Dr Ernest L Martin set out the facts in his book: Restoring the Original Bible.
The idea that only in the fourth century the Roman Catholic Church alone defined these books for ‘Christianity’ is patently absurd.
One word in the NT explains the process. It consistently mistranslated. In fact I know of no accurate translation. That is a curious fact. Correctly translated from standard references and lexicons, it would have indicated who could, should and did define the canon. It would also make clear that the Roman church could not have defined the canon!
The churches have been bamboozled after more than a thousand years of Roman Catholic propaganda. The Vatican (which hated Jews and any idea that Christ held any office in the Temple) made sure that no one asked questions about such Greek terms. They banned the Greek text from Europe for five centuries. Jerome mistranslated key Greek terms and replaced them by nondescript Latin terms. And in the later period the Roman Catholics made sure no one, not even its priests, understood Latin!
Why today have all the churches’ translators refused to translate this word correctly? Self-interest and anti-Semitism may be some motives. What is the mystery word that this is all about?
That word is epistatēs. It occurs not once but seven times in the NT. Its true translation undermines the false dogma instigated by the imperial Roman ‘Mother Church’. It also exposes the difference between word church as used today and the original Greek word, ekklesia. The concept of church today is as different as if the Romans had looked at a pig in a trough and said that is what the Bible means by a horse! Many today still can’t recognize the ekklesia – it’s a war horse!
All of the occurrences of Jesus being called epistatēs are in the priestly book of Luke which centers around the Temple (5:5, 8:24, 45, 9:33, 49, 17:33). It is addressed to his Excellency Theophilus, 1:3. Luke covers many technical Temple matters such as the 24 priestly courses, the Sabbath, the calendar and various other tough topics of Torah. Luke was no gentile! (See Luke the Priest: The Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel by Dr Rick Strelan.)
Luke 1:3 implies the book is written to the high priest, his ‘Excellency Theophilus’ specifically to be deposited in the archives as a true, witnessed record of resurrections and miracles. One vital reason was that the Temple was under threat of desolation by the arrival of the arch anti-Semite, Caligula, as emperor. Reacting to the Resurrection which had trashed belief in the Roman pantheon, Caligula wanted to reign from Jerusalem and have a gigantic statue of himself inside the Temple and every synagogue in the Empire.
The title ‘Excellency’ relates to Theophilus being the political leader of the nation, the high priest put in power under the Romans. He was in office from 37 to 41 during all Emperor Caligula’s near ethnocidal persecution. When Luke later wrote Acts, Theophilus was no longer in office. Hence he wasn’t then addressed as ‘Excellency’ in Acts 1:1. This evidence identifies him unambiguously. It explains what would otherwise be an affront by omitting his title in Acts 1.
What is an epistatēs?
So when Luke has the disciples refer to Jesus in the early ministry as ‘epistatēs’ we should take
special note. What is an epistatēs? Nearly all translations render it ‘Master’. But in the Greek language it is a very precise term about a high office. To render it ‘Master’ is the equivalent of going to a hospital and referring to the chief brain surgeon as a health worker!
In fact, one translation, the Concordant version, translates it as ‘Doctor’! But in that case it has the sense of Professor of Hebrew Law. (The NWT has Instructor.) But at least the translators realized they were faced with a special term of office. Schonfield has ‘Chief’. The Weymouth translation gives it as ‘Commander’. That signification is far off from the idea of ‘Herr Doktor’!
So what does it mean? The word has in fact two main senses as you will see if you check any normal Greek lexicon as distinct from the Romanized ones. One is in fact Commander of the city’s troops. In this sense it is equivalent, in the Hebrew context of the Temple, to the Priest for Warfare mentioned several times in the Bible. (see Jesus, James, Joseph p218 for the summary table.) There is some linkage with the sense that contemporary Jewish writers like Philo and Josephus use the term as Superintendent.
President of what?
The second sense in normal Greek usage is President of the city’s ruling Assembly. What did the Greeks call their assembly? An ekklesia! That should have rung mighty bells for any honest translator. The word ekklesia occurs frequently in the NT. The same translators render it as ‘church’, an extremely bad choice. ‘Church’ is a self-serving term for the RC-Protestant community.
There was no such thing as their church in the first century. There were no churches with steeples. There were no stone cathedrals to terrify the population by their soaring architecture. There were no crucifixes and there were no statues of saints. Once people had all this under the fourth century Emperor Constantine, a hierarchy of bishops under his central authority could begin to control all the religion across the whole Roman Empire. Their church meant all the local population meeting like pigs at their trough in their buildings and subject to their lordship.
Attack the idea of ‘church,’ bishops and cathedrals and you attack the very foundation of medieval autocracy. It would turn society upside down. In fact so worried was King James that any translation would undermine the hierarchy where the king not only ruled but defined the religion for the people, that he laid down two very strict conditions for the translators of the King James Bible.
Firstly, no marginal notes, especially those that appeared in earlier versions denouncing Israel’s evil kings. Secondly, all occurrences of the word ekklesia should be translated church! Why? Because Tyndale and the earlier translators had had the audacity to translate the word correctly as ‘Congregation’! Even today you will find the Bibles of most of church committee translations render Matt 16:18 (I will build my ‘ekklesia’) as church. Only those brave individual scholars like Robert Young’s literal translation or Darby’s have ‘I will build my Assembly’. The Assembly of Israel! In the first century ekklesia for Jews meant a governmental body, the Assembled Congregation of God’s people.
How can we be sure what ekklesia meant to Hebrews? It was the word used in the current Greek Septuagint version to translate the Hebrew word qahal, meaning the Assembly of the twelve tribes. They met in ancient times in the Court of Israel of the Temple. To reinstate it was part of Christ’s mission.
Christ is called an epistatēs of such an ekklesia. If modern churchman translated it as something like ‘President, professor, superintendent or Commander of the church’ they would have a lot of questions put to them! So what was Christ’s new Assembly?
Christ commands the Seventy
Luke explains it himself. In Luke 10 he says Christ created an Assembly of Seventy. This clearly relates to the Assembly created under Moses in the wilderness, Num 11:16f. It was composed of six men from each tribe, with two of them staying in the camp. They experienced the power of God’s spirit in the Tabernacle. It was a foretaste of the NT Pentecost.
Then after the Resurrection, the 12 tribes had been forewarned to bring more witnesses. In Acts 1:15 there were 120 from the 12 tribes, ten ‘named ambassadors’ per tribe. They came from far and wide, ‘every nation under heaven,’ including Parthia, Rome’s rival superpower ruled by Israelite exiles, Acts 2:5-11.
The Hebrew scriptures speak many times of the Assembly of Israel, the qahal. Peter is recorded in around 37 CE as saying that the Assembly of Seventy that Christ formed, composed of tried and honest men, was the first real qahal meeting all the criteria since the time of Moses. This was, said Peter, a real sign that Jesus was the Prophet greater than Moses and foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18. Early historians such as Eusebius record how important the Seventy were in propagating worldwide the proof of the Resurrection.
So if the qahal is the real meaning of ekklesia, what is the title that Jesus has as its epistatēs? Turn to a standard reference like the Oxford Classical Dictionary and you will find that the epistatēs ..
'presided over the Council (boulé) and Assembly (ekklesia).'
A classical Greek reference like Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Latin Antiquities will tell you that the epistatēs was in charge of the city treasury and public works. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures, the word epistatēs occurs numerous times. It is translated as Commander of the Army of Israel or as Superintendent of works in the Temple. Those two functions describe the office of the Sagan, or Chief Priest in the Temple.
But what has that to do with the canon?
The Oxford Classical Dictionary describes other attributes of the epistatēs.
'He held the State seal and keys. … In the Hellenic kingdoms the title epistatēs is given to an agent of the king within a subject city who exercises considerable power.'
Jesus held the powers of the kingdom of heaven. The Temple seal was clearly necessary for the exiled tribes of Israel to recognize the writings of Jesus, James and the Davidic House. The canon is a sealed book, sealed with the Temple seal of David’s House. Up to just before the destruction of the Temple, this high post of Sagan was occupied by James, the brother of Jesus Christ. He wrote to the twelve tribes, 1:1. After he died or rather was murdered, we hear in early writings of the period that John, son of Zebedee, wore the diadem of office. He clearly was empowered to close the NT canon and its 27 books. He sealed them.
What of the Key? The Temple had a huge ‘Key of David’ that was used to open and close the door to the Temple fortress. Christ, according to John’s book of Revelation, holds the Key of David on his shoulder, Rev 3:7, Isaiah 22:22. He is dressed in the robes of the Sagan Chief Priest, the cohen ha-rosh, Rev 1:13.
No one other than the epistatēs, and certainly not the paganized, gentile church of Rome could ever define the canon.
A fuller treatment is found in the free ebook: Jesus, James, Joseph and the past and future Temple at http://www.academia.edu/10890773