesia and Synagoge as a referral to Christian congregations (James 2:2, 5:14)[3]. It is easy to extrapolate that James was speaking to the transitioning terminology that was beginning to be employed as he disputed doctrine with Paul.

PAUL AND EKKLESIA

Paul, on the other hand, used the term often, with a total of 64 usages of the term ekklesia. Interestingly, Luke uses the phrase 23 times with the meaning of church, government as in town councils, and other secular and religious usages. However, all of Luke’s instances are in the second half of his Magnum Opus on the life of Christ Jesus and the ensuing immediate aftermath of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, The Acts of the Apostles.[4] This makes sense with his Judeo-Roman background, education and mission once he began accompanying one of the two foremost Apostles that are featured in The Acts, Paul who had been known as Saul of Tarsus.

Internal evidence allows us to see that Luke probably had a Nautical Background, possibly serving in the Roman Navy. This is deduced from the detailed information Luke includes about the storm that ship wreaked the Prison Transport Ship that was bringing Paul and others to Rome in Acts 27:27 – 28:5. He had some medical knowledge also, which would be a requirement for Naval Officers who served in the Navy. My added contention is that Luke joined Paul on his trip to Rome to serve as his Legal Counsel, serving as his Lawyer, which would make the original manuscript of Luke/Acts a Legal Brief that would be presented to the Court. Luke would have written it as a document explaining the rationale and reasoning for Paul’s arrest and ensuing trial as Hellenized Jew who was a legal Roman citizen by birth.

EKKLESIA AS EMPOWERMENT AND AUTHORITY

Empowerment is a great way to describe what Jesus said about ekklesia. In Matthew 16 Jesus used the budding revelation of who the disciples were discovering who Jesus is as the foundation for the church to be built upon as an ongoing institution. Faith in Jesus is the key to entrance into the Kingdom.

Matthew 18 contains the other two instances where Ekklesia occur.[5] In both cases, the issue is forgiveness and repentance as a means of inclusion in His corporate body or Synagogue community, if you will. We are empowered to believe and to forgive or exclude on occasions. The gates Hell cannot stand against the force of forgiveness, which is the basis of Jesus real culture. In my opinion, the LXX is where we need to find our definition of the meaning of ekklesia, as there is a massive body of material that we can examine.

JESUS AND SYNAGOGUE

Jesus habit was to attend synagogue regularly, just like we attend church. Interestingly, we can call a church synagogue because it means the same thing and functions in the same way as the synagogue. They both say ‘an assembling’ or ‘gathering.’ At the synagogue, God’s people joined together in worship, education, and ministry. Leaders would be chosen and responsible for caring for the people.

In This Changes Everything, Peter Wagner discusses paradigm shifts that he has went through over the years concerning theological ideas and practical implementation of biblical dynamics.[6] Chapter 13 contains his thoughts on the shifting emphasis of ministry from the church structure into the workplace. Much of his argument is based on his understanding of the Greek word, ekklesia. Ekklesia, in its various forms, addresses the idea of gatherings, and it is the main word that is translated as church. On p. 164-5, Wagner proposes the idea that not all the uses of the word ekklesia directly address the church as believers gathered together as the body of Christ. He states that “about half the time it (ekklesia) is used in the traditional way of believers gathered, but the other half it is used for believers scattered.”[7]

The phrase scattered implies church outside the traditional norms of church life according to Wagner. He continues, “for example, in the book of Ephesians, Paul makes nine references to the ekklesia and not one of them signifies a church building, a geographic location or a certain congregation.” In my opinion, this a specious argument concerning the use of Ekklesia in Ephesians, as the letter was written to the ekklesia that was located in Ephesus, which a locational congregation. Paul was talking to a specific church about specific church issues. Addressing the members of a church as the extended church when they are in their marketplaces is fine, but it is disingenuous and misleading to reidentify biblical terminology in new ways that do not fit the textual constraints of original intent. This is how doctrinal error is birthed when left unchecked and unchallenged. My conclusion is that Ed Silvoso’s postulation is faulty, as he attempts to divorce the meaning of the word ekklesia from the body that it defines.

THE GOSPEL IS A MESSAGE OF PEACE

And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (Ephesians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 12:7)

The term Gospel means good news. It does not mean law and prophet. The Gospel is the message of God reconciling the people of this world to Himself through His Son Jesus. The presentation of the Gospel can be varied, but the end goal should always be to connect people to God through salvation and to direct them into discipleship.

The Apostle Paul gives us an excellent description of the meaning of what the Gospel is in Ephesians 6:15. He equates the gospel with the ability to be mobile and carry the body that is connected to the feet that wear the Gospel sandals forward. His description moves forward the meaning that the Prophets Isaiah and Nahum advanced in their respective works that equated the Gospel with peace. Proper footwear is required for soldiers to be ready for combat. Sandals (hupodzoemata) ὑποδήματα, could be used of military sandals (Josephus, J.W. 6.1.8), and the Roman soldier frequently wore the caliga, a half-boot, which was part of the equipment for long marches and which could be studded with sharp nails to enable a firm grip.

Roman soldiers wore sandals and boots that were bound by throngs over the instep and around the ankle, and the soles were thickly studded with nails. This would give them trustworthy traction in case of attack.  They were kind of like cleats. 

Paul talks about the feet being fitted or shod, showing us that he is primarily influenced by the language of Old Testament passages that mention feet in connection with the proper proclamation of the Gospel of peace. The text in question is LXX Isaiah 52:7, “as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace,” and (Nahum 1:15), Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Paul had used this verse in connection with the preacher of the Gospel in Romans 10:15, And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”but Paul does not link the equipping of the feet with the proclamation of the Gospel of peace in Ephesians, rather he connects it with the ἑτοιμασία, “readiness,” of the gospel of peace.

PREPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS

The term shod doesn’t mean “firm footing” primarily, its more usual sense is a readiness, preparedness, or preparation. The word “preparation” is hetoimazō (ἑτοιμαζω), which was used in classical Greek in the sense of establishment or firm foundation. The reference is not to readiness to proclaim the gospel but to the willingness or preparedness for combat and for standing in the battle that is bestowed by the Gospel of peace.[8] In other words, Paul’s emphasis is paradoxical. It is the appropriation of the Gospel of peace that makes you ready for war.

The Gospel of peace is embodied in Christ who “is our peace,” and this is peace with both vertical and horizontal axes: peace with God the Father and peace between human beings, Jews, and Gentiles, who were formerly at enmity. It’s the natural/supernatural component of faith. Up/down and spread in/out.

The preparation—rather, “the preparedness,” or “readiness of,” that is rising from the “Gospel,” is seen as us being equipped by the LORD in Scripture. Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear (Psalm 10:17). Preparedness to do and endure all that God wills for you; acquiring a readiness for marching, as a Christian soldier.  In other words, moving and grooving to His orders, going where He says to go, taking His presence where He wants to be.  This includes our places of association for being equipped, as it’s vital to be where we are celebrated and where we can honor what we are connected to for advancing the Kingdom. That’s what the Gospel is to me.

Our “peace” within is designed to form a beautiful contrast to the raging of the outward conflict. Paul speaks of the readiness to announce the Good News of peace as the shoes the Christian warrior wears. The Greek noun “preparation or readiness” occurs only once and it’s here in the New Testament. This makes it difficult to know for sure in what sense the word is used here by Paul. Let me give you a couple of possible meanings: (1) It could mean “readiness of mind,” or the attitude that is required by soldiers as they advance into battle; so, this would be equivalent of courage or determination or readiness to fight. It equips the Christian soldier with this attitude, this readiness of mind. To walk this way, you need to think this way. (2) The RSV translates “(having shod your feet) with the equipment of the gospel of peace,” which is not very clear.  They mean that the Gospel has a lot of stuff to it that you can use. (3) Others take the Greek word to mean firmness, stability, sure footing. So, for Barth, it’s “steadfast because the gospel of peace is strapped under your feet” NEB “to give you firm footing” Moffat makes it “stability.” (4) Others, like TEV, take the phrase to mean “the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace”:

Now in my opinion, in Scripture, some things are difficult to explain or understand, yet there they are. Acts 2:6 tells us about language expansion: When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his language (Acts 2:6). The drawing of the crowd and their confusion is an amazing thing: what drew them? They heard the sound that the Disciples heard in the Upper Room: a mighty rushing wind.  This is the preparation of the Gospels proclamation, the sound of heaven, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to respond to His desire to use us to become His voice.  This verse could be translated: “When they heard the noise, a crowd came together. And they were bewildered because each one heard them speaking in their languages.”

The implication is that the sound of Pentecost attracted the crowd. This is synonymous with Rabbinic teaching about the giving of the Law at Sinai. When the law was given, the voice was singular, yet Exodus 20:18 says: “all the people perceived the voices.” Rabbinic tradition says that this shows that the one voice divided into seven spirits/voices that were then heard in seventy tongues, and every people received the Law in their language. The connection between the New and Old is powerful. Obedience leads to the workings of God in life.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit allows experiences like an overflowing fullness of the Spirit: On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! (John 7:37-39; Acts 4:8), a deepened reverence for God: Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Acts 2:43; Hebrews 12:28-29), an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42). Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.  (Mark 16:20).

Even though we live in an age that is sin darkened because of the overwhelming number of sinners who live in it, we have the distinct privilege of ministering the Word of Jesus to this generation.  There’s never been a generational like ours before us.  More lives have been won for Jesus, and more lives have been martyred for Jesus then all the church’s history put together.  Therefore the Gospel is important.

ACCELERATION AND ADVANCEMENT

This tells me that we live in a time of acceleration.  The work of the Lord any hour day is different than in all the previous generations.  Peter spoke of what we see after his reception of this commission when he referred to the last day is that the Prophet Joel spoke addressed with the outpouring of the Spirit.  As the end of the age approaches, we can expect to do great things for Jesus as we live in the mandate of his commission.  This is not idle talk.  We have a reason to be excited.  We’re recipients of the great day of grace, and even though darkness may cover the earth thicker than ever before, we are to shine with a radiance that has been birthed in heaven, like Jesus, God the Son shines through us.  Jesus entered their presence or space, met with them, and then sent them for boldly, filled with confidence.  He gave them a mission that manifested through their commission.  Let’s take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and let the peace of God be the point of encounter for the masses.


[1] Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey by Gleason L. Archer & G.C. For a thorough analysis of all texts see this work.

[2] Silvoso, Ed, Ekklesia, Chosen Books, Bloomington MI, 2017, pp. 19, 20.

[3]Kittle, Gerhard & Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Article on Ekklesia, Kittle, Gerhard & Gerhard Friedrich Eds., Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids MI, 1985, pp. 487-536

[4] Bible Works TM, Copyright 1992-2002, Bible Works L.L.C. all rights reserved, article on ekklesia by Luke

[5] Cleon, Rogers Jr & Cleon, Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, 1998, pp. 37 & 41

[6] Wagner, C Peter, This Changes Everything, Chosen Books, Minneapolis MN, 2013

[7] ___ Wagner, pp. 164-5

[8] http://www.matavuvale.com/profiles/blogs/offensive-and-defensive-weapons

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