The Ecclesia in the Acts

The Ecclesia in the Acts

Christadelphians have been using the word “ecclesia” in place of church for a long time and for good reasons. It is a special word with a lot of meaning for us, yet I wonder if it is becoming too commonplace. We get used to a word and it can lose its vitality. How do you look at your ecclesia?

In Hebrews 12:18-24 the writer compares the ecclesia to the children of Israel before mount Sinai.

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”

This connection between the “church (ecclesia) in the wilderness” (Acts 7:22) and the “church of the firstborn” is an important one. When Christ first said the word “ecclesia” to Peter and the apostles in Matt. 16:18, “upon this rock I will build my church (ecclesia)” he was not introducing a new word. That word had a history to the Greeks and to the Jews. We will go through that history and then see how Christ built his ecclesia in the Acts of the Apostles. As the gospel was predicated on the Old Testament so would the function and organization of the ecclesia be modelled and take its principles from that which was established on Sinai.

The Greeks

In the fourth century BC, around 330 BC, there was a constitution written most likely by Aristotle for the city of Athens. The heart of it was to formalize the practice of the Greek city ecclesia which had been in place for at least 200 years before. It was the main governing assembly which directed the policy of the city, declared war, elected generals and magistrates, raised funds, and made peace treaties. It would also judge private citizens, and in the case of banishment there had to be at least 6,000 citizens present.

In the wider Greek culture, the word ecclesia meant a duly convened assembly of citizens. Literally, it was the “called out ones” but with a special meaning to be summoned, to convene together, judge and vote on political matters. It was a democracy with the slogan of “freedom and equality” for all its citizens.

Even in New Testament times, this is what the ecclesia was to the Greeks and Romans. Proof of this is seen in Acts 19 where the word ecclesia is translated assembly three times. Demetrius, a craftsmen of idols in Ephesus, upset over his loss of business due to the preaching of Paul, incites an assembly (v.32, ecclesia) to banish Paul and the believers from Ephesus. Demetrius meant this to be an official legal action but it got out of hand as the unruly mob chanted “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for two hours. Finally, the city clerk calmed the people and chastised Demetrius for not doing this in a “lawful assembly” (v.39, ecclesia) and he dismissed the assembly (v. 41, ecclesia).

The Septuagint (LXX)

Not only did the word ecclesia have a rich history with the Greeks and Romans before the time of Jesus but also with the Jews. The Jews in Alexandria Egypt in the 3rd century BC translated the Hebrew Bible into the Greek and called it the Septuagint (abbr. LXX). This translation became widely used among the Jews (e.g. Philo and Josephus), some of its manuscripts even being found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Old Testament it is plainly evident that they were mostly using the Septuagint version but not all of the time. The most we can draw out of this is that they considered the LXX to be mostly reliable, much like we would use our English translations of the Bible today. It provides us some valuable information on what the Jews considered to be an ecclesia according to the history of Israel. This no doubt provides the background of what Jesus meant when he said, “upon this rock I will build my ecclesia.” This is the first time he used the word and no doubt the Apostles knew the impact of such a word choice as they knew how it was used in the Septuagint.

The word ecclesia is used as a noun seventy-seven times in the Septuagint and seventeen times in other forms not used in the New Testament. One of these other forms is the word ecclesiastes (noun of agency) and ecclesiaston which are found seven times, all in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:1,2,12; 7:27; 12:8,9,10). It is translated as “preacher”, meaning “one who speaks to the ecclesia.”

Deuteronomy 4:10 records for us the very first time the word ecclesia is used as a noun. Quoting from Brenton’s translation of the LXX, verses 9-11 say,

“Take heed to thyself, and keep thy heart diligently: forget not any of the things, which thine eyes have seen, and let them not depart from thine heart all the days of thy life; and thou shalt teach thy sons and thy sons' sons, (10)  even the things that happened in the day in which ye stood before the Lord our God in Choreb in the day of the assembly (ecclesia); for the Lord said to me, Gather (ecclesiazo) the people to me, and let them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days which they live upon the earth, and they shall teach their sons. (11)  And ye drew nigh and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire up to heaven: there was darkness, blackness, and tempest.”

This then is where the writer to the Hebrews in 12:18-24 drew his reference when he compared the children of Israel at Mount Sinai with the 1st century ecclesia of the firstborn. This was the birth of the very first ecclesia of God which took place when the nation of Israel was sanctified to receive the word of God. Its purpose was to instill the fear of God, hear his words and pass it on to the next generation.

This phrase “the day of the assembly (ecclesia)”, which does not show up here in the Hebrew text but is found in both Deut. 9:10 and 18:15-16.

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly (ecclesia), saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.” (Deut. 18:15-16)

As further significance to this usage of the word ecclesia in the Old Testament, Stephen quotes Deut. 18:15-16 right before he refers to the “church (ecclesia) in the wilderness” in Acts 7:37-38.

The actual “day of the ecclesia” that Moses relates is recorded in Exodus 19:1 as taking place in the third month. This is significant because the day of Pentecost was in the third month (Heb. Sivan). This initial day for the ecclesia in the wilderness happens on the same day of Pentecost as the New Testament ecclesia (Acts 2:1). The charge given at this time to the children of Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5-6) is the same given to Christ’s ecclesia (1 Pet. 2:9).

The Hebrew equivalent is the word “qahal” which also means to summon but is most often translated as assembly or congregation. The bulk of the passages where the Septuagint uses the word it refers to the children of Israel being called before God for a special occasion or when a decision that effected the whole ecclesia needed to be made. Barclay in his book on New Testament Words (pg. 68-69) has this to say,

“In the Hebrew sense it, therefore, means God’s people called together by God, in order to listen to or to act for God. In a certain sense the word ‘congregation’ loses a certain amount of the essential meaning. A ‘congregation’ is a company of people ‘who have come together’; a qahal or an ekklesia is a body of people ‘who have been called together’. The two original words, Hebrew and Greek, put all the emphasis on the action of God.”

When Jesus chose this word for the gathering of his believers he had a choice between the word ecclesia or synagogue. The word synagogue is also used extensively throughout the Septuagint for the congregation of Israel. For the Jews of his day though it had come to mean a meeting place (a building) outside of the temple service. A synagogue was a congregation separate from the temple and never meant to replace it. The same could not be said for what Jesus was to build. Jesus was clearly establishing something that would be the true temple of God (John 4:19-24; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5).

I Will Build My Ecclesia

When we look closer at Matt. 16:18 the involvement of the Lord Jesus in building his ecclesia is evident.

“… thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The Lord is saying here that he would personally have a hand in building his ecclesia. The starting point, of course, would be his own death and resurrection. After throwing the money changers out of the temple he had this to say to the Jews who were looking for a sign,

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-22)

The body of Jesus comes to symbolize the ecclesia (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Eph. 1:22-23). There is a wonderful mixing of ideas here between the literal death and resurrection of Jesus and its purpose to destroy a temple made with hands and build a temple (the ecclesia) made without hands where God could dwell (Acts 7:38-50). Later his accusers remembered his words but have these interesting additional words.

“We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.” (Mark 14:58, only included by Mark)

We have then in these three passages the assurance that Jesus would build the temple (aka the ecclesia). The stone which the builders rejected would become the head of the corner (Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11) and we as lively stones (1 Pet. 2:5) would be built on that foundation, growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22).

When we come then to the Acts of the Apostles we really see the hand of the Lord Jesus personally at work. In fact, it might have been better to call this book the Acts of Jesus Christ After His Ascension. Notice how Luke carefully words his introduction.

“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” (Acts 1:1)

The “former treatise” is the Gospel of Luke which he refers to as what Jesus “began both to do and teach.” If that was the beginning, then it implies that this sequel would show how Jesus was continuing to both “do and teach” among the Apostles.

  • In Acts 2:33 it says “he [Jesus] hath shed forth (or poured out v.17,18) this, which ye now see and hear” referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is the direct work of Jesus who said “I will send unto you… the Spirit of truth” (John 20:26).
  • Acts 2:47 states “the Lord added to the church daily as such as should be saved” (see also 5:14). It is interesting to think if this is God or Jesus being referred to here as “Lord”. In many other passages the Lord is Jesus so it seems likely here and fits with him building his ecclesia.
  • Stephen sees the Lord Jesus standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:56). Normally Jesus would be sitting at God’s right hand but here he stands up, active to bring judgment.
  • The Lord Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus saying that Paul’s persecutions of the ecclesia were really persecutions of him (Acts 9:4-5). Paul, relating this incident in Acts 26:16 indicates there would be further appearances of the Lord Jesus to him which happen in Acts 18:9-10 and 23:11 (cp. 2 Tim. 4:17).
  • Jesus instructs Annanias (Acts 9:10)

All this shows that the promise of Jesus in Matt. 28:20, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” was true. Jesus was always there, active and building his ecclesia.

Has anything changed in this regard, brothers and sisters? Do you imagine a distant Christ in the heavens detached from us? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In the beginning of the book of Revelation Jesus appears, not as an ordinary human being but as the Son of Man symbolized in all his glory. It is an echo to the vision given to Daniel and also to the transfiguration.

Revelation 1:13 says,

"And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle."

This is a vision of the glorified Christ as he says in verse 18,

"I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."[1]

The thing I want to point out here is that he is in the midst of the seven candlesticks, which represent these seven ecclesias to whom the book of Revelation is being sent.  Not only is he in the midst but he is walking in the midst of them as it says in 2:1,

"Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;"

Walking in the midst of the ecclesias is very significant.  He is not distant.  As each ecclesia gets listed he says, “I know thy works…”  With the angels at his command, Jesus knows both the good and bad of all these ecclesias.  Jesus’ careful eye is not just limited to seven ecclesias.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

Do we imagine him within our midst?  Brothers and sisters, how much better off would we be if we had our eyes open to this reality at all times?  Imagine Jesus Christ in our very midst, among our ecclesias.  Not just as a man but as the glorified Son of Man.  It’s a sobering thought that the book of Revelation gives us. We know that we shall be judged individually but we also get the aspect here that we will be judged collectively as an ecclesia.

The Ecclesia in the Acts

There is then an affinity we share with the early ecclesia in the Acts. The same Lord is over both and we seek to understand how they worked as an ecclesia that we might do the same.

It all started in an upper room with 120 disciples all of “one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14). The Greek word “homothumadon” is in meaning “one mind” or of the “same passion”. This unity of mind would typify the ecclesia throughout the Acts (2:1, 46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25; cp. Rom. 15:6 “one mind”)[2] and be an example to us (1 Cor. 1:10).

In order to do this the fledgling but quickly growing ecclesia would rely on four things. They are found in chapter 2:42.

“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

It is probably no accident that these four things have an analogy in the tabernacle. It correlates to the ecclesia in the wilderness.




Mercy seat

Breaking of bread

The table of showbread


The altar of incense

Here they are in the temple made with hands, most likely in Solomon’s porch (5:12). It is ironic because they are the new temple in Christ Jesus. They are the spiritual priesthood and these four things they continue steadfastly in are the pillars of the true temple, the ecclesia. If we wanted any further elaboration they seem to be laid out more in the following verses.

  1. Verse 43: Apostle’s doctrine – miracles and signs done by apostles
  2. Verse 44: Fellowship – all thing in common
  3. Verse 46: Breaking bread – breaking bread from house to house
  4. Verse 47: Prayer – praising God (see also 12:5)

The first time the word ecclesia is used in the Acts is in chapter 2:47.

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

Modern translations do not have the phrase “to the church” which admittedly is not likely to have been in the original. Nevertheless, it does portray the active Lord adding to the ecclesia. The continued growth of the ecclesia is marked in stages that fit the pattern of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8.

  1. Jerusalem
    1. 2:47
    2. 4:4 – There is some ambiguity here and differences of opinion but most side with this being the total number of believers at this time rather than 5,000 being converted on this day.
    3. 5:14 – This is the second time the word church is used in Acts (v.11) with very similar wording to 2:43-47.  Solomon’s porch is said to have a capacity for 10,000 people. Their fear (v. 11 cp. 9:31) is analogous to the fear of Israelites before Mt. Sinai.
    4. 6:1,7
  2. Samaria (9:31) – The word “edified” means “built up” which is the same word used by Jesus in Matt. 16:18.
  3. Syria/Antioch (11:26 “much people”; 12:24)
  4. Asia (16:5; 19:20)
  5. Rome (28:31)

Each one of these progress reports seems to follow a time of either great persecution or of great inner turmoil in the ecclesia. In Acts 3-4 there is persecution from the Sanhedrin (outside). In Acts 5 there is trouble in the ecclesia with Ananias and Saphira (inside) and then in the same chapter comes more persecution from the high priest (outside). In Acts 6 there is trouble again in the ecclesia with a dispute over the ministration to widows (inside). In Acts 7-12 there is persecution by Saul and then by Herod (outside). In Acts 13-14 there is the first missionary journey which ends in controversy for the ecclesias in Acts 15 over the law of Moses and the Gentile believers (inside). It typifies the saying of Paul, “our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7:5).

It is important to note that the idyllic ecclesia that was born in Acts 2 did not stay that way. It had severe growth pains. Even though they had the leadership of the Apostles they would be challenged as well. God doesn’t always give the easy answers. We have to work it out. Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:18-19,

“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

It’s two of these incidents that we’ll take a closer look at now. Acts 6 and Acts 15 mark two times the ecclesia had to come together and solve a difficult internal issue. Handled incorrectly and it would cause division and hurt. Addressed correctly would bring consensus and joy.

Acts 6

Here’s the growing pains and with it the problem in Acts 6:1,

“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”

This is the first real sign of a widespread problem within the ecclesia. You’ll notice the problem wasn’t about doctrine but about fellowship. This was one of those foundation principles of sharing that the ecclesia had established back in Acts 2:44-45. It seems among the welfare fund there had come some respect of persons. The Grecians (Hellenists) were Greek speaking Jews which had more of a Greek culture about them. The Hebrews were native Jews. At risk was a very important commandment of God to take care of the helpless widows among themselves.[3]

This was a new challenge to the Apostles but their answer was not as they looked back to the ecclesia in the wilderness for answers. Moses himself had been burdened with a people who murmured about food. The following table shows the similarities.

Numbers 11

Acts 6

v. 4 - A mixed multitude

v. 1 - A multitude of Grecians and Jews

v. 1, 9 - murmur

v. 1 - murmuring

v. 9 – about daily manna

v. 1 – about daily ministration

v. 11, 14 – Moses unable to bear everything

v. 2 – Apostles unable to leave word to serve tables

v. 16 – Seventy able elders sought out by Moses (Deut. 1:13, notice the qualifications are the same)

v. 3 – Seven able men sought out by the brethren

v. 16 – Seventy to stand before the Lord

v. 6 – Seven are set before the apostles

v. 17, 25 – They are given the spirit

v. 3 – The seven are full of the Holy Spirit and the apostles lay their hands on them.

v. 21 – 600,000 footmen

Was there ~6,000 disciples at this time?

v. 26 – Two stand out, Eldad and Medad

Chapters 7 and 8 – Two stand out, Stephen and Philip

The real closeness of how the Apostles relied on Moses is in Deut. 1:9-17 where Moses reminds the people of the time.

“And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.”

Now the Apostles faced with a multitude of disciples, all of them gathered to them (v. 2, all 5,000?) tell them to do likewise. They were to seek out among themselves “men of honest report, full of the Holy  Spirit and wisdom.” Notice the apostles didn’t make the choice just like Moses. They wisely expected the ecclesia to do it. They were to be men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.

Bro. Roberts when writing The Ecclesial Guide drew a lot from the Apostlic record. Consider this passage,

“There must be arrangement, and it must be the work of some in particular. If those appointed to do the work are called arranging brethren, it will be a literal description, and not a name of honour. Names of honour are to be avoided in the probationary stage of the body of Christ. Seven is a convenient and scriptural number for purposes of management. Their function would be to attend to all business matters connected with the operations of the ecclesia. Their qualifications would principally require to be of a practical order. But as the business they would have to do would be business with spiritual objects, arranging brethren ought, above all things, to be men of a truly brotherly spirit, possessing a business turn, but chiefly the brotherly character. It is not sufficient that they have a business turn: they must be brethren first, arranging brethren afterwards. This is the first qualification for all offices, a point liable to be overlooked in young ecclesias. If it be asked, how is a brotherly spirit to be known, the answer is, by the test of the commandments of Christ: are they obeyed? If SO! the man has a brotherly spirit. Are they not observed in the man's conduct? Then he is not a brotherly man, and not suitable for management, however great his practical abilities may be.” (Clause 23)

And so we see in the Acts that these men were to attend to very practical matter but nonetheless very important matters that could divide the ecclesia. So it first and foremost needed men who were of good reputation and wisdom among the ecclesia.

Thus we have in this example some guiding principles for our ecclesias. The Apostles gave themselves to the two other pillars of doctrine and prayer (Acts 2:42) and the ecclesia was actively involved in the decision. The result being that “the saying pleased the whole multitude.” Remember that phrase as we continue our journey.

Acts 8, 10 & 11

It is this final multiplication of disciples that tips Saul to persecute the ecclesia and scatter it (Acts 8:1-4, third time ecclesia is mentioned).  Beside the ecclesia in Jerusalem (8:1) there is now one in Samaria (8:14-17, see also v. 40), at Lydda (9:32), Joppa (9:38) and others (11:19-21). There seems to be this pattern of external persecution followed by internal strife that goes throughout the first part of Acts.  After the conversion of Saul, the ecclesia had rest and multiplied again (Acts 9:31) but internal strife then starts in Acts 10.  We are given a hint of the existence of the circumcision party in Acts 10:23, 45; 11:1-3, 18. There would be a short lived disagreement and reconciliation in Acts 11:2,18 but the problem would resurface in Acts 15.

The real expansion of the gospel starts in Antioch (Acts 11:19-21).  The Jerusalem ecclesia upon hearing of these things (‘when though shalt hear’, Deut. 13:12) sends Barnabas to investigate. What was the purpose of sending Barnabas but to verify for themselves that these were truly brethren? These ecclesias then start a relationship with one another that would be respected and held as dear.

The ecclesia in Antioch though was its own autonomous entity. This can be seen by their gathering together in Acts 13:1-3 and commissioning the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. In verse 3, the “they” is the ecclesia. They gave their approval by laying their hands on the Apostles and sending them. We’ve seen this word before.[4] Paul and Barnabas were commended to this work by the Antioch ecclesia and they had a responsibility to them. This is seen in Acts 14:26-27 as they come back,

“And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”

This sets the stage for the next internal conflict for the ecclesias. The last one involved the ecclesia at Jerusalem but this one would involve two ecclesias. The last one was a problem with fellowship but this would be a dispute about doctrine.

Acts 15

Since the initial brewing of trouble in Acts 11, the party of the circumcised had grown. Officially, the Jerusalem ecclesia had sent Barnabas (11:22) but these men (not ‘brethren’) seemed to have no such standing (15:24 “went out” not sent, cp. 1 John 2:19).[5] They taught, “that except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This incited a huge disputation between these men on one side, Paul and Barnabas on the other and the ecclesia in the middle. This was a major battle as the word “dissension” is translated “uproar” (Acts 19:40) describing the Ephesian mob who wanted to kill Paul.

What was to be done? “They (the ecclesia at Antioch) determined (or appointed) Paul, Barnabas and certain other to go up to Jerusalem” to settle the matter with the Jerusalem ecclesia. They were commended to be the ecclesial representatives which is seen by the use of the words “send” and “receive”.  The key word “send” in verse 3 is disguised in the KJV,

"And being brought on their way by the church..."

The Greek word for "brought" here is propempo and all modern translations use the word "sent".  Therefore, Paul and Barnabas did not go of their own accord but were sent by the Antioch ecclesia.  As we have already seen, this word implies a recommendation by the sending party especially when paired with the act of "receiving", which we have in verse 4.

"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them."

We should not take the manner of this as a casual exchange.  There is an intentional "sending" and "receiving" being done.  There is no mention of a letter of commendation but we can assume with some confidence that there was one.  There is no assumption that Paul and Barnabas could be representatives of their own accord.  The Antioch ecclesia granted them that position and the Jerusalem ecclesia welcomed them on that basis.

The order of the words in verse 4 is interesting as they are received first by the church and secondly by the apostles and elders.  It is interesting because the order is reversed in verse 22.

"Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren"

It was only the "apostles and elders" (v. 6) who came together to consider the matter but in the end the decision "pleased" the whole ecclesia.  That is, they were not left out of the decision process and approved to "send" (pempo) their own representatives back to Antioch.  The letter they[6] composed was therefore a declaration of their decision but also a letter of recommendation for those who carried it.

(Act 15:25-27) “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send (pempo) chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, (26) Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (27) We have sent (apostello) therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth."

“It Pleased the Whole Multitude”

They had come together and sat through what I believe must have been hours and hours of disputing (15:7) to come to a decision that “pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church” (15:22). This was the same result they had obtained in chapter 6:5, “the saying pleased the whole multitude”. We really have nothing else to compare as an ecclesial example then these two incidents in Acts… or do we?

That saying, “pleased the whole multitude” (6:5) is interesting. There are two times in the Old Testament where the children of Israel are gathered together as an ecclesia, to take part in a decision which would please them. One is during the time of David and the other with Hezekiah. Many times Israel is described as an ecclesia but only twice (that I could find) does it say they were pleased with the decision.

Let’s turn to the first example in 1 Chr. 13:1-5 from the Brenton LXX translation.

“And David took counsel with the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, even with every commander. (2) And David said to the whole congregation (ecclesia) of Israel, If it seem good to you, and it should be prospered by the Lord our God, let us send to our brethren that are left in all the land of Israel, and let the priests the Levites who are with them in the cities of their possession come, and let them be gathered to us. (3) And let us bring over to us the ark of our God; for men have not enquired at it since the days of Saul. (4) And all the congregation (ecclesia) said that they would do thus; for the saying was right in the eyes of all the people.[7] (5) So David assembled (execclesiasen) all Israel, from the borders of Egypt even to the entering in of Hemath, to bring in the ark of God from the city of Jarim.”

The word “congregation” in verses 2 and 4 in the LXX is ecclesia (Hebrew qahal). It is so interesting at this time that David involves the whole ecclesia of Israel in this decision. He started by saying, “if it seems good to you.” He was asking their approval to do something momentous. Would he have gone through with it if the people did not approve? But they did as the “saying was right in the eyes of all the people.”

There was a problem though. They put the ark on a cart pulled by oxen. When they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to steady the ark and the Lord struck him down right there. The thing which they all agreed to do, which seemed so right, went so wrong. They had not done it in the proper way. David acknowledges this later in chapter 15:12-13 when he says to the Levites about to bring up the ark,

“Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order.”

David readily acknowledges his role in the mistake by saying “we sought him not after the due order.” There are times when we as ecclesias can make a mistake collectively. We have to go back to the word and set things right. That is what David did and they were able to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem with joy.

The next example also has an important lesson. It is found in 2 Chr. 30, reading again from the Brenton LXX translation.

“And Ezekias sent to all Israel and Juda, and wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasse, that they should come into the house of the Lord to Jerusalem, to keep the passover to the Lord God of Israel. (2) For the king, and the princes, and all the congregation (ecclesia) in Jerusalem, designed to keep the passover in the second month. (3) For they could not keep it at that time, because a sufficient number of priest had not purified themselves, and the people was not gathered to Jerusalem. (4) And the proposal pleased the king and the congregation (ecclesia).”

Here we have again, the word “congregation” which is ecclesia in the LXX and qahal in the Hebrew. They came together in this order “king, princes and ecclesia” much like in Acts we have “apostles, elders and ecclesia.” Their decision is also made together as something that pleases everyone. So they send out letters to all their brethren. Some mocked but some humbled themselves and came. Isn’t the summation in verse 12 beautiful?

“And the hand of the Lord was present to give them one heart to come, to do according to the commands of the king and of the princes, by the word of the Lord. (13) And a great multitude were gathered to Jerusalem to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation (ecclesia).” (Brenton LXX)

“The hand of the Lord was present to give them one heart”[8] sounds like something from Acts (“of one accord”). Here again we have a picture of the ecclesia, a “very great congregation”, in harmony and joyous celebration but there is a problem. There were many in the ecclesia who were not sanctified to eat the Passover. They did not do it in the proper order according to the word. Did God strike them down like Uzza? No he didn’t and we read why in verses 18-19.

“For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”

There are some similarities to what went on during David’s time but there is this striking contrast for a different outcome. Hezekiah knew that they were not following the word of God. He knew what was right. He knew there would be consequences if he didn’t pray. He interceded for this one time and God heard and healed the people. It wouldn’t be that way next year. They would be prepared and sanctified. There are circumstances where we come up short. God knows. If we acknowledge his way, he will guide us to walk with him in light. There are time for exceptions but let them not become the rule.

If that wasn’t enough the ecclesia makes another decision in verse 23,

“And the whole assembly (LXX ecclesia) took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness.”

Oh what an unbelievable joyous time it was for this ecclesia. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our ecclesias were the same?


The ecclesia is a powerful concept. Let us never make this word commonplace and our association together trivial. If we truly believe the word of Jesus that “I will build my ecclesia” then we stand in his very presence as his workmanship. He walks among the candlesticks and we must never let those lights go out. We must stand by the example of the ecclesia of old, continuing steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayer. We have our problems just like they did and we have to find that way to be of “one accord”. Our ecclesias must uphold the word of God, acknowledge our faults, pray for forgiveness so that we might rejoice together in what truly is the fellowship of the Lord.


[1] Notice the allusion here back to Matt. 16:18, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it… I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

[2] It’s also used of those in opposition to the truth (7:57; 12:20; 18:12; 19:29).

[3] Deut 10:18; 16:11, 14; 24:17, 19-21; 26:12-13; 27:19; Isa 1:17-23; Jer 7:6; Mal 3:5.

[4] See “Letters of Commendation”

[5] In 15:5 they are called “certain of the sect of the Pharisees”. They are again not referenced as brethren which might imply how the Apostles viewed their standing in the ecclesia if they kept to this teaching.

[6] Notice the letter is written by "the apostles and elders and brethren" indicating that the ecclesia was also included in the formal formation of the words sent to all the ecclesias.

[7] This side of the story is not mention in the 2 Samuel 6 record.

[8] The KJV has, “in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart.”