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The Church in the Old Testament - Part I
Jesus & the Church in Psalm 22
Copyright © Tim Warner

The Greek word translated "Church" in the Bible is "ekklesia." It means "a called out assembly." It is found 112 times in the Greek New Testament. In all 112 cases, except Matt. 16:18, Acts 7:38, 1 Cor. 10:32, Eph. 1:22, Eph. 3:10, Eph. 5:23-32, Col. 1:18,24, Heb. 2:12, Heb. 12:23, "ekklesia" refers to local churches. Of these few exceptions, one of them refers specifically to Israel in the Old Testament (Acts 7:37), and another is a quote of an Old Testament prophecy about the Church (Hebrews 2:12).

Acts 7:37-38
37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

Dispensationalists typically define the "Church" as a unique body, founded on Pentecost (a Jewish Feast day), completely separate from the nation of Israel. Yet, in Stephen's defense before the Sanhedrin, he referred to Israel after the exodus as "the Church in the wilderness." Why would Stephen violate the alleged dispensational parameters by referring to Israel as "the Church?"

Most of the early Christians could not read Hebrew. They used a Greek translation of the Old Testament made by 70 Jewish scribes about 200 years before Christ.  The early Christians and Jews called it "The Version of the Seventy." Today it is referred to as the "Septuagint" (meaning 70) or simply by the Roman numerals "LXX." In the first century, the Greek LXX was the common Bible of the Jewish synagogues and the early churches. But the Jews of Judea primarily used the Hebrew Scriptures. The Apostles frequently referred to the LXX and quoted it extensively in the New Testament. In fact, it has been demonstrated that the New Testament writers quoted the LXX more frequently than the Hebrew Old Testament. [1] While the LXX was defective in some places, it was still used extensively by the Apostles and the early Christians because it was written in the common Greek and could be read by the average Christian as well as the Jews of the western Diaspora (Asia Minor and Europe). Copies were plentiful and relatively cheap, while copies of the Hebrew Scriptures were usually only found at the synagogues within Israel itself and the eastern Diaspora (Syria and Persia), and were very expensive. [2]

In Acts 7:37, the reason Stephen referred to Israel as "the Church" was because of his familiarity with the LXX. He was referring to passages like the following.

Deuteronomy 9:10
10  And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the Church.

Deuteronomy 18:16
16  According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the Church, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.

There are many more cases in the LXX where the whole assembly of Israel, when they were gathered to worship, is called "the Church" in the LXX. In fact, the Greek word "ekklesia" (Church) is found 73 times in the LXX Old Testament, almost as many times as in the Greek New Testament. So, the early Christians who spoke Greek had this background as their understanding of the word.

Jesus Sings in the Midst of the Church
Psalm 22:14-22
14  (21:14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are loosened: my heart in the midst of my belly is become like melting wax.
15  (21:15) My strength is dried up, like a potsherd; and my tongue is glued to my throat; and thou hast brought me down to the dust of death.
16  (21:16) For many dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked doers has beset me round: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17  (21:17) They counted all my bones; and they observed and looked upon me.
18  (21:18) They parted my garments among themselves, and cast lots upon my raiment.
19  (21:19) But thou, O Lord, remove not my help afar off: be ready for mine aid.
20  (21:20) Deliver my soul from the sword; my only-begotten one from the power of the dog.
21  (21:21) Save me from the lion’s mouth; and regard my lowliness from the horns of the unicorns.
22 ¶ (21:22) I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise to thee.
Hebrews 2:9-12
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

Psalm 22:18 is a direct prophecy about the New Testament Church. And Paul clearly interpreted it as such in Hebrews 2. In the context, Paul was speaking of the whole body of believers being joined in Christ. This is a unique feature of the New Testament Church. He wrote in verse 10 of Christ as "the captain of their salvation." In the next verse he wrote that all of the redeemed are one in Christ, our Captain. He next quoted Psalm 22:22 from the LXX in support of this point. Psalm 22 is a clear prophecy about Christ's crucifixion. David wrote this Psalm in the first person singular as though it was about him. Yet, it is clearly about Christ and interpreted as such by Matthew (cf. Matt. 27:35 & Psalm 22:18). It is as though Jesus Himself was speaking. David wrote, "they pierced MY hands and MY feet." They parted "MY garments" and cast lots for "MY raiment," etc..

We should take note of a very important fact here. This Psalm, properly interpreted, violates the grammatical historical method. A strict grammatical historical reading of this Psalm leads to one conclusion only. David was writing about his own suffering, because he wrote in the first person and past tense. However, any true believer can see that this Psalm is really a prophecy about Christ. We have a clear example here of HOW the "mystery" was hidden in the prophetic Scriptures. In this case, the Holy Spirit inspired David to use a grammatical device to disguise this prophetic Psalm, and hide its meaning from the Jews.

Since there is no question that this is a Psalm about Christ, and since it is written in the first person, it is clear that prophetically, Christ Himself is speaking in this Psalm. When we get to verse 22, the same person (Christ) is still speaking prophetically. He says, "in the midst of the Church will I sing praise to thee [the Father]." Notice in Paul's quotation he also clearly indicated that Jesus was the speaker in Psalm 22:22 (not David). Paul wrote that "He (Jesus) is not ashamed to call them (Christians) brethren, saying..." and then quoted this Psalm as the words of Christ. This is consistent with the previous verses of Psalm 22 where Christ is definitely the speaker despite David's writing the words in the first person. Why would Paul quote this Psalm about Christ's singing in the midst of the Church to support his point about believers being one in Christ? The only possible explanation is that Psalm 22:22 is actually a prophecy of the union of the Church with Christ! Otherwise, Paul simply messed up his dispensational divisions, and butchered Psalm 22! Therefore, contrary to the traditional dispensational claim, the Church of Jesus Christ (His body) is directly prophesied in the Old Testament.

[1] See the following Website: Notes on the Septuagint
[2] For a thorough discussion of the LXX and its influence on early Judaism and Christianity, see Alfred Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ch. II.

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