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Holman Bible Dictionary


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The assembled people of God. Congregation translates the Hebrew words edah and qahal primarily. These terms may apply to any individual or class collectively such as “the wicked,” “the hypocrites,” etc. While edah is once used to refer to a herd of bulls ( Psalm 68:30 ) and once to a hive of bees (Judges 14:8 ), both words primarily describe the Israelite people as a holy people, bound together by religious devotion to Yahweh rather than by political bonds. There is no apparent distinction in meaning between the two. Every circumcised Israelite was a member of the congregation. The congregation was subdivided into the tribe and then the most basic unit, the family. The congregation of Israel functioned in military, legal, and punishment matters.

In the Greek Old Testament edah was usually translated by sunagoge, qahal by ekklesia . In late Judaism sunagoge depicted the actual Israelite people and ekklesia the ideal elect of God called to salvation. Hence ekklesia became the term for the Christian congregation, the church. Sunagoge in the New Testament is almost entirely restricted to the Jewish place of worship. (An exception is James 2:2 , which may refer to a Christian assembly.) The English word “synagogue” is merely a transliteration of sunagoge . Ekklesia means “called out,” and in classical Greek referred to the body of free citizens called out by a herald. In the New Testament the “called out ones” are the church, the assembly of God's people. There is a direct spiritual continuity between the congregation of the Old Testament and the New Testament church. Significantly the Christian community chose the Old Testament term for the ideal people of God called to salvation ( ekklesia ), rather than the term which described all Israelites collectively (sunagoge ).

Joe E. Lunceford

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Congregation'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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