Baptist History Homepage

The Church in Ephesians
By Rosco Brong

Abstract Use of Singular Nouns is Not Hard to Understand
"To him the glory in the church in Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen." (Ephesians 3:21, improved translation.)

Of the 115 times that the Greek word "ekklesia" (usually translated "church" in KJ) appears in the New Testament, according to the Englishman's Greek Concordance, 79 occurrences are in the singular and 36 in the plural. Most of the singulars are so obviously referred by the context to a particular assembly or congregation at a definite place that the most rabid advocates of a "universal" or "invisible" church cannot deny the simple fact that in these places the word "church" does mean "assembly" or "congregation."
But the word occurs nine times in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, each time in the singular, with the definite article, and without mention of a meeting place. And it is universally assumed by Protestant commentators with an ax to grind (and, sad to say, by ignorant or mistaught Baptists with their nose (noses) on the Protestant grindstone) that these references are to a "universal" or "invisible" church, as distinguished from "local" churches.

WET WATER COLD ICE
Actually, to speak of a "local" church is like speaking of wet water, hot fire, or cold ice. There is no other kind, in a Biblical sense. The use of the word "church" to mean a meeting house, a denomination, or a universal hierarchy or religious monstrosity. visible or invisible, is completely unscriptural.
In the Bible the word "church" (Greek "ekklesia") means assembly, only and always. It never refers to an unknown, unassembling, confused and scattered multitude. Such a "church" exists only in the imagination of heretics desperately trying to justify their schisms.

ABSTRACT TEN TO NONE
Every day we all use singular nouns in an abstract, generic, or distributive sense. We are not so silly as to dream up a vision of a universal, invisible automobile just because we hear or read of the changes the automobile has made in American life.
But instead of wasting space with more extra-scriptural examples, let us note some other singular nouns so used in Ephesians. This is only a partial list, and there is no Biblical evidence at all for a universal church: therefore in Ephesians the evidence is easily 10 or 15 to nothing that the word "church" is used abstractly and retains its usual meaning of "assembly" ("local," of course -- there is no other kind).

OUR FLESH
"We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh . . ." (Eph. 2:3.) The reference is not to universal, invisible flesh, whatever that might be, but to flesh in the abstract, or specifically to the flesh of each one of us.
If it be objected that this is a peculiarity of the English word "flesh," which could not be used in the plural, the answer is that this is not true of the Greek word "sarx," which is used in the plural five times in one verse (Rev. 19:18.)

HIS WORKMANSHIP
"We are his workmanship." (Eph. 2:10.) The plural form for the singular word here translated "workmanship" appears in Romans 1:20, where it is rendered "the things that are made."
No one will argue that "we" are one universal invisible thing that is made, one universal workmanship of God. Indisputably "workmanship" here is used abstractly, and the meaning is simply that each one of us is a product of God's making.

MIND OR UNDERSTANDING
"The eyes of your understanding." "Having the understanding darkened." (Eph. 1:18; 4:18.) Both of these references are to a plurality of persons, but in either case the thought is not that they have a universal understanding, but that the statement made applies to the understanding of each of them. In Eph. 2:3 the plural of the same Greek word is used, but is translated in KJ by the abstract English singular "mind."
A kindred Greek word (singular) also is translated "mind" with a plural possessive in Eph. 4:17, 23: "their mind" and "your mind." Misty minded mystics may mouth about a "universal mind," but clearer heads will recognize easily the familiar abstract or distributive meaning and apply it at once to each individual in the class covered.

SINGULAR HEART
"Blindness of their heart." "Melody in your heart." "Singleness of your heart." (Eph. 4:18; 5:19; 6:5.) In each of these three quotations we find a plural possessive with a singular "heart." Shall we therefore imagine one monstrous universal heart having invisible connections with all the people included in the plural pronoun?
Sane readers, again, will have no difficulty in understanding this language as conveying essentially the same meaning, in application, as when the plural forms are used in Eph. 3:17 and 6:22.

THROUGH FAITH
"By grace ye have been saved through faith." (Eph. 2:8.) It seems to be "universally" agreed that the reference here is to the personal faith of each individual believer. Yet, while the subject is plural, the word for faith is singular, and with the definite article meaning simply the faith in each case.

CIRCUMCISION
"Ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands." (Eph. 2:11.)
Here two abstract terms, Uncircumcision and handmade Circumcision, are used in the singular with plural concrete meanings, and by metonymy the act or condition of circumcision or its absence means the people so affected. Certainly no one will contend that only one act of circumcision is here in view, even though the word is grammatically singular.

THE OLD MAN
"That ye put off the old man." (Eph. 4:22.) Plural subject: did they all have just one old man? What a monster, then, was he! And if Paul's Ephesian readers put him off once for all (as the aorist infinitive suggests), why should we be bothered about him now?
Coming back to good sense, we all know that "the old man" is no universal monster: each of us has his own "old man" and each of us must put his own away. But in this quotation the noun is singular abstract: it is in the application that we come concretely to each individual.

THE NEW MAN
"And that ye put on the new man." (Eph. 4:24.) Every true Christian is separately and personally a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); nevertheless we have again a plural subject with an abstract singular to be referred concretely to each person in the group. We could call this a distributive use of the noun, as if the word "each" were included in the subject.

ONE NEW MAN
"To make in himself of twain one new man." (Eph. 2:15.) More literally: "That he might create the two in himself into one new man."
Examination of context shows that plural Gentiles and Israelites are spoken of as two things or races made one; then they are figured as two men created into one.
Are we, then, to imagine a monstrous, universal, invisible Gentile-Israelite having his limbs, cells, and corpuscles scattered all over the world? No one, perhaps, is quite so silly until he begins to talk about "the church."

THE INNER MAN
"That he would grant you (plural) ... to be strengthened . . . in the inner man." (Eph. 3:16.) Only one inner man for you all? Or can we not see here again the singular abstract which must be pluralized in its concrete application?

HUSBAND AND WIFE
"The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." (Eph. 5:23.) It would be exactly as sensible and intelligent to argue from this text for the real existence of a universal invisible husband and a universal invisible wife as of a universal invisible church. One is just as scriptural as the others.
If any critic is foolish enough to object that Christ cannot be the head of more than one church in the true sense of assembly wherever a true church exists, let him note I Cor. 11:3: "The head of every man is Christ."
The Christ of the Bible can as easily be the head of every (true) church as He can be the head of every man, and so He is.

NO ECUMENICAL MONSTER
But Christ is not the head of modern denominations Catholic, Protestant, or so-called Baptist. He is not the head of any universal so-called church which can exist only in heretical imaginations. And He will not be the head of the ecumenical monster that Satan is rapidly forming.
Our Lord's church in Ephesians is exactly the same kind of church that it is everywhere else in the New Testament: an organized assembly of baptized believers built together on Him as their foundation and acknowledging Him as their head, furnishing in themselves a holy temple for a habitation of God in Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22.)
===============

[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, April 4, 1969, pp. 2, 3. - jrd]



Return to Rosco Brong Sermons Page
Return to Baptist History Homepage

1