God’s People: Old & New Testament Community

Grapevine with grapes.

Community is central to both the Old and New Testaments. This theme is seen as the Bible focuses on people experiencing community with God and with others. From the beginning of the Bible, this is evident, as God declared in Genesis that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, ESV). The need for human-to-human fellowship is confirmed by Adam’s excitement at the sight of Eve (Gen. 2:23 ESV). Yes, God created us for fellowship, but sin has separated us from Him and one another.[1] Sin’s separation set in play God’s plan for redemption, starting in the Old Testament.

Old Testament (OT) Community

The Hebrew word most commonly translated as “community” is ēdāh. Ēdāh, refers to a group of people and not society as a whole.[2] This group of people shared a common identity and most often referred to the Israelite community. However, Israel’s cohesiveness as a community was based on more than just ethnic identity. It was based on its identity as the covenant people of God. Hence, the OT community was defined by obedience to the commands of God, who said, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2, ESV).[3] The OT community was exclusive to members of the OT covenants. However, this exclusivity would be changed following Christ.

New Testament (NT) Community

The NT community was much more inclusive. The NT term for community is koinōnia, which was adopted from ancient Greek discourse. Koinōnia describes mutual involvement in fellow believers’ lives and the resulting sense of connectedness.[4]  NT community is not based on worldly descriptions but is based on what members share in Christ. They join with one another in Christ’s life. This unity transcends divisions of class, gender, and race that separate society.[5] These divisions are dismantled within the NT community, as Jesus commanded in the great commission to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20, ESV).

Community and Spiritual Formation

In both the OT and NT, spiritual formation is developed in a relationship with God and other people. Spiritual formation includes life change, and central to this change is one’s attitude towards others. This change cannot occur in isolation, as spiritual development is more than self-improvement. The individual believer is working to interact with others in a more Christlike manner.[6] These changes do not happen immediately. They require mature believers to develop them through discipleship within the Christian community.


Notes

            [1] Gordon Johnson, “Old Testament and Spiritual Formation,” In Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ, ed. Paul Petitt (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018), 74-75.

            [2]Ibid., 78.

            [3]Ibid., 79.

            [4]Ibid., 79.

            [5]Ibid., 80.

            [6] Paul Petitt, “Introduction,” In Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018), 19.

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