This is an interesting and timely post related to our recent, brief series on Arnold Murray, specifically his false teaching concerning the nature of the Trinity. In this post by well-respected author, Randy Alcorn, he cites some observations made by Kevin DeYoung on the nature of false teachers, i.e. wolves, throughout history.
Before quoting DeYoung, Alcorn offers his own striking statement,
More theological battles have been lost to enemies inside the church than to those outside. The evil one has targeted us for deception. Nothing less than the welfare of God’s people is at stake.
We turn now from the English word church to the word used in the original Koine Greek, ekklesia. After working through the meaning of ekklesia, we’ll need to ask whether the meaning and use of church corresponds accurately with ekklesia, whether church conveys the meaning of ekklesia, and what our Lord intended by using ekklesia over a similar word, sunagogue (synagogue).
In biblical translations, we arrive at our English equivalents in one of two ways: 1. Transliteration, or simply the English letter equivalent 2. Translation, inserting the near English equivalent in the place of the original language word.
In our Bible translations however, particularly English, this can be tricky because no word in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) has a single word that corresponds to its meaning. There is usually a range (semantic range) of words and context is the best guide to determining which word fits best. So even the best, formal equivalency (attempted word-for-word) translations have a bit of interpretation in them.
Sometimes we use transliterated words (our English letter equivalents and the Greek words you see here because I don’t have Greek fonts) from the original biblical languages in our modern parlance, such as Hallelujah or Messiah or Christ. However, our usage doesn’t always match the words meaning: Hallelujah = Praise Yahweh; Messiah = Anointed; but sometimes they are closer as in Christos = Christ. Other common transliterated words in our New Testament are, Apostle (apostelos), Angel (angelos), Baptism (baptismo), Evangelist (euangeli), and Deacon (diakonos). Note that these words have not necessarily been translated into an English equivalent, but because they are transliterated instead, they carry their original meaning over, sometimes avoiding unnecessary replacement, but sometimes failing to communicate the actual meaning, as in baptismo= immersion.
Our English word “church” is the most common translation of the Greek word ekklesia. As Mounce’s dictionary affirms we find his definition of ekklesia as “church, congregation, assembly.” Since ekklesia is the transliteration of the original Greek word, we can see clearly that it has no transliteration relationship with church. Ekklesia is sometimes said to mean “the called out ones”, because it is a compound of ek (out of) and kaleo (called), while possible, it’s not entirely accurate. We know that the combination of words into one doesn’t necessarily convey the meaning, as in our English words butterfly or greenhouse.
Likewise we can see that the other possibilities (semantic ranges) given by Mounce could have a greater bearing on what this word ekklesia actually means, neither a location, building, or event but rather an assembly or gathering.
Ekklesia is used as a noun ~114 times in the New Testament, first appearing canonically in Matthew 16:18. Our Lord was not novel is His declaration to build an ekklesia, rather He was using or perhaps clarifying the Old Testament use and understanding of ekklesia. Were you aware that the word so often translated as “church” was used in the Old Testament some 100 times?
In the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint (LXX), ekklesia is the most common translation of the Hebrew word qahal, meaning “assembly” or “to assemble”. Of the 162+/- occurences of qahal (or maqhel), ~96 times it is translated as ekklesia. However, qahal can also be translated as sunagogue or what we know as the transliterated word synagogue. This translation choice for qahal occurs ~45 times in the Septuagint. Commenting on the OT use of qahal, Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology, writes, “[Qahal] properly denotes the actual meeting together of the people.” (p. 555). In other words, qahal wasn’t abstract, but took place when the people actually met together.
The remaining translations of qahal occur in a variety of ways. As an aside, note how we have come to recognize the transliteration of synagogue and keep it in our English translations, but ekklesia is conspicuously absent. It’s worth pointing out that unlike church, ekklesia doesn’t carry a specifically religious connotation, it simply means gathering or assembly (see Acts 19:32, 39, 41; now why isn’t it translated church in these verses!?!). It gains its religious meaning when the phrase “of God” or “of Christ” is attached or implied. We might say for our purposes that ekklesia simply means an assembly of God in Christ.
Ekklesia is used in at least of couple of different ways in the New Testament which has caused no little amount of tension. As well as being used in the singular (church) and plural (churches), it’s use in the aforementioned Matthew 16:18 seems to be generic or what some have called a universal sense. While it’s next use, the only other occurrence in the Gospels seems to be more specific, carrying a local application, Matthew 18:16.
Kittle, writing in volume 3 of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament writes, “From the time of Thuc. [Thucydides, 460-395 B.C.], Plat. [Plato, 428-348 B.C.], and Xenoph. [Xenophon, 430-354 B.C.], and especially in inscriptions, ekklesia is the assembly of the demos [people, mass of people assembled in a public place] in Athens and in most Greek poleis [cities]. The etymology is both simple and significant. The citizens are the ekkletoi, i.e., those who are summonsed and called together by the herald.”
Think again how we use the word church in our modern vernacular and even in the definition of church itself and ask whether it fits with what we’ve seen regarding ekklesia. As we saw, typically church means a people or building belonging to the Lord, but has also been applied to denominations, events, institutions, even businesses. Ekklesia simply means an assembly or gathering. Ekklesia is never used in reference to a building, ever. Also, implied in the meaning of an assembly or gathering is a plurality, not individuality.
Translating ekklesia as church may have seemed like a fine idea if one is wanting to convey the idea of “belonging to the Lord”, but as we have seen so far, that is simply not the meaning of ekklesia and church is now a loaded term with baggage. It would have been acceptable in our example we looked at last time from Revelation 1:10, John was in the Spirit on the church day, but not as a translation of ekklesia.
Our other word used in the original Greek, sunagogue (synagogue), seems to have overlapping meaning with ekklesia, i.e. they can both mean a gathering. However, unlike ekklesia, synagogue can also refer specifically to a building, or the place where the gathering takes place. On a surface level, it would appear that our English word church may more appropriately be related to synagogue, rather than ekklesia, particularly when we consider that synagogue carries with it a religious meaning.
However, let us be reminded that our Lord stated specifically in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His ekklesia, not His synagogue. Both have meaning in the Old Testament, only one, synagogue, carries with it a specifically religious connotation as well as a strict geographic location that would have been easily recognized as such in the first century. Ekklesia was much more generic, carrying with it the idea of a city council or local government. Are these difference merely pedantic? Or does understanding the meaning of church, ekklesia, and synagogue, respectively, influence the form or function of what we have come to call and participate in as church?
Let’s conclude with a final word from Kittle in his NT Theological Dictionary after stating that the use of assembly or gathering may be a more accurate way to translate ekklesia, “This does not mean that we should banish the words ‘Church’ and ‘congregation’ from our vocabulary. Apart from the impossibility of such an undertaking, there would be no sense in forfeiting the wealth of meaning proper to these terms. What is needed is that we should grasp the precise significance of the word ekklesia, since at this point linguistic sobriety will help us to the true meaning and bearing from the standpoint of biblical theology.”
Two main questions remain: 1. If it’s not the best-fit translation, how or why did church make it into our English bibles? 2. What, if anything, is the significance of all this?
***This post will be a little longer than usual, due to the amount of material needing to be covered.***
What makes someone a heretic? Who is qualified to make this determination?
A heretic is a person who departs from recognized orthodoxy, or we might say more accurately one who believes and promotes beliefs contrary to Scripture. Unfortunately, history is riddled with the misapplication of the term. Some who held faithfully to Scripture were labeled heretics, even unto martyrdom. Others were rightly labeled heretics and cast out, treated like a gentile tax collector.
Labeling someone a heretic is serious business, particularly as it relates to the people of God. In essence, it is a functional utilization of the keys to the kingdom by which the people of God are given power and authority to bind and loose within and without the kingdom of God.
Under the Mosaic economy, the nation of Israel was given specific commands regarding the heretics of their day. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 we read,
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Likewise, in Deuteronomy 18:20-22
“20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.“
Fortunately for us (and maybe also for so-called heretics!) we do not live under the Mosaic economy, so stoning false prophets is no longer a requirement (or legal!). Regardless, the seriousness of presumptuously speaking for the Lord can be felt in the passage above.
Before we get into further discussion of the man and ministry under examination in this series, Arnold Murray, and weigh whether he is in fact heretical, let’s briefly identify several key attributes of a heretic, the anatomy of a heretic so to speak:
A head full of knowledge but never arriving at the truth.
Eyes blinded to the truths of God’s Word.
Ears that cannot hear rebukes or correction.
A tongue that twists Scripture to advance themselves and their false teaching.
An unregenerate heart that denies the central attributes of God, thereby creating a god fashioned in their own likeness.
Hands that misapply Scripture.
Feet that spread their false teaching to an audience of tickling ears far and wide. A false teacher that nobody pays attention is an anomaly.
Turning again to Murray, to ensure that his apologists don’t accuse me of taking the clips we looked at last time out of context (though in reality those are question and answer, no context needed) below is a teaching on John 10, one I intentionally picked out because of Christ’s claim to deity, as well as the distinction He makes between Himself and the Father.
This video is actually a good overview and introduction into the other questionable, if not heretical, teachings of Murray. For our purposes, we’ll begin at the 25:36 mark where we are introduced once again to Murray’s views on the pre-existence of man.
Here Murray begins his exposition of John 10:30 by referencing Isaiah 7:14 which we’ve heard him use before. No doubt a pet passage of his that he never fully explains, but leaves ambiguous to promote heavily his Modalist doctrine that we looked at last time.
Then he directs the listener’s attention to Genesis 1 by stating God’s words, “Let us create man in our image.” However, Murray departs from orthodoxy that views this as an intra-Trinitarian conversation. Instead he sees the let “us”… and in “our” image as a reference to angels alongside God. As if that weren’t departure from orthodoxy enough, he then equates the angels to “us”, i.e. humans, stating that “everyone of us was in angelic or spiritual bodies at that time”. Let’s summarize what he is advancing through this teaching:
The us and our in Genesis 1:26 is not a reference to the Godhead, but is instead a reference to angels
These angels are not merely a set of created beings who serve God day and night, but are instead humanity – pre-existing humanity – in angelic or spiritual bodies.
This teaching is very similar to Mormonism, which should tell you the ground upon which Murray is treading is quicksand. Simply put there are no verses used to support or promote this false teaching at all. I know later he will reference Ecclesiastes, but as we’ll see, that also is a misinterpretation of Scripture.
Continuing this discussion in 26:45, Murray again references a different “dimension” for God, which it seems is his way around the Trinity, using these dimensions as a way for him to support Modalism. My guess is that he would conclude the Father, spiritually, was in another dimension and then He entered into the flesh in this dimension as the Son.
As a side note, there is a passing mention here to another controversial doctrine advanced by Murray which he calls the “third-earth age”. It’s difficult for me to pin this down based solely on this video teaching, but I would surmise it has reference to us existing prior to creation in the first-earth age, then in this age – the second earth age, then in the age to come, the third earth age. This too is similar to that of Mormon teaching. Murray will also cite (and misinterpret) 2 Peter 3 to support his view.
In the very next breath, Murray introduces yet another of his controversial teachings, namely that of the Kenites, or those who he sees as offspring of Cain, who who Murray claims was a byproduct of sexual relations between Eve and Satan. This will lead us into the doctrine of the Serpent Seed, but we’ll wait on fully unpacking this, as it will come up again shortly. Literally within the span of 3:30, Murray has spouted off a denial of the Trinity, the pre-existence of man, the existence of three earth ages, and the Kenite or serpent seed doctrine. As a reminder, we’re in John 10, Murray isn’t.
When dealing with heresies and heretics, it’s not enough to simply point out their errors. We must contend for the truthfulness of Scripture. Murray’s interpretation of John 10:30-33, despite being heretical, wholly misses the point. When Christ declares that He and the Father are one, a statement of unity among the divine essence of God while simultaneously maintaining their distinction in person, the Jews pick up stones to stone Him, vs. 32.
Now we must ask why? Why would this statement from Jesus elicit such a response from the Jews? Because it was a claim to deity and under Mosaic law, blasphemy – which they would ultimately accuse and murder Him falsely for – was punishable by stoning. This is made perfectly clear in verse 33, “The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” According to Murray, the Jews were going to stone Jesus because they were jealous that they could not do the good works, healing, miracles, etc, that He did, completely missing the explanation in verse 33 (notice he glosses right over it).
All heresy and false teaching aside, one cannot sit under teaching that completely misinterprets a clear passage of Scripture as this one. How can anyone take anything else he promotes if he can botch the interpretation of a passage that gives its own interpretation? John 10 is a historical narrative, not Revelation, not OT prophecy, and the explanation of this account, much like some of Jesus’ parables, is given in the passage.
Moving on…there’s much more, suffice to say, there is enough up to this point and in our last post to convince a listener to avoid Murray and his subtle God-denying teaching.
But truth against error must be advanced. As the Apostle Paul wrote, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.“ 2 Corinthians 11:12
29:25 I said ye are gods – Psalm 82:6
Here again is a quick-slip of Modalism. Murray states that Christ is claiming to have made this statement in Psalm 82:6, “He is quoting Psalm 82:6 here and He is saying I’m the One who said it.” Murray then states, “He is that spirit that moves upon. He is our Father that said it.” There we see clearly his equation of Christ as the Father and the Father as the incarnate Christ.
As to the interpretation of “ye are gods” by citing Ezekiel 18:4, “All souls belong to God” and then concluding that “gods” is actually “God’s” in reference to possessive ownership, this is another example that:
1. He does not know Greek or Hebrew, nor can he rightly handle the word of God in English.
2. He is unable to interpret basic passages of Scripture.
Andreas Kostenberger in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament comments on John 10:34, “Jesus’ purpose in adducing this particular OT passage in response to the Jews’ charge of blasphemy ‘is an appeal to Scripture to justify His claim to be one with the Father, and to be His Son.’ In essence, Jesus is saying that there is OT precedent for referring to humans as ‘gods’” (note gods in this passage is a reference to human judges/judiciary rulers – see resource video below). Jesus was pointing out the inconsistent application by the Jews of their own law while asserting the validity of His own claim to deity. But Murray misses all this by redefining gods as God’s.
31:11 “You’re a child of God. Where do you think you’re soul came from? Ecclesiastes 12:6-7.” More talk of the pre-existence of humanity, which by the way completely violates the order given in 1 Corinthians 15:46-47, physical then glorified bodies.
In this episode, Murray has re-hashed several of the arguments and teachings that we saw promoted in the clips last time, but we were able to see them within the context of his regular television broadcast. This leads me to believe that regardless of the text, his end goal is to arrive at these false teachings. I’m changing my original statement that maybe you wouldn’t hear something false in every episode. I think maybe that’s all you hear over and over regardless of the text being discussed. Perhaps the old adage, “you can’t get there from here” is wrong after all.
Summarizing, thus far we have seen the following errant doctrines:
A denial of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and a promotion of the false doctrine of Modalism.
The first-earth age theory.
A belief in the pre-existence of man.
An introduction to the controversial and misleading Kenite doctrine, which is based in his promotion of the Serpent Seed (we will look at this next time).
The inability to interpret the most basic of passages.
The evidence is weighing strongly against Murray, the Shepherd’s Chapel, and all those who would promote such ungodly teaching.
Mercifully, this teaching episode ends and the Q&A portion of the program ensues at 34:05. Here is where we will pick up next time.