Acts 5:11 (ESV):

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 15:22 (ESV):

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers...

Romans 16:23 (ESV):

Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

1 Corinthians 14:23 (ESV):

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

What, in your opinion, from the verses above, constitutes "the whole church". How many members must be included? Literally every member of the Body of Christ in that area? Or is it merely a generalized sentiment, something like a consensus?

If we look at the two examples from Acts, we know that by the end of Pentecost, 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:41). Others continued to be added daily (Acts 2:47). So, in Acts 5:11, provided there might have been an undisclosed level of decrease in those who continued steadfastly in the Apostle's Doctrine, when it reads that fear came upon the whole church when word got out about Ananias and Sapphira both dying under judgment (Acts 5:1-10), I suspect every person in the church in Jerusalem likely had a shiver go up their spine at the prospect of God outright killing members of the Body who lie to the Holy Spirit.

But, after that, things get a little harder to discern. The letter the Apostles and Elders wrote to the Gentile churches clearly had resistance and disagreement against it, as there were Jews in or from the Jerusalem church who advocated circumcision but were outvoted (Acts 15:1). So, does the phrase "the whole church" include them? If so, does the phrase indicate that they had a change of heart and agreed with the conclusion reached, that it seemed good to the Apostles and Elders and to the Holy Spirit to lay no other expectation on the Gentile believers, than that which was included in the letter? Or were those Jewish Christians who advocated circumcision for Gentiles summarily ex-communicated and not considered part of "the whole church"?

And finally, in Paul's two letters, what does he mean by "the whole church"? Literally every member? And if so, how did Gaius host the entire Body in his home? Was it a small assembly? Furthermore, how then did the "whole church", that is, every member, come together in Corinth, for example? Just how large of a gathering might that have been? Christ told Paul He had many people in Corinth (Acts 18:10). Does this mean dozens, hundreds, thousands? And if a large number like this, what are the implications for every member being able to come together at one time? Seems like a Roman Amphitheater would have been required in such cases.

Or should the phrase "the whole church" not mean literally every member? But if not literally every member, what then might the phrase indicate? A bare minimum of members? Like a Minyan?


1 Answer 1


Not so fast - the word ἐκκλησία (congregation, or assembly) has different meanings in different places depending on context. For example, (according to BDAG) the word can mean any of (see BDAG for a longer list of verses):

  1. Christians in a local congregation, eg, Matt 18:17, 1 Cor 11:18, 14:4, 12, 19, 28, Rom 16:5, etc
  2. Christians in a local area comprising several congregations that meet for special decisions (perhaps by appointed delegates?), Acts 8:1, 3, 9:31, 11:26, 12:5, 15:22, etc
  3. Christians that compose the totality of the entire world church, eg, Matt 16:18, Acts 5:11, 1 Cor 6:4, 12:28, Eph 1:22, 3:10, etc.
  4. The congregation of OT Israelites, eg, Acts 7:38, Heb 2:12, etc.

Thus, we have different groups. Specifically,

  • In Acts 5:11, "the whole church" is suggesting meaning #3 above.
  • In Acts 15:22, "the whole church" is suggesting meaning #2 above (possibly in this case the delegates present at the meeting??)
  • In Acts 16:23, "the whole church" is suggesting meaning #1 above
  • In 1 Cor 14:23, "the whole church" is suggesting meaning #1 above.

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