Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

Theology > Church > History of the Church > Origin of the Church


The origin of the Church cannot be determined solely by the simple Text, for interpretation is conditioned by the mindset brought to the Text, meaning that different believers will attach different significance and interpretation to the same Text. And it is difficult to determine the rightness of either position. Perhaps there are elements of truth in each position. For example, if just the two extreme concepts of origin are considered—Pentecost and Eternity—it could be argued that both are correct. The choice is not which idea is correct, but a discussion of how both can be true, if considered from different perspectives.

And what is true of the origin of the Church is true of other Biblical topics of discussion. To each topic different perspectives are brought to the Text and these differing perspectives lead to different interpretations. Humility and generosity must characterize Biblical studies.

Interpretations of origin include the following: Pentecost, Life of Christ, Nation of Israel, Garden of Eden, and Eternity.


During His earthly life Christ indicated that the Church was still future (Matt. 16:16-18), and Paul informs us that the Church was purchased by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13).  The Scriptures also indicate that the Church was built on the prophets and apostles. So the Church’s origin must be located subsequent to the time of the prophets and of Christ and His ministry, therefore, the designation of Pentecost seems appropriate, especially in light of the dynamic events of that day.

On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) the early believers were gathered together and were immersed in/with the Holy Spirit, and this experience marked the beginning of the Church, a momentous event that was accompanied by signs—sound, wind, flames of fire, and tongues that they had not learned—which were bestowed in order to assure those present of the significance of the event. This baptism in/with the Spirit had been promised by John: “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining of Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jo. 1:33); so this baptism is associated with Christ. Jesus Himself spoke of this fact, and in general of the Spirit’s coming:

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (Jo. 7:37-39);

I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper . . . but the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name (Jo. 14:16-18, 26);

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father (Jo. 15:26-27);

When He, the Spirit of truth, has come (Jo. 16:12-13);

He breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jo. 20:22, this is in anticipation of the fullness that was to come);   Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high (Lu. 24:49);

He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father . . . you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:4-5, 8).

The words of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus came to pass on the day of Pentecost. Whether Paul in the following statement is speaking of what happens for each individual at the moment of salvation or whether he is referencing the incident at Pentecost, or perhaps he is speaking of both, he does speak of the one body of the Church that is the result of the work of the Spirit, a work that follows the work of Christ: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13).

Pentecost was as decisive and epochal and essentially unrepeatable an event as the birth of Jesus, His resurrection or His Ascension (Culver, ST, 876).

Life of Christ

During His earthly life and ministry Christ was preparing the foundation for the Church; He spoke of the Church and attributed its existence to His work: “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). Surely His choice of the apostles and His teaching of them was the initiation of the Church, or at least a harbinger of what was ahead.

At the conclusion of His earthly ministry and immediately before His death and resurrection, the Lord prayed to the Father: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world . . . You gave them to Me” (Jo. 17:6); “out of” is ek, which reminds us of the etymology of ekklēsia, “the called out ones”—the definition of the Church (see: Meaning of the Word). Is it so wrong to affirm that the nascent Church is seen in Christ and the Twelve (Mk. 3:14-15)?

In the New Testament the Church is intricately related to Christ, and since this is so, then it seems proper to entertain the possibility that the origin of the Church is anchored in His life and work? Consider the following verses:

I will build My church (Matt. 16:18; it is conceivable that He began the building during His time on earth);

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:11);

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28);

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:19-21;

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (I Pet. 2:4-5).

Jesus observed that “the law and the prophets were until John” (Lu. 16:16), and in doing so indicated that the time of John marked an important transition. Was the transition away from the ethnic nation and to the spiritual assembly? So did the Church begin with the life of Christ?  

Nation of Israel

The call of Abraham and the promise made to him speaks of a people “from all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:1-3; see: Rom. 4:13-16; Gal. 3:7-14); prior to this point it seems that the Scriptures are concerned with general history, but with this event the focus becomes the Hebrew people, the nation of Israel. And it is the fact that the nation—a people—will be the light to the nations, calling them to its light. In this event God is initiating the calling out of a people for Himself.

Does the call to Abraham and the promise to him of a people from all the nations mark the initial concept of the Church (Gen. 12:1-3; see: Rom. 4:13-22 and Gal. 3:7-14, where Abraham is the supreme example of faith, the faith of the believer in Christ)? Can the true followers of God in the Old Testament be equated with the followers of God in the New Testament? Does not God ultimately have only one people? According to Rom. 11 there is one tree, and in Eph. 2:11-22 there is one family. In eternity there will not be two assemblies, only one.

In the Septuagint ekklēsia translates the Hebrew word qāhāl, which is used of the assembly or congregation of God’s people (Deut. 9:10; 10:4; 18:16; 23:2-3; 31:30; Josh. 8:35; Ps. 22:23). It is easy to accept that this is the beginning of the Church, that is, the people of God meeting before God. If this is not the Church, it is surely the anticipation of the Church. It should be pointed out that in the Old Testament there are repeated references to the “Gentiles,” to the nations, and to their inclusion in the ultimate plan of God (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 60:3; 62:2; also see:  Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 36:24, 26-27, with the confirmation in Heb. 8:7-12).

In I Pet. 2:9 the Church is likened to the nation of Israel; the Church is described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” By such terminology the New Testament affirms an intricate continuity between Israel and the Church. If this is true then an argument can be made that the people of God, His people, the Church, began with the call of Abraham, especially when it is remembered that God ultimately has only one people.

Garden of Eden

Following Adam’s sin the Lord pronounced curses upon Satan, the couple, and upon the earth (Gen. 3:14-19), but in connection with the curses there was the promise (Gen. 3:15). God spoke of the Seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent—though the Seed would be wounded in the heel, the Serpent would be destroyed by a wound to the head. And in that destruction, God would provide man with redemption. Always with God there is within His judgment a measure of His grace.

Does the Protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15) indicate the Church? Is this the first preaching of the Gospel? Does the earliest indication of the Church coincide with the promise of the Seed of the woman crushing the head of the Serpent and thereby guaranteeing a people for God? In the word of judgment we find a word of grace.

And does that word of grace mean Church? Are the following words from Paul in Galatians indicative of the assembly of God, the Church? Can the words, and should the words, of the New Testament (Gal. 4:4-5) be interpreted in terms of the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15)?

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

If one accepts the normative nature of Revelation, then the answer surely must be positive. Consider these words which speak of God's action: “God,” “sent,” “Son,” “born,” “woman,” “law,” “redeem,” “those,” “we,” “receive,” “adoption,” and “sons.” How can it be denied that the following words speak of the Church, or, in the very least, anticipate the Church? Do not these words—“those,” “we,” and “sons”—speak of a group, an assembly of people, the people of God, the Church? Those who “receive” are those who have been “called out of” the world.


Consistently the Scriptures affirm that the believer was chosen by God before the creation of the cosmos; before Gen. 1:1 the believer, in the plan of God, was already hidden in Christ:

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself (Eph. 1:4-5);

in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined (Eph. 1:11);

The fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Christ . . . that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church . . . according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:9-11);

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (I Pet. 1:2).

The election of the believer by God before the creation of the heavens and the earth is consistent with another declaration of Scripture, and that is that the death of Christ was also part of the eternal plan. Peter writes that believers were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot; He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Pet. 1:19-20). The last word is “you,” a plural meaning a group, the Church.

Scripture also affirms that the individual believer has been included by God from eternity; his name was known and was written down: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

In one sense the Church is a new thing; in another sense it is the manifestation of God’s ongoing plan of redemption. Thus, the Church is the present expression of the people of God; in it is the current expression of salvation history. Another way of stating it is that the Old Testament was preparation and the New Testament is realization, but together, both reflect God’s work in history, a work planned before Creation but one that is unfolding in Creation.

All of the plan of redemption, of course, from eternity past, has reference to the church as preparing for its creation, hence truly “foundation.” The entire history of the Messianic nation—call, selection, growth, training, discipline and judgment, from Abraham to Joseph and Mary—which produced Jesus Christ, Lord of the church, is foundational (Culver, ST, 837).

Wherefore, brethren, if we do the will of God our Father, we shall be of the first Church, which is spiritual, which was created before the sun and moon . . . let us choose rather to be of the Church of life, that we may be saved. And I do not suppose ye are ignorant that the living Church is the body of Christ . . . And the Books and the Apostles plainly declare that the Church existeth not now for the first time, but hath been from the beginning: for she was spiritual, as our Jesus also was spiritual, but was manifested in the last days that he might save us (An Ancient Homily, The Apostolic Fathers).

Return to: History of the Church; Next Article: Anticipations in the Old Testament

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.