In the world of business, one of the most important and exciting events is when a company goes public. Sometimes, it is so significant that it gets lots of mainstream coverage. I remember the major hype surrounding Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) which even caught the attention of someone like me who wasn’t interested in those things. To be sure, a major part of the excitement around launching on the stock market is obviously the opportunity to make lots and lots of money. However, there is something romantic as well about the launch of an IPO. Continue reading “Jesus Inc.”
In Self-designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge University Press 2011) the author, New Testament scholar Paul Trebilco, explores how the ways early Christians in the Roman Empire identified one another helped form their identity as a new movement. (For more from Dr Trebilco on identity formation go here.) In chapter 5 “The Assembly” (pp. 164-207) he examines the designation “ekklesia”, the Greek word that is usually translated as “church” in English Bibles. The following is a summary of the chapter.
In the New Testament, the word “church” is an insider designation, that is a way Christians referred to themselves among one another. It was not the only mainstream self-designation but it was arguably the most prominent collective designation, especially in Paul. “Assembly”, “gathering” or “community” are actually better translations of ekklesia. Unlike church, which has a lot of religious baggage in its modern usage, ekklesia was an ordinary word for the assembly of citizens in a city for a meeting. (Acts 19:32, 39, 41.) Therefore, it does have political overtones but that was not the primary meaning among believers in the Lord Jesus. Ekklesia was used in a variety of ways but it basically meant a local gathering of believers, usually in what we today would call “house churches.” Even when they were not gathered, the community that gathered was still referred to as an assembly. (Acts 14:27, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 11:18.)
Ekklesia was not the first group self-designation but it was very early. It probably originated from Greek speaking Jewish Christians out of the Septuagint (LXX), that is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Ekklesia was one of the words for the assembly of God’s people. (Deuteronomy 4:10, Judges 20:2, Nehemiah 13:1.) The other synonymous LXX term was synagogue but it was already in use. So they went with ekklesia to identify themselves and also maintain continuity with their Jewish identity. The first Christians were all Jews. Just like with Israel in the Old Testament, each local gathering of Christians, which quickly grew to consist of both Jews and Gentiles, was the assembly of God. (Acts 20:28.) Collectively, all the communities of believers in a region or throughout the world were the assemblies of God.As members of God’s assembly they saw themselves as the people of God, “a third race” in the Messiah that was not Jew or Gentile. (1 Corinthians 10:32, Ephesians 2:11-22.)
It appears the designation “the assembly” is shorthand for “the assembly of God.” This indicates the community originates from God and belongs to him. Other qualifications are “the assembly of the Messiah” or the “assembly in the Messiah” which indicate believers’ union with the Messiah Jesus. (Romans 16:16, Galatians 1:2.) They are combined for the full expressions “the assembly of God in Christ” or “the assembly in God the/our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.) A more developed, universal and institutional concept of these assemblies arises later on in Colossians and Ephesians where the assemblies are now the Assembly (Ephesians 1:19-23, Colossians 1:15-20.) The Messiah is the exalted cosmic head of a universal body called “the Assembly” which participates in his rule over creation. (Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 2:9-10.)
In the past, I have talked a fair bit about how being “in Christ” is not only the centre of Paul’s theology but possibly the entire New Testament’s theology. In Haley Goranson Jacob’s excellent 2018 book Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans, she also explores the theme of union or participation with Christ from the largely unexplored perspective of what she describes as “vocational participation.”
The vocation Dr Jacob is referring to is the original task God gave humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 and reflected on in Psalm 8:5-8, which is to rule on his behalf over his creation as his representatives. She explains, along with many other scholars, that is what it means to be made in the image of God. In the New Testament, the original call to bear God’s image is finally fulfilled in Jesus, the new Adam (Romans 5:12-20, 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, Hebrews 2:5-9.) She therefore concludes that being conformed to the image of his firstborn Son means believers, as members of God’s royal family, participating in the resurrected and exalted Messiah’s rule over creation, both in the present and in the world to come (pp. 263-264.) As Jacob draws out, this is what means for believers to be glorified in Romans 8:18 & 30. Through meticulous study of the word, she convincingly demonstrates “glory” does not primarily mean some kind of divine light but an exalted status of honour and authority. Since Jesus is King, we share in our big brother’s glorious rule. Continue reading “Reigning with Christ”
In pop theology, the love of God basically means God really likes all people a lot. Similarly, loving God means a person really liking God back. It is part of a common understanding of love as a subjective preference, an inner feeling. For example, the way love is talked about in modern Christian music is virtually indistinguishable from love in pop music. While love as an inner feeling is certainly one sense of what it means, in the Bible that is not what primarily the love of God is, particularly in the New Testament (NT).
In the interview below New Testament scholar Peter Orr discusses what it means for Jesus to be absent, why it matters and why it is actually beneficial for us. He also talks about how he is present. Continue reading “Absent and Present”