The word church has an interesting background. It is commonly understood to have pagan roots  but that's not the concern here. What we're interested in is how the word church was used prior to the New Testament.
in this series:
In order to help us in our quest we have been given a unique resource, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint, or LXX, was started in the 3rd century BC by a group of 72 scholars (hence the Latin associations with the number 70) and has been used to translate the Old Testament into many languages . The Septuagint is important here because it provides a direct bridge between the Greek of the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Old Testament.
The word translated as "church" in the New Testament is the word ekklesia (which is where we get the English word ecclesiastical). This word is formed from ek, meaning "out of" or "away from", and kaleo meaning "to call"; so it means literally "the called out assembly" . And Who's doing the calling? God, of course. It's no mistake then that ekklesia is also translated as "assembly" and "congregation".
This is where it gets interesting. Ekklesia is used many times throughout the LXX to translate the Hebrew word qahal (or kahal). Recall that the LXX is using Greek to translate the Old Testament, the same Greek as used in the New Testament. What we end up with is an entire Bible written in Greek.
Qahal is translated into English as multitude, company, congregation, and assembly . Notice that two of the four definitions of qahal are identical to those of ekklesia.
Now consider the following passages, paying special attention to how the words multitude, company, congregation and assembly are used:
And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. Genesis 48:4
And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Exodus 16:3
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. Numbers 14:5
And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended. Deuteronomy 31:30
And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands. 1 Samuel 17:47
I went mourning without the sun: I stood up, and I cried in the congregation. Job 30:28
I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Psalms 22:22
Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints. Psalms 149:1
For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken: their arrows shall be as of a mighty expert man; none shall return in vain. Jeremiah 50:9
Remember, ekklesia is the same word that's translated as "church" in the New Testament. It's also the same word that's used to translate the Hebrew word qahal, whose English translations are bold in the verses above.
What we've just witnessed is the same title given to believers from Genesis to Revelation. That was only a small selection of passages from the Greek Old Testament known as the Septuagint. The Greek word is used many times over and often in direct relation to Israel. From beginning to end there is only one called-out assembly, they are known commonly as the church and to God as Israel.
- But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
- For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
- And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
So what does all this mean? It's simple, there's only one body of believers (Romans 12:4). There's a single redemption for Christians, for Jews, and for all on the face of this earth, and His name is Jesus Christ. There is no room for division and there is no distinction by God among His people. God is not partial with men.
- Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
- But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
- The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
Old and New Testament Parallels:
First Peter, Exodus & Hosea
The parallels between I Peter and the Old Testament books of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Hosea are another example of God showing no differentiation in His Word between Old and New Testament saints. By addressing the scattered congregation with the same titles as used in the OT Peter demonstrates that they share the same blessings and designations as the multitude on Mount Sinai.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 1 Peter 2:9
- Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
- And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6
Peter then draws a comparison with those who have been scattered (1 Peter 1:1) and the births of Lo Ruhamah (no mercy) and Lo Ammi (not my people) as found in Hosea. With this comparison Peter illustrates that even though they are strangers and are scattered, they are still a chosen and holy people.
Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:10
- And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.
- But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.
- Now when she had weaned Loruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son.
- Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.
- Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.
So we see here that Peter has a clear understanding of the relationship between followers of Christ and God's people in the Old Testament, they are one and the same. It's also worth noting that in Hosea 1:10 it's said that "the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered". This is nowhere near any estimate of the number residing in the physical Nation of Israel . Nor is it near the highest estimates at the peak of Ancient Israel. It must therefore be referring to a larger body of believers.
The KJV and the Old Testament Church
The translators of the King James Version maintained a common thread throughout the Old and New Testament congregations. Some of the chapter headings pose no question as to whether they differentiated themselves from their Old Testament bretheren. This is where we'll end our search for the Church in the OT. Many thanks to Lloyd Freeth of Hasten the Light Ministries  for the following chapter headings.
Isaiah 43. "God comforteth the Church with his promises"
Isaiah 49. "God's constant love for His Church"
Isaiah 66. "The gathering of all nations into One Church"
Ezekiel 37. "The blessings of Christ's Kingdom"
Micah 4. "The Church's glory - victory of the Church"
Verses referenced in this study:
- Genesis 48:4
- Exodus 16:3; 19:5-6
- Numbers 14:5
- Deuteronomy 7:6; 31:30
- 1 Samuel 17:47
- Job 30:28
- Psalms 22:22; 149:1
- Jeremiah 50:9
- Hosea 1:6-10
- Acts 10:34-36
- Romans 12:4
- Galatians 6:14-16
- 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9-10
Links referenced in this study: