What and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? Was it an earthly religious organisation as some claim, or something else?
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The Catholic Church has used Matthew 16 as one of the scriptures by which they proceed to “prove” their dogmas regarding their church and its pontiff and his “primacy”. Their Latin-language Vulgate translation has in verse 18 the wording aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam, which has then been translated into English as “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.
Many non-Catholic churches and preachers have copied that translation, and also the dogmas around it, and applied them to their own churches, in various modified forms. Through those things, countless people have been caused to believe that Jesus foretold the formation of a religious organisation, a “true church of God”.
But again, those things are copies of old Catholic dogmas. The important question is, what was Jesus talking about?
Matthew 16:18 […] I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. (WORR)
Where the above-quoted Worrell translation and a number of others have “assembly”, the Greek text has ekklêsia which indeed meant “assembly”.
It is only much later in the New Testament, from Acts 2:47 and onward, that the noun ekklêsia is used as a reference to the saints’ [a] fellowships. So, what does Matthew 16:18 refer to? Really what and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? This article proceeds to show that it is obvious that Jesus spoke about an assembly of immortals, an assembly whose members would, among other things, act as judges on behalf of the Reign of God, “binding” and “loosing”.
a In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.
Regarding Matthew 16:18 and the mention of “the gates of hades (grave, death)” not prevailing against that assembly or its members – if we look for the word hades (grave) and the concept of immortality elsewhere in the New Testament, we find them mentioned in the apostle Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 15:54 […] Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? (VW06)
As you can see, even Paul was talking about immortality. He referred to the time when the saints were to be resurrected or changed and become immortals. Hades – death, grave – could not prevail against them. Later in this article, there is a bit more on that passage in 1 Corinthians 15. Right now, regarding Matthew 16:
The context shows that the subject was Jesus himself, and not the apostle Peter or some “church”. The story begins in Matthew 16:13 which records that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?”
The disciples answered him – verse 14, “some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. Then he asked them, verse 15, “But you, who do you say that I am?” This time it was Simon Peter who answered Jesus’ question – verse 16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.
Again, here it was Simon Peter who gave the answer to Jesus’ question. And so, Jesus directed his comments at him. But of course, the other apostles were not sorted out as “second rate”, just because it was Simon who happened to give the answer to that question. They all were to be given important positions in God’s Kingdom, after they had become immortals. Later in this article, there are some notes on this.
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 I also tell you that you are Peter, x and on this rock y I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades z will not prevail against it. 19 I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
x Peter’s name, Petros in Greek, is the word for a specific rock or stone.
y Greek, petra, a rock mass or bedrock.
z or, Hell
(WEB, original footnotes)
Verse 19, “release” and “released” – some translations have “loose” and “loosed”. This obviously refers to “binding and loosing” of the kind that judges do; see also Matthew 19:27–28 and Luke 22:28–30.
Keep in mind verse 13 and onward, that the subject was Jesus himself, and not Simon Peter or some “church”. (Later in this article, there are some notes on the actual origin and meaning of the word “church”.)
In the analogy of verse 18, Simon was one of the stones that were added to the main foundation which consisted of Jesus the Petra, Rock.
Some writers have twisted things and caused people to think that Jesus is not the foundation rock which even Matthew 16 refers to, but instead the last stone to be put in place, a “cap-stone”.
In the relevant analogies in the Scriptures, Jesus is not some “capstone”. Instead, he is the stone that was laid first, the main corner-stone of the foundation of God’s spiritual dwelling. (God the Father dwelled in Jesus, and came to dwell in those who received the Holy Spirit.)
The article naa051.htm has more on this.
In the Greek text of Matthew 16:18, the word for “assembly” is the noun ekklêsia. That word indeed meant “assembly” and did not refer to “churches”. (The English word “church” is not derived from the old Greek ekklêsia but comes from a quite different source. There is more on this, later in this article.)
Matthew 16:18 and 19 refer to an assembly whose members were to “bind and loose”. That is, they were to act as judges on behalf of the Reign of God. Regarding the apostles, we read:
Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said to him, See, we have given up everything and have come after you; what then will we have? 28 And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you that in the time when all things are made new, and the Son of man is seated in his glory, you who have come after me will be seated on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (BBE)
That was something the apostles were to do, after they had become immortals.
The words “and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” in Matthew 16:18 obviously mean that the assembly which Jesus said he would form, was to consist of immortals, among them the apostles, after their resurrection/change. That is why “the gates of hades” (the grave, death) cannot prevail against that assembly or its members.
Regarding the words “gates of hades” in Matthew 16:18 – in the Greek text, that is pulai hadou. The word hadou, genitive of hadês (haidês), is in that verse simply a reference to the grave. Regarding the word pulai, “gates”: In those days, Jewish graves were often tombs with heavy gates or doors of stone. For an example of this, see Luke 24:2 and Matthew 27:57–60 and 28:2, regarding the tomb where Jesus was put after his death (and whose door then could not hold him or “prevail against him” when he was raised up to new life).
Again, the assembly of Matthew 16:18 was to consist of immortals. The “doors of the grave” would not prevail against it.
A related New Testament passage is found in 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” He was talking about immortality. Here is some of the context:
1 Corinthians 15:50 Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, [b] but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your sting? O grave, [c] where is your victory? (AKJV, note signs added)
b Verse 51, “sleep”: The Greek text has a euphemism whose literal meaning is “sleep”, but the actual meaning is “die”. Paul told those people that all of them would not even die, and that those who had died were to be resurrected, and that all of them were to be changed, into immortals.
A note: This matter is easier to understand, if one realises that we humans are mortal and do not have any “immortal soul”. Immortality can only be received from God. (Regarding Paul’s statement that some of those people would not die, see the article nga040.htm.)
c Verse 55, “grave”: Paul used the Greek word hadês, in the meaning “grave”. The Greek text of Matthew 16:18 has that same word. – Some translations have in 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O Hades, where is your victory”, but Paul was not talking about the Hades of Greek myths. He merely used the noun hadês as a reference to the grave (death). As the above-quoted AKJV has it, “O grave, where is your victory!”
In both Matthew 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:55, the point is that “the gates of the grave” (death) would not and could not prevail against Jesus and those who belonged to him. They were to become immortals.
Jesus was killed, and so were some of his disciples. But, the gates of hadês (grave, death) could not prevail against them; after their resurrection/change, they were immortal. Again: The ekklêsia or assembly which Matthew 16:18 refers to, consists of immortals.
It is true that in Acts through Revelation, the noun ekklêsia is quite often used of the saints’ fellowships, but when it comes to Matthew 16:18–19, it is obvious that Jesus was talking about an ekklêsia of a different kind – an assembly whose immortal members serve and assist Jesus in the administration of his Father’ Reign (Kingdom). Those verses record how Jesus spoke about this, when he commented Simon Peter’s answer to his question.
Matthew 16:18 […] I will build my assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens. (DBY, highlighting added)
Verse 19, “the Kingdom of the heavens”, or “the Reign of the Heavens”, Greek tês basileias tôn ouranôn. That Reign and the keys to it have nothing to do with churches or with guarding a “door to Heaven”.
“The keys of the kingdom” is an old expression which refers to a position in the government or administration of the kingdom in question. It is obvious that Jesus spoke about positions which Peter, and also the other apostles, were to receive, in the administration of some part of God’s Reign. But of course, they did not receive those “keys” (such positions) during their earthly lives.
The Scriptures do not spell out in detail what the apostles were to be doing, in God’s Reign. But, a number of New Testament passages – including Matthew 16:18 which talks about “binding and loosing” – show that at least, they were to act as judges, on behalf of that Reign. Here is one of the related passages:
Luke 22:28 You are they who have continued with me in my trials. 29 And I grant to you, (forasmuch as my Father has granted me a kingdom,) 30 to eat, and to drink at my table, in my kingdom, and to sit on thrones, [d] judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (LO, note sign added)
d “Thrones” – the Greek text has thronos. That word simply meant “a seat”, such as what judges have.
That was Jesus talking to the apostles, regarding how they were to act as judges, after they had become immortals. Obviously, that is what the “binding and loosing” of Matthew 16 refers to.
The article nba070.htm has a bit more on Matthew 16:19 and the “keys of the Reign of the Heavens” – the administrative positions which Jesus promised to give to the apostles. The article noa010.htm considers what the Scriptures really say about the Reign of the Heavens, also called the Reign of God (or “the Kingdom of God” as some have it) and what, when and where it actually is.
(This has to do with the translation and meaning of Matthew 16:18.)
Earlier in this article, it was noted that the English word “church” is not derived from the old Greek ekklêsia but comes from a quite different source.
The noun “church” (chirche) came into use in the English language in Catholic times, some time before the 12th century. Linguists say that the root and origin of the word “church” is that it comes via the Middle English “chirche” from the Old English “cirice”, which in its turn is said to have come from the first word in the Greek phrase kuriakê oikia which meant “lord’s house”. Read on:
The (Catholic) Greek language phrase kuriakê oikia (whence “church”) which has been in consistent use since the 300s, refers to the religious organisation which was de facto founded by emperor Constantine – the Catholic Church. Putting that in more clear words: The Greek phrase kuriakê oikia, “the lord’s house”, refers to the house of the lord whom emperor Constantine forced people to bow down to – the sun-god Mithras, ‘Sol Mithras Deus Invictus’.
(During Constantine’s reign and later, the worship of Mithras was given slightly new forms. People have then been caused to think that to be “biblical Christianity”.)
The article nga060.htm has more on the word “church”.
A side-note: The 1525 Tyndale version contains the word “church” in only two passages, Acts 14:13 and 19:37, which both refer to buildings connected to idol-worship.
See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendix below.
The Catholics have claimed that Matthew 16:18 refers to the Catholic Church – that it is “the true church of God”. Many other churches have then copied that old Catholic dogma and modified it and applied it to themselves.
In that connection, some preachers have said that “the true church” must have the phrase “church of God” in its organisational name. Here are some notes regarding that claim and related matters.
‘I will build’ (Matthew 16:18). In the main part of this article, it was noted that it is obvious that Jesus’ words “I will form my assembly” do not refer to a religious organisation here on Earth but to an assembly of immortals, including the resurrected/changed saints who together with Jesus administer some part of God’s Reign (Kingdom).
‘Church’. Many bible-versions contain the word “church”, but that does not make it biblical. It is not a translation of the Greek noun ekklêsia. As is explained in the main part of this article, the word “church” comes from the Greek phrase kuriakê oikia which points to the Mithras-worshipping religious organisation which was founded by the emperor Constantine. The article nga060.htm has more on this.
‘True name’. Some of the preachers who have copied (and then modified) the old Catholic “true church” dogma, have said that the organisational name of “the true church” must contain the words “church of God”. They have said that to be “biblical”, and they have quoted a number of passages where certain English bible-versions have the phrase “church of God” or “churches of God”. The wordings in those translations are then said to “prove” something.
But, the concept that there is a “true church of God” which “must have the words ‘church of God’ in its organisational name”, is merely a marketing trick that some preachers have used, for the purpose of gaining new followers. And again: The word “church” is derived from a Greek phrase which refers to the Mithras-worshipping religious organisation which was founded by the Roman emperor Constantine.
‘Church eras’. Some preachers have combined the originally Catholic “true church” dogma with some variant of the “church eras” dogma. It appears that the dogma regarding “seven eras of the church” was invented by the Baptist preacher William Miller (1782–1849). At least, he was among the first to promulgate it in a more public way.
Miller used that dogma for the purpose of creating a new “history” for his own religious grouping – an invented history where he claimed that there had been a “true church”, separate from the Catholic Church, “hidden away” in some mountainous regions of western Europe. In that way, he could make people believe that his own grouping came from something “original”, “apostolic” and “undefiled”.
But, the “eras” dogma does not have any biblical basis. Anyone who studies the Bible with open eyes, can see that it does not give any support to Miller’s dogma. His dogma talks about the seven assemblies or fellowships of Revelation 1:11 as if they were consecutive (following one after the other, time-wise). But, they were contemporary and not consecutive, and they existed, not in our day but in the first century, in the days when the apostle John wrote what we today call “the book of Revelation”. The article naa031.htm has more on this matter.
‘144000’. A number of churches of the kind that claim “originality” and “apostolicity”, have told their members that they, or some of them, form the 144000 of the book of Revelation. But, it is obvious that the first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14 consists of those who actually were the first-fruits: Those who were sealed with the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier. They were first. People of our day cannot be that. The article nta030.htm has some notes on the 144000, and also on the great, innumerable multitude.
‘Church mother’ or ‘Mother Church’. A number of preachers have spread a dogma, apparently of Catholic origin, created around Galatians 4:26, a dogma which claims that some church is “the mother of all saints”. But, the Bible does not mention any such thing. Galatians 4:26 talks about the heavenly Jerusalem, and not about some “church”. The article naa020.htm has more on that passage and matter.
‘Signs’. Some churches have talked about “the signs of the true church of God”. They have created different kinds of criteria and definitions, and then they have presented those things as “proofs” that they are “the true church”. This is something they have used in their marketing effort, for gaining new members and keeping existing ones happy.
The article nca070.htm clarifies what sign actually shows who are God’s people.
‘Going to church for worship’. Many people have been caused to consider that concept to be something very important. But, the facts are that the saints had no temples or church buildings, and no altars or priests. (The resurrected Jesus was their only priest.) Nor did their fellowshipping consist of meeting for two hours once a week; their fellowshipping was more a matter of community life, throughout the week.
The article naa040.htm contains a detailed study on the matter of “worship”.
‘Church membership is required for salvation’. Many of the preachers who have used some form of the “true church” dogma, have caused people to believe that those who want to be saved, must join the preacher’s church. All that consists of copies and modifications of old Catholic dogmas.
The saints were not saved by “belonging to a church”; they were saved by belonging to Jesus. And again, the word and concept “church” is not biblical, even though numerous bible-translators (churchmen working for churches) have put that word into their translations.
In short: The “true church” dogma with the things connected to it, is a mere marketing trick. When preachers say that their church is “true” or “original”, they do that for the purpose of gaining more followers.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
Is Jesus a “capstone on top of a pyramid”, as some say? Or is he, as several bible-passages say, the main corner-stone of the foundation of God’s spiritual dwelling? → naa051.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm
Matthew 16:19, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and “bind” and “loose”. What kind of “keys” and “binding and loosing” was Jesus talking about? → nba070.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → nga060.htm
“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → naa031.htm
Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → nta030.htm
Does Galatians 4:26 refer to a church as some say, or to the heavenly Jerusalem as the Bible says? → naa020.htm
Covenant signs, including the sign of the New Covenant which shows who are God’s people. → nca070.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm
Pride and humility in connection with religion. → nga100.htm
Table of contents – Key-word index – Search function – On the goal and purpose of this site
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