Did the Body of Christ Begin on the Day of Pentecost?

by Jerry Shugart

The Church (Ekklesia) at Acts 2

Let us look at the following verse which speaks of the "church" at Acts 2:

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

The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia and that word can be found in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the LXX). Joseph Henry Thayer says that one of the meanings of that word as found in the LXX is "the assembly of Israelites...esp. when gathered for sacred purposes" (Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977], 196).

Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a respected Bible scholar, wrote the following:

"Nor would the term 'Church' sound strange in Jewish ears. The same Greek word (ekklesia), as the equivalent of the Hebrew 'Qahal,' 'convocation,' 'the called,' occurs in the LXX. rendering of the Old Testament, and in 'the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach' and was apparently in familiar use at that time. In Hebrew use it referred to Israel, not in their national but in their religious unity" [emphasis added] (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. M. Eerdmans Publishing 1971] Book 3, Chapter 37, p.84).

According to Edersheim the Greek word translated "church" was in familiar use and "it referred to Israel...in their religious unity."

Next, let us look at the events here which were in regard to the ekklesia of Acts 2:

"For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:16-17).

The following prophecy was totally in regard to the religious unity of Israel and Israel alone:

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation (ekklesia) , assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts...And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:16,27-28).

So the ekklesia mentioned at Acts 2:47 is referring to Israel in her religious unity and it is not referring to the Body of Christ.

The So-Called 'Great Commission'

"The church exists," according to Andrew Woods, "for the purpose of accomplishing world evangelism (Mark 16:15) and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)" [emphasis added] (Andrew M. Woods, The Coming Kingdom, 144).

Were the Lord Jesus' words at Matthew 28:18-20 in regard to His disciples preaching Church age doctrine in the whole world? Again,let us look at the Apostle's question which they asked the Lord shortly before the day of Pentecost:

"Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).

From this we can understand that the Apostles certainly did not believe that at that time the nation of Israel had been temporarily set aside. Instead, they believed that Israel remained the focus of the LORD's plans and they also believed that it was possible that the kingdom would be restored to Israel at that time. The reason why the time of the restoring of the kingdom to Israel remained up in the air was because it depended on whether or not the nation would repent and turn to the LORD (Acts 3:19-21). Since the Apostles were under the impression that Israel remained the focus of the LORD's purposes at that time then it is inconceivable that they knew anything about the doctrine to be taught during the Church age and so what the Lord Jesus said to them prior to Acts 1:6-7 has nothing to do with preaching Church age doctrine:

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Mt.28:19-20).

Paul and His Gospel

William R. Newell, longtime associate of Moody Bible Institute, wrote the following about Paul and his ministry:

"The twelve Apostles (Matthias by Divine appointment taking the place of Judas) were to be the 'witnesses' (Acts 1:22) of Christ's resurrection--that is, of the fact of it. They were not to unfold fully the doctrine of it as Paul was...But unto none of these twelve Apostles did God reveal the great body of doctrine for this Age. Just as God chose Moses to be the revelator to Israel for the Ten Commandments and all connected with the Law dispensation, so God chose Saul of Tarsus to be the revelator and unfolder of those mighty truths connected with our Lord's death, burial, and resurrection and His ascended Person. And all the 'mysteries' or 'secrets' revealed to God's people in this Dispensation by the Holy Spirit are revealed by Paul. Finally, Paul is the unfolder of the great company of God's elect, called the Church, the Body of Christ, the individuals of which Body are called members of the Body of Christ--members of Christ Himself" [emphasis added] (William R. Newell, Paul's Gospel; http://faithalone.org/journal/1994i/Newell.html).

After reading this Bible tract Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founding President of Dallas Theological Seminary, said:

"This is a great tract, a clear treatise on the truth of God for this age. The author was one of America's greatest Bible expositors. It glorifies the Savior as the author desired it to do. It should be distributed by hundreds of thousands" [emphasis added] (Editor, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1994, Volume 7:12).

Since Paul was the first to receive the body of doctrine for the Church age then it is certain that the so-called "Great Commission" was not in regard to the body of doctrine for the Church since Paul was not even converted at the time of Pentecost. Next, we will see that when Peter began to preach on the day of Pentecost he was preaching the gospel truth that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The Gospel Preached on the Day of Pentecost

We have an uninterrupted sermon preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost beginning at Acts 2:14 and ending at Acts 2:36. There Peter used the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in order to prove that Jesus is God and the Christ:

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).

Toussaint writes the following commentary on Acts 2:36:

"Here is the conclusion to Peter's sermon. The noun 'Lord', referring to 'Christ', probably is a reference to Yahweh. The same word 'kyrios' is used of 'God' in verses 21, 34, and 39 (cf. Phil. 2:9). This is a strong affirmation of Christ's deity" (Stanley D. Toussaint, "Acts," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, 359).

Peter was preaching the identity of the Lord Jesus, that He is the Christ, the Son of God. When the Jews heard the Lord Jesus refer to Himself as the "Son of God" and said that God is His Father they correctly undertood Him to be claiming to be God (cf. John 5:18, 10:33,36). It is a fact that while the Lord Jesus walked the earth the Jews who did not believe that He is God did not have their sins forgiven (Jn. 8:23-24).

The Jews who believed that Jesus is Christ, God come in the flesh, were "born of God." Zane Hodges, past Chairman of of the New Testament Department at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes the following in regard to Peter's words at Acts 2:36:

"Peter concludes his address with the assertion that 'God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ' (2:36). His hearers then reply, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' (2:37). But such a reaction presumes their acceptance of Peter's claim that they have crucified the one who is Lord and Christ. If this is what they now believe, then they were already regenerated on Johannine terms, since John wrote: 'Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' (1 John 5:1; cf. John 20:31)" [emphasis added] (Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege: Faith and Works in Tension [Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1992], 101).

Here are the verses to which Hodges makes reference: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 Jn.5:1,5).

On the day of Pentecost those who believed the "good news" that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, were "born of God" and saved:

"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (Jn.20:30-31).

After hearing the gospel preached the Ethiopian treasurer asked to be baptized with water and he believed the same truth which Peter previously preached on the day of Pentecost: "And Philip said, If thou believeth with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37).

When Paul was converted he was given a ministry to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Acts 9:15). Here he mentions the ministry which he had among the Jews:

"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more" (Acts 20:25).

The first message which Paul preached after being converted was the "gospel of the kingdom" in the synagogues of the Jews:

"And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God...proving that this is the very Christ" (Acts 9:20,22).

H.A. Ironside says the following about the "gospel" which we are to preach today:

"All through those OT dispensations, the gospel was predicted, and when Jesus came, the gospel came with Him. When He died, when He was buried, and when He rose again, the gospel could be fully told out to a poor lost world. Observe, it says, 'that Christ died for our sins.' No man preaches the gospel, no matter what nice things he may say about Jesus, if he leaves out His vicarious death on Calvary's Cross" [emphasis added] (H. A. Ironside, God's Unspeakable Gift [London: Pickering & Inglis, 1908], Chapter 2).

The Scriptures will be searched in vain for any evidence that the gospel which speaks of the Lord Jesus' vicarious death was preached in the Jewish synagogues during the Acts period.

Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church (Ekklesia)

Let us look at the following question asked by the Lord Jesus and the answer given by Peter:

"He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt.16:15-18).

This confession of Peter, that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is the "rock" upon which the Jewish church was to be built. Alfred Edersheim explains the meaning of the "rock" here:

"Perhaps it might be expressed in this somewhat clumsy paraphrase: 'Thou art Peter (Petros)--a Stone or Rock--and upon this Petra--the Rock, the Petrine--will I found My Church...so Christ promised that He would build His Church on the Petrine in Peter--on his faith and confession" (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Part Two [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1971], 83-84).

According to the Lord Jesus it is faith in the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of God, upon which the Jewish ekklesia is to be built. On the day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter used facts of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus to prove that the Lord Jesus is the promised Christ. Peter ended his sermon with the following words:

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).

Charles Ryrie says the following about the theme of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost:

"To us today it does not mean much to say that Jesus is Christ or Messiah. To a Jew of that day it was an assertion which required convincing proof, and it was the theme of Peter's sermon. Peter's proof is built along very simple lines. First he paints a picture of the Messiah from the Old Testament Scriptures. Then from contemporary facts he presents a picture of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, he superimposes these two pictures on each other to prove conclusively that Jesus is Messiah" [emphasis added] (Ryrie, "The Significance of Passover," Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1955, Vol.112, # 448, 335).

The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is the heart and soul of the gospel of the kingdom and Lewis Sperry Chafer said that "the gospel of the Kingdom...consisted of a legitimate offer to Israel of the promised earthly Davidic kingdom, designed particularly for Israel" [emphasis added] (Quoted from G. E. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], 50).

Yes, it was designed primarily for Israel but sometime after those belonging to the Body of Christ will be caught up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air then it will be preached in the whole world (Mt.24:14).

Certainly that is not the gospel by which the Body of Christ has been built and is now being built. Paul called the gospel which he preached "the preaching of the Cross" and that is not the same gospel which proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Nations That Do Not Know You Will Hasten To You

Shortly before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and shortly before the day of Pentecost He gave the Apostles the commandment to go "into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk.16:15).

Since the Apostles concern prior to the day of Pentecost was in regard to the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6) they certainly understood that the Gentiles would be brought to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus as a result of the agency of the nation of Israel according to the OT prophecies:

"Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor" (Isa.55:3,5).

According to prophecy Gentiles will saved as a result to the agency of the nation of Israel:

"And I will bring them (Israel), and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness...And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing...In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zech.8:8,13,23).

Before the disciples would go to the Gentiles they were waiting for Israel to repent and be converted. Since the nation had not repented and turned to the LORD then when the disciples were scattered upon the persecution of Stephen they preached the gospel only to the Jews:

"Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only" (Acts 11:19).

None of the Apostles who were originally given the commission to preach the gospel to every creature ever went to the Gentiles except for Peter, and even then it took a special revelation from the LORD before he would go to a Gentile. John Nelson Darby, who is widely recognized as being the father of modern dispensationalism, wrote the following about that commandment:

"When the Lord was parting from the disciples, He gives them the commandment, 'Go ye and disciple all nations.' Where is the fulfillment of this by the apostles whom He had chosen? This was their special commission from Him, as risen and having all power in heaven and earth. The principle and value of the dispensation could not be altered. But where is the fulfilment by the twelve apostles? Scripture affords it not. There is no account of the twelve in Scripture going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature: nothing which Scripture recognises as the accomplishment of this command" [emphasis added] (Darby, The Apostasy of the Successive Dispensations).

It is evident that the reason why the original Apostles were not going to the Gentiles was because they were waiting for the entire nation to repent and be a blessing to the whole world. Since the Apostles knew that according to prophecy the nation of Israel was to be the agent for bringing the knowledge of the Lord Jesus to every creature upon the earth Peter told the nation to repent on the day of Pentecost:

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).

All of this provides even more evidence that on the day of Pentecost the divine purpose was in regard to Israel and therefore it had nothing at all to do with the Body of Christ.