by Jerry Shugart

The Church (ekklesia) at Acts 2

I will begin the study by quoting this verse which speaks of the "church" at Acts 2:

"Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church (ekklesia) daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia and that word can be found in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the LXX). Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a respected Bible scholar, wrote the following:

"Nor would the term 'Church' sound strange in Jewish ears. The same Greek word (ekklesia), as the equivalent of the Hebrew 'Qahal,' 'convocation,' 'the called,' occurs in the LXX. rendering of the Old Testament, and in 'the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach' and was apparently in familiar use at that time. In Hebrew use it referred to Israel, not in their national but in their religious unity" [emphasis added] (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. M. Eerdmans Publishing 1971] Book 3, Chapter 37, p.84).

According to Edersheim the Greek word translated "church" was in familiar use and "it referred to Israel...in their religious unity."

Next, let us look at the events here which were in regard to the ekklesia of Acts 2:

"For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:16-17).

The following prophecy was totally in regard to the religious unity of Israel and Israel alone:

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation (ekklesia) , assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts...And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:16,27-28).

So the ekklesia mentioned at Acts 2:47 is referring to Israel in her religious unity and it is not referring to the Body of Christ.

The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

Let us now look at another verse where the Greek word ekklesia refers to Israel in her religious unity:

"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church (ekklesia); and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt.16:18-19).

Here the Lord refers to the "keys of the kingdom of heaven," the same kingdom referred to here by the Lord Jesus:

"From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt.4:17).

Since the nation of Israel failed to recognize the Lord Jesus as their promised Messiah the setting up of the earthly kingdom has been postponed until the return of the Lord Jesus to earth:

"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Lk.21:27-31).

It will not be until the kingdom is brought to earth when the Apostles will "bind on earth" what "shall be bound in heaven." That will not happen until the Apostles will sit upon twelve tribes judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the kingdom:

"That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Lk.22:30).

This speaks of the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus, the time when Israel will be restored to her previous position of being a special people unto the Lord. Therefore the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" have nothing to do with what is happening now within the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ as an Intercalation

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founding President of Dallas Theological Seminary, understood that the Body of Christ is "wholly unrelated to any divine purpose which precedes it or follows it":

"But for the Church intercalation -- which was wholly unforeseen and is wholly unrelated to any divine purpose which precedes it or which follows it. In fact, the new, hitherto unrevealed purpose of God in the outcalling of a heavenly people from Jews and Gentiles is so divergent with respect to the divine purpose toward Israel, which purpose preceded it and will yet follow it, that the term parenthetical, commonly employed to describe the new age-purpose, is inaccurate. A parenthetical portion sustains some direct or indirect relation to that which goes before or that which follows; but the present age-purpose is not thus related and therefore is more properly termed an intercalation" (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:41; 5:348-349).

This teaching is fundamental in regard to traditional dispensational thought. The Church "intercalation" is "divergent with respect to the divine purpose toward Israel."

Therefore it is evident that the events Peter described as finding a fulfillment of the Joel prophecy, which relates to Israel, cannot be a part of the Church intercalation, which is divergent from the divine purpose toward Israel.

Objections

Acts 2 dispensationalist Bruce Compton objects to the idea that what happened on the day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of the prophecy which Peter quoted from Joel. He says that "there is nothing mentioned in Joel's passage that Peter (or Luke) identifies as actually taking place at Pentecost. There is no reference in Acts 2 to prophecy, to dreams, to signs of blood. The only common denominators between Joel's prophecy and the events of Acts 2 are the working of God's Spirit and the offer of salvation" (Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant, ed. Mike Stallard [Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Books, 212], 275).

The Greek word translated "prophecy" has a much wider meaning than foretelling future events. It also means "to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon). That is exactly what happened when the believers began to speak in tongues on the day of Pentecost.

So the events of Acts 2 were indeed a fulfillment of Joel's words that "your sons and daughters will prophesy" as well as the words "I will pour out my Spirit." Besides those two things was an offer of salvation, which matches Joel's prophecy

Therefore, there can be no doubt that when Peter saw the beginning of the prophecy which he quoted being fulfilled he was correct when he said, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel."

Despite this, Bruce Compton says the following:

"In other words, Peter does not say that what Joel prophesied was being fulfilled at Pentecost, partially or otherwise...the construction can be interpreted as introducing an illustration or analogy from the Old Testament that in some way parallels the events at Pentecost. Understanding the citation in this way, Peter would be saying that 'this is similar' to what was spoken through the prophet Joel.' As such, Peter does not imply that Joel's prophecy is being fulfilled" [emphasis added] (Ibid.), 274-275).

This idea is contradicted by what Peter said later when he made it known that what happened in those days were a fulfillment of the OT prophecies:

"Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days" (Acts 3:24).

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