The “Technical” Establishment of the qahal/ekklesia at Passover; and Why It Matters for Our Understanding of the Church, Sacraments, and Family

R. Alan Cole, in his commentary on Exodus (Tyndale OT series), makes an observation on Exodus 12:3:

3. All the congregation of Israel. This is the first occurrence in the Pentateuch of what was to become a technical term, describing Israel in its religious sense (‘ēdâ occurs very frequently in this sense: Deuteronomy, with later books, prefers qāhāl) and which underlies the New Testament use of ekklēsia, ‘church’. The word ‘congregation’ is not an abstraction: it implies the physical meeting together of Israel, usually for a religious purpose.

For a household. Passover was a domestic and family festival, and thus shows its early origin. It has here no temple, no meeting-tent, no altar and no priest: but representation, if not substitution, is clearly implied.

Of course the people of God already have a formal identity in the Abrahamic Covenant with the sign of circumcision,  but it’s interesting to note that the “technical” term describing Israel in its corporate identity is used for the very first time in the instructions for the observance of the Passover. Note also how the household is not obscured by the use of qahal, but actually preserved as the most basic unit within which Passover is to be observed (there is no tabernacle or temple yet).

We see, then, a development of the solidarity of the household within a broader solidarity of Israel as a “congregation.” Passover forces the issue, as it were, because the instructions and efficacy of the sacrifices need explaining as to application. The Abrahamic Covenant establishes the idea of a corporate body that will number the stars, whereas Passover is now identifying the “congregation” more specifically as those members within Egypt who are to participate in the sacrifices being established by Yahweh, which also comprises specifically of households. It is debated that God modifies these principles even further in the administration of the New Covenant in that God essentially deals with people in an individualistic application, the logical end of what seems to be a narrowing of God’s covenant dealings, however, the idea of household and congregation (ekklesia) is still retained, but qualified as an institution that is comprised of individuals (church), or as an institution that is grounded in its creational foundation (family).

How one understands the progressive administrations of God’s dealings does matter in how one understands the church, administration of the sacraments, and the family – namely our children. I do think the burden of proof is on those who exclude children completely from any objective identity in the church or the family (as understand in covenant with God, not merely a “common grace” identity). While it’s not my aim to adjudicate that concern here, I do think it necessitates more humility on the part of those who place children completely outside the qahal/ekklesia.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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