The Mysterious Missing Word in Peter

I recently did a concordance search for the Greek word ekklesia, the word that is almost always translated “church” in our English New Testaments. I discovered a rather curious fact. I do not want this little nugget of minutiae to be overblown, but I think it is is fascinating to say the least.

The fact is the Greek word is never used in the writings of Peter. The concept of the church is found throughout 1 Peter, although not quite so obvious in 2 Peter. There are probably a number of reasons Peter never used the word ekklesia. There is no hard and fast law that says if a word exists you have to use it. But – considering the theological mountain we have built upon the little word ekklesia, it is at the very least noteworthy that the word never appears in either letter attributed to Peter.

I’m just thinking out loud here – but could it be possible that because Jesus’s pronouncement in Matthew 16:18 was so directed to Peter that he purposefully refused to use the word? Peter’s view of the church is extraordinarily high – in terms of New Testament ecclesiology his is probably the highest. My guess is his omission of the word ekklesia cannot have been accidental (note the frequency with which Paul uses the word, and it is found also in John’s writings, James, and the letter to the Hebrews). Although I would argue Peter intentionally does not use the word, I have no conclusive evidence as to what that intention might have been.

Once again, I am not trying to build a theology on the absence of a term. I am suggesting, however, that maybe, just maybe, we need to pay attention to what is not said, especially when what is said is so emphatic.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

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