Matthew 16:18: “And I say unto you, thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Someone asked me a question about the word for church in the Aramaic. The word in the Greek is ekklesia which is a legal word and simply means the called out. Jesus most likely spoke these words to Peter in his native language of Aramaic and used the word ladoth. Yet, within its context Jesus was likely making a play on two Aramaic words ‘od and y’od. Both sound the same when spoken as lodoth as most likely the disciples heard Jesus say two different things at the same time in a very clever use of this word.
A play on words comes in many forms. We encounter a play on words in our language every day without even realizing it. For instance, this morning I was transporting a blind client to the doctor’s office. He was telling me about recent medical bill he received that really surprised him. Without thinking I said, “Boy I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.” He replied, “As a matter of fact, I didn’t see it.”
The Aramaic word used for church is an old Semitic legal term from the root ‘od which means to assemble or gather together for the purpose of testifying, instructing in a matter of law or to call a witness to testify. When we think of the reason for the existence of a church, this seems to fit quite well.
The church is a gathering or an assembling together of believers to learn about God and what He expects from us or what He expects us to do. It is also a place where we can testify or bear witness as to what God is doing in our lives. I read a secular article by a reporter who visited various churches in the Chicago area and he found the most successful and growing churches were those churches that allowed its members to stand up and share or testify. I remember as a child testimony time was always an important time in our church meetings. It was not so much in the morning worship service but our evening services and Wednesday prayer meetings where things were not as formal that a certain amount of time was given so members could share what God was doing in their lives. I always found this very interesting and looked forward to these times, because it showed that others were struggling with the same issues I was. As a young teen I struggled with the assurance of my salvation and it was very helpful to hear others share the same struggle and how God helped them over their struggle.
Churches have gotten away from testimony times today because churches have become larger and some people tend to preach their own sermons rather than just give a brief witness. Testimony time is also a wild card, you never know who might pop up and generally if the floor is given to someone with a couple lose screws, and it could prove to be rather unnerving for the congregation. So you generally find you testimony times in smaller congregations where the preacher knows everyone and can feel comfortable that no one is going to freak out the congregation.
The word ‘od also means a gather to receive some legal instruction. Indeed we come together to listen to our pastor share and expound on the Word of God. Sure I can do that myself. After all, I have been a pastor, I spent years teaching in Bible college training pastors, and I have advance academic degrees on the Bible, so why do I need to sit under the teaching of a pastor? The same reason a judge may lecture an attorney. That attorney may know the law just as well as that judge, maybe better, but he does need to be reminded of it and understand the application of the law as it is viewed in that courtroom. I don’t care if a pastor never finished high school. If he has been allowed by members of the congregation to stand in that pulpit, I will listen and I will learn. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who teaches me, not a preacher, the Holy Spirit just uses that guy or gal standing up there as His mouthpiece and as they speak I carefully listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say, He is after all better educated than I am.
In researching this word ‘od through its Semitic origins I found a later use of the word which was used during the time of Jesus and that was to exhort or encourage one another. It is used for an assembling together to affirm and uplift each other, like a pep rally. Indeed that is another function of the church. We come together to encourage and pray for one another. No man is an island according to the English Poet John Donne. This is especially true for Christians. If we seek to isolate ourselves the enemy can really put us into a funk. We need the talents and gifts of other believers to keep us on that narrow path.
I believe from the context of this word lodoth Jesus was also making a play off the word y’od. The word lodoth could easily come from the root word y’od and only the context will tell you the root word is ‘od or y’od. In Semitic languages it could be both. I believe that is the case here y’od is used, as in Exodus 21:8-9 as a reference to a betrothed or a bride. When Jesus said he would build his church upon the rock of Peter he had just declared that Peter would be his best man for his wedding with His bride. For Jesus was saying that the assembling of the believers would be his y’od, his bride.