There are no members of the church

members-body-christActs 12.1. Some versions translate the phrase tinas ton apo tes ekklesias as “some members of the church,” or something similar (PEB, CEV, GW, GNT, Moffatt). Even a good brother’s translation goes this route. All the editions I consulted by Catholic publishers in Brazil have “members of the church.” NLT misses completely the sense of the phrase with “some believers in the church.”

Literally, it would look more like this, “some who belonged to the church” (ESV, HCSB, NIV, NRSV, CEB, AMP, EXB, NASB, NCV; cf. MRI), or “some from the church” (NET, NKJV). ERV does well with “some who were part of the church.” (Though the Portuguese edition, VFL, inserts the idea of “members.”)

The preposition apo here gives the sense of belonging, as per BDAG, but even Danker added “members of the church” to his explanation.

The phrase “member(s) of the church” is not a biblical phrase, because “members” means “organs, limbs” of a body. The proper phrase is “members of the body.”

If we desire to speak where the Bible speaks, we should get this right.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

18 thoughts on “There are no members of the church

    1. Then why don’t we do this, Ron, when it comes to phrases like, “my/your church”? Or “church of Christ preacher”? Or church as a building? These are also accomodative uses. We don’t allow them because we lose something by their use. We also lose something by the non-biblical use of “members of the church.” We lose:

      (1) The obligatory nature of communion. Membership is like paying to be part of a club or association. Members don’t have the same obligations as do the “officials”, which leads to

      (2) Members is used, almost without exception, in contrast to elders, deacons, and preachers. Listen to people talk. Members are the “rest” of them who can come and go as they please, since they don’t have anything to do in the church.

      We even hear preachers talk about “my church members.” I’ve heard it time and again. Such should repent of this clergical attitude. And we should avoid the phrase “members of the church.”

      Appreciate you, brother!

      1. True enough, but there are some words that need little (if any) explanation. Won’t fuss with you too much, but wanted to give you a counter thought – one that you are very well acquainted with. With regard to #2, that has not been my experience, but if it yours, then it is a point well made. Your last paragraph I am sympathetic with; it has always been my “policy” to state where I attend, and only let another know what I do if asked.

        1. Ron, I know you’re another exception, like Eugene. So I appreciate your “little fuss” with me on this. If anybody I know has his head on straight, it’s you.

  1. Ephesians 1:22-23. “church which is his body”. Member of body, member of the church.

    1. Hi, Malcolm, glad you commented on that. It’s a confusion of the figures or descriptions of the church. It’s like saying, “subjects of the body.” Nope, it’s subjects of the King(dom). It’s much the same as trying to borrow details of one parable and use them in another. Doesn’t work. Creates more confusion.

  2. I’ve always equated the church with the body when I use the phrase “member of the church”; at least since I learned of the comparison in the scriptures that Malcolm referenced above. Another reference would be Colossians 1:18, to which I’m sure you’re familiar with also.

    I hear you on what you said to Ron with the reply in (2) but I don’t think that such is always the case. I use the phrase to refer to relationship and not position.

    1. Hi, Eugene, glad to have you chime in also. You’re an exception to the rule, and there wll be exceptions for which we can be thankful. But the rule stands that a large, very large, segment in the brotherhood has the membership mentality. If not, why do we see so many write about the 10% who do 90% of the work? Or is that just a lazy preacher’s belly-ache? If it’s anywhere near accurate, the membership talk is a symptom of the problem. And that it is used as a contrast to elders and preachers, there is no doubt whatsoever; it can be substantiated over and over again.

  3. Appreciated the thought. Too often we excuse our ‘accommodative’ language, even when it makes us inconsistent, yet we ‘jump on’ those outside the body for theirs. Good point and thanks for pointing this out.

  4. Well, I was about to object but after the 2nd time through (and after reading all the comments), I can see you are undoubtedly correct and have thought about something (many things, no doubt) that I have not. I am unsure of the significance of this distinction in the final analysis, but what you speak is correct.

    I pray that God would be gracious with me–and imperfect communicator who is unknowingly guilty at times of inconsistency in speech (and action). Furthermore, I pray that I would be gracious to others who may manifest different inconsistencies than I–inconsistencies that may not be any greater in the big picture but may seem so to me since they are not MY inconsistencies.

      1. Stephen, thanks for the comment. Absolutely, we plead for God’s forgiveness and grace, and depend on those, at the same time we seek to be faithful to his revelation.

  5. I agree with you, Randall, and have held to this view for years, though sometimes lapsing. For the same reason I do not like books and sermons on “Why I Am a Member of The Church of Christ. I’m a member of the body of Christ, and I have only one reason for “membership”–I believed and obeyed the gospel, and The Lord added me to His church. The approach we take seems, in my opinion, to denominationalize that body of people that endeavors to be Christians-only. In other words, when we say I’m a member of the Church of Christ because it doesn’t use the instrument,” I’m implying that I’m joining the Church of Christ in contrast to “other denominations,” such as Baptists, who use the instrument. I much prefer saying something like, “I’m just a Christian, and as such I am under the authority of Christ., not denominational hierarchy.” If we’re not careful, our speech betrays us. It’s difficult sometimes to remain undenominational.

  6. Your graphic is powerful. I would like to freate something very similar in fabric for an Emmaus Walk bamner. Is that OK with you?

What do you think?