Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. (Exodus 35:1, ESV)
Read: Exodus 35:1 – 38:20; 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 3:1-13
The Hebrew word וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל (Vayyakhēl) means and he gathered. The noun is קְהִלָּה (qǝhillāh; pronounced kehilla) which means congregation, gathering. Another word we encounter in the Bible with the meaning congregation, gathering is עֵדָה (ʿēdāh) and comes from the Hebrew word עֵד (ʿēd) which means witness, testimony. This also directly indicates the difference with the Hebrew word קְהִלָּה (kehilla).
עֵדָה (ʿēdāh) and קְהִלָּה(kehilla)
עֵדָה (ʿēdāh) is a congregation/group of people with the same testimony or confession. They have a strong collective identity. Within a קְהִלָּה (kehilla) the group of people are different from each other, but they are brought or called together because of a common purpose. Such a common purpose could be a group of people with the same testimony. Thus, A קְהִלָּה (kehilla) gathering or congregation could be an עֵדָה (ʿēdāh). But an עֵדָה (ʿēdāh)-gathering does not necessarily have to be a קְהִלָּה (kehilla)-gathering. I will give an example to make it somewhat clear.
Example עֵדָה (ʿēdāh)
In this way, the ethnic Jewish people is an עֵדָה (ʿēdāh)-gathering, they are physical descendants of Abraham. The “testimony” (proof) or collective identity is circumcision. This therefore distinguishinges them from the other nations. Outwardly the Jewish people is an edah-gathering.
When you think of a kehilla you can think of the different tribes within the Jewish people. As different as the 12 tribes were from one another, they were “brought” or “called” together because of their calling as a royal and priestly people to show the glory of JHWH to the nations. Inwardly the Jewish people is a kehilla-gathering.
The danger of a kehilla
The danger of a kehilla is that it can become a mass, a crowd. Think by example of the Dutch multicultural society. As long as there is a ‘unity’ or common goal, things go well. But when within the multicultural society this cohesion falls way a (loose) mass/crowd arises.
This is exactly what happened when the people of Israel had made the golden calf. The cohesion of the kehilla (of the 12 tribes) fell away and they became a loose crowd. As a result, they became a mockery to the nations.
25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), (Exodus 32:25, ESV)
After this incident Moses went up the mountain again to receive a new set stone tablets from God and to make atonement for the people. When Moses descended the mountain after 40 days, he called the people together, as we read in Exodus 35:1. It was time to unify the disjointed people. The people needed to regain a sense of common purpose. The way Moses did this is shown in Exodus 35:4-10.
4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 5 Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; 6 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, 7 tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, 8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastplate. 10 “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: (ESV)
Transforming diversity into common purpose
Moses used the willingness and diversity of the people to come to a common purpose; namely, the making of the tabernacle. As we saw in the previous parasha Ki Tisa an ‘awakening from below’ causes a change of heart. But as we see here, it also creates unity, despite the diversity that exists, so that everybody can say: ‘I could help make this’. Together they discovered that they were capable of greater things. Moses knew how to transform a kehilla with its diversity into an edah with its unified purpose. In the New Testament we see something similar happening.
What the congregation is not
Before we go into further detail here, it is worth noting the following. According to some Christian movements, where there is talk of, the congregation in the New Testament, this would be a totally new congregation. Opinions differs as to whether this New Testament congregation would then be a replacement for the people of Israel, or whether would it exists alongside the people of Israel. In the latter case, God would have with a different ‘plan of salvation’ with each.
Using the two Hebrew terms kehilla and edah I want to show that the ‘New Testament congregation’ is no other than the ‘Old Testament’ congregation, i.e., the people of Israel.1
Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia)
The Greek word used for congregation in the New Testament is ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia). Within the New Testament, an ekklēsia a called together group through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. They are those who have been called out of (spiritual) exile and led out (exodus) to live in freedom.
ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia) = קְהִלָּה(kehilla)
In the Old Testament, the related Hebrew word for ekklēsia is קְהִלָּה (kehilla). There is something very interesting in Deuteronomy 4:10 that gives us more insight about the term ‘congregation’ (ekklēsia).
10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ (ESV)
Moses here refers to the exodus of the Israelites who were led out of the exile in Egypt by God. God then asks Moses to call the people together at (Mount) Horeb, to make a covenant with the people.
Kehilla of Jews and Gentiles
So the Greek word ekklēsia has the same background as the Hebrew word kehilla. What we see in the New Testament is that from the kehilla, of the people of Israel, Jesus calls 12 disciples representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus will form of these kehilla an eda. A gathering with the same testimony/confession. The testimony that Jesus is, the promised Messiah (the King) of Israel, who has come to deliver the people of Israel from her ‘oppressors’. After forming this edah, the disciples faced a new challenge. Jesus also opened the way for the gentiles (goyim) from the nations, to become part of this edah. Thus a kehilla of Jews and gentiles (goyim) came into being, who would have to come out with the same testimony, thus remaining an edah.
History of the kehilla
We see in the Bible book Acts that it was hard for the Jews to accept that the goyim could now become part of the people of Israel.2 In Acts 11, Peter even has to justify to the other apostles, what had taken place in the house of Cornelius. In Acts 11:15-17 we read:
15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (ESV)
In the New Testament, the attribute of belonging to God’s people is the Holy Spirit with His gifts. In the beginning it was mainly the Jews who had difficulty admitting the goyim, who came to faith, within their people. As the ‘Messianic goyim’ became more numerous than the ‘Messianic Jews’, the goyim distanced themselves more and more from the Jews, and began to see themselves as separate kehilla. However, God never intended this to happen. But how can unity (between Jew and Greek) be regained?
In Exodus 35 we saw that Moses was able to transform from a ‘loose’ kehilla (after the golden calf) with its diversity into an edah. He did this by calling them together and making use of their willingness and diversity (of talents/gifts) to make the tabernacle (the house, Kingdom of God) collectively.
The Holy Spirit as connecting factor
In the New Testament, as we just read, we see, that it is the Holy Spirit who makes us willingness and gives us a diversity of gifts to build God’s Kingdom together. Paul talks about this clearly in chapter 12 in his letter to the Corinthians. The very diversity of gifts given to the kehilla, of Jews and goyim, should ensure that they from an edah. A gathering or congregation with one testimony.
Kehilla as the multicolored wisdom of God
The gifts of the Spirit are therefore not for ourselves, but to reveal the Kingdom of God together. However, this can only happen as the goyim begin to recognize that they are fellow heirs and fellow partakers of God’s people. in this way we form one body, as one edah. In doing so, we must acknowledge that we are a kehilla with a mixture of diversity (Jew and Greek), but with one common goal. In this way, through the congregation (kehilla), the manifold (of multicolored) wisdom of God will be made known to the authorities and powers in the heavenly places.3
- If you want to know more about this, I recommend reading the article “Christianity Has Lost ‘The Way'”.
- See Acts 10 where the house of Cornelius comes to faith.
- Ephesians 3:8-11