The Church and the Kingdom
A New Testament Study
By Jesse B. Thomas, D. D., LL.D
THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
III. NEW TESTAMENT USE OF "ECCLESIA" AND "BASILEIA"
I. Collateral Allusion. - We are thus prepared by an impartial inquiry as to the actual meaning of the words under discussion, in the familar speech of the time, to listen to the words of our Lord and his apostles, as nearly as possible in the attitude of those whom they actually addressed. It may fairly be presumed that they will intend us to understand them as the ordinary hearer or reader would naturally have done. If they intend otherwise, this must be clearly shown: it can not be assumed outright.
1. Greek "assembly." The allusion to the secular ekklesia, in Acts 19:32, 39, 41, is interesting in two particulars. First, the proposed reference to "the regular assembly" (R. V.), "a lawful assembly" (A. V.) - ennomo - shows the Ephesian people to be familiar with the ordinary meaning of the term as implying an actual assembly formally
called. An inscription has been found in the very theater where the incident in question occurred, which provides that "a certain silver image of Athene shall be brought and set at every lawful [regular] assembly [the very words of the New Testament] above the bench where the boys sit" (Peloubet: Acts in loc.). It also shows that the word had come to be extended in use, so as to refer to a smaller than the municipal gathering. It was here applied to an unorganized and riotous assembly. That this was an exceptional, although permissible, use of the word is evident from the fact that it is condemned as an "irregular" mob. It is to be remembered that it was to the church in Ephesus that Paul sent his letter in which the word in question is, as we shall see, most disputable in meaning.
The reported use of the word, under the circumstances described, serves to heighten the presumption already reached from the examination of classic and current secular usage outside the New Testament, that the word normally indicates an actual and organized assembly.
2. The Israelitish "Church." The term ekklesia is twice applied to the Israelites;
viz., in Acts 7:38 and in Hebrews 2:12. In the one instance it is translated "church," in both versions; in the other it is rendered "church" in the Authorized Version, but "congregation" (with "church" in the margin) in the Revised Version. In the first cited passage Stephen is commenting on the receiving of the law by Moses when with the "ekklesia in the wilderness." Turning to the account of this incident in Exodus, we find (Exodus 19:17) that Moses "brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount." Here, then, is, again, a distinctly local assembly, formally called out for a specific purpose. There is no allusion to a racial covenant with Abraham, nor to a royal covenant with David, but the ekklesia so assembled make for themselves a voluntary and formal covenant with God (Exodus 24:3-8). The term is, therefore, exactly coincident with the Greek in force, and should not be differently rendered. In the other instance (Hebrews 2:12) the expression "in the midst of the ekklesia will I praise thee" is borrowed from Psalm 22:22. Here the R. V., while substituting "congregation" for the "church" of the A. V. in
the citation, rather arbitrarily substitutes "assembly" for the "congregation" of the A. V. Whatever minor variations fancy may suggest for the Englishing of the word in either case, the idea remains the same and inevitable. The singing of praise "in the midst" of the Abrahamic race, of the elect of all ages, or of an invisible or a visible Church universal, is grotesquely inconceivable. In so far as these Old Testament allusions bear at all upon our inquiry, they again confirm expectation that the ordinary popular conception of the Greek word in question will prima facie prevail.
3. The Heavenly "Church" In Hebrews 12:23 the writer refers to the "general assembly [paneguros] and church [ekklesia] of the firstborn, which are written [who are enrolled - R.V.] in heaven." The accompanying mention of the "heavenly Jerusalem," as well as the words cited, shows that the actual Christian Church is not here alluded to. "It is not to the point," says Sayford in Hastings' Bible Dictionary, "as an instance of a distinctively Christian use of ecclesia. It is plain from the connection with panegurei that ekklesia is here used in a quite general meaning - 'assembly,' without
reference to its technical Christian significance." Dr. Thayer, in his dictionary, concurs. He decides that "the name is transferred to the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven." This passage may, therefore, be ignored as irrelevant in our inquiry as to the nature of the earthly church.
Two interesting suggestions may, however, be noticed in connection with the passage. One is that of the Revisers, in their marginal note; intimating that there is possibility of an alternative translation, thus: "to innumerable hosts, the general assembly of angels, and the church of the firstborn," etc. Another hint may be gathered (whether or not this alternative rendering be set aside) from the collocation of paneguros and ecclesia. The Greek paneguros was a festive gathering of all the Greek states, as contrasted with the ecclesia, which was confined to one. It is rightly translated "general," as ecclesia might rightly be translated "local." Either the "firstborn," gathered out of the earth at last into a single assembly, are set over against the hosts of the redeemed from the whole universe; or the local assemblies (ecclesiae) of earth are represented
as at last merging into and becoming a paneguros. In either case the same general implication once more returns, as to the primary individual meaning of ecclesia.
II. Explicit Sense. - In the great bulk of the instances in which the word ecclesia appears in the New Testament, there is no reasonable ground to doubt its pointing to an actual local historical body. The meaning of the word becomes debatable, therefore, in only a comparatively small number of passages - how small is itself a matter of debate, as yet, and, as we shall see, of constantly changing opinion. Let us, then, first note and classify the cases about which there is little or no occasion or disposition to differ in opinion. Then, dismissing these from attention, we may pass to the consideration of those about which question has been raised.
1. Individual assemblies. Figures differ slightly in estimating the actual number of instances under each head, because of doubt as to textual legitimacy of the word, or because of divergence of opinion as to classification. I reckon the whole number of appearances of the word in the New Testament at 113. Six of these have already been set aside as collateral in bearing. Of
the remaining 107, I classify ninety-two as clearly carrying the literal and ordinary sense. Only fifteen, therefore, remain to be examined as open to doubt. Of the ninety-two literal references, I find fifty-four to refer to
(1) A local body; as follows:
a. In a private house; e. g., that of Prisca and Aquila (Romans 16:5). (Four instances.)
b. In a particular city; e. g., "the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1). (Of this class I find thirty instances.)
Note. - It does not follow that all believers in any city are to be always reckoned as forming one church. It is always a church "in" and not "of" a city, as Hort notes ("Ecclesia" 114:5); or of persons, as "of the Thessalonians." The "church in the house" seems to have existed in cities to which Epistles were sent. These must have been, in some sense at least, independent bodies.
c. A territorial group; e. g., the "churches of Galatia" (Galatians 1:2). (Twenty instances.) There is only a single instance in which there is question as to the possible organization of believers in a district.
Where the Authorized Version reads (in Acts 9:31) "the churches of Judaea and Galilee and Samaria," the Revised Version substitutes the singular number, "the church of Judaea and Galilee and Samaria."
In the Epistle to the Galatians, written some twenty years later, Paul, referring to the same period, speaks of the "churches of Judaea" (Galatians 1:22). This either suggests the accuracy of the old version, or that, as Dr. Broadus suggests, the members of the church at Jerusalem, the only one as yet organized, who had reckoned themselves still a part of that body, although widely scattered through the provinces named, now organized themselves into independent bodies, and so became the "churches of Judaea." In any case, the conception of a provincial church is so incongruous with the whole tenor of New Testament history that nobody nowadays seriously contends for its reality. Even were provincial organization to be accepted as having been proven, it would be far from proving also the existence of a world-church. The constant use of the plural in all these passages (churches) indicates the partitive and individual character of the idea conveyed.
2. Generic title. In the group of cases now to be cited the word is applied, not to particular existing bodies, but to the institution itself, of which they were representative. It is not a specific body, but the church as such, that is meant. Under this head we may include the use of the word
(1) In a distributive sense; e. g., "as I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Corinthians 4:17). (Two instances.)
(2) In a collective sense; e. g., "in all the churches" (1 Corinthians 7:17); "neither the churches of God" (1 Corinthians 11:16). (Of this, fourteen cases.)
(3) In a descriptive sense; e. g., "let your women keep silence in the churches" (1 Corinthians 14:34). Of this usage, twenty-two examples.)
3. Alleged exceptions. Some of the passages here included as individual in reference are sometimes claimed to demand a wider interpretation. The number of these passages is comparatively small, and to them we may give closer attention. They are (1) Acts 20:17. Here the Ephesian elders are said to have been called to "feed the church of God." It is suggested that this august title can not properly attach to a single
organization, but must have a general reference. But the suggestion seems insignificant. The words are addressed to individual officials to whom was committed the care of a particular company, called in the same verse a "flock"; it was plainly this single flock which they were exhorted to "feed," and not the Christian world at large. The same expression recurs in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, where a general reference is precluded not only by the plural form it assumes, but by localization - "the churches of God which are in Judaea."
(2) Romans 16:23. "Gaius my host, and of the whole church." It is objected that this can not be limited to the Corinthian church, from which Paul was writing. But Paul has just before (v. 1) called Phoebe a "servant of the church"; this does not mean of the Church universal, but of the "church which is at Cenchrese," as he immediately adds. In like manner he compliments the local hospitality of the individual who is entertaining him, and who in like manner serves all his brethren. So that the objection seems frivolous.
(3) 1 Corinthians 10:32. "Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks,
or to the church of God." The "church of God," it is argued, must here mean the Church universal, since, like "Jews" and "Greeks," it covers a world-group. But the offense given must needs have been to individual Jews or Greeks, since they could not as a race be thus disturbed by individual conduct. Why, then, must it needs mean more than "do not offend any church or any member of a church"? The fact is that the whole exhortation, as study of the context will make clear, is directed to the regulation of personal conduct toward the different classes of the immediate community.
(4) 1 Corinthians 12:28. "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers," etc. Inasmuch as apostles were not officials of any particular church, it is inferred that allusion must here be made to the Church as a whole - the world-body. This is, to my mind, the most plausible of the objections as yet encountered. But it does not compel the conclusion supposed to be inevitable. For the writer is speaking, not exclusively of church officials, but of gifts bestowed and functions exercised in connection with the church. "Miracles," "gifts of healing," "divers kinds of
tongues," were not official. The apostles were "in" the church, not "over" it. Moreover, the term "apostle" is formally applied to an official of the local church in 2 Corinthians 8:23 (R.V. - margin). The whole twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians is so manifestly local in its drift and statements that it would be incongruous to extend any part of it to a world-wide body.
(5) 1 Corinthians 15:9. "Because I persecuted the church of God." Paul's self-accusation in this passage, repeated verbally in Galatians 1:13, is alleged to imply that the "church" alluded to was the Christian community at large, ranging far beyond Jerusalem. Now, it is a curious fact that there is no proof that Paul's "persecution" ever went beyond the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 8:3 it is said that he "made havoc of the church" there. Ananias, when called on to visit Paul, replied to the Lord: "I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:18). When he began to preach, the people said: "Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of them which called on this name?" In Paul's own defense before Agrippa he emphasizes his cruelties to the "saints" in Jerusalem,
shutting them up in prison and compelling them to blaspheme. It is true that he adds that "being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to strange cities." But the word he uses (dioko) implies that the objects of his vengeance were still the Jerusalem saints whom he was pursuing. So that his "persecution of the church of God" appears to have been limited to the constituency of a single church.
(6) 1 Timothy 3:14, 15. "These things write I unto thee . . . that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (A. V.); "how men ought to behave themselves," etc. (R. V.). It is singular that any reader of this Epistle should interpret this personal counsel to a local pastor, as to the proper behavior of a pastor or his people in relation to the body to which they both belong, as in any way referring to a world-church. For, in the first place, both "house" (household) and "church" are anarthrous, as well as the words following; it should read, properly, a house of God, which is a church of a living God, a pillar and stay of the truth. This implies, as Hort concludes,
that "Paul's idea is that each living society of Christians is a pillar and stay (bulwark) of the truth, as an object of belief and a guide of life for mankind" ("Eccl.," 174).
It would have been useless to instruct Timothy as to the duties of a pastor of the Church universal, for he held no such office, or of the Church invisible, for it has no offices at all. So that this may again be dismissed as in no way antagonizing the conception of the ecclesia as primarily and properly concrete and individual in character.
There remain now for consideration only the words of our Lord in Matthew 16:18 and the use of the word in the Epistles of Ephesians and Colossians. It may be remarked, before beginning to study them, that Dr. Hort, an Anglican, upon strictly exegetic grounds, rejects all except these sources as affording trustworthy grounds on which to base a theory of the Church universal. Dr. Candlish, a Presbyterian, rejects even the critical text in Matthew.
III. Disputable Use.
1. The Papal stronghold. The words of our Lord in Matthew 16:18, 19 are blazoned
above the high altar of St. Peter's in Rome, and looked to as the charter of the Roman Catholic Church. It is claimed that these words distinctly affirm the Church and the Kingdom to be one, and assign to Peter a common supremacy in this dual organism. Since the Church is acknowledged on all hands to be a visible body, it thereupon follows that the Kingdom is also visible and the Papal supremacy also follows logically, as an equally visible center of world-unity. Those who reject the Papacy still generally emphasize this passage as clearly meant to identify the Church and the Kingdom; but they are not all agreed as to visibility of the universal Church so indicated. The Lutherans, as we here see, deny it; the Presbyterians affirm it (although their Confession describes it as also invisible). Meyrick, in Smith's Bible Dictionary, as we have seen, states confidently that the identity of the two is here "formally, as elsewhere virtually, affirmed." It must be admitted that the collocation of the words and the parallelism of idea in the two verses lend plausibility to the notion of intended unification. But if it be accepted and the reference be to the historic Church, the Romanist would seem to
have the better of the argument. In any case, these words, which have had so large a place in ecclesiological discussion, are well worthy of careful consideration.
2. Christ's use of "basileia" and "ecclesia." Endeavoring to put ourselves, as nearly as possible, in the attitude of those to whom the words were spoken, it will be natural for us to expect that the teacher whom the "common people heard gladly" will use familiar words in a familiar sense. The presumption is strong enough, at least, to require positive evidence to rebut it.
It is observable, to begin with, that the phrase "kingdom of God" is sparsely used outside of the Gospels, and "kingdom of heaven" never. On the other hand, the word ecclesia, or church, is found in none of the Gospels except Matthew, and is there attributed to our Lord alone, and in but two instances. This entire advancing change of emphasis from basileia to ecclesia, in the New Testament, whatever it may imply, ought not to be overlooked. Without assuming fully to interpret its significance, it couples itself suggestively with the fact that our Lord's teaching, as well as his life, as presented to us in the Gospels, is at the
same time characteristically world-wide in bearing, and anticipatory and ideal in character. The Acts and the Epistles, on the other hand, are preeminently concrete, immediate and practical in theme and purpose. In the one we see, in the main, the pattern of the ideal man and the ideal society, yet to be realized: in the other we have to do with the growing history of an actual organization, and the current problems and experiences of its living members. The one deals especially with the coming Kingdom, that is to say: the other with the present Church.
We have much larger data for the comparative study of his meaning in the case of basileia, than in that of ecclesia. For the former word recurs incessantly, and in divers relations, while the latter appears but upon two occasions. In one of these instances only (the crucial passage in Matthew 16:18, 19) are the two words brought into immediate contact.
One of the first difficulties that confront us in attempting to outline the exact idea coupled by our Lord with the word basileia is that, being almost uniformly part of the phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven," the descriptive utterances connected
with it are always broad, usually parabolic, and frequently elusive, if not paradoxical, when taken in their literal form.
Some features of his teaching on the subject are clear enough in the light of current usage. Thus the word is employed not only exclusively in the singular, but as if this were its only normal form. To the Roman there could be but one basileia, as there was but one Caesar: correspondingly, to think of two "kingdoms of God," would be to imply two Gods. Etymologically, basileia conveys an abstract idea that of kingship or sovereignty. And this meaning is evidently intended in many passages (e. g., in Matthew 6:13, "thine is the kingdom; i. e., the kingdom de jure). It may also take on a chronologic force, designating the visible reign of a particular sovereign. Thus the immediately preceding verse, in the passage just referred to, contains the prayer "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). This conception of the "kingdom of heaven" as a unique world-sovereignty yet to be established is, perhaps, more constant than any other, especially in the later New Testament.
The notion of territorial extent was, moreover, inseparable from that of empire.
We are not surprised, therefore, to find that out of "his kingdom" established in the "world-field" are to be "gathered all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" (Matthew 13:41).
But while the juridical, the chronological and the territorial allusions are manifest and apprehensible, there are other hints of a deeper and more mystical purport, in the language used. Thus, while the kingdom is "at hand" (Matthew 4:17), his hearers are remonstrated with for expecting it "immediately to appear" (Luke 19:11). It "cometh not with observation" (Luke 17:20), yet there were some then living who should "not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:27). It was to grow, like the mustard seed, to natural completeness (Matthew 13:32), yet the accompanying parables of the tares and the net show that completeness is to be reached only through supernatural invention (Matthew 13:41, 49). None but the regenerate can enter the kingdom (John 3:5), yet some are to be gathered out of it who shall be "cast into a furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42). These, like the statement that "whosoever will save his life shall lose it," and other apparently contradictory
affirmations of Scripture, are, of course, not contradictory in fact, but only in form. Like a "fault" in mining, which is said to occur usually where the ore is richest, they baffle that they may stimulate us to find the deeper meaning hinted at. It should be remembered that it was in connection with the giving of the "parables of the kingdom" that our Lord intimated a purposed reserve in his teachings. He hid the truth in parables, as he hides the grain in the husk, from the listless or self-sufficient, for the docile and diligent (Matthew 13:10-15). It was in like connection that he uttered those hesitating and apparently deprecating words, as if about to undertake the impracticable, "Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God, and with what comparison shall we compare it?" (Mark 4:30).
From this last despondent cry we may get some notion, at the same time, of the profundity of the theme with which he was attempting to grapple, and of the difficulties which met him in trying to make it intelligible to his auditors; partly because of the inherent infirmity of human speech, partly because of the prepossessions of the people before him. The Jewish conception of the
"kingdom of heaven" was coupled inseparably with a restoration of the splendor of the Solomonic reign, rising upon the ruins of the prostrate fabric of imperial Rome. The human idea of basileia was, at the best, everywhere denied by earthly and carnal associations. It suggested a visible ruler, the obtrusive pageantry of throne and court, and external apparatus of legislative and administrative control, and the like. But muddy and inadequate as the simile was, it was the fittest available, and seemingly providentially so. For there was in the popular mind a dim conception of an intangible, indescribable somewhat, which was behind and greater than the temporary occupant of the imperial throne. "Divus" Caesar was worshiped, not in his personal capacity, but as the simulacrum of that immortal, inflexible, all-pervasive, irresistible, but invisible, reality known vaguely as the "empire," the "state," the "law." Thousands who had never actually seen Caesar or Rome, had been laid hold of in imagination by the familiar motto, "Ubi Caesar, ibi Roma," and had realized the intangible presence of both. What could have been seized upon as furnishing a better incipient, although feeble,
analogue of that "kingdom which ruleth over all," the august reality of which transcends the capacity of definition or metaphor, and must appeal to the human imagination in inevitable paradox?
We are thus forced to rest in the conclusion that the "kingdom" in question, whose domain is "within," which is "not of this world," which "cometh not with observation," which is never spoken of as to be "built" (as the "church" is), neither is, nor was it intended by human agency ever to be made, an external or discernible earthly entity. It sets before us an ideal, forever transcending our power fully to grasp, forever stimulating us to aspiration, prayer and expectation, but the realization of which the Lord alone must "hasten in his time." Only when the New Jerusalem shall "descend from God out of heaven," can the new kingdom take on, visibly, concrete form, and become capable of confident definition. Our Lord's allusions are a preliminary "apocalypse," and the apocalypse needs itself yet to be revealed.
Turning now to our Lord's references to the ecclesia, we find no difference of opinion as to his intent in one of the instances
where the word occurs (Matthew 18:17). There is some conflict of judgment as to the particular local body indicated, whether the existing synagogue or the coming individual church, but none whatever as to the reference of the word, in accordance with common usage, to some local assembly. It is to be remarked that the definite article is here used - "the" church - so that the uniform interpretation of the passage in the manner above stated is a sufficient answer to those who deny that the generic or partitive sense can ever attach to ecclesia under such circumstances. If the reference be to the synagogue, it is of considerable importance, as showing that the words sunagoge and ecclesia were now synonymous. That this was so, we may infer from the use of the two words as equivalent by James in his Epistle, before noted. But the circumstance is especially useful here, as preparing us to understand the force of the word in the other passage in Matthew yet to be considered. For sunagoge was used in the Septuagint as the synonym of ecclesia. Now, if the one word, which had formerly meant the national assembly, had unequivocally sunk to the limits
of the village body, by what kind of logic can it be contended that the other word, still remaining a synonym, had retained its national reference only? It seems more natural to accept the suggestion that the synagogue is, in fact, here meant, inasmuch as the phrase "the ecclesia" suggests an existing and readily identifiable institution; whereas in the other passage the coming Christian Church is designated, as if in contrast, as "MY ecclesia."
But it is not very material what particular individual body may have been intended. The expectation with which our examination began is, in this place, at least justified. The meaning of the word uniformly prevalent throughout the Greek-speaking world is employed, as if of course. It need not surprise us that this should be thought proper in addressing a Jewish company. It is doubtful whether modern scholars have adequately recognized the extent to which the Hellenization of the eastern half of the empire, including its Jewish constituency, had gone. The existence of the Septuagint and its frequent adoption, instead of the Hebrew, in Palestinian synagogues, the rise of the synagogue and of the
Rabbinic school and dialectic, to say nothing of abundant contemporary historic evidence, show the almost universal familiarity of the people with Greek ideas. At all events, any who could have been influenced in interpretation by the example of the Septuagint writers, must have been sufficiently familiar with Greek to read it. The Seventy had, it is true, when seeking for a fit Greek word to translate the Hebrew name of the national assembly, accepted ecclesia as the nearest analogue, alternating it with sunagoge, substituted when used in the larger sense. There was no incongruity in this: for the "congregation" held the same relation to the Jewish state that the ecclesia did to the Greek. The fact that there had once been only one Jewish ecclesia, while among the Greeks the number of such bodies was limited only by the number of states, should not blind us to the determining circumstance that in neither case was the body in question thought of as a universal, or world-wide, assembly. Its meaning was in either case local and partitive. But the national Jewish assembly had long been lost from sight. Instead of the one ecclesia or sunagoge, there had arisen as many individual synagogues
as there were city neighborhoods or village communities. The alternate name must have shrunk to the dimensions of the fact. We know this to have been true of the synagogue: we can not safely doubt it as to the ecclesia. The Greek eecclesia had likewise suffered specialization, as we have already seen, having been in later times applied familiarly to local associations. It is not without significance that, in choosing between the two words, our Lord should prefer the more thoroughly Gentile word ecclesiato the sunagoge, which latter was more purely Jewish in association: for the one was the direct political antipode, as the other was not, of basileia.
3. The critical passage. We come, then, to the study of the famous passage (Matthew 16:18, 19) about the correct interpretation of which in detail there has been a world of controversy, and on which so much depends. If the authority of current Greek usage and the concurrent testimony of the Gospels themselves, in so far as they supply any definite precedent for our guidance, are to count for anything, we shall expect to find that basileia here, as uniformly elsewhere, carries with it the notion of a world-power,
single, exclusive, monocratic: while ecclesia will presumably retain its contrasted distributive idea, that of a local assembly, one of many, and democratic. A sudden absolute reversal of the meaning of either of the words, for which no single precedent can be cited, is admissible only under the pressure of cogent evidence from the passage itself. Is such evidence forthcoming?
Nobody questions that basileia is used in its familiar sense; the qualifying words "of heaven" contrasting the world-dominion of God with that of Caesar. Nor is there room for doubt as to the personal destination of the "keys," which are explicitly said to be given to Peter. But when we come to ecclesia, we are asked to assume that it has arbitrarily reversed its accustomed meaning, thus becoming identifiable, if not identical, with basileia, of which it had hitherto been always the antithesis. With this unexplained departure from settled usage at once arise questions of chronic dispute. Is the world-church identical with the world-kingdom? Is it visible or invisible? Is the "rock" on which it is built Peter, or his confession, or Christ? Let us examine the language under the
theory that the uniform meaning of the words remains undisturbed, and see if we encounter insuperable objections. Notice, first, that Christ applies to the ecclesia the qualification "my," as if contrasting it with some other recognizable body: that he speaks of it as to be "built": and that he declares "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (R.V.). Neither of these particulars is expressly affirmed of the "kingdom of heaven." The most natural subject of comparison suggested by the word "my" would be the only existing religious ecclesia known to those he addressed, the synagogue.
He was then referring to the ecclesia he was about to found as an institution characteristically different from the familiar Jewish one. There is nothing unusual, in the New Testament or outside of it, in such a generic or representative use of terms. When James, addressing all the Jewish Christians of the Dispersion, refers to "your synagogue" (James 2:2), and a little later to "the elders of the church" (5:14), does anybody imagine him to conceive of a universal synagogue or universal church, rather than any church or synagogue as a characteristic institution? Archbishop Whately
reminds us, when discussing this very question, that Thucydides often alludes to "the democracy" or "the oligarchy," when referring to individual bodies in the various Greek cities "formed on similar principles," without the suspicion that he could be understood to imply a panhellenic democracy or oligarchy. "So doubtless ought we to interpret the Scripture writers," he adds, when they refer in like manner to "the church."
If we understand the "rock," here mentioned, as the confession just uttered by Peter, the point of contrast between the coming church and the existing synagogue becomes more apparent. For just this definite confession of faith in Christ as Messiah, visibly reiterated in baptism, is the essential foundation of a normal Christian church; the birthright constitution of the synagogue being repudiated. We have authority enough for that interpretation, if we may accept the testimony of Archbishop Kenrick, of the Roman Catholic Church. For in his address prepared for (but not delivered at) the Vatican Council, he tells us that forty-four Fathers and Doctors approve it, against seventeen who refer the term to Peter, and sixteen who refer it to Christ himself: a
decided majority being in favor of the former. The introduction of the word "rock" is, no doubt, due to a play of words suggested by Peter's peculiar name; but no satisfactory reason has ever been given for the arbitrary change of gender from Petron to Petran. If we suppose the reference to be to omologian, which is feminine, the change would have some pretext at least.
The allusion to "building" suggests another point of distinction between the "church" and the "kingdom." The latter is never referred to in Scripture as "built" or as taking organic immediate form in any decisive way. But the local church is characteristically and incessantly described as the subject of "edification" (the same Greek word). The Ephesian church is addressed as "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [that is, evidently, the foundation laid by them. Cf. Titus 3:5], Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner-stone." To understand the church here referred to as the local body brings the figurative allusion precisely in line with its use throughout the New Testament.
The declaration that the "gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" need occasion
no difficulty, if we understand it as promising that the Christian Church as an actual institution shall never be finally extirpated. The language does not compel the inference of uninterrupted visible continuity. It implies a matching of forces in which the Church shall victoriously survive. In the next verses (Matthew 16:21) our Lord announces his own approaching subjection to the power of death, but adds that he shall "be raised again the third day." The "gates of Hades" could not "prevail" against him; death could not permanently shut him in, for he could not be "holden of it." His prophecy, therefore, would be fairly fulfilled if the individual church as such do not perish absolutely, and everywhere.
Finally, the universalization of the Church and its identification with the kingdom of heaven, with the prolonged Jewish regime, or with the elect of all ages, loads the passage with chronological and metaphorical incongruities of formidable character. If "kingdom" and "church" are identical, both must be built on Peter, to satisfy the Romish theory, and the "keys" of the structure thus appear to be given to its own corner-stone. If the new kingdom
and the Israelitish are identical, then Peter becomes the foundation stone of an organization already centuries old. If the whole body of the elect be built on Peter or on his confession of the incarnate Messiah, then he must be file-leader of an immeasurable procession starting beyond the flood.
No such difficulties attend the construction of the language here proposed. It simply supposes our Lord consistent with himself, and with the ordinary usages of speech, assuming that he whom "the common people heard gladly" would not wantonly use words in a strange sense which would inevitably perplex or mislead the common man.
4. Apostolic usage. Passing on from the Gospels to the remaining books of the New Testament, in our inquiry as to the meaning of ecclesia, we shall find the field of research materially limited by the concessions of the latest critical scholarship. If it seem presumptuous to question the validity of the long confidently cherished notion that the word does sometimes, at least, refer to a Church universal, a notion still held by the bulk of interpreters, it must be remembered that one of the chief incentives to doubt has been
furnished by a change in the set of the tide of opinion among interpreters themselves. We have seen that the equally long established and unquestioned notion of the identity of "church" and "kingdom" has been of late bluntly challenged as an unverified assumption, and, for lack of ability to justify itself, has been repudiated by a steadily increasing list of reputable authorities. But the notions of universality and identity are twin-born, and have always been inseparably associated in thought. It seems inevitable that the rejection of the one as spurious should entail suspicion of the other. Such suspicion is abundantly justified by the incipient tendency above referred to, manifest in the
5. Adverse results of recent textual study. As a fair exponent of the ripest results of critical investigation of the text, we may safely accept Dr. F. J. A. Hort, who has summed up the results of inquiry in his book on "The Christian Ecclesia" Dr. Hort has become famous in connection with the production of the most authoritative revision of the Greek text of the New Testament, and stands in the front rank of Greek scholars. As an official in a
national church, he can not be suspected of bias against the national or universal theory. It will be only fair to assume that he will not assent to any interpretation that may even indirectly cast discredit upon that theory, unless compelled by rigorous exegetical necessity. Turning to his pages, we discover:
First. A sweeping rejection of all proof-texts hitherto cited from the Acts and Epistles, except those found in Ephesians and Colossians. In these he finds "for the first time in the Acts and Epistles the ecclesia spoken of in the sense of the one universal ecclesia": and "this is confined to the twin Epistles to Ephesians and Colossians." In this judgment Dr. Hort is confirmed by the new Hastings' Bible Dictionary (issued under the associate supervision of scholars such as Davidson, Driver and Swete). The article upon this topic contains the following statement: "Not until late in the Epistles is the ecclesia called outright the 'body of Christ' (Ephesians 1:23; 4:12; 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24; 2:19). In the earlier Epistles it is the vague 'we,' 'you;' i.e., primarily the community to which the apostle is writing, although the secondary idea of the whole
church was probably present to his mind (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:15, 27. Cf. 6:15)."
It is unnecessary to go over the whole list of passages formerly adduced as carrying the universal sense, but now dismissed on critical grounds as inappropriate. A few instances will serve to indicate the nature of the reasons assigned for their abandonment. In the work last named, for instance, the notable passage in Hebrews 12:23, before noted, is ruled out as "not to the point as an instance of a distinctively Christian use of ecclesia. It is plain from the connection with panegurei that ecclesia is used here in a quite general meaning, assembly, without reference to its technical Christian significance." Dr. Hort finds eleven varying phases of meaning, all of which point to the local body, except one ("the one universal ecclesia"), confined to the two Epistles above specified. Paul's allusion to the "church of God" (Galatians 1:13) applies to "the original ecclesia of Jerusalem or Judea, at a time when there was no other." In Romans 16:23 "the church" is "any church." In Acts 20:28 the "church of God" is "the one universal ecclesia as represented in the local, individual ecclesia" There are but three
Continue on page 255.