14 Mar 2016

Old Testament Roots of the New Testament ‘Doctrine of Church’: What Does it Mean to Be the People of God? Part 1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Bible, Church, Ephesians, Faith, Family, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jewish Backgrounds, Unity

People of God 1Prologue

This is the first part of a two part series on what the Old Testament teaches about being God’s Church.

The Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, makes up a full 76% of the Protestant Bible.  Imagine mom or dad being absent 76 percent of the life of a son or daughter? What would that do to a child? Imagine a wife or husband missing out on seventy six percent of the words from the other? How would that impact that couple? Can you go to the National Art Gallery and find the paintings 76% erased. Imagine a President that was incapacitated 76 percent of his or her term in office? What kind of legacy would their be? Imagine purchasing a book that has seventy six percent of the words blotted out. Do you think you would understand the Story? Missing three out of every four words or three out of every four pages, or 45 minutes out of every hour leads to disastrous results in any area.

So why is it that disciples of Christ believe they know their Story when seventy six percent of their source of wisdom is effectively silenced in their faith?

When I say that I did not grow up on a diet of the first 76% of God’s Word is neither an exaggeration nor a claim to some sort of moral superiority on my part. It just is what it is, a simple statement of fact. My goal is simply to help others – especially Bereans and preachers – to deal deeply and significantly with 76% of Scripture to help us be what God wants us to be.

When I did hear the “Old Testament” it was a moral tale on Joseph or Mother’s Day (Hannah) but the claim that the Old Testament was doctrinally (cf. 2 Tim 3.15-16) formative for Christianity was as alien to my walk as a Christian as being on the Moon.

Approximately 76% of this page has been blacked out. Does it make sense?

Approximately 76% of this page has been blacked out. Does it make sense?

The Old Testament & the Doctrine of the Church 

Today I want to focus on the “church,” a word I really do not like so I will use “people of God.” The word “church” is a very poor translation and has lots of baggage. That is why the King James Version reversed William Tyndale’s decision to use the word “congregation” because the power of the traditional ecclesiastical term which has obscured a great deal of biblical teaching.  Alexander Campbell in his Living Oracles left the word “church” out.  The word church in our English Bibles obscures the fact that the notion of “church” is really the people of God.  The people of God did not begin on Pentecost. God’s people were renewed and transformed on Pentecost.  A great deal of the what the New Testament says about “church” (i.e. the people of God) comes directly from the first seventy six percent of the Bible … how warped is our “doctrine” of “the church” when you leave 76 percent of it out!? What is left, or thought to be left, is reduced to legalism.

If there was one thing I knew beyond a shadow of doubt growing up – even in the early 1990s when I had already fallen in love with the “Old Testament” – was that the Old Testament was completely irrelevant to understanding the doctrine of the people of God/church. We get that from the New Testament, Acts and the Epistles especially. Oh how wrong that is.  Biblically it is just wrong. It is not what the New Testament itself does.

I have no doubt that Ephesians, for example, is especially significant in grasping “church.” However, when we read Ephesians we encounter descriptions for the church as “household of God” (2.19), we are “saints” (3.18), you {gentiles} are “God’s possession” (1.14), God’s “inheritance” (1.14). It never once dawned on me, because 76% of the Story was missing, that every one of these terms are straight out of the Old Testament. And I (you may have) never once noticed 2.11-13 for what it actually boldly states. I was consumed with 2.8-10 for years but did not even understand that in its context. In 2.11-13, Paul states clearly that Gentiles are now, because of the Israelite Messiah, citizens of Israel, that they are heirs to the covenantS of promise … now together, Gentiles have been added to Israel are God’s “household” (2.19). Paul’s “doctrine of the church” is deeply rooted and shaped by what we call the “Old Testament.” Gentiles are added to the ancient but renewed people of God.

It was through an encounter with Elisabeth Achtemeier, back in 1994, that the first ray of light burst into my head that when Paul talked “ecclesiology” he explicitly drew his doctrine from the Old Testament doctrine of God’s People. In fact Gentiles are simply grafted into that doctrine in Ephesians. I did not know that Stephen, as Luke records it, calls Israel in the wilderness, ‘the church‘ (Acts 7.38). So what does “Old Testament Ecclesiology” look like? Some say we have an identity crises in Churches of Christ, it may be because we have willfully silenced 76 percent of God’s Word to us on what it means to be the People of God.  So what does it mean … Part One?

People of God 3The People of God are God’s House/Family

To call the People of God “Israel” (cf Gal 6.16) is to recognize that God’s people are Family. Israel does not start off as a nation. Israel is the sons and daughters of Abraham. When Israel came through the Sea to the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Lord addresses “the house/family {bayit} of Jacob” (Ex 19.3).

Within the Family, God is the loving “Father.” Thus we have beautifully moving passages where the people of God are variously God’s Son or his Daughter. Deuteronomy 32.18, records Moses prophesy of Israel’s faithlessness to the “Rock who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Ezekiel 16, a stunningly graphic passage, recounts how Yahweh found an exposed and abandoned girl “kicking in her own blood,” left to die or be eaten by wolves. She was “despised.” God picked her up, washed her, clothed her, fed her, made her a princess (16.1-14). In Exodus, the People are God’s “firstborn son” that wears the “name” of Yahweh, like I wear the name of my family, Valentine (Ex 4.23). In Hosea 11, another incredibly moving passage, God as Father wrestles mightily with how to properly discipline his “son.” The People of God are nothing short of “the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt” (Amos 3.1). Next to Hosea 11, no passage stresses the depth of God’s love for his sons and daughters, his people/church, than Isaiah 43.1-7. Creation and Redemption here cannot be separated.

“I have summoned you by name; you are mine …
I will be with you …
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you …
Do not be afraid for I am with you …
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth –
everyone called by name,
whom I created for my glory”

Of course, Paul makes much in the New Testament that we are the family/household of God. The “household” in the Pastorals is not an institution or organization but a family. This is our distinctive identity.

The People of God are God’s Wife/Bride

As the People of God, the “church,” we are the Wife or Bride of God. The fact that Israel is understood to be the Bride and married to Yahweh is plastered all over the “Old Testament.” Pagan deities often had a “consort” – a goddess. In some ways the People of God take the place of that goddess consort (I do not want to press the image to far but it is valid as far as it goes).

The covenant of love/hesed (Deut 7.7, 9) entered into at Sinai is for all practical purposes a wedding ceremony. This is why Yahweh pleads thru Jeremiah, “Return, faithless people, for I am your husband. I will choose you …” (3.14). Reflecting on the Sinai covenant of love and the need for renewal because of adultery, Yahweh laments and promises, “I will make new {or renewed} the covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” (31.31-32).

Two passages zero on the Bride motif powerfully. The second half of the Allegory of Ezekiel 16 mentioned above, the metaphor changes from deserted orphan to her growth into an adult woman whom Yahweh marries. Her faithlessness and his faithfulness are starkly contrasted. But Hosea and Gomer exhibit this doctrinal theme like no other. As in the allegory of Ezekiel, there is nothing about the people of God that deserved god’s grace. The Bride image reveals the nature of relationship that Yahweh has with his people. Marriages are not relationships of mere law but vulnerability and intimacy.  Of course Paul not only uses the family metaphor but says that renewed Israel is the “bride of Christ” (Eph 5). The grace of being God’s bride is a distinctive feature of the biblical church.

The People of God are One People

As the People of God, his family and his bride, we are One. All twelve tribes of Israel are the children of Abraham, even those that are literally not the sons of Israel/Jacob but of Joseph. The Family of God has fought with itself many times – destruction of sacred human relationships is part of Fallness  – from the beginning. The brothers made war on Joseph and even sold him into slavery. They were still brothers. In the darkest of dark days we read the horrific story of Judges 19-20. Many scratch their head over this episode. But it is presented precisely to show the depth of the fallenness of God’s people (just like the allegory in Ezekiel 16; the story of Hosea and Gomer; the narrative Moses relates in Deuteronomy 9, Israel has been rebellious since God laid eyes on you/us!). Israel makes war upon herself in Judges 20 (Benjamin). But as part of Israel was about to cease to exist “the people” (God’s people!) went to Bethel and sat “before God until evening” and wept “bitterly.” In lament they cry “O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?” (Judges 21.3).

All Israel exists by grace alone. Period. The sin of Benjamin, gross as it was, did not remove them from being a “son of Abraham.” They did not choose that position in the first place, God did. As the story goes, the twelve tribes divide into Yankees and Confederates. They continually make war on each other for hundreds of years. But the Psalms and the Prophets recognize them all as the People of God. They are One, the One People of God. In fact the prophets see in God’s renewed Israel not a divided people – Yankees or Confederates – but One People. They can be no other. God is One. His People are One. In Abraham we are ALL one. There is a surprising amount in the Hebrew Bible about the unity of God’s One People … and Paul embraces this doctrine from beginning to end. Paul makes much of unity as a distinctive feature of the family of God.

The People of God are Chosen

As the People of God, the church, we are “chosen” by God. God chose Israel.  Israel did not choose Yahweh. This doctrine is already seen in the Allegory in Ezekiel 16. The exposed, and despised, girl certainly did not pick Yahweh. She did not find Yahweh. She was found in a field. He picked her. He chose her. He WANTED her because no one wanted her. He literally commands her to “live,” just as he commanded the universe to exist!

The Hebrew Bible never lets God’s People forget that God chose them, they did not choose him (sounds like something Jesus said in John!). This is not some inferred truth (though certainly justly inferred in Ezekiel) rather it stated dozens of times. Moses says to the Family in Deuteronomy 7, “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples of the face of the earth to be his people” (7.6). In chapter 14, the metaphor of family and chosen are brought together, “You are the children of the LORD your God … it is you the LORD has chosen out of all the peoples on earth” (14.1-2). Solomon confesses he is a servant “in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people” (1 Kgs 3.8). The “church” sings of its blessedness, “Happy is the nation {this is Israel not the USA or any other nation state} whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage” (Ps 33.12).

The People, as we have seen the Hebrew Bible stress, are not “chosen” because they are mighty, numerous, or even righteous (Deut 7.7-9) than others. Israel is chosen for the same reason that Paul was made an Apostle … we are the “least” of all. It is utterly by grace – Hesed – that God made us his people. As we have seen above, part of Israel could not exclude part of Israel from the One Family of God. Judah did not pick Dan. God did. Likewise as God’s chosen by grace people, God says the sun and the moon would have to fall from the sky and stop shining before he could ever give up his adopted Family (Jer 31.35-37; 33.19-22). God’s People are “chosen” … of course Paul unapologetically adopts this doctrine of the church from the Hebrew Bible in Ephesians (so does Peter in 1 Peter).

People of God 2The People of God are Treasured

The Hebrew Bible presents a breath taking vista to the blessedness of being God’s People. The doctrine of “church” from the Hebrew Bible says that the distinctiveness of God’s people lies chiefly in being the Apple of God’s Eye, the special recipient of astonishing grace. We are his Family; we are his Bride; we are One yet many (think Paul’s body metaphor – has any connection to One People but 12 Tribes/Northern vs. Southern!!??); and we are Chosen.

This leads to this next wonderful theme regarding the People, we are “treasured.” The Hebrew Bible declares that his Family, Israel of God, is Yahweh’s “treasure” (shegulla). In that text we just quoted in Deuteronomy, “You are a holy people for Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God chose you to be for him specially treasured as his people” (7.6). We are his treasured possession (9.26). God has the “deed” to his People so to speak and he has put us on display to “brag” about us. Israel is more treasured by God than an autographed Babe Ruth baseball card or the priceless Mona Lisa on display in the Louvre. God owns EVERYTHING but the People are “my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed the whole earth is mine …” (Exodus 19.5).

We noticed from Isaiah 43, quoted above that, God’s Family is so valuable that he was, and is, willing to trade “Egypt” (to understand this we have to know that Egypt would be the equivalent of a Bugatti being traded for a Chevy Vega) to keep “us.” Our value does not lie in ourselves – recall Ezekiel 16!! Our value lies in the astounding fact that Yahweh decided we were worth more than the world to himself.

It is this Hebrew Bible doctrine about the treasured people that Paul explicitly taps into in Ephesians to tell us about the doctrine of the church. This is why Paul prays for Holy Spirit enlightenment upon Gentiles entering reNEWed Israel “that the eyes of your {Gentiles} heart may be enlightened in order that you {plural, Gentiles} may know the hope to which he has called you, THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS” (1.18).

God’s “inheritance” is his treasured possession – Israel that Gentiles are now a part of by grace. Sometimes it is very hard to see, much less understand, this frankly unbelievable doctrinal point. Israel has always been so far removed “in reality” from how God sees us. We kill each other. We mark one another. We declare one another unfit for Israel, forgetting that God made us family not the other way around. If only we could look at each other through those “romantic rose colored glasses” that Yahweh seems to do.

If you do not believe he does this then listen to Jeremiah. When we read the book of Numbers we know that “we” as the People were so far removed from God’s Ideal but Jeremiah reveals God looking at the Wilderness as almost a Honeymoon with his wife. God chooses to remember that time differently …

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the desert,

Mercified is a the distinctive identity mark of God's Church

Mercified is a the distinctive identity mark of God’s Church

through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD,
the first fruits of the harvest”

Conclusion of Part One: To be the Church means We are Mercified!

I will bring this portion of what it means to be the People of God to a close. The one thing that ties all of the images together is Yahweh’s grace or Hesed. God’s People are distinctly people of grace. We do not deserve to be God’s People. We have been mercified! We are not his Bride because we are holy. We are his Bride because he chose us and decided to treasure us even as we are Gomer!

The distinctiveness of God’s people lies in the fact that they have come to terms with the truth that we of all people should be lost. But God (notice that “but God” in Eph 2.4) in heaven saw us “kicking in our own blood,” about to die and leaped from his throne and shouted, LIVE! I will not let you die! You will be Mine. They reject you – but I want you.

This is what Paul means by Church … He says Gentiles are now heirs to this beautiful, glorious, astounding, doctrine of the people of God with those he calls saints … people we call “church.”

For Part 2 of this two part series Follow this Link: Old Testament Roots of the NT Doctrine of Church

Helpful Resources

Paul J & Elizabeth Achtemeier, Old Testament Roots of Our Faith

Kevin Giles, What on Earth is the Church? An Exploration of NT Theology

John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel; Israel’s Faith; Israel’s Life (3 volumes)

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul


4 Responses to “Old Testament Roots of the New Testament ‘Doctrine of Church’: What Does it Mean to Be the People of God? Part 1”

  1. Dwight Says:

    In my study of the church, I have become increasingly uninstitutional in how I view the church.
    I believe the church is the people.
    While we often state this in assembly, I find that after we state this we then spend the next forty-three minutes focused on the church as a thing or as the assembly. Church from this point on never again gets any bigger than us within our place at the appointed time. And this was true of the Jews, the congregation was the Jews, but was the Jewish people, not a sectarian group.
    Nothing says this more than a recent study that I read, where the “church” in Matt. 18 was referred to as “the church” as we know it to argue that God is with those who have a “corporate assembly”. But the context was of Jesus stating the law to the Jews, not to Christians.
    We don’t know how to step back and see God’s children unless it is in the context of the assembly that we are in under our own theological system.
    The Pharisees, etc. looked down on everybody else because they weren’t Pharisees and thus weren’t righteous enough. The Pharisees couldn’t see past their own association and branding to see the Kingdom of God.

  2. Edward Fudge Says:


    Once when Jesus and his disciples were in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked them who public opinion considered him to be (Matt. 16:13-20). The report was mixed. One of the prophets in general, some were saying; others, a specific, particular prophet such as John the Baptist or Elijah. And what do the disciples think? Peter, then still known as Simon, replied for the group. “You are the Christ/Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

    Jesus responded by giving Simon the new name Petros, making a play on that word and on the Greek word for the “bedrock” (petra) on which Caesarea Philippi was built. In the process, Jesus made a promise that he is still fulfilling 2,000 years later. “On this bedrock I will construct my ekklesia,” said the Messiah, “and the Gates of Hades will not overpower her.”

    This conversation could not have happened in a more appropriate place. Caesarea Philippi was on the site of the ancient Greek city of Panias, built to honor and named for Pan, the mythological goat-footed, flute-playing god of herds and music.

    About the time Jesus was born, Herod the Great rebuilt the city and named it “Caesarea” (in honor of Caesar “Augustus,” meaning “revered” or “worthy of worship”) and “Philippi” (probably in honor of one of Herod’s sons).

    Throughout its history, this city celebrated great men who wore impressive titles. But Caesarea would be remembered longest and best as the place where Peter identified Jesus as God’s Son and anointed one, and where Jesus made his promise “I will construct (or build) my ekklesia.”

    It was a fitting analogy for Jesus the carpenter–or perhaps the stone mason. The Gospels refer to Jesus (Mark 6:3) and to his stepfather Joseph (Matt. 13:55) as tektons, craftsmen with their hands. In literature of the time, a tekton was an artisan working with either stone or wood.

    But the materials for the construction project Jesus envisions here, which he identifies as “my ekklesia,” will be “living stones”–human beings, people–who will be formed into a residence for God’s Spirit, for the glorified Son of God, and for the Heavenly Father who sent them both into the world (John 14:18-24; 1 Pet. 2:4-8; Eph. 2:19-22).

    In biblical times, the word ekklesia” meant simply “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation,” making it the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word qahal, the regular word in the Hebrew Bible for the People of God assembled before the Lord.

    When the Jews translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, it was natural for them to use ekklesia in place of qahal. When Jesus promised: “I will construct my ekklesia,” he tapped into a holy heritage already dear to Jews familiar with the Greek Old Testament.

    But newness accompanied continuity. The assembly that Jesus would gather would be the People of God related to God through Jesus the Messiah, as Jesus indicated by the pronoun “my.” And by placing “my” in front of the word it modified instead of after it, Jesus emphasized his defining relationship with the ekklesia that would be uniquely his.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Thank you for reading and replying brother Edward Fudge. Excellent comment. I could not agree more on the word ekklesia which I typically render “gathered people.” God’s gathered people do relate to him through the Messiah as Savior and High Priest all in the power of the Holy Spirit too. Delighted to have your comments brother. May the Lord bless you in your ministry that has blessed so many, especially me.

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