5

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the church I attend is meeting online. However, some members have expressed reservations about this, fearing if the Scriptural teaching for churches to "assemble" meant to assemble physically. When the Bible teaches about "coming together" or "assembling," it uses terms such as συνάγω (sunago, 4863, e.g. Acts 20:7), συνέρχομαι (sunerchomai, 4905), and ἐπισυναγωγή (episunagoge, 1997). Do these Greek words require physical presence between those assembling, or are the terms broader than this? It doesn't appear to me that they require physical presence (e.g., sunago in Matt. 12:30; John 11:52; 1 Cor. 5:4), but I'd like a more professional understanding of these terms.

Thanks,

The Editor

11
  • There were no other ways of being together other than physical presence in late antiquity, since there were no phones or radios or televisions then. – Lucian Apr 9 '20 at 7:46
  • Sorry for the late reply, @Lucian. The fact you pointed out is interesting. However, what if the word itself was broader than the physical? The Greek word sunago (translated "came together" in Acts 20:7 NKJV) doesn't always appear to require physical presence. It's used to refer to siding with Jesus (Matt. 12:30), the gathering of all people in the universal church through Jesus' death (John 11:51‐52), and the "gathering together" of Herod and Pilate against Jesus (Acts 4:26-27), which was non-physical (Luke 23:7, 11). Do these passages confirm a broader understanding of sunago? Thanks! – The Editor Apr 14 '20 at 22:13
  • The problem with your question (specifically, the latter part of the second sentence, and beginning of the third) is that it does not address a specific text. This is technically against the rules of the site, as detailed on meta. Just because coming together can sometimes mean to conspire, doesn't mean that within the specific context of a specific verse it can still reasonably carry the same connotation. – Lucian Apr 14 '20 at 23:28
  • @Lucian We could make the text Acts 20:7, for example, which uses the word sunago and is considered precedent for meeting on Sundays. While I agree they "sunagoed" physically in this case, is such denoted by the word, or is it implied in this case due to the lack of technology? Thanks! – The Editor Apr 18 '20 at 22:36
  • Either they met together (to break bread), or they planned / agreed / conspired to do so, or they joined forces to do so. These are the basic meanings of the word. The term is never employed to refer to synchronizing various individual actions (such as private prayer) to take place simultaneously (by persons which are not physically present together). – Lucian Apr 19 '20 at 6:10
4

This is a great question especially in view of Heb 10:25 which says:

[Do] not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This question can be rephrased as, Must meeting together be a physical meeting or can it be otherwise?

The noun translated "meeting together" here is ἐπισυναγωγή (episunagógé) and only occurs here and in 2 Thess 2:1 which talks about the gathering of the saints to Jesus at His coming. It is from the cognate root συνάγω (sunagó) = to bring or gather together, and occurs frequently in the NT.

Before offering some comments, let me first say that I am a strong believer in meeting together as a local congregation/group (in various ways) on a regular basis to encourage one another, share our faith and learn more about Scripture and Jesus. However, in the current circumstances, is there a NT precedent for meeting in some other way, rather than physically? I believe there is. Here are some examples:

  • 1 Cor 5:3, 4, For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. … So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, …
  • Phil 1:27, … I'll hear that you are firmly united in spirit, united in fighting for the faith that the Good News brings …
  • Phil 2:2, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
  • Col 2:5, For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
  • 1 Cor 6:17, But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
  • John 4:24, For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth …

Without going into a detailed exegesis of these passages, I note that one of the various meanings of the Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma), "spirit" given BDAG is (#3c) "spiritual state, state of mind, disposition". Thus, it might be possible to understand Paul's wish to be absent in body but present by his spirit as a kind of meeting minds. This is a vague approximation of what we moderns now call a virtual meeting online.

Many of Paul's letters (and others) were written precisely because these apostles could not be physically present and so they tried to do this by the written word.

In short, the modern practice of quarantine is a Biblical practice as set out in Leviticus to limit the spread of communicable diseases; and we do well to implement it as we can.

24
  • Thank you! 1 Corinthians 5 uses sunago (which not only is the cognate root of episunagoge but also the term used in Acts 20:7). In addition, it's used to refer to siding with Jesus (Matt. 12:30), the gathering of all people in the universal church through Jesus' death (John 11:51‐52), and the "gathering together" of Herod and Pilate against Jesus (Acts 4:26-27), which was non-physical (Luke 23:7, 11). These passages with sunago further show it doesn't require physical gatherings. Does the Greek of 1 Corinthians 5:4 imply that Paul's spirit itself was "sunagoing" with the Corinthians? – The Editor Apr 8 '20 at 19:01
  • Not quite. However, in 1 Cor 5:4 we find, "when you are assembled" = συναχθέντων (synachthentōn), I am with you in spirit. The preposition used is σὺν (syn) which is closely related to the this verb. – Dottard Apr 8 '20 at 20:31
  • Sorry for the late reply, @Dottard. Young's Literal Translation (YLT) translates 1 Corinthians 5:4 as saying "ye being gathered together, also my spirit," as if his spirit is "also" doing the action of "being gathered together." However, does the Greek more accurately mean that the Corinthians alone were gathered together, making Paul's spirit with their assembly but not part of it? – The Editor Apr 14 '20 at 22:07
  • I am not sure one could press the Greek that far. I prefer the BLB here which says: "in the name of our Lord Jesus, of you having been gathered together and of me in spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus," This suggests that all are gather together in spirit (a kind of one mind). Hope this helps. – Dottard Apr 14 '20 at 23:29
  • 1
    That is what it says. – Dottard Apr 20 '20 at 22:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.