I Will Build My Church

Keys to the Kingdom, Part 2

"On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:18-19)

As we stated in the previous article, Yeshua begins his declaration by saying, "On this rock I will build my church." But what does he mean by church? After all, this is the very first time in all of Scripture we are met with the English word church. And if we look at only the Greek of the Apostolic Scriptures, it appears this is a new word that makes its first appearance in this passage. Therefore, most churches, Bible colleges, and seminaries teach that this is the first reference to the church. But we keep saying this word. Does it really mean what we think it means? What if we have been misunderstanding this concept for a very long time? 

First, Yeshua and his disciples spoke Hebrew and Aramaic as their primary languages. They probably knew some Greek, but would not have been able to carry on full conversations with it. The word Yeshua would have used to describe the movement he was starting would in all likelihood have been the Hebrew word kahal, which means "assembly" or "congregation." This word is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and  its meaning would not have been unique to his followers. The Greek counterpart to the word kahal is ekklesia, the word used over a hundred times in the Apostolic Scriptures to refer to the followers of Yeshua. And as stated previously, teachers and preachers across the globe pride themselves in translating this into the English word church. Many people believe and teach that the definition of the word church is the "called-out ones." This is both true and false. Let me explain.

The Old English and Germanic word, kirche, does indeed mean "called out ones." However, kirche is not an accurate translation of the Greek word ekklesia. There is actually no word in the entire Bible that has the same meaning as the English word church. The word ekklesia simply means "congregation" or "assembly." In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures) it is used exclusively of the assembly or community of Israel, and in only three cases do the Apostolic Scriptures use it in the sense of an assembly outside of a religious context. Rather than translating ekklesia consistently simply as either congregation or assembly, the word kirche or church was inserted into the Apostolic Scriptures to disassociate the followers of Yeshua from the ekklesia of the Jewish people in general. 

To our Christianized ears this doesn't sound like a bad idea. Why shouldn't we distinguish the followers of Yeshua in this unique way? The problem is that the Biblical authors made no such distinction, and therefore did not desire for the definition of this word to exclusively describe an entity distinct from the congregation of Israel. In short, they did not see the followers of Yeshua as being a part of a new or separate religion outside of Judaism, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Yeshua. But because of this single word in our English Bibles, we have created a false dichotomy between the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the followers of Yeshua. Therefore two religions—rather than two sects within the same religion—have emerged.

When Yeshua uses this word, kahal/ekklesia,  the disciples would have already recognized it. If he used a new word, such as church, his disciples would not have understood what he meant and he would have needed to explain it. However, we have no record of his need to do so. His disciples understood this term in the context of the Judaism they had been a part of all of their lives. Rather than interpreting "my kahal" to be the beginning of a new religion, they understood it to be their unique position within the Jewish faith as ambassadors of the Messianic Jewish King. They did not jettison Judaism—their religion and the religion of their fathers—in place of a new religion called Christianity. They continued to practice their Judaism, but with an even greater fervor as witnesses to the resurrected Messiah and King of Israel. 

When Yeshua said he would build his kahal, he was referring to his followers being separate and distinct WITHIN greater Judaism, not apart from it. Does the "church" look anything like Judaism today? If not, what can we do to correct this? What can we do as individuals to make our faith look more like Yeshua's than it currently does? Yeshua is in the process of building his Kingdom. Will you do your part in its construction?