I received the following question:

I remember about a year ago, trying to get me to see that the believers today (what I was calling the Church at that time) are not the ekklesia that we see in the gospels and Acts period. You compared them to the qahal of the O.T.. You taught that the Pharisees were the qahal of the day and that Christ was replacing that qahal or ekklesia with the twelve as the foundation. But lately in our discussions it seemed that we concluded that the Pharisees had by political positioning and self appointed posturing, put themselves into their positions. While it is true that they could have been a qahal that was not being faithful to the Lord, it seems more that they were never intended to be God’s qahal and Christ was not replacing them as much as he was installing the twelve from nothing. There was no qahal that needed replacing, but one needed to be started?

That is a good question. The concept of a kahal is that it is a representative or “out-positioned” body. The word could be used for various things, such as an army, which is indeed a representative body of the people of a nation. Yet the word more typically does not refer to this kind of body, but rather to those in positions of governmental authority in general. Anyone who represents the people of a nation by holding governmental office would be a member of the kahal.

The disciples were going to become the foundation of the kahal of Jesus Christ. However, they were not starting something new, but were indeed replacing something that already existed. For Israel did most definitely have a kahal at that time. On the top of the kahal, we might say, was the usurper, King Herod. Of course, he was subject to Rome, but over his own people he reigned supreme. (Only Roman citizens could appeal to Rome.) Under him would have been all his officers and noblemen. Then there were the religious leaders, men like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had, as you say, “by political positioning and self appointed posturing, put themselves into their positions,” yet it cannot be doubted that they held a position of leadership over the people. Then there were men with an inherited position, like the Levitical priests. But all these men definitely held a position out of the people, a position of leadership and representation. Thus, they were all members of the kahal of Israel.

Now, we could argue as to whether or not this was God’s kahal. In some ways, since this was God’s nation, any kahal that ruled over it could qualify as God’s kahal. Yet the vast majority of these leaders were in open rebellion against God, and thus their identification as His kahal seems dubious to us. Yet it cannot be doubted that they were the kahal that were in charge of God’s people at this time, and so they could rightfully and Biblically be called God’s kahal.

Now Christ gave us a very interesting parable in Matthew 21:33-46. There, we read, in His words,

33. “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.

34. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38. But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39. So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

I have dealt with this parable in my study of the book of Matthew. Here, we have a story of these wicked vinedressers who refuse to render their lord his due. We do not read why they did this, but we can guess from their statement in verse 38, which indicates they were rebellious and greedy. The actions of the landowner seem unlikely, for it is doubtful that he would send his son alone after all the trouble that had happened so far. But parables often stretch reality a bit to get their point across.

40. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

Now, Christ comes to the point of His parable, and what the chief priests and the elders of the people, who were His audience (verse 23,) really needed to hear. He asks what the owner will do when he comes to his vinedressers.

41. They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

This would, of course, be the only sensible action for the vineyard owner to take. We would suspect him of insanity if he did anything else.

42. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone.

This was the LORD’s doing,

And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

The point of Christ’s parable, in His Own words, is that the kingdom of God will be taken from these chief priests and elders of the people and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. This is confirmed by the following verses.

45. Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Notice that this implies that the kingdom of God itself already belonged to the chief priests and the Pharisees. They had control over the nation of Israel, the people and the nation that God had chosen. Thus, they were in charge of the government of God itself. That means that they were God’s kahal at this time.

Now many have ignorantly concluded from this passage that Christ meant that He would take the kingdom of God away from Israel and would give it to the Gentile church of today. Yet this was clearly not what Christ meant, for this is not what He did when the Acts period came. He did not start immediately to make the Gentiles into His new government. Instead, He started to call out a new government in Israel, one that was based upon His twelve disciples and made up of men who were just as much a part of that nation of people as the Pharisees and chief priests were. Thus, there was for a time in the Acts period two governments working at the same time, and two kahals ruling over the people. One was the kahal of Jesus Christ, based on the twelve apostles and ruling over those who, through faith in Christ, had entered the government of God. The other was the old, rejected kahal, made up of the leaders that had existed before the Acts period, that ruled over those who had rejected the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, and that had the official sanction of Rome. These two kahals were in constant conflict and tension during the Acts period until the dispensation of grace came and God sought a kahal no longer.

Now those who try to make out that we are this kahal today show their ignorance of the entire concept of a kahal. A kahal is not a religious body of people. The term ekklesia, the Greek word for kahal, is used three times of the rulers of the godless city of Ephesus, in Acts 19:32,39, and 41, where it is translated “assembly” by most modern translations. The obvious bias of modern translators shows through most clearly here, for in every occurrence of this word except these three it is always translated “church.” They clearly had an axe to grind in translating this word. They wanted to get their religious organizations into the Word of God. But a kahal is not a religious organization, but a governmental one.

Moreover, God’s kahal that was being replaced was the leadership over Israel, not Israel itself. What these replacement theologians are suggesting is that God responded to wicked rulers over His people, not by replacing the rulers, but rather by replacing the people! This makes no sense, and it is not what the Scriptures teach.

So the bottom line is that, yes, the religious leaders were part of the kahal at the time of Christ, and they were replaced. The kahal Christ started was not something totally new, but something that was replacing the old.