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Journal for the Study of

The Background of ἐκκλησία


the New Testament
2015, Vol. 38(2) 151­–168
© The Author(s) 2015
Revisited Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0142064X15609206
jsnt.sagepub.com

G.K. Beale
Westminster Theological Seminary, Department of New Testament, USA

Abstract
There has been recent debate about the background and origins for Paul’s use of the
word ἐκκλησία: is it to be understood primarily against an LXX or Greco-Roman
background? This article is an attempt to present further evidence that there is, indeed,
a clear Septuagint background for Paul’s use, especially his multiple uses of ‘church
[assembly] of God’ (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ). Significant parallels occur in Philo’s writings,
which provide a precedent for Paul’s use. This does not mean that there is no Greco-
Roman influence on Paul’s use of the phrase, although the limits of the study allow only
a relatively brief exploration of this possible background.

Keywords
Septuagint, assembly/church (ἐκκλησία), Greco-Roman background, Jewish
background/Philo

There has been recent debate about the background and origins for Paul’s use of
the word ἐκκλησία. Paul Trebilco, building on the arguments of others, proposes
that the word ἐκκλησία is to be understood mainly from its use in the Septuagint,
where it refers to Israel, often in its congregated form (Trebilco 2011: 440-60).
George H. van Kooten has responded to Trebilco by contending that the word is
best understood not against an LXX background, but from the Greco-Roman
setting, where it refers to gathered public assemblies of a political nature (van
Kooten 2012: 522-48). Trebilco acknowledges that there may be Greco-Roman
influence on Paul’s use of ἐκκλησία but regards this as slight (2011: 445-46, 486
n. 84). Similarly, van Kooten recognizes some degree of LXX influence (2012:

Corresponding author:
G.K. Beale, Westminster Theological Seminary, Department of New Testament, 2960 W. Church Rd,
Glenside, PA 19038, USA.
Email: gbeale@wts.edu
152 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

537) but argues throughout his essay that the Greco-Roman is far more
dominant.
The following discussion revisits this debate and is an attempt to set forth
further evidence that the LXX background in Paul’s letters is clear. I believe,
however, that sometimes there are more political overtones from the Greco-
Roman background than Trebilco would acknowledge. The limits of this article,
however, allow us to engage only briefly with van Kooten’s recent essay in order
to consider further to what degree the Greco-Roman background has influenced
Paul’s use of ἐκκλησία and how that setting interacts or relates to the LXX
backdrop.1

The Old Testament Background of ἐκκλησία


Paul refers 60 times to ἐκκλησία as the Christian ‘assembly’ (usually translated
‘church’), among which are twelve references to ‘the church of God’ (ἐκκλησία
+ τοῦ θεοῦ; including once in Acts 20.28, where Paul is the speaker).2 For exam-
ple, Paul refers in 1 Cor. 1.2 to the ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ. Some commentators have
asserted that these uses are likely allusions to the repeated references to ‘the
assembly (or ‘congregation/gathering’) of the Lord’ in the LXX (ἐκκλησία +
κύριος; seven times3), including presumably ‘the assembly of God’ (Neh. 13.1).4
Commentators have also observed that ἐκκλησία by itself occurs 73 times in the
LXX as a translation of the Hebrew ‫( קהל‬qāhāl ), which refers to Israel assem-
bled to hear God’s Law from Sinai or from Joshua, or it can refer to the nation
gathered together for festive occasions.5 Consequently, some have regarded the
LXX uses of ἐκκλησία by itself as the general background for its use in the NT.6
As far as I can tell, the point has not formerly been made that the references to
‘assembly’ or ‘church of God’ (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ) in Paul appear to focus most
specifically on Neh. 13.1 (ἐκκλησία θεοῦ). Van Kooten has concluded that the

1. While this article supports Trebilco’s contention that the LXX is the most influential back-
ground for ἐκκλησία, I leave open the issue of whether or not the origin of the term in Acts and
Paul as a self-designation for the Jesus movement can be traced back to the Hellenists (first
mentioned in Acts 6.1), against which van Kooten has some effective arguments. Nevertheless,
I think this contention by Trebilco is still worth considering.
2. The phrase is found, in various plural and singular case forms of ἐκκλησία, in 1 Cor. 1.2;
10.32; 11.16; 11.22; 15.9; 2 Cor. 1.1; Gal. 1.13; 1 Thess. 2.14; 2 Thess. 1.4; 1 Tim. 3.5, and
3.15 (where the article before ἐκκλησία is omitted; the latter three uses appear in disputed
epistles).
3. Deut. 23.2-4, 9 (five times); 1 Chron. 28.8; Mic. 2.5.
4. On Neh. 13.1, see directly below.
5. Marshall 1972/73: 359 also observes that ἐκκλησία and συναγωγή often ‘have essentially the
same meaning’ in the LXX. Twenty-three further occurrences of ἐκκλησία appear in Judith
and Ben Sirach, most of which refer to Israel.
6. E.g., Marshall 1972/73: 362; Schmidt 1965: 512, 514, 530.
Beale 153

repeated phrase in Paul cannot be an allusion to this specific verse from


Nehemiah.7 However, he does not proceed to give reasons for this conclusion,
which is striking, since he accepts that the unique NT phrase ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν
ἁγίων in 1 Cor. 14.33 is influenced significantly by Ps. 88.6 (ἐκκλησίᾳ ἁγίων), its
only occurrence in the LXX (van Kooten 2012: 537). Nevertheless, Neh. 13.1 is
the only place in all of the Septuagint where the phrase ἐκκλησία + θεοῦ occurs.8
The probability of any allusion is typically determined by (1) a unique combina-
tion of words found only in one particular OT passage and in a NT passage, (2)
both passages sharing a common core meaning, and (3) the NT reference could
not likely have come from anywhere else.9 In this case, there is not only a unique
combination of words in the very same order, but there is almost the exact verbal
expression (in LXX Nehemiah only the article τοῦ is missing before θεοῦ, though
c.a
it is included before the divine name in some LXX mss of Neh. 13.1 [A ‫) א‬. The
Hebrew text of Neh. 13.1 indeed includes the definite article before ‘God’
(‫)בקהל האלהים‬, although it is not to be translated into English. Paul may well be
alluding to the Hebrew text, since he includes the article τοῦ before θεοῦ, but he
may have alluded to some of the significant LXX manuscript traditions of Neh.
13.1 that include the article, or he may have merely inserted the article, since it
is implied in the LXX because ‘God’ is certainly ‘definite’ with or without an
article.
In addition to the clear verbal identity, the thematic similarity of Neh. 13.1 to
the NT uses is apparent, since it is the only place in the OT where the word is

7. Van Kooten (2012: 547) claims that Trebilco affirms that the phrase ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ is
dependent on its lone use in Neh. 13.1, but Trebilco never makes this claim. Trebilco (2012:
173) merely says that the phrase ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ is ‘rare in the LXX, being found only in
Neh. 13.1, with ἐκκλησία τοῦ κυρίου being somewhat more common’ (though in this phrase
ἐκκλησία comes in various case forms followed by an anarthrous κυρίου). Indeed, Trebilco
goes further and says that early Christians were apparently not influenced by the phrase in
Neh. 13.1, because it ‘did not stand out with regard to its use with θεός’ (2012: 188-89). Rather
he focuses on LXX references to ‘the assembly of the Lord’ as the background to Paul’s use
of ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ and argues that Paul intentionally changed the κυρίου to θεοῦ in order not
to confuse Christian recipients as to whether Jesus or God the Father was the intended referent
of ‘Lord’ (2012: 174-76, 187), which van Kooten does recognize as part of Trebilco’s
argument.
8. Note that there are no variants in the MT phrase ‘assembly of God’ in Neh. 13.1, although the
LXX mss S and L read κυρίου. This is a fairly obvious scribal substitution for θεοῦ, since Neh.
13.1 is quoting Deut. 23.4 (23.3 in English versions), where the reading of the MT’s ‘assem-
bly of the Lord’ is rendered literally by the LXX as ‘assembly of the Lord’ (ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου).
Consequently, a scribe would have been motivated to alter the original θεοῦ to κυρίου in order
to harmonize Neh. 13.1 with the Deuteronomy text that is being quoted.
9. See, e.g., Beale (1999: 78) for criteria for evaluating highly probable, probable and possible
allusions. Of course, there are exceptions to this threefold definition. For example, if an idea
in the NT is uniquely found in only one OT passage, then it may be an allusion; or, there can
be an allusion to a small group of OT passages and not merely to one.
154 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

directly related to ‘reading in the book of Moses’: ‘in that day they read in the
book of Moses in the ears of the people; and it was found written in it that the
Ammonites and Moabites should not enter in the assembly [ἐκκλησία] of God for
ever’ (a quotation of Deut. 23.4;10 Neh. 13.2 continues in quoting parts of Deut.
23.5-6). Here ‘the people’ are certainly to be identified with the ‘assembly’
(ἐκκλησία), so that the ‘assembly’ is the place not only where unclean people are
to be excluded, but where the scripture is read in worship (likewise note Neh.
8.1-2, where ‘the law of Moses’ was read and explained in the vicinity of the
Water Gate to the ‘assembly’ [ἐκκλησία]). Similarly, part of the worship in the
church in Acts, Paul’s letters and Revelation involved teaching, which included
more than teaching based on apostolic tradition11 but also the OT,12 which in all
likelihood was part of the apostolic doctrine (e.g., 1 Cor. 15.1-3) and was read in
early church worship. This similarity between Nehemiah and Paul’s churches in
their reading and teaching of scripture may have been part of what sparked Paul
to focus on ‘the assembly of God’ allusion from Neh. 13.1.13
Philo also, in citing Deut. 23.2, draws the same pedagogical significance from
‘the assembly of the Lord’. In speaking of people who are not allowed to enter
into ‘the assembly of the Lord’, he says:

10. References to Deut. 23 will be given according to the MT/LXX versification throughout; the
English versification differs.
11. In this respect, see the use of ἐκκλησία in direct connection with ‘teaching’ (Acts 11.26) or
‘prophecy’ (13.1); see 1 Cor. 12.28; 14.4-5, 12, 19, 23, 28, 35, which speak repeatedly of
‘interpreting’ tongues in a worship service and equate this ‘interpretation’ with ‘instructing’
and ‘learning’. As we will see, crucial to understanding this instructive interpretation of
tongues is the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 28.11-12 in 1 Cor. 14.21). Paul’s letters, which con-
tained much instruction, were read in the earliest church services (Col. 4.16). See also 1 Tim.
3.2; 4.11; 5.17; 6.2; 2 Tim. 2.2, 15, 24; 3.16-17; the references in 1 and 2 Timothy do not
contain the word ἐκκλησία in the same verse, although it occurs in the broader context in
1 Tim. 3.5; cf. 1 Tim. 3.15-16. While 1 and 2 Timothy are disputed epistles, it is highly prob-
able that these verses in the pastorals include what transpired in the church service of, at least,
the later first century CE.
12. Acts 15.4, 15-19 (citing Amos 9.11-12, including other OT allusions), 22, although this is an
extraordinary church meeting. See Rom. 15.4 and 1 Cor. 10.11, which also suggest that the
OT was one of the main sources of teaching in the earliest church (also 2 Tim. 3.16-17). See
also Isa. 28.11-12 in 1 Cor. 14.21.
13. Fitzmyer (1989: 231) and Roloff (1990: 411) contend that the use of ‫‘( קהל אל‬assembly of
God’) in 1QM 4.10 – and not the LXX – provides the specific background for the use of
ἐκκλησία in the NT (although Fitzmyer acknowledges that NT use of ἐκκλησία was colored by
the religious notion of the OT qāhāl and the ἐκκλησία in the LXX). However, since the date
of 1QM is likely to be early (perhaps mid-) first century CE, it is probably roughly contempo-
rary with Paul’s use. It may also be an allusion to Neh. 13.1, but the use in 1QM 4 occurs in
the context of an eschatological battle (the phrase is to be written on a battle banner as Israel
heads into end-time combat). Thus the expression is not found in an overt congregational
worship setting, as in Neh. 13 and in Paul’s uses. See also Trebilco 2012: 187 for a negative
assessment of Fitzmyer’s proposal.
Beale 155

For what advantage is there, from the hearing of the sacred scriptures, to a man who
is destitute of wisdom, whose faith has been eradicated, and who is unable to preserve
that deposit of doctrines most advantageous to all human life?14

Paul’s references to ἐκκλησία without the following ‘God’ are presumably


abbreviations of ‘church of God’,15 an observation made by several commenta-
tors.16 If this is correct, then it is possible that the Nehemiah allusion is also in
mind, to some degree, in these other uses as well. These references, in Paul and
elsewhere in the NT, may refer to a local or regional gathering of believers, or it
may refer to the so-called ‘universal church’.17
Paul may have read the other OT references to ‘assembly of the Lord’ in light
of Nehemiah, since ‘Lord, God’ occurs several times throughout the LXX
(indeed hundreds of times), and it would have been easy to read these as refer-
ences to ‘God’, especially since they are repeated in the immediate context of six
of the seven LXX uses of ‘assembly of the Lord’.18 As noted briefly above, Neh.
13.1 actually quotes Deut. 23.4 (on which see further below). Deuteronomy’s
‘assembly of the Lord’ may have been substituted in Nehemiah by ‘assembly of
God’ because the mind of the author in this chapter is concerned with ‘the house
of God [τοῦ θεοῦ]’, which occurs four times (Neh. 13.4, 7, 9, 11), and then a
fourth time it is found in the expanded expression ‘the house of the Lord God’
(13.14). The focus of Deut. 23.2-6 appears to be on the temple, since there were
emasculated Israelites (23.2) who were allowed to be part of the community of
Israel but could not enter into the court of the temple or tabernacle. Likewise,
part of Nehemiah’s close attention in the immediately following context was on
the temple and not merely on Israel as a covenant community. So, Paul likely felt
it was a legitimate move to substitute ‘God’ for ‘Lord’ in these LXX allusions
because of his concentration on Neh. 13.1-2.

14. Ebr. 213 (italics added; the translations of Philo are usually cited from Yonge 1993, but some-
times from the Loeb edition or are my own translation). Likewise, Philo, Virt. 108, alludes to
Deut. 23.8-9 (LXX) and says that Egyptians should be ‘invited to the [Jewish] congregation
(ἐκκλησία) and made partakers in the divine revelations’ there.
15. θεοῦ is probably a genitive of origin or possession, though perhaps both are included. Schmidt
(1965: 505) and Roloff (1990: 412) prefer origin.
16. See, e.g., Schmidt 1965: 505, 507, 516; Roloff 1990: 412; Marshall 1972/73: 363; Trebilco
2012: 176-78.
17. See the survey and discussion provided by Trebilco (2012: 169-207).
18. Cf. the four uses of ἐκκλησία + κύριος in Deut. 23.2-4 (followed immediately by ‘Lord God’
in 23.6, 15, 19, 21, 22, 24), and in 1 Chron. 28.8 both ἐκκλησία + κύριος and ‘Lord, God’ occur
in the same verse; the only place where ‘Lord God’ does not occur in the immediate context
with ἐκκλησία + κύριος is in Mic. 2.5, though even there ‘Lord God’ occurs not far away in
Mic. 4.5; 7.10, 17).
156 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

In light of the LXX meaning of the term, it is probably best to render ἐκκλησία
in Paul’s letters not as ‘church’, but as ‘assembly, gathering, or congregation’.19
The partial Deut. 23 background, where ἐκκλησία refers to the assembly of Israel
that is summoned by and linked to God’s name, and thus has an essentially reli-
gious nuance,20 probably lends the same significance to the use of ἐκκλησία in
Nehemiah and Paul.

The Possible Jewish Background of Paul’s Use of ἐκκλησία


τοῦ θεοῦ
Apparently unnoticed by Trebilco, van Kooten and other commentators, Philo is
a very significant precedent, directly before Paul, in substituting ‘assembly of
God’ for ‘assembly of the Lord’; in each case Philo is quoting from Deut. 23, just
as Neh. 13.1-2 quotes Deut. 23 and substitutes ‘assembly of God’ for ‘assembly
of the Lord’. Philo quotes Deut. 23.2 in Leg. 3.8:

In reference to which the Holy Scripture says ‘Let them send forth from the holy soul
every leper, and every one afflicted with foul disease, and everyone who is impure in
his soul, both male and female, and all persons of crushed testicles [τοὺς θλαδίας], and
all castrated persons [ἀποκεκομμένους], and all harlots [πόρνους]’, men who flee from
the authority of one God, and who are expressly forbidden ‘to come into the assembly
of God [ἐκκλησίαν θεοῦ]’.

Some think that this is a quotation of Deut. 23.2 (LXX) alone, which also refers
to ‘one of crushed testicles’ (θλαδίας) and ‘one being castrated’ (ἀποκεκομμένος),
who ‘will not enter into the assembly of the Lord [ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου]’. In fact,
however, the quotation includes Deut. 23.3 (LXX), which, like Philo’s reference
to ‘harlots’ (πόρνους), refers to ‘one born from a harlot [ἐκ πόρνης]’, who ‘will not
enter into the assembly of the Lord’ [ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου]. Thus, Philo here actually
substitutes ‘assembly of God’ for Deuteronomy’s two references to ‘assembly of
the Lord’.
Philo makes the same substitution in Ebr. 213. Speaking of people who are
not wise and are against human life, he says that ‘they will not enter into the
assembly of God’. To support this, Philo adduces a quotation from Deut. 23.2:

None of such persons does Moses permit to come into the assembly of God [ἐκκλησίαν
… θεοῦ]; for he says that, ‘A man who is bruised or castrated [θλαδίας καὶ ἀποκεκομμένος]
shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord [ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου]’.

19. Following in part Schmidt (1965: 505), although he draws this conclusion based on usage in
Acts in the light of the secular meaning of the term (he does not opt for ‘congregation’ as a
rendering, but it is not clear why). In this article, I translate the Christian use of ἐκκλησία as
‘assembly’ but also sometimes as ‘church’, since English translations typically so render it.
20. So Coenen 1975: 293, 296-97.
Beale 157

This time Philo quotes ‘the assembly of the Lord’, just as it is in the LXX, but he
refers to this as ‘the assembly of God’ in introducing the quotation. This shows
clearly that he consciously sees the two expressions as synonymous and
interchangeable.
In virtually the same way, in Conf. 144, Philo introduces his quotation of
Deut. 23.3 by referring to those ‘whom the Law has expelled from the divine
assembly’ (ἐκκλησίας ... θείας) and then follows with the quotation itself: ‘the
offspring of a whore will not enter into the assembly of the Lord’ (ἐκκλησίαν
κυρίου). In Leg. 3.81, Philo quotes Deut. 23.4 about ‘Ammonites and Moabites’
who will ‘“not enter into” … the assembly of the Lord’ (ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου). This
quotation is adduced to support Philo’s directly preceding comments that evil
despots, like ‘Ammonites and Moabites … are excluded from the assembly and
divine congregation’ (ἐκκλησίας εἴργονται καὶ συλλόγου θείου). Here the genitive
θείου probably does double duty as a modifier of both ἐκκλησίας and συλλόγου.
Philo also shows the interchangeability of ‘[divine] assembly and divine congre-
gation’ with ‘assembly of the Lord’. This last reference is virtually the same
identification as we have in the earlier quotations of different Deuteronomy texts
in Leg. 3.8 and Ebr. 213.21
Thus, Philo in these four passages repeatedly substitutes ‘the assembly of
God’ for the uses of ‘the assembly of the Lord’ (though two of these substitutions
employ θεῖος [‘deity, divine being, divine’], a virtual synonym of θεός). In three
of the passages, he also cites ‘assembly of the Lord’ together with ‘assembly of
God’ (or its virtually identical equivalent: Ebr. 213; Conf. 144; Leg. 3.81; cf.
likewise Post. 177). Why does Philo do this? Perhaps it is because ‘God’ and
‘Lord’ are so interchangeable; as we have seen, in each of the contexts where

21. Likewise, in quoting Deut. 23.4 in Post. 177, Philo uses ‘of the divine congregation’ (συλλόγου
θείου) synonymously with ‘assembly of the Lord’, the former wording we have seen in Leg.
3.81 to be synonymous also with ‘divine assembly’. Similarly, in Migr. 69, with reference to
Deut. 23.2-3, the genitival phrase ‘from the sacred assembly’ (ἐκκλησίας ἱερᾶς) is substituted
for ‘assembly of the Lord’, which is also the case in Deus 111, which refers to Deut. 23.2 (so
also identically Somn. 2.184 and virtually identically 2.187, the former also in allusion to
Deut. 23.2). Also, with reference to Deut. 23.2, Spec. 1.325 employs ‘from the sacred assem-
bly’ (ἱεροῦ συλλόγου) in place of ‘the assembly of the Lord’ (so identically Spec. 1.344, refer-
ring to Deut. 23.2-4; ἱερός in these references carries notions of ‘divine’ or ‘holy’ because of
close relation to the divine, or with respect to people can refer to them being ‘under divine
protection’ [see Liddell and Scott 822]). Probably also in alluding to Deut. 23.2-4, Mut. 204
uses ‘the assembly of the universal Ruler’ in place of ‘the assembly of the Lord’ (then Mut.
205 formally cites Deut. 23.2-3). All of these substitutions for ‘assembly of the Lord’ may be
synonyms of, or sparked off by, ‘assembly of God’ in Neh. 13.1 (whether in the MT or LXX)
rather than ‘assembly of the Lord’ from Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, these references could
admittedly just as well be nearly synonymous with ‘Lord’. Thus, it is possible that these ren-
derings are done independently of Nehemiah (on which see further below). Note also that
Virt. 108 alludes to ἐκκλησία κυρίου of Deut. 23.8-9 (LXX) by abbreviating it with ἐκκλησία,
on which see the significance below toward the ‘Conclusion’.
158 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

‘assembly of the Lord’ occurs there is also the expression ‘the Lord God’. It
should also be recalled that four uses of ἐκκλησία + κύριος in Deut. 23.2-4 are
followed immediately by ‘Lord God’ in 23.6, 15, 19, 21, 22, 24, and the same
combination is found elsewhere only in 1 Chron. 28.8 (cf. also Mic. 2.5). Philo
may simply be filling out ‘assembly of the Lord’ with ‘assembly of God’ because
‘Lord’ and ‘God’ are so inextricably linked in this Deuteronomic context.
Now what is noteworthy is that one of Philo’s interchangeable uses of ‘assem-
bly of the Lord’ with ‘assembly of God [θεῖος]’ is about ‘Ammonites and
Moabites’ not ‘entering the divine assembly’ or ‘the assembly of the Lord’,
which is based on Deut. 23.4. This is striking because Neh. 13.1, which is the
lone LXX use of the phrase ‘assembly of God’, is also based on the very same
Deuteronomy text. The quotation of Deut. 23.5-6 (LXX) continues on into Neh.
13.2, making Neh. 13.1-2 one of the most formal quotations of an earlier biblical
text in all of the OT. Likewise, Philo also follows suit in continuing with the
same reference to Deut. 23.5-6. Therefore, Nehemiah is substituting ‘assembly
of God [θεῖος]’ for ‘assembly of the Lord’ from Deut. 23.4. The seemingly inevi-
table conclusion is that Philo is making the same substitution apparently under
the influence of the Neh. 13.1-2 passage and its use of Deut. 23.5-6 (in quoting
Deut. 23, Philo even omits the article τοῦ before θεοῦ as does Neh. 13.1). It is
possible that Philo is doing this independently. If he were making the substitu-
tion independently, it might be attributed to the fact that he uses θεός almost
2,500 times, in contrast to κύριος, which is found in Philo only around 440 times.
Accordingly, perhaps it was natural for Philo to substitute ‘God’ for ‘Lord’, espe-
cially if he were quoting from memory, since he so much more often uses θεός.
However, it appears to be more than a coincidence that Philo substitutes θεῖος for
κύριος in quoting Deut. 23.4 (and the relevant verses in the immediate context of
Deut. 23 that use both θεός and θεῖος) at just the very same place where Neh. 13.1
also substitutes θεός for κύριος in quoting Deut. 23.4.
Similar to Philo, but in reverse form, is the exegetical manuscript tradition of
Neh. 13.1 LXX mentioned above, for which LXX mss S and L read κυρίου. This
is a fairly obvious scribal substitution for θεοῦ, since Neh. 13.1 is quoting Deut.
23.4 (v. 3 in English versions), where the reading of the MT’s ‘assembly of the
Lord’ is rendered literally by the LXX as ‘assembly of the Lord’ (ἐκκλησίαν
κυρίου). As we suggested above, a scribe would have been motivated to change
an original θεοῦ to κυρίου in order to make Neh. 13.1 compatible with the
Deuteronomy text that is being quoted.
In 4Q174 1.2-4 [3.2-4] (4Q Flor) there is a clear allusion to Exod. 15.17-18
and Deut. 23.3-4, which is introduced by ‘as it is written in the Book of Moses’.22

22. The first reference to the Exodus text, and the following to Deut. 23, appears to be included
in the introductory formula. ‘Moses’ is supplied by most translations (e.g., Dupont-Sommer,
Vermes, Martínez and Tigchelaar, as well as the translation by Wise, Abegg, Cook), since
Beale 159

Virtually the same introductory formula occurs in Neh. 13.1 (‘they read aloud
from the book of Moses … and there was found written in it …’). The only place
in the OT and early Jewish tradition where such a formula introduces a reference
to Deut. 23.3 or 23.3-4 is in this Qumran text and Neh. 13.1.23 The Qumran text
also focuses on the outcasts from Deut. 23.3-4 being excluded from the temple,
which we have seen is the focus of the Neh. 13 context and apparently of Deut.
23.24 Thus, 4Q174 may also be a reflection of the use of Deut. 23.4 in Neh.
13.1-2 or a tradition that is developing Neh. 13.1. Philo, moreover, also appears
to follow the exegetical tradition set by Neh. 13.1 in substituting ‘assembly of
God’ for ‘assembly of the Lord’, since the Nehemiah text is the only case in all
of the MT and LXX which makes this same substitution in the wording of any of
the relevant Deut. 23 passages.25 It is difficult to determine Philo’s other motives
for this substitution, but, at the very least, even in the unlikely event that Philo
was not influenced by Neh. 13.1, he still serves as a precedent for Paul’s repeated
use of ‘assembly of God’ instead of ‘assembly of the Lord’.26
In this respect, one of Paul’s uses of ἐκκλησία is contextually related to Deut.
17, which contains the theme of excluding the unclean idolater from the congre-
gation of Israel. In 1 Cor. 5 Paul speaks of the man who is co-habiting with ‘his
father’s wife’ and committing ‘immorality’ (5.1). Paul concludes the discussion
about such an unrepentant, immoral person by commanding the church ‘to
remove the wicked man from among yourselves’, quoting the LXX of Deut.
17.7. Then Paul continues the discussion of the church’s duty to judge other

there is a lacuna after ‘Book of’ (however, the translation of Gaster has ‘Book of the Law’ in
4Q174). ‘Book of Moses’ is found nine times in Qumran (without significant lacunae), and
‘Book of the Law’ occurs five times. Even if ‘Book of the Law’ were original, it would still
be the only place in all of early Judaism where an OT formula introduces the relevant refer-
ences to Deut. 23.
23. Elsewhere in the OT ‘book of Moses’ occurs three times (2 Chron. 25.4; 35.12; Ezra 6.18),
although ‘book of the Law of Moses’ appears two other times and ‘book of the law of the Lord
by the hand of Moses’ is found once. However, in none of these OT cases is there a reference
to the relevant verses from Deut. 23, as there is in Neh. 13.1.
24. Likewise, Lam. 1.10 recognizes that Deut. 23.4 had the same focus. Rabbinic Judaism also
occasionally understood Deut. 23.4 as referring to Ammonites and Moabites not entering into
the temple (cf. Pes. R. 29/30B; Midr. R. Gen. 52.2; Midr. R. Lam. 1.10 §38).
25. Interestingly, b. Yeb. 69a cites Deut. 23.2-4 and reads ‘unfit to enter into the assembly of
Israel’, substituting ‘Israel’ for ‘Lord’.
26. See Schmidt 1965: 528, who cites the wording of most of the same Deuteronomy allusions in
Philo as noted above (and related allusions in n. 21), but does not note that Philo is substitut-
ing θεός for κύριος. Likewise, Merklein (1987: 309 n. 80) observes that Philo uses ἐκκλησίαν
… θεοῦ in Ebr. 213 and Leg. 3.81, but he does not note that it is a substitution for ἐκκλησίαν
κυρίου. He also cites Philo’s use of ἐκκλησίας … θείας and ἐκκλησίας ἱερᾶς in his other above-
mentioned references to Deut. 23, but, again, he does not observe that these phrases are
replacements for ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου in Deut. 23. In these references, neither Schmidt nor
Merklein relates Philo’s ἐκκλησίαν … θεοῦ to Paul’s same phrase.
160 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

professing members in 1 Cor. 6.1-5, which contains OT and Jewish allusions to


Israel that are applied to the Corinthian ‘assembly’ (ἐκκλησία).27 In 1 Cor. 6.4,
Paul explicitly uses the word ‘assembly’ (ἐκκλησία) as that place where believ-
ers’ judicial complaints against one another should be judged. Since Paul speaks
of the ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ five times in 1 Corinthians (1.2; 10.32; 11.16, 22; 15.9),
much more than in any other of his epistles, the other uses of ἐκκλησία in
1 Corinthians, including 6.4, are presumably an abbreviation of ‘church of God’.
Such an abbreviation has precedence in Lam. 1.10, which alludes to ἐκκλησίαν
κυρίου of Deut. 23.4 (LXX, likewise MT) by abbreviating it only with ἐκκλησίαν.
In like manner, Philo (Virt. 108) alludes to ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου of Deut. 23.8-9
(LXX) by abbreviating it with ἐκκλησίαν. Thus, while Paul does not make allu-
sion to Deut. 23 in 1 Cor. 5-6, he does allude to an earlier chapter of Deuteronomy
that contains a similar theme of exclusion of unworthy people from the covenant
community.28

A Greco-Roman Background for ἐκκλησία?


Despite the influence of the LXX on Paul’s letters, the Greco-Roman parallels to
ἐκκλησία may not be out of Paul’s mind either, so that sometimes it is plausibly
implied that the ἐκκλησία, whose citizenship is in the heavenly realm (cf. Gal.
3.26; Phil. 1.27 and 3.20-21), is contrasted with citizenship in the earthly city.
Van Kooten (2012: 525, 529, 547-48), the most recent proponent of a Greco-
Roman background, repeatedly adduces one of the best examples of this in Paul’s
use of ἐκκλησία in his speech to the Ephesians and his use of ἐκκλησία in Acts
20.28 and its apparent contrast to the directly preceding uses of ἐκκλησία in Acts

27. There is an allusion to Dan. 7.22 (and possibly its use in early Jewish tradition) in 1 Cor. 6.2
(‘the saints will judge the world’; Dan. 7.22 [LXX] reads ‘he gave judgment to the saints’).
There is also a reflection of two Jewish traditions respectively in v. 1 (Israel should go to court
only before its own judges and not before Gentile courts [see b. Git. 88b]), and in v. 3 (Israel
‘will judge angels’ [see, e.g., 1 En. 67-69; cf. 91.15]). The point in 1 Cor. 6.1-4 is that what
was attributed to Israel is now attributed to the ‘assembly’ (ἐκκλησία, v. 4) in Corinth, so that
this ‘assembly’ appears to be seen as the continuation of true, eschatological Israel. On these
OT and Jewish allusions, see Fee 1987: 231-34. For the reflection of the Jewish tradition in
1 Cor. 6.1 and the Dan. 7.22 allusion in 1 Cor. 6:2, see Ciampa and Rosner (2010: 227); see
also Fitzmyer (2008: 252), who also sees allusion to Dan. 7.22 in 1 Cor. 6:2 (likewise
Thistleton 2000: 425).
28. Paul shows awareness of Deut. 23 in Gal. 5.12, where he refers to the false teachers and issues
a curse: ‘I wish that those troubling you would even mutilate themselves [cut themselves
off]’, alluding to Deut. 23.2 (so NA28). Paul refers to ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ in Gal. 1.13 and to
the dative plural of ἐκκλησία in Gal. 1.2, 22. Note that Berger (1976: 188) says that Deut.
23.2-9 can be viewed as the prehistory or antecedent for the early Christian idea of the
‘church’. See further Rost 1967: 154-56, who contends that Paul’s use of ἐκκλησία and
ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ shows awareness of the connection to Deut. 23.
Beale 161

19.32, 39, 40-41. In Acts 19, Paul wants to address the city council or political
assembly in order to respond to the charge that he is ruining the silver trade in
Ephesus and denigrating the temple of Artemis. The word ἐκκλησία is used three
times in this context to refer to the political city assembly. Then, in the directly
following context of Acts 20, Paul refers to the Ephesian believers as part of ‘the
church of God’ (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ; so, e.g., most English translations). It is cer-
tainly plausible to regard this as an intended juxtaposition between the ‘assem-
bly’ of this world, represented in Ephesus, and the Christian ‘assembly of God’,
also represented in Ephesus. This juxtaposition would have been more apparent
had it occurred directly after Acts 19.40, but, as it is, the reference to ‘the ἐκκλησία
of God’ comes 27 verses later. Nevertheless, that both accounts take place in
Ephesus points to the viability of an intended juxtaposition. The polemical char-
acter of this juxtaposition might be heightened by observing that ἐκκλησία in
Acts 20.28 refers not to a mere local Christian ‘assembly’, but alludes to the so-
called universal church,29 thus emphasizing the worldwide extent of the ‘church’
in contrast to the local civic assembly in Ephesus or in contrast to the earthly
local political assemblies of the world. Trebilco (2011: 445) asserts that ‘Paul
never associates the word with other political language’, and applies this to the
Christian Hellenists’ use in Acts, suggesting that nowhere in Acts is this the case
either. But this example from Acts 19–20 appears to contradict Trebilco’s claim.30
Political language together with ἐκκλησία is found numerous times in Acts 19
(‘Asiarchs’ [v. 31], ‘townclerk’ [v. 35], ‘courts’ and ‘proconsuls’ [v. 38]). Van
Kooten (2012: 547-48) sees the explicit basis for his view to lie not only ‘pre-
cisely’ in Acts 19-20,31 but is also reflected in Phil. 3.20 (and to some degree Gal.
4.24-26), where he sees a juxtaposition of the civil assembly with the Christian
assembly (van Kooten 2012: 528).
But, at best, Acts 19–20 and Phil. 3.20 (cf. also Gal. 4.24-26) could only imply
that the Christian ‘assembly’ is understood against the parallel of the Greco-
Roman civic assemblies (indeed, the word ἐκκλησία does not occur anywhere in
ch. 4 of Galatians and it occurs much earlier in Phil. 3.6 and later in 4.15).
Nevertheless, the implication does appear to be present in these passages. Van
Kooten (2012: 547) also sees that the other uses of ἐκκλησία in Paul likely imply
this same juxtaposition.
Van Kooten attempts to draw several positive parallels between the Greco-
Roman assemblies and the Christian assemblies. He observes that Paul can refer
to regional ‘assemblies’ that reflect the organization of the Roman provinces, and

29. On the worldwide significance of ἐκκλησία here, see Trebilco 2012: 181-82.
30. Trebilco may well have been thinking of a more proximate association within a few verses
rather than this broader link between Acts 19.40-41 and 20.28, which would weaken this
critique of his view.
31. Though some might doubt the reliability of this historical portrayal of Paul in Acts 20.
162 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

then, of course, he mentions local ‘assemblies’ in the cities. He contends that the
political overtones are heightened by Paul’s reference to ‘the assemblies of the
nations’ (Rom. 16.1), which betrays Paul’s attempt at establishing an alternative
global community over and against the earthly political community (van Kooten
2012: 536-37). This is a very interesting parallel and well worth contemplating,
although the parallel would have been stronger had there been evidence that
ἐκκλησία was used on the larger scale of Roman provincial organizations.
Van Kooten lays out other parallels, four of which are especially noteworthy.
First, he says that both the Christian ἐκκλησία and civic assemblies are places of
instruction (2012: 540). But van Kooten offers only civic parallels that are
descriptive and occasional. Paul, on the other hand, does not teach in churches
occasionally, but does so in every church that he visits. And it is clear that, even
when Paul is not present, teaching should be done (e.g., 1 Cor. 12.28). Paul’s
instructions for the orderly way in which teaching is to be conducted in the
church meeting is mandatory for all churches (cf. 1 Cor. 14.33, ‘for God is not a
God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints’, with refer-
ences to teaching in the context of 14.26-35). Furthermore, the teaching was of
an overt religious nature in Paul’s churches, whereas this was typically not the
case in the civic assemblies. Although such assemblies ‘opened with prayers and
sacrifices to the gods, their character and mandate were principally political and
judicial rather than religious’.32
A second parallel noted by van Kooten is that both the civic assemblies and
the Christian ἐκκλησία contained division and factions (van Kooten 2012: 540).
This is a general observation, because it would seem that other kinds of organiza-
tions in the ancient world could also be characterized by such divisiveness.
Whenever humans constitute formal groups, there will inevitably be differences
of opinion, often on a serious and divisive scale.33 Thus, this proposed second
parallel is not specific enough for it to carry significant weight.
A third parallel noted by van Kooten is that both civic assemblies and the
Christian ‘assemblies’ emphasize the use of reason and criticize ‘mania’ (2012:
542). Van Kooten observes that Paul endorses the interpretation of tongues while

32. McCready (1996: 60) also notes that there is not much evidence that Greco-Roman voluntary
associations went by the name of ἐκκλησία, and typically they were not characterized by reli-
gious instruction (1996: 62).
33. See, e.g., Philo, Abr. 1.19-20; cf. Spec. 1.325; 2.44. A specific example is the ‘assembly’
(ἐκκλησία) of Israel that certainly was characterized by factions and divisions throughout her
long history (see, e.g., ἐκκλησία in Deut. 9.10 [cf. 9.7-24; and see the parallel in Exod. 32,
which shows a mixed multitude of good and evil]; Ps. 25.5 [LXX]; Prov. 5.14). Josephus
likewise observes the dissension and ‘sedition’ in Israel’s ‘assembly’ (ἐκκλησία) in the case of
Korah’s rebellion (Ant. 4.35-36; see also Ant. 4.142 with respect to idolatry and immorality
with the women of Moab and the guilty among the ‘assembly’ [ἐκκλησία]; Ant. 16.135, where
Herod speaks to an ‘assembly’ [ἐκκλησία] in which there was ‘rivalry’ and ‘unrest’).
Beale 163

those whose tongues remain uninterpreted will be considered by outsiders to be


insane. Only two viable Greco-Roman parallels are offered (2012: 542): (1) if
Socrates spoke of divine things or predicted the future in an ‘assembly’, he would
be considered crazy; (2) if someone collapsed from the ‘sacred disease’ (i.e., epi-
lepsy) during an ‘assembly’, the gathering would be postponed. While these are
interesting parallels, there is also a significant difference. The situation addressed
by Paul, though a particular problem in the Corinthian ἐκκλησία, is a typical or
normative caution for the early church meetings in general (so 1 Cor. 12.28-30),
but in the Greco-Roman world this is only a very occasional problem.
A fourth parallel that van Kooten offers is that accessibility to civic ‘assembly’
meetings was much like that in the Christian ‘assembly’. He notes that Christian
assemblies ‘were in principle open to the wider public’, while ‘theoretically only
the male citizens of the city could attend the meetings of the assembly’ (2012:
543). However, he says that ‘in practice’ the two are ‘fully in line’ with each
other, since the theoretical rule of the civic assemblies was not always enforced
(2012: 543). In times of peace, the rule was loosened, but in times of crisis the
rule was enforced. While this is a possible parallel, it is again a descriptive paral-
lel; on the level of prescription it is a contrasting parallel, which dilutes the posi-
tive correspondence van Kooten is trying to draw.
These parallels are interesting and reflect much research but, in the end, they
only point to some general parallels. More specifically, some of van Kooten’s
parallels would have been stronger had his observations consisted of compari-
sons that were not only occasional descriptions, but also were normative ones.
While van Kooten’s parallels suggest the possibility of a Greco-Roman back-
ground to Paul’s use of ἐκκλησία, the parallels between Israel’s ‘assembly’ and
that of the Christian ‘assembly’ still appear greater, especially in the light of the
Pauline literary allusions to the OT ‘assembly of God’ (especially Neh. 13.1)
discussed above, and in view of the fact that Israel’s and the Christian assembly
were explicitly religious. In contrast, van Kooten offers only thematic parallels
that are not as strong as literary allusions, which can be observed from Paul’s
allusions to the LXX (not only repeatedly to ἐκκλησία θεοῦ of Neh. 13.1, but also
to Ps. 88.6 in 1 Cor. 14.33 [cited above by van Kooten] and to Joel 2.16 in 1 Cor.
1.2 [on which see further below]). Nevertheless, it is plausible that the Greco-
Roman background of ἐκκλησία is implicit in Paul’s usage, especially in light of
van Kooten’s discussion of Acts 20 and Philippians.

Conclusion
Why would Paul prefer ‘assembly of God’ over ‘assembly of the Lord’ in the
LXX? Trebilco (2011: 444) proposes that the reason was not to confuse the
phrase with ‘the church of the Lord [Jesus]’, since ‘Lord’ was a typical name for
Jesus in Paul’s letters, and he appears to have intended a more general reference
164 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

‘to God’ rather than specifically to the ‘church of the Lord [Jesus]’. Trebilco’s
observation that συναγωγή, and not ἐκκλησία, was typically used by contempo-
rary Judaism to refer to Jewish religious gatherings and houses of worship may
have prompted the earliest Christians (e.g., possibly the Hellenists), even Paul,
not to use that term for Christian groups who worship, but to use ἐκκλησία in part
to distinguish Jewish Christians from the Jewish community (Trebilco 2011:
449-60) and, as time went on, to make that distinction in explicit opposition to
the Jewish synagogue (Trebilco 2012: 206). The observation that Philo and
Josephus use ἐκκλησία and never συναγωγή to refer to Israel as a people may
have fueled Paul’s usage, since this may have been the customary practice in
contemporary Hellenistic Judaism.34
These are all plausible reasons for Paul’s change to ‘assembly of God’ from
‘assembly of the Lord’. However, as noted above, my contention is that Paul had
in mind primarily the use of ‘assembly of God’ in Neh. 13.1, where ‘assembly of
God’ is clearly an intentional substitution for ‘assembly of the Lord’ from Deut.
23.4.35 Paul knew his OT, so it is likely that he understood that Neh. 13.1 was
quoting Deut. 23.4 and substituting ‘God’ for ‘Lord’, just as it is clear that Philo
was conscious that the two words were interchangeable. If Paul was not also
influenced by the exegetical tendencies we have seen in Philo’s writings, Philo at
least stands as an independent precedent for Paul’s shift in usage. It would appear
likely that Paul – implicitly, and just like Philo – has in mind the other ‘assembly
of the Lord’ phrases repeated in Deut. 23. Furthermore, Paul’s change of the
repeated references to ‘assembly of the Lord’ (so seven times in the OT) to
‘assembly of God’ may also have been facilitated by the fact that, as we noted
earlier, the former phrase is found most of the time in the LXX in direct associa-
tion with ‘Lord God ’.
Thus, Neh. 13.1 appears to have sparked off in Paul’s mind the references to
the ‘assembly of the Lord’ in Deut. 23.2-4, 9 (and possibly the uses in 1 Chron.
28.8 and Mic. 2.5), since the Nehemiah text itself explicitly refers back to the
formulas in Deut. 23 (particularly 23.4). If so, Paul substitutes ‘God’ for ‘Lord’,
as does Neh. 13.1 and as did Philo in his multiple references to Deut. 23. But,
even if Paul was unaware that Neh. 13.1-2 quoted Deut. 23, it appears likely that
Nehemiah’s ‘assembly of God’ still influenced his very same verbal

34. So Marshall (1972/73: 360), who also observes that Philo uses συναγωγή only once for a
meeting place of Jews (the Essenes), while Josephus uses συναγωγή only occasionally to refer
to buildings in which Jews worshipped. However, it is possible that Philo may use συναγωγή
for the people of Israel in Post. 67 and in Agr. 44.
35. The only other places where ‘Ammonite(s)’ and ‘Moabite(s)’ occur outside of Neh. 13.1 is in
Deut. 23.4, 1 Kgs 11.1, 2 Kgs. 24.2 and Ezra 9.1, but the quotation in Neh. 13.1 is clearly from
Deut. 23.
Beale 165

formulations.36 If one accepts the proposal made by some that Paul abbreviates
‘assembly of God’ in his other numerous single references to ἐκκλησία by itself
(as noted and argued earlier, especially for 1–2 Corinthians), then it is possible
that Paul also viewed the single uses of ἐκκλησία throughout the Greek OT to be
abbreviations of ‘assembly of God’37 and ‘assembly of the Lord’. In this respect,
Paul may have had in mind these other lone uses of ἐκκλησία elsewhere in the
LXX, which may have been triggered initially by the references to ‘assembly of
God’ and ‘assembly of the Lord’. Whether or not this is the exact pathway of
associations in Paul’s mind may be hard to prove, but something roughly similar
to it seems to be in view. Did Paul have in focus the OT references to ‘assembly
of God’ and ‘assembly of the Lord’ behind all of his other lone uses of ἐκκλησία?
Or, did he have in mind the OT uses of ἐκκλησία by itself in his own single uses
of ἐκκλησία to denote the Christian community? Either of these options is plau-
sible. The likelihood, at least, is that the OT was uppermost in Paul’s focus at
times, though at other times it was not. Nevertheless, even when the OT was not
explicitly in view, Paul probably had the OT tacitly or latently in mind to some
degree, in what we might call his cognitive peripheral vision.38 Whichever is the
case, the above analysis points to the probability that the LXX use of ἐκκλησία
τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐκκλησία κυρίου and ἐκκλησία by itself are the primary quarry from
which Paul drew his understanding of the ‘church’.
Van Kooten capitalizes on Trebilco’s acknowledgment that Paul does not
explicitly argue for the connection between the OT and ‘the church of God’ and

36. Some might argue that the Nehemiah allusion is unlikely, since Paul nowhere else alludes to
the book of Nehemiah. NA28 does list a number of allusions to Nehemiah in the NT (even
Neh. 13.2 in 2 Pet. 2.15) but not in Paul. There is, however, a clear allusion to Neh. 9.6 (‘you
give life to all things’) in the disputed epistle of 1 Tim. 6.13 (the one ‘who gives life to all
things’), though most would consider it a part of Pauline tradition (on which see Gough 1855:
108).
37. See Schmidt 1965: 527, who proposes that even when ἐκκλησία occurs by itself in the LXX,
‘the addition of τοῦ θεοῦ is either explicit or implicit’ from the immediate context. Recall that
Philo, Virt. 108 alludes to ἐκκλησία κυρίου of Deut. 23.8-9 (LXX) by abbreviating it with
ἐκκλησία and that Lam. 1.10 alludes to ἐκκλησία κυρίου of Deut. 23.4 (LXX, or MT) by abbre-
viating it only with ἐκκλησία. Furthermore, it is likely that 1 Cor. 1.2 (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ …
ἡγιασμένοις ἐν χριστῷ) is an allusion to Joel 2.16 LXX (ἁγιάσατε ἐκκλησίαν), since the only
place in the LXX where ἐκκλησία + ἁγιάζω appear together is in Joel 2.16. Both the Joel text
and 1 Cor 1.2 also refer to the notion of a holy assembly that would come about in the last
days (cf. the latter-day phrases in Joel 2.28 and 1 Cor 10.11, though the end-time concept runs
throughout Joel 2.16–3.21 [English]) (following Oropeza 2013: 1-5). Part of the significance
of this allusion is that Paul refers to a single use of ἐκκλησία in the LXX and expands it into
ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ. This also gives some evidence pointing to the notion that Paul viewed the
single uses of ἐκκλησία in the Greek OT as abbreviations of ‘assembly of God’. This also
shows further literary connection between Paul’s use of ἐκκλησία and the LXX.
38. On this concept of ‘tacit’ or ‘latent’ knowledge, see, among others, Polanyi 1966 and Polanyi
and Prosch 1975.
166 Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38(2)

never quotes an OT text related to the qahal Yahweh/ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ nor
asserts ‘this relates to us’ or ‘now we are the assembly of God’.39 But this argu-
ment applies just as well to van Kooten’s proposed Greco-Roman background:
Paul never explicitly argues for it nor says ‘this relates to us’, nor does he state
‘now we are the true assembly of God in contrast to the civic pagan assemblies’.
And, interestingly, Treblico (2011: 445) makes the same kind of argument as van
Kooten against those preferring a Greco-Roman background for ἐκκλησία: ‘Paul
never associates the word with other political language, and he sets up no explicit
antithesis of one ἐκκλησία against another’. Such explicit evidence like this
would be helpful, but it is an unreasonable requirement for either Trebilco’s or
van Kooten’s positions, given that many of the clear OT and Greco-Roman refer-
ences elsewhere in the NT are not explicitly commented upon in this manner.
However, I am arguing for an explicit allusion to an LXX ἐκκλησία text (Neh.
13.1), which neither Trebilco nor van Kooten nor others have proposed.
The focus of this article has been on what we think is the clear LXX back-
ground of ἐκκλησία in Paul. As alluded to at the beginning of this study, both
Trebilco (2011: 445-46, 486 n. 84) and van Kooten (2012: 537) acknowledge
some influence respectively from Greco-Roman or OT background. If both
backgrounds are in mind more than both these scholars would acknowledge,
then the clearer conclusion can be reached that the early Christian ‘assembly’
(usually translated ‘church’) is the continuation of the true Israelite ‘assembly of
God’ in the new covenant age,40 which implicitly stands in contrast, or as an
alternative, to the civic ‘assemblies of the world’.41 To whatever degree the
Greco-Roman background is influential, the OT linkage appears to be clear. How
significant the Greco-Roman background is for ἐκκλησία remains to be seen. Is
it at best secondary and implicit, is it greater than the LXX background, or are
there examples of the use of ἐκκλησία where the Greco-Roman background is
predominant and others where the LXX is predominant? As noted earlier, this
article cannot answer this question because of its limited scope. My conclusion
at this point only is that there are significant occurrences of ἐκκλησία in Paul that
have clearly been influenced by the LXX and were perhaps sparked off by exe-
getical traditions associated with Philo, especially Paul’s references to the
‘church of God’ (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ).42

39. Van Kooten 2012: 527, citing Trebilco 2012: 174.


40. See, e.g., among others, in addition to Trebilco 2011, the earlier works by Marshall (1972/73:
359-64) and O’Brien (1982: 57-61), all of whom also argue for a predominant LXX influence.
41. See, on this latter idea, Horsley 1997: 242-252, among his other works on this notion. See
similarly Georgi 1991: 57.
42. I am grateful to Will Ross and Todd Scacewater, my research assistants, for help in proofing
this article and in offering some helpful critiques.
Beale 167

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