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Matt. 16:18 says, "κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς"(TR-1550 Stephanus)

"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."(KJV)

"Ekklesian", which is from "ekklesia" is a Greek assembly which meets to set policy and determine governance. The Romans borrowed the concept to determine governance of a region; using the term "plebiscite". In both cases it denotes governance by a body, versus an autocratic ruler, and yet it's origin is Greek, not Hebrew. Did Jesus actually use this Greek Concept to describe His body on earth, and was His intent to follow the Greek model, rather than the Hebrew "synagogue" model?

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    Some people like to theorise about the Aramaic behind the Greek of the New Testament, but as a confessional Christian I don't think it's a productive way of thinking. God gave us the text he wanted us to read, which is written in Greek, not Aramaic. – curiousdannii Jan 2 at 12:48
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The Greek text is not under question here. NA28 has:

κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

The LXX uses ἐκκλησία to translate the assembly of Israel. In some places in the Gospels, Jesus may have been referring to such. But in this case, it would be nonsense to refer to such. While there is much debate over interpreting Matt. 16:18, μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν meaning my church is usually not the issue.

However, ἐκκλησία is formed from the word καλέω and with ἐκ means called out. So, the question usually asked is who are the called out, the local congregation or the entire body of believers.

The Relation of the Two Passages. A peculiar difficulty is first raised by the fact that the two passages concerned ([Matt. ]16:18 and 18:17) do not seem to be consonant with one another. ... 16:18 suggests the Church as a world-wide entity and 18:17 suggests the individual congregation. ... however, exposition is particularly difficult, for 16:18 refers to the קָהָל and 18:17 to the synagogue. How, then, are we to explain the use of ἐκκλησία in both cases? We are at least forced to think through the mutual relation between the קָהָל and the synagogue. Is it certain that קָהָל underlies 16:18? -- Schmidt, K. L. (1964–). καλέω, κλῆσις, κλητός, ἀντικαλέω, ἐγκαλέω, ἔνκλημα, εἰσκαλέω, μετακαλέω, προκαλέω, συγκαλέω, ἐπικαλέω, προσκαλέω, ἐκκλησία. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 3, p. 519). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Thus,ἐκκλησία can mean the assembly of Israel, a synagogue, a local congregation (ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας), or the entire body of believers. The meaning that seems to make the most sense here in 16:18 is the entire body of believers.

Appendix

While there is some evidence that Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Hebrew/Aramaic,

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect (Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 1))

if this is the case, most likely Matthew authorized and oversaw the translation into Greek. On the other hand, this Hebrew gospel may be evidence for Q, rather than the Gospel of Matthew being just a translation. Anyway, the Greek Gospel of Matthew is what is canonized, and here translation back to Hebrew/Aramaic, as seen from LXX, isn't a real issue here.

The Syriac (Aramaic) Peshitta translates with the word ܠܥܺܕ̱݁ܬ݁ܝ (my church).

ܥܕܬܐ, ܥܺܕ̱݁ܬܴ݁ܐ Noun. Gloss: church; assembly; congregation. -- Kiraz, G. A. (2003). Analytical lexicon of the Syriac New Testament: based on the SEDRA 3 Database of George Anton Kiraz. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Chart from Logos Bible Software of words in MT translated with ἐκκλησία in the LXX: enter image description here

The Bible Society in Israel New Testament translates μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν as קְהִלָּתִי. Franz Delitzsch used the same word in his Hebrew translation of the New Testament.

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  • You could add Stephen’s use of the term Act 7:38 alongside OT LXX to simply mean an assembly of people which included foreigners, a mixed multitude and those of Abraham’s descent – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 3 at 3:00
  • @Perry Webb Thank you for your response! Assembly, or convocation, if directly translated from the Peshitta, does seem more in line with Hebrew origin. Yet "ekklesia" introduces the concept of an "independant , governing body", which if this is what Jesus intended in specific usage, is a departure from the Hebrew concept of assembly. Is there any justification for this? – Tau Jan 3 at 4:20
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The "ekklesia" question is historically, very contentions:

  • Luther translated the word "Gemeinde" = community (never "kirke"), and many German translations had followed
  • Possibly influenced by Luther (or vis versa) Tyndale translated this word, "congregation" which contributed (among other things) to his being burnt at the stake.
  • The Bishops' Bible and later the KJV uniformly translated "church" with the specific purpose of strengthening the status of the institution

What is the meaning of "ekklesia"? BDAG gives this meaning (for Matt 16:18):

people with a shared belief, community, congregation (a) of OT Israelites, eg, Deut 31:30, Judges 20:2, 1 Sam 17:47, 1 Kings 8:14 ... Heb 2:12 (Ps 21:33); Deut 4:10, 9:10, 18:16, Acts 7:38

(b) of Christians in a specific place or area (the term ekklesia became popular among Christians in Greek-speaking areas for chiefly two reasons: to affirm continuity with Israel through the use of the term found in Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to allay any suspicion, especially in political circles, that Christians were a disorderly group). Matt 18:17, 1 Cor 11:18, 14;4, 12, 19, 28, 35, 3 John 6, Acts 15:22, Acts 5:11, 8:3, Rom 16;1, ... Matt 16:18, etc.

The reason "church" is a problematic (but not entirely wrong) translation is two-fold:

  1. What the NT believers called "ekklesia" is very different from from what most modern "churches" are. many (not all) modern churches have a large bureaucratic super-structure to run administrative functions such institutions, government interfaces, etc. The NT had almost none of this.
  2. The modern word "church" carries overtones of an official, legalised institution. The NT "ekklesia" was neither.

Technically, the word "ekklesia" means "the called out ones", specifically of a political body to legislate or govern; thus, "assembly". In almost all NT cases, "congregation", or, "Christian community" is the most accurate.

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    Thank you for your response! The "Peter Primacy" question, which I didn't introduce, does suggest governance-yet the "ekklesia" is a "body of governance" which is commisioned with the authority to extend the Kingdom of God.I suppose one could extrapolate this concept from the Essenses, yet this clearly wasn't the Hebrew Model. Was Christ deliberate in using a Greek Model as a means of communicating His Authority to the church, or are we the victims of translation? – Tau Jan 3 at 4:13
  • @Tau - ekklesia always describes the Christian community and never the governing body of that community – Dottard Jan 3 at 5:23
  • I would agree that it does imply community, Paul also calls it "His Body" here on earth. But the term is a "Greek" term, not a Hebrew one, and the Greek usage specifically implies "called out ones" who are ruled by "apostolos"(ones who are sent).Citizenship and voting rights are part of this "ekklesia" and they a "self-contained community", even as we saw in Acts 4. Was Christ's intention to declare the assembly of the faithful as His "Ekklesia"-a Greek Model of Self Governance? Or was "ekklesia" a term used in common practice during the early church, which simply meant "assembly"? – Tau Jan 3 at 18:31
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    @Tau - I would argue the latter – Dottard Jan 3 at 20:20
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    @NihilSineDeo You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!!! Until Pentecost, when the "Ekklesia" took on a "governing body" dimension not seen before-with the exception of the appointment of Mattias in the place of Judas. But one appointment, certainly didn't carry out the ministry-much less the 'dunamis' evident AFTER the Day of Pentecost. What I contend with however, is the "Ekklesia" was more than a quoram.. It had functioning authority THROUGH the gathering of the elders, vs a head "Rabbi" or Leader. This leads me to conclude-Jesus intentionally said "ekklesia".... – Tau Jan 6 at 0:54
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This question cannot be answered without assessing what this (whatever) was to be built upon this same (whatever). So what was the "whatever" called the πέτρα--petra--church, and what was the whatever called the ἐκκλησία--ekklēsia--"rock"? It might even help immensely to know what was meant by the κλείς--kleis--"key" (not plural).

First of all, every earthly structure must have a foundation, good or bad. Even the earth, itself, has a foundation as shown in Ezekiel 48:12-13:

Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. (My emphasis)

That prophet, Isaiah, spoke of a very special foundation that is connected to some sort of "believing", that the gates of hell shall not prevail against, in Isaiah 28:16-17:

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. (My emphasis)

All these things did not happen when Israel rebuilt the city and the temple during their captivity. Moreover, Matthew 16's promise was still future. It was not fulfilled that day because Jesus said "I will build my ἐκκλησία".

What then was to be built? Of course, governmental gatherings, whether religious denominatial, or civil, of any sort, in order to lay claim to being this thing that was to be built, must match all the things described in Isaiah 28:16-17, supra. The only chance for such adherence to fulfillment is the belief of individual members of any, or all of the above gatherings. Accordingly, it is possible for πέτρα to be any of Thayer's Greek Lexicon under STRONGS NT 1577: ἐκκλησία.

THAT BELIEF That belief must be built upon that sure foundation, which is Christ. We know this because Jesus said it was His ἐκκλησία--my church. Although it is Jesus' church, He said it would be built upon "this petra" (rock). First of all, does anyone other than Jesus fit the perfectly cut cornerstone of Isaiah--that stone which the builders rejected--? Strong Defined pétra as follows:

πέτρα pétra, pet'-ra; feminine of the same as G4074; a (mass of) rock (literally or figuratively):—rock.

There are many stones of a temple, but Jesus is that "cut" stone of Daniel 2:45, not the mass rock--not the mountain: Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

The petra for the ἐκκλησία was clearly tied to a certain belief that had been expressed by Peter. Peter never went around condemning or approving men on earth to be bound in heaven. He, along with the other apostles, were all given the kleis--key (singular) to the kingdom of heaven. No man living at that time, if they did not believe in the coming of Messiah, would ever enter the kingdom of heaven. They would die in their sins and not be resurrected until the second resurrection after the thousand year reign of Messiah was fulfilled, as we see in John 8:21-24:

Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. (My emphasis)

Many saints believed in Messiah, from Adam, forward. Many Jews believed in their Messiah, from Abraham forward. Most of them have died, but not in their sin, because they believed in their Messiah, even as the believing Jews at the time of of Jesus' ministry as in John 8:31-32:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (My emphasis)

Remember, at the time that Jesus called Peter the rock, He also said to them:

Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. (My emphasis)

The church age had not began. This was still the age of the first 69 weeks of years of Daniel. These weeks of years were those that were determined upon Daniel's people, the Jews--not the church. John, the baptist went only to the Jews. Jesus went only to the Jews. Jesus had not yet finished the work of Salvation--not until He said: *"It is finished."

Therefore, the believers in John 18:32, supra, "shall know" in the future. Jesus gave the gospel of salvation to the twelve, including Paul. They preached that gospel through all the world, beginning at Jerusalem--beginning at Zion (1 Kings 8:1). After calling Simon the Rock because of his belief (therefore also in the future from John 8:31-32), Jesus, Himself, after his death, preached to those believing spirits of all those "saints" who had physically died, from Adam forward, as that Rock, Peter, inform in 1 Peter 3:18-19:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

That key was the belief in Messiah without seeing Him. Peter and the rest of the apostles were only sent out to preach the gospel after Jesus had ascended up "out of their sight", as detailed in Acts 1:9:

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. (My emphasis)

THEREFORE, the stone is Christ even as the ark was Christ. The Rock is the foundation, that common "belief in Messiah", as 1 Corinthians 3:11 demands:

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (My emphasis)

So Jesus had to ascend out of their sight so that faith could arise out of the preaching of the Word of God by Peter and the other apostles, as it is written in Romans 10:1:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

This is crucial because Hebrews 11:6 speaks to all mankind, from Adam to the time of the resurrection of Christ:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (My emphasis)

:Peter was given that key to the Kingdom of heaven because Peter was the apostle to the Jews to whom will be given this "kingdom of heaven" on earth through the person of the Son-of-man King of kings, Jesus the Messiah.

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  • Thank you for your response! A lot to digest here-but it doesn't answer my question, "Was 'ekklesia' the model(or structure-taken from the Greek usage of the term) Jesus's intention when He used the word-"ekklesia". We seem to have a "50/50" split on this. I take your comments on the understanding the question, but it doesn't directly answer the question: unless you can give a concise statement addressing my issue. But....thanks! – Tau Jan 6 at 0:44
  • Sorry, I tried. Good question that needs to be answered. I'll sit back and watch. – Bill Porter Jan 6 at 3:00
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Some 20 years ago a discovery was made of 66 thirteenth century Hebrew manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew. There is some speculation that these were an independent ancient manuscript tradition but as far as I know they are considered to be thirteenth century translations. I don't read Hebrew but I do see some indications of its antiquity based on the fact that it differs from the Greek Matthew. One notable difference is that it has fewer Beatitudes. Also, it lacks the trinitarian baptism formula in 28:19. It can be downloaded for free at Academia.edu.

Here's how it reads:

Hebrew version

English version

It should be noted also that the "house of prayer" is composed of people, not brick and mortar:

[1Pe 2:5 NLT] (5) And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What's more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.

So "house of prayer" seems to be an excellent fit I mean "build" suggests a "building", does it not?:

[Isa 56:7 NLT] (7) I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

[Mar 11:17 NLT] (17) He said to them, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves."

[Rev 21:9-10, 14 NLT] (9) Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." (10) So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. ... (14) The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

[Eph 2:19-22 WEB] (19) Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; (20) And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-[stone]; (21) In whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth to a holy temple in the Lord: (22) In whom ye also are built together, for a habitation of God through the Spirit.

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    These are not "thirteenth century Hebrew manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew". They are manuscripts of a mediaeval Jewish anti-Christian treatise quoting bits of Matthew in Hebrew translation. There is no reason to think that this translation is old. – fdb Jan 2 at 15:36
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    Hi Perry. I added a summary. I hope it makes clear how I think the word should be understood and throw light on what Jesus was suggesting. In English we use the word "Church" for both the worshipers and the place of worship. – Ruminator Jan 2 at 17:39
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    "It should be noted also that the 'house of prayer' is composed of people, not brick and mortar:" The same is true for ἐκκλησία. – Perry Webb Jan 2 at 20:03
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    @Ruminator: Right, I just wanted to make it clear. That aspect isn't a differentiation from the Greek. – Perry Webb Jan 2 at 21:34
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    @Tau, it seems to me to be a question of whether Matthew was composed in Hebrew or in Greek, as tradition says. I think that perhaps we can consider it a word that took on a different meaning in the NT than it had in secular society. – Ruminator Jan 3 at 12:00

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