Tag Archives: Christ

Ekklesia in the Gospel of Matthew

 

In our last post on the doctrine of the church, we began our Scriptural examination with an overview of the Old Testament, particularly the Greek translation (Septuagint), use of ekklesia, the Greek word translated as church in the English New Testament.   Here we want to turn our attention to the first use of ekklesia in the New Testament, which as we have seen is not a new concept, rather a clarification and reapplication of an existing concept.

The word ekklesia is used only used three times in the Gospels, all occurring in Matthew and all used by our Lord.  We will begin with an overview of these passages, some brief observations/questions, and follow up with more in-depth exposition in subsequent posts. The first passage is Matthew 16:18 within the context of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” Matthew 16:13-20

Historically, this passage has been the source of two significant controversies concerning the understanding of church.  First, is the identification of the rock upon which Christ will build His church.  This interpretive controversy has led to no shortage of division, most notably between Protestants and Catholics.

The second controversy concerns the notion of a doctrine of the universal church.  What is it? Does it or Does it not exist?  This has had massive implications such as who belongs to the church and may find its origin in the 3rd and 4th centuries, most notably with Augustine and the Donatist Controversy.  Here is where a nuanced understanding of church vs. ekklesia will help navigate the waters of this controversy, which we will traverse in a future post.

Additionally, as we dive into this passage in subsequent posts, we must distinguish between this concept of ekklesia (church) and the kingdom of heaven, a matter of confusion that also has its source around the time of Augustine.  Also, we’ll need to look at to whom the “keys of the kingdom” have been given.  Relatedly, what is the “binding and loosing” that is here mentioned?  Answering these questions biblically, while avoiding the tangles of tradition, will aid greatly in identifying the form of Christ’s ekklesia.

The next two uses of ekklesia (church) in Matthew are both found in Matthew 18:17.  Here the context of is the confrontation of a sinning brother or sister for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:15-20

Here, it is often asserted that the use of ekklesia is substantially different than in the previous use, perhaps suggestive of a more specific application, which some have determined to be a reference to the local church.  For obvious reasons, if a universal church existed, it would be impossible to “tell it to the church” universally, so by necessary reasoning the scope of ekklesia here is often seen to be different and narrower.  However, we will need a closer examination and not merely assume that there is an implied difference between ekklesia found in Matthew 16 and here in Matthew 18, as so many have done before.

Next, we find an additional mention of binding and loosing, which would seem to be a clarification and indeed an application of the previous mention in Matthew 16.  Additionally, some have used this passage to promote a concept known as “church discipline”.  As we unpack these uses of ekklesia by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, this will be one of the issues we will need take up.  What situations warrant discipline?  Who is qualified to issue this discipline?

With these passages from Matthew introduced, we will turn our focus to the first controversial issue from Matthew 16, namely upon whom is the rock which Christ will build His ekklesia?

 

 

 

 

 

An Xmas Rejoinder

 

The first couple years of this blog I published a post on the use of “X” in the place of Christ’s name in the word Christmas.  The argument was less about putting Christ back into Christmas, which would be a little unorthodox since it’s unlikely that Christ was born this time of year, let alone the historic origin of our traditional celebration of Christmas.  Nevertheless, it is certainly within the realm of Christian liberty to celebrate the tradition of Christmas.

However, more and more there is public opposition to the tradition of Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, “X-mas” is perhaps just the most obvious.  As in previous posts on this topic, I must once again humbly disagree with a man and ministry that I largely admire.

In this post, What Does the X in Xmas Mean, Dr. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries annually provides a Christian apologetic on the use of the “X” in X-mas, boiling it down to a simple substitution of the Koine Greek letter Chi (X), the first letter in the word Christ (Christos), in the place of the Christ.  It’s a post that has been shared numerous times by pastors and bloggers over the years with a much larger audience than this one.  Dr. Sproul summarizes, “There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”

Having now completed my first year of Greek, just enough to be dangerous and highly irresponsible, my conclusion on this defense of X remains exactly the same as it was in 2009, namely that the majority of those using Xmas have little to zero understanding of the Koine Greek letter chi (X) nor it’s historical function as a representation of the name of Christ (see also Chi-ro).

Case in point, let’s cherry-pick a X-mas news story from today’s headlines, like this one http://www.app.com/story/entertainment/music/2016/12/18/glen-burtnik-brought-xmas-back-new-jersey/95585288/ where a former Styx band member is reigniting a performance known as Xmas Xtravaganza.  Would anyone reasonably conclude that Glenn Burtnik is simply honoring the tradition of recognizing Christ with the Koine Greek representation of Chi (X)?  Hardly.  In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find any Xmas sales, ads, articles, news, etc. where the use of Xmas was an informed use of the Greek letter “X”, rather than an obvious attempt to omit the name of Christ.

Christ doesn’t need put back in Christmas, at least not the traditional consumerist celebration that we’ve come to call that day.  However, we also need to be aware of society’s overt attempts to dismiss the name of Christ at every opportunity.

When you see Xmas in use, feel free to be disturbed.  Not because Christ has been taken out of Christmas, but because the world hates Christ and will go to any measure to dismiss Him as the Son of God who suffered and died for the salvation of sinners.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”  John 15:18

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

*image credit http://blog.dictionary.com/xmas-christogram/

Bookends to the Gospel of Matthew

 

The Gospel of Matthew, the first in canonical order (New Testament) and 1 of the 3 synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke), begins in a unique way with the genealogies of our Lord’s humanity highlighting Abraham, David, and the Deportation into Babylon.  These serve as not only significant events in the history of Israel, but also to establish Christ as the offspring of Abraham, heir to the throne of David, and identify him with the nation of Israel.  In verses 18-21 of the first chapter we are given an historical account of the birth of Christ culminating as a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah,

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

There is much to examine in this passage including, at minimum, the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the virginity of Mary, the divine communication of God, and the meaning of the phrase “God with us”, which is significant for our discussion here.  “God with us” in its context imports all of the Old Testament meaning of God dwelling with His people, going back to the Garden (Gen. 3:8), the blessing promised upon entrance into Canaan (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:11-12), and elsewhere (Ezek. 37:27; et.al.).

In the Greek, this phrase, “God with us” is meta (meth) hemon ho Theos, which brings us to the purpose and significance of this brief post.  Matthew, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concludes his gospel with this same phrase, ego meta (meth) humon eimi in Matthew 28:20 which is literally translated “I with you all am” or “I am with you all”.

The significance of these phrases framing the opening and conclusion of this gospel account should be obvious.  Our Lord’s birth is announced by means of fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, one in which the title given Him is Immanuel, “God with us”.  As if that statement were not strong enough to establish the deity of our Lord, we are given by means of quotation from Him the same phrase, “I am with you all”.  A statement which should not be minimized, but is purposeful in Christ claiming deity for Himself.

This is a crucial point of contention when witnessing to those who deny that Jesus is God.  Often, their arguments are that Christ never claimed that He is God, which of course is false.  Here we have two crystal clear references to His own claim to deity.  First, as shown above, is His substitution of “I am” in the place of “God” in the phrase “will be with you”.

Second, is the meaning of the phrase “I am” (ego eimi), which is developed in far greater detail in the Gospel of John, particularly as he recounts the “I am” phrases spoken by Christ (John 6, 8, 10, 11, 14).  By taking upon Himself this title, I am, Jesus takes upon Himself the meaning of this as well which finds its own development Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.”  In the verse that follows, we get the name of God that we are accustomed to seeing on the pages of Holy Scripture, “God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”   Here we have the LORD (all capital letters) standing for God’s divine, covenant name YHWH (pronounced Yah-weh), which is connected to the title “I AM”.  When Christ adopts the title “I AM” He is doing nothing less than taking the name Yahweh for Himself.

In these two short, seemingly inconsequential statements we have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom of God in the revelation of His Son Jesus and the establishment of Him as God in the Flesh, literally God with us.  How often we must give our hearts over with the Apostle Paul to proclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom. 11:33