וַיַּסֵּב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת־פָּנָיו וַיְבָרֶךְ אֵת כָּל־קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכָל־קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עֹומֵד׃ [BHS]
καὶ ἐπέστρεψεν ὁ βασιλεὺς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ καὶ εὐλόγησεν τὴν πᾶσαν ἐκκλησίαν ισραηλ καὶ πᾶσα ἐκκλησία ισραηλ παρειστήκει [Septuagint]
I have posted in several places here about the continuity of God’s revelation to man from the Patriarchs through the Exodus, to Jesus’ ministry to the Revelation of John. The Truth which God had to teach us in order to save us is so alien to human experience that many of the lessons had to be extremely graphic and often painful—as the experiences of Israel attest. The Congregation, or Assembly of Israel is seen to be a foreshadowing—perhaps we could call it the “demo version”?—of God’s ultimate intention for His Family on earth, the Church established by Grace through Jesus Christ.
If one only reads the English translations of the Bible, though, it is possible to conclude that Jesus has simply made up a new word for an unprecedented institution entirely unique to the religious construction we call Christianity. Extreme literalists apply extreme human logic to such words, and extract (or actually, introduce) such extreme extra-Biblical constructions as Dispensationalism. The Congregation of Israel is held to be so literally unique and separate from Jesus’ Church that this logic requires that the Church be “snatched away” so that Israel can come back and finish the events literally prophesied for it. God must be restricted to having acted in ways suitable for human understanding, lest we lose control of our Deity and be forced to submit to personal humility and all those other uncomfortable things Jesus talked that we don’t really want to think about very much.
[Since I have started exploring the Biblical languages, I have actually heard Dispensationalism passionately discussed in terms of the Hebrew and Greek, with arguments about how many Temples there have been (some conclude, apparently, that one is missing), and so on. ]
If we look with appropriate child-like humility at the available Biblical texts in Hebrew and Greek, though, this dichotomy sort of evaporates. In the example from 2 Chronicles, Solomon blesses the “whole Assembly of Israel”, the Cal Qahal Israel. The Septuagint—the authoritative translation of the Hebrew Bible (which we call the Old Testament) into Greek—here translates the phrase as πᾶσα ἐκκλησία ισραηλ. In the Gospel of Matthew , in response to Peter’s Spiritually-inspired declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus establishes μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν —”My Assembly”, which is usually translated into English as “My Church”.
This is not a logical proof of concept. Elsewhere in the Septuagint, as in Numbers 14:5, qahal is translated as συναγωγῆς. In fact, since we are told that Jesus probably often spoke in Aramaic , even the Greek text of our New Testament should likely be considered a translation of His words. There are no rational or logical proofs of these things, because they have to be “Spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Spiritually, this ekklesia of the Old ways is completed by Jesus in the New—like everything else in God’s Plan. It is God’s Family in Christ (John 1:12, Mark 3:31-34) built on the power of the Holy Spirit in each of us—-as it was with His revelation to Peter and the inner circle of His disciples so long ago.
[Dictionary.com relates the origins of the English word “Church” from several sources (which, of course, I looked up after I searched through texts in three different languages and wrote this). For example:
Middle English chirche, from Old English cirice, ultimately from Medieval Greek kūrikon, from Late Greek kūriakon (dōma), the Lord’s (house), neuter of Greek kūriakos, of the lord, from kūrios, lord; see keuə– in Indo-European roots.
Derived probably from the Greek kuriakon (i.e., “the Lord’s house”), which was used by ancient authors for the place of worship. In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew _kahal_ of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found. There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.]