Friday, November 05, 2010

The church of Ephesus

I’m catching up on some old business:

Stan Williams:

“In the RSV the language (in English) is the ‘household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.’ Which makes it clear that we're not talking about a local parish. The ‘household of God’ and ‘the church of the living God’ is universal (Catholic) concepts. And again, no mention is made of Scripture, but a body of people.”

i) How is it clear that a local church can’t be a household of God?

ii) Since the Greek construction is anarthrous, why insert a definite article before the noun?

iii) Moreover, even a Catholic commentator like Msgr. Quinn admits that house-churches were the norm at this time and place. So that would favor a local church referent.

iv) The 1C church of Rome was, itself, a local parish.

“It makes no sense that 1 Tim 3:15 refers in context to ‘only’ the Church as Ephesus.”

Since 1 Tim was addressed to a man pastoring the church of Ephesus, it makes perfect sense to refer the phrase to the church of Ephesus, whereas it makes no sense to refer the phrase to the church of Rome. What textual evidence is there that 1 Tim 3:15 denotes the church of Rome? None whatsoever. That goes against the setting.

“If so, then what authority does Paul have to write about anything?“

Apostolic authority.

“He was not under the elders at Ephesus.”

Naturally, since an apostle outranks an elder.

“There is nothing in the context that limits the definition of ‘church.’ But there is everything to imply (especially coming from a missionary ‘apostle’ like Paul) that ‘church’ here refers to the ‘wider’ universal church.”

i) To the contrary, missionaries like Paul planted local churches.

ii) Every church is not a pillar of truth. The church of Corinth was often a pillar of error. And we could cite other examples (e.g. Galatians).

“And that indeed is how the Roman Catholic Church understands it. There is the wider "church" for which the Roman Church speaks form time to time about what is true, as revealed to by the Holy Spirit to the Church as a whole.”

A circular argument. Suppose a Mormon “understood” 1 Tim 3:15 as denoting the LDS church?

“But we Catholic apologists refer to this verse to point out that the Bible NO WHERE states that the Bible is the foundation of truth.”

i) Actually, it’s better than a foundation of truth. It is the truth.

ii) To say the Bible doesn’t make a certain self-referential claim misses the point–like people who can’t see their glasses because they can’t see without their glasses.

“Indeed, the Bible points to ‘the church’ in this verse ... and the logical understanding of the infallible Word is the ‘universal’ Church.”

I don’t see you quoting an infallible magisterial interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15. Rather, I see you attempting to foist your private opinion on the rest of us.

“By the way, there was no New Testament when Paul wrote this, nor in the hundreds of years after it was distributed as a letter.”

The very fact that you’re trying to prooftext your position betrays your own (albeit inconsistent) reliance on the written word of God.


  1. Part of the problem here is that 'church' is an English word. The word in Greek was "ἐκκλησία" (ekklēsia) (G1577). Underlying the debate is the question 'What was the intended meaning of the Greek word "ekklēsia"?'

    We are projecting theological meaning onto this particular Greek word that wasn't there in the Greek. The word "ἐκκλησία" (ekklēsia) means "assembly" and nothing more.

    How can this be seen? Apart from the Bible there are 60 million Greek words found in the Oxyrhynchus papyri and the Tebtunis papyri (representing Greek literature from Homer through to 1453 AD). This body of non-Biblical Greek includes the word "ἐκκλησία" (ekklēsia).

    In every case of its appearance in secular Greek, its meaning has been translated 'assembly' and never 'church'.

    Thus if a Greek word only assumes some particular meaning outside of Biblical translation, chances are, that is what the word meant in Greek, and its translation is true. If it assumes a different meaning in Biblical translation, chances are that theological meaning is being injected in the translation process, according to the theological tastes of the translator.

    Although the new covenant literature (NT) was written in Greek, the speakers were Aramaic. The 'assembly' idiom, as seen in Aramaic (and Hebrew), is found abundantly in the old covenant literature. [Exo 12:6,16][Num 16:33,47][Ezra 2:64, 10:1,12,14][Neh 7:66] etc etc.

    There is scarcely an old covenant book that doesn't deal with this idiom of 'the assembly of the Lord' as The congregation of faithful Israelites assembled to worship.

    Strangely, the old covenant idiom aligns nicely with the actual Greek meaning 'assembly'.

    So, if we translate ekklēsia as assembly, see how the debate disppears? But if we translate it 'church' and project additional theological meaning onto it, debate occurs precisely because we've strayed away from its intended meaning.

    What does this mean in terms of Ephesus? Was there an assembly of God believing worshipers there?


    Where there God believing worshipers elsewhere?


    Can we call all these assemblies one?


    Perhaps this is what is meant in [Amos 9:9][Isa 30:28]

  2. Yes, we need to distinguish between the meaning of the Greek word, the concept of the "church" in NT ecclesiology, and various conceptions of the church that have developed over the course of church history.

  3. Steve, you're right. What's interesting is, if we also do this for OT ecclesiology we see something very interesting.

    The theology of a covenant people is only ever applied to those Israelites who honoured and obeyed God (in a covenantial sense), the assembly (rather than all Israel).

    This contrasts with the assumption most hold, that all Israelites were by default covenant people.

    This should provide insight to Paul's arguments in both [Rom 8],[Rom 11] and especially [Rom 9:8].

    When the new covenant can be clearly seen to be the old covenant perfected, that's fairly strong evidence our understanding is close to correct.

    (Not only, but more often than not, it solves part of the great theological controversies we've seen debated in the past)