To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 1 Corinthians 1:2 NASB
Church – Slow down! Take your time reading each word of this verse, asking yourself what these words would have meant to the assembly in Corinth. Notice a few remarkable connections.
1. Paul does not address the assembly as “the church of Jesus Christ.” Do you find this startling? Wouldn’t you expect Paul to speak about the church of Jesus if his message were anything like the Christian message we hear today? No, Paul addresses the assembly in Corinth with terms that had immediate meaning to these people. They were not an assembly focused on Jesus. They were the qehelah (or synagogue) in Corinth, an assembly that retained traditions that reached back to Sinai. This assembly was God’s assembly. Yeshua operates within God’s assembly. Since we know that Paul taught in the synagogue in Corinth, his address to these believers cements their continued connection the Israel. Same God. Same people.
2. Did you notice the phrase “saints by calling”? This is nothing more than an explication of the inherent meaning in the Hebrew term qehelah. Qahal is “to call out for a purpose.” The assembly that results from answering this call is the qehelah. It isn’t an accidental gathering. It is called for a specific reason. Since Paul connects that calling with “the assembly of God,” we are confident that the purpose expressed at Sinai is the same purpose assigned to this Corinthian assembly. Continuity in calling means continuity in purpose.
3. “Call upon the name” is a technical phrase that first appears in the fourth chapter of Genesis. In the ancient Semitic world, this phrase means “submitting to the name of the one called as the lord and master of life.” In other words, it is a well-known Hebraic expression that implies ownership. The one called upon owns the one calling. Paul asserts that Yeshua is Lord. He uses an ancient Hebrew expression, converted to Greek, to communicate this idea. Obviously, Paul intended his audience to make this connection since he reiterates it in the next phrase. But this implies that these people understood the ownership principle of the Tanakh. They understood that the Lordship of Yeshua operated within the assembly called by God. The mystery of Daniel 7 jumps from the page here.
4. “Their Lord and ours” demands that we supply the reference for the pronoun. Who are the “their” Paul refers to? He answers, “all who in every place call upon the name.” And who would that be? Certainly in the time Paul wrote this letter the vast majority of those who called upon the name Yeshua HaMashiach were Jews, not “Christians.” In fact, none of those who called on the name would have considered themselves Christians. To suggest that these believers were “Christians” is to import an anachronism (a label that belongs to a later time period). They were followers of the Way, a sect of Judaism.
Very little reflection is required to notice that these opening remarks often seem to be in conflict with the nature of the Church today. How did all that happen?
Marianne Dacy offers the following: “ . . . Christianity, in order to define itself, closed its ranks to Jewish practices, the process of separation being one of gradual dejudaisation. Thus, in order to be Christian, one was obligated to reject Jewish law and Jewish practices.”
“Certainly, those Christians who continued to hold on to Jewish ritual laws such as circumcision, food laws and other practices not assumed by the church, were ostracised and eventually driven out from orthodox Christianity. The new religion, (for that is what Christianity became), soon would not long tolerate members who professed to be Christian, yet, retained Jewish practices. The Jewish-Christians also came under gnostic influences and were considered to have embraced beliefs that were unacceptable to the developing mainstream church. Eventually the Jewish-Christians disappeared as a movement. The isolating of the Jewish-Christians was part of the process of the separation of the church with Judaism.”
The bottom line is this: we must know the history of our faith! Few of us actually know how our faith developed. We don’t know what social, political and religious pressures caused theological transformations. We know only what our contemporary churches tell us. But that leaves so many gaps that it becomes difficult to see how we can still be grafted into the commonwealth of Israel and serve the same God who revealed Himself at Sinai.
Topical Index: church, calling, ekklesia, qehelah, 1 Corinthians 1:2