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THE ‘ECCLESIA’ IN THE EPISTLES.
The uses of the word.
THUS far we have followed St Luke’s narrative, with scarcely any divergence into the illustrative matter to be found in the Epistles. The Epistles however contain much important evidence of various kinds, while they also sometimes fail us in respect of information which we perhaps might have expected to find, and certainly should be glad to find. Much of the evidence will be best considered under the several Epistles successively: but, in beginning with the uses of the word Ecclesia itself, we shall find it clearer to take them in groups.
Everyone must have noticed St Paul’s fondness for adding τοῦ θεοῦ to ἐκκλησία, “the Ecclesia (or Ecclesiae) of God”. We saw just now the significance of the phrase in the adaptation of Ps. lxxiv. 2 by St Paul in addressing the Ephesian elders, as claiming for the community of Christians the prerogatives of 108God’s ancient Ecclesia. With the exception however of two places in 1 Tim. (iii. 5, 15), where the old name is used with a special force derived from the context, this name is confined to St Paul’s earlier epistles, the two to the Thessalonians, the two to the Corinthians, and Galatians. It is very striking that at this time, when his antagonism to the Judaizers was at its hottest, he never for a moment set a new Ecclesia against the old, an Ecclesia of Jesus or even an Ecclesia of the Christ against the Ecclesia of God, but implicitly taught his heathen converts to believe that the body into which they had been baptized was itself the Ecclesia of God. This addition of τοῦ θεοῦ occurs in several of the groups of passages. Naturally, and with special force, it stands in two out of three of the places in which the original Ecclesia of Judæa is meant, and is spoken of as the object of St Paul’s persecution. But more significant is the application to single Ecclesiae (the various Ecclesiae of Judæa 1 Thes. ii. 4; or Corinth 1 Cor. i. 2; 2 Cor. i. 1); or to the sum total of all separate Ecclesiae (2 Thes. i. 4; 1 Cor. xi. 16); or lastly to the one universal Ecclesia as represented in a local Ecclesia (1 Cor. x. 32; xi. 22).
On the other hand, that second aspect of the Ecclesia of God under the new Covenant, by which it is also the Ecclesia of Christ (as He Himself said “I will build my Ecclesia”) is likewise reflected in the Epistles. The most obvious instances are the two 109passages in which the Ecclesiae of Judæa are referred to. “Ye, brethren,” St Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. ii. 14) “became imitators of the Ecclesiae of God which are in Judæa in Christ Jesus” (viz. by suffering like them for conscience sake). They were Ecclesiae of God, but their distinguishing feature was that they were “in Christ Jesus”, having their existence in Jesus as Messiah. It is as though he shrank from altogether refusing the name ’Ecclesiae of God’ to the various purely Jewish communities throughout the Holy Land. The next verses (1 Thes. ii. 15, 16) contain the most vehement of all St Paul’s language against the Jews: but these are the individual men, the perverse generation; and for their misdeeds the Jewish Ecclesia would not necessarily as yet be responsible, the nation’s final refusal of its Messiah not having yet come. But, apart from this possible or even probable latent distinction, the Christian Ecclesiae of God would be emphatically Ecclesiae of God in Christ Jesus, He in His glorification being the fundamental bond of Christian fellowship. The other passage which mentions these Judæan Ecclesiae is Gal. i. 22, “and I continued unknown to the Ecclesiae of Judæa that are in Christ”: the phrase here is briefer, but the added τα̯ς ἐν Χριστῷ gives the characteristic touch. Echoes of these two clear passages occur with reference to other Ecclesiae. That of the Thessalonians is in both Epistles said to be “in God the (or our) Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. The 110men of Corinth are said to be “hallowed in Christ Jesus” (i.e. brought into the state of ‘saints’ in Him). The men of Philippi “saints in Christ Jesus”. The men of Ephesus “saints and faithful in Christ Jesus”; and so the men of Colossae “saints and faithful brethren in Christ”. And for the men of Rome also there is the analogous statement (i. 6) “among whom are ye also, called of Jesus Christ.”
With these forms of speech we may probably associate the difficult and unique phrase of Rom. xvi. 16, “All the Ecclesiae of the Christ salute you.” This is the one place in the New Testament, apart from our Lord’s words to Peter, where we read of “Ecclesiae of Christ” (or “of the Christ”), not “of God”: for the singular number we have no example. The sense which first suggests itself, “all Christian Ecclesiae” is very difficult to understand. That all the Ecclesiae of not only Palestine, but Syria, various provinces of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece should have recently, either simultaneously or by joint action, have asked St Paul to convey their greetings to the Roman Christians is barely credible, and the addition of πᾶσαι (omitted only in the later Syrian text and by no version) clinches the difficulty30301 Cor. xvi. 19, 20 is no true parallel, for such joint action of the Ecclesiae (or principal Ecclesiae, — there is no πᾶσαι) of Proconsular Asia would be quite possible, and the second phrase (v. 20) “all the brethren” must by analogy mean all the individual brethren in the midst of whom St Paul was writing from Ephesus the capital.. Observing this difficulty (which indeed 111had evidently been felt long ago by Origen), some of the older commentators suppose some such limitation as “all the Ecclesiae of Greece”: but this the Greek cannot possibly bear. It seems far more probable that by “the Ecclesiae of the Christ” the Messiah, St Paul means the Ecclesiae of those “of whom as concerning the flesh the Messiah came” (Rom. ix. 5), and to whom His Messiahship could not but mean more than it did to Jews of the Dispersion, much less to men of Gentile birth: in a word that he means the Ecclesiae of Judæa, of whom as we have seen, he has twice spoken already in other epistles. It might easily be that all these had been represented at some recent gathering at Jerusalem, and had there united in a message which some Jerusalem colleague or friend had since conveyed to him.
This supposition gains in probability when we notice that, whatever may be the case elsewhere, ὁ χριστὸς is never used in this Epistle without some reference to Messiahship, though not always quite on the surface3131See Rom. vii. 4; ix. 3, 5; xv. 3 and 7 taken together.. The least obvious, but for our purpose the most interesting, is xiv. 18, where the whole stress lies on ἐν τούτῳ (cf. 2 Cor. xi. 13 f., 22 f.), and the mode of service of the Messiah just described is implicitly contrasted with a pretended service of the Messiah. The significance of the phrase comes out when it occurs again in that curious guarded postscript 112against the Judaizers which St Paul adds after his greetings (xvi. 17-20). “Such men,” he says, “serve not the Christ who is our Lord, but their own belly” (i.e. by insisting on legal distinctions of meats), while, he means to say, they pretend to be the only true servants of the Messiah. Now the salutation immediately preceding this warning contains the words which we are considering. To you, Romans, he seems to say, I am bidden to send the greetings of all the true Ecclesiae of the Messiah. But you need to be warned about some who may hereafter come troubling you, and falsely claiming to be Messiah’s only faithful servants, as against me and mine. Thus the enigmatic form of the salutation may arise out of the inevitably enigmatic form of the coming warning.
Individuals not lost in the Society.
Another interesting point which it is convenient to notice here is that twofold aspect of an Ecclesia which came before us early in the Acts, as being on the one hand itself a single body, and on the other made up of single living men. Here too there is an interesting sequence, though not a perfect one, in the order of the Epistles.
The salutation to 1 and 2 Thessalonians is simply to the Ecclesia of the Thessalonians in God [our] Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (this last phrase, we may note in passing, may be considered to include the τοῦ θεοῦ of 1 and 2 Corinthians).113
In 1 Cor. i. 2 on the other hand we find the two aspects coupled together by a bold disregard of grammar τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ, ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις: the single Ecclesia in Corinth is identical with men who have been hallowed in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints.
In 2 Cor. i. 1 there is a seeming return to the form used to the Thessalonians, the reason probably being that the name ‘saints’ was reserved for the following σὺν τοῖς ἁγίοις πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν ὅλη τῃ Ἀχαίᾳ (only partially parallel to the σὺν πᾶσιν etc. of 1 Corinthians): there may also be a distinction between the single Ecclesia of the great city Corinth and the scattered saints or Christians of the rest of Achaia.
The case of Galatians is peculiar. Here St Paul was writing, not to a city alone, or to a great city, the capital of a region, but to a region containing various unnamed cities. He writes simply to “the Ecclesiae” (plural) of Galatia: to attach to this feminine plural a masculine plural would have been awkward and puzzling (in Acts xvi. 4 the change of gender from πόλεις to αὐτοῖς explains itself): and moreover the tone of rebuke in which this Epistle is couched has rendered its salutation in various respects exceptional.
But when we come to Romans, the term Ecclesia disappears from the salutation, and the designation 114of it by reference to its individual members, which in 1 Corinthians we found combined with Ecclesia, now stands alone, “to all that are in Rome beloved of God, called to be saints,” each word “beloved3232Rom. xi. 28 in connexion with Deut. xxxiii. 12 and other parts of the Old Testament.” and “saints3333See p. 110.” expressing a privilege once confined to Israel but now extended to the Gentiles. It is the same in Philippians (“to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are in Philippi”); and “Ephesians” (“to the saints that are [[in Ephesus]] and faithful in Christ Jesus”); and finally Colossians (“to the saints and faithful brethren, or holy and faithful brethren, in Christ that are at Colossae”).
This later usage of St Paul is followed by St Peter (ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς followed after a few words by ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος), and by St Jude (τοῖς ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ ἡγιασμένοις, καὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ τετηρημένοις κλητοῖς).
Connected with this carefulness to keep individual membership in sight, is the total absence of territorial language (so to speak) in the designations of local Ecclesiae. Three times the Ecclesia meant is designated by the adjectival local name of its members, viz. in the salutations to 1 and 2 Thessalonians (ἐκκλησίᾳ Θεσσαλονικέων, “of Thessalonians”: this personal description being in effect a partial substitute for the absence of anything like κλητοῖς ἁγίοις), and 115in a reference to the Ecclesia “of the Laodicenes” (τῇ Λαοδικέων ἐκκλησίᾳ) in Col. iv. 16. In all other cases of a single city the Ecclesia is designated as “in” that city: so the salutations of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians; also Cenchreae (Rom. xvi. 1), and each of the seven Ecclesiae of the Apocalypse. When the reference is to a whole region including a number of cities and therefore of Ecclesiae the usage is, on the surface, not quite constant. Twice “in” is used, for Judæa (1 Thess. ii. 14), and Asia (Apoc. i. 4): while in each case the form used can be readily accounted for by the accompanying words which rendered the use of “in” the only natural mode of designation, τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν οὐσῶν ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαίᾳ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, and ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ. In all the other (six) cases, however, these plural designations of a plurality of Ecclesiae are designated by a genitive of the region; the Ecclesiae of Judæa, Gal. i. 22; of Asia, 1 Cor. xvi. 19; of Galatia, 1 Cor. xvi. 1 and the salutation to the Galatians; of Macedonia, 2 Cor. viii. 1; of the nations or Gentiles generally (τῶν ἐθνῶν), Rom. xvi. 4. In these collective instances the simple and convenient genitive could lead to no misunderstanding. But we find no instance of such a form as “the Ecclesia of Ephesus” (a city) or “the Ecclesia of Galatia” (a region). No circumstances had yet arisen which could give propriety to such a form of speech.116
It may be well now for the sake of clearness, to reckon up separately, without detail, the various classes of Christian societies to which the term Ecclesia is applied in the Epistles and Apocalypse.
i. (sing. with art.). The original Ecclesia of Jerusalem or Judæa, at a time when there was no other: — Gal. i. 13; 1 Cor. xv. 9; Phil. iii. 6: the occasion of reference in all three cases being St Paul’s own action as a persecutor.
2. (sing. with art.). The single local Ecclesia of a city which is named: — Thessalonica (1 Thess. i. 1; 2 Thess. i. 1); Corinth (1 Cor. i. 2; 2 Cor. i. 1); Cenchreae (Rom. xvi. 1); Laodicea in Asia Minor (Col. iv. 16); each of the seven Ecclesiae of Proconsular Asia in Apoc. ii. iii.
3. ἡ ἐκκλησία (sing. and with art.), referring to the individual Ecclesia addressed; or in one case the Ecclesia of the city from which the Epistle was written: — 1 Cor. vi. 4; xiv. 5, 12, 23; Rom. xvi. 23; 1 Tim. v. 16; James v. 14; 3 John 9, 10.
5. (plur.). The sum of individual Ecclesiae in a named region: Judæa (1 Thess. ii. 14; Gal. i. 22); Galatia (1 Cor. xvi. 1; Gal. i. 2); Macedonia (2 Cor. viii. 1); Asia (Proconsular) 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Apoc. i. 4 (and practically vv. 11, 20 bis); or without a 117name, but apparently limited to a region named or implied in the context. Macedonia (2 Cor. viii. 19) and Proconsular Asia (Apoc. end of each epistle, ii. 23 (though with πᾶσαι), and xxii. 16).
6. (plur.). Not of a definite region, nor yet the sum of all individual Ecclesiae; 2 Cor. xi. 8 (ἄλλας ἐκκλησίας); viii. 23 (ἀπόστολοι ἐκκλησιῶν); and more collectively πᾶσαι αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τῶν ἐθνῶν of Rom. xvi. 4, and αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ χριστοῦ of Rom. xvi. 16, which we have seen probably refer to the Judæan Ecclesiae.
7. (plur.). The sum of all individual Ecclesiae (or all but the one written to); usually with πᾶσαι (1 Cor. vii. 17, xiv. 33 [with τῶν ἁγίων added]; 2 Cor. viii. 18, 24; xi. 28); with λοιπαί (2 Cor. xii. 13); or simply with τοῦ θεοῦ (2 Thess. i. 4; 1 Cor. xi. 16).
9. (sing.). The one universal Ecclesia absolutely. This is confined to the twin Epistles to Ephesians and Colossians (Eph. i. 22; iii. 10, 21; v. 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32; Col. i. 18, 24).
to. (sing.). What may be called a domestic Ecclesia. This is a subject on which more will probably be known hereafter than at present. Thus far it seems pretty clear that St Paul’s language points to a practice by which wealthy or otherwise important 118persons who had become Christians, among their other services to their brother Christians, allowed the large hall or saloon often attached to (or included in) the larger sort of private houses, to be used as places of meeting, whether for worship or for other affairs of the community. Accordingly the Ecclesia in the house of this or that man, would seem to mean that particular assemblage of Christians, out of the Christians of the whole city, which was accustomed to meet under his roof. The instances are these, Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus (1 Cor. xvi. 19); the same pair afterwards at Rome (Rom. xvi. 5); Nympha (or some would say Nymphas) at Colossae (Col. iv. 15); and Philemon also at Colossae (Philem. 2).
11. An assembly of an Ecclesia, rather than the ἐκκλησία itself. This use is at once classical and a return to the original force of qāhāl. To it belongs the ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις of 1 Cor. xiv. 34 (Let the women be silent in the Ecclesiae); as also, the semi-adverbial phrases when ἐκκλησία in the singular without an article is preceded by a preposition (ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ 1 Cor. xi. 18; xiv. 19, 28; ἐνώπιον ἐκκλησίας 3 John 6; analogous to the ἐν συναγωγῇ of John vi. 59; xviii. 20).
The many Ecclesiae and the one.
In many of the passages here cited, as also in many passages of the Acts, we have had brought distinctly 119before us the individuality of the several local Ecclesiae in the various cities. On the other hand, apart from those passages which speak of the one universal Ecclesia, whether absolutely, or as its attributes are reflected in a particular Ecclesia, we have varied evidence as to the pains taken by St Paul to counteract any tendency towards isolation and wantonness of independence, which might arise in the young communities which he founded, or with which he came in contact. The Epistle which contains most evidence of this kind is 1 Corinthians, the same Epistle which more than any other is occupied with resisting tendencies towards inward division. The spirit of lawlessness would evidently have a disintegrating effect in both spheres alike, as between the members of the individual Ecclesia, and as between it and the sister Ecclesiae of the same or other lands. The keynote as against isolation is struck in the very salutation (i. 2). Without going into all the ambiguities of language in that verse, we can at least see that in some manner the Corinthians are there taught to look on themselves as united to “all who in every place invoke the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and I believe we may safely add that “theirs and ours” means “their Lord and ours,” the one Lord being set forth as the common bond of union, and obedience to His will as Lord, the uniting law of life. Then in v. 9, after giving thanks for those gifts of theirs which they were in danger of allowing to lead them 120astray, he assures them “Faithful is the God through whom ye were called into fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” — fellowship of Him, not only fellowship with Him, though that also, but fellowship one with another and with all saints, derived from that fellowship with Himself which was common to them all.
Having put before the Corinthians this fundamental teaching at the beginning of the Epistle, St Paul repeatedly afterwards gives it a practical application by his appeals to Christian usage elsewhere. The authorities to which he appeals are of various kinds, e.g. traditions which he had himself first received and then passed on to them and to others, his own personal qualifications for judgment, expediency or edification, the teaching of “nature”: but in addition to these he condemns Corinthian practices or tendencies by reference to the adverse practice of other Ecclesiae. Of the praying of women unveiled he says (xi. 16) “We have no such custom, neither the Ecclesiae of God.” Enjoining order in the prophesyings (or according to another punctuation the silence of women in the assemblies), he adds (xiv. 33) “as in all the Ecclesiae of the Saints,” and with reference to the latter point asks indignantly (v. 36) “Is it from you that the word of God came forth, or is it unto you alone that it reached?” In a different and calmer tone he simply seeks a precedent for what he would 121have the Corinthians do in the matter of the collection for Judæa (xvi. 1); “as I directed for the Ecclesiae of Galatia, so do ye also.” For a much larger matter of practice and principle, the remaining of each convert in the relation of life in which he previously found himself, he urges (vii. 17) “and so I direct in all the Ecclesiae”; while in an earlier passage, he binds up this principle of community with the obligations created by his personal relation as a founder (iv. 14-17), bidding them be imitators of him, as their true father in respect of their new life, and telling them that he sends them in Timothy another beloved child of his, “who shall put you in mind of my ways that are in Christ Jesus, as I teach everywhere in every Ecclesia.”
In other places we find the community between Ecclesiae brought out from a different point of view by St Paul’s warm thanksgivings for the going forth of the faith and love of this or that Ecclesia towards other Ecclesiae, so as to be known and to bear fruit far beyond its own limits (1 Thess. i. 7 f.; iv. 9 f.; 2 Thess. i. 3 f.; 2 Cor. iii. 2; Rom. i. 8; Col. i. 4). I need not repeat the details of the special prominence given by St Paul to the “collection for the Saints” as a means of knitting the Gentile and Jewish Christians together. One practical result of friendly intercommunion between separate Ecclesiae would be the cultivation of hospitality, the assurance 122that Christians who had need to travel would find a temporary home and welcome wherever other Christians were gathered together (cf. Rom. xii. 13; 1 Pet. iv. 9; Heb. xiii. 2; 3 John 5-8). Again, St Paul had doubtless a deliberate purpose when he rejoiced to convey the mutual salutations of Ecclesiae (1 Cor. xvi. 19; Rom. xvi. 4, 16; Phil. iv. 22); himself commended Phoebe to the Romans as one who ministered to the sister Ecclesia at Cenchreae (Rom. xvi. 1, 2); gave orders for the exchange of epistles of his, addressed to two neighbouring Ecclesiae (Col. iv. 16); and made this or that Ecclesia a sharer, so to speak, in his own work of founding or visiting other Ecclesiae by allusions to his being forwarded by them (προπεμφθῆναι: 1 Cor. xvi. 6; 2 Cor. i. 16; Rom. xv. 24). By itself each of these details may seem trivial enough: but together they help to shew how St Paul’s recognition of the individual responsibility and substantial independence of single city Ecclesiae was brought into harmony with his sense of the unity of the body of Christ as a whole, by this watchful care to seize every opportunity of kindling and keeping alive in each society a consciousness of its share in the life of the great Ecclesia of God.123
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