Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now

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The Church... Then and Now
Part I - "Church"- An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia

Most Christians assume "church" means the organization run by ordained clergy who conduct religious ceremonies in brick and mortar buildings down the road. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Carol Brooks




"Church"... An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia
Modern Versions
Origin of The English Word "Church"?
When Was The Ekklesia Established

"Church"... An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia
In our world, the word "church" has taken on a variety of different but related meanings. For example we refer to the "church" as

    A building for Christian worship. (I'm going to church this evening)

    A particular Christian denomination (He was raised in the Presbyterian Church)

    A service conducted in a house of worship. (Don't be late for church)

    The clerical profession (He considered the church as a possible career)

However, none of these definitions are Biblically accurate. In virtually every case the English word church was translated from the Greek ekklesia - a compound word made up of ek, a preposition that means out of, or out from, and a derivative of the verb kaleo - to call or call forth.

In other words ekklesia is a noun that means "called out" and used of a regularly convened assembly such as the ancient Greek political assemblies or a select civil body that was summoned for a particular purpose. 

Modern Versions
Because ekklesia can only apply to people not a building or organization it should never have been translated into the English 'church'. Sadly, with few exceptions most modern versions, doing their part to perpetuate man-made traditions and organizations, use the word "church" rather than the far more accurate "assembly" or "congregation". (Additional Details in
Chapter 6). But they only did this in certain cases rendering the Greek words according to what they believed was a fitting translation.

For example, ekklesia occurs over one hundred times in the NASB and is virtually always translated 'church' except in Acts 19:32, 39, 41. These verses describe an angry mob of silversmiths and other craftsmen who viewed Paul as a threat to their trade because their livelihood depended on the statues of goddesses that they made and sold. Because a rioting mob could not possibly be described as a 'church', the translators rightly rendered ekklesia as "assembly". (The KJV used "the people" twice and "assembly" once.

The only other time ekklesia was correctly translated was in two verses in which the word "church" would have made little sense, since both refer to a 'pre-church' time. (The KJV made no such distinction translating ekklesia into 'church' in both verses.)

    "This is the one who was in the congregation (Gr. ekklesia) in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. (Acts 7:38 NASB)

    saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation (Gr. ekklesia) I will sing your praise." (Hebrews 2:12 NASB) (Hebrews 2:12 is a direct quote of Psalm 22:22).

So if the Greek ekklesia is an assembly or gathering of people and doesn't mean "church" as we understand the term, where did the word 'church' come from?

    Note: Some may argue that in today's world the word 'church' does refer to a body of believers. However, this is not completely accurate. Most Christians assume "church" means the organization run by ordained clergy who conduct religious ceremonies in brick and mortar buildings down the road. In fact, should the ranked clergy and all the buildings disappear to morrow, most Christians would bemoan the loss of their "church".

Origin of The English Word "Church"
The Greek word Kuriakos (belonging to the Lord) is a derivative of Kurios (master, sovereign, Lord etc.) and is only used twice in the New Testament.

    Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's (Gk. kuriakos) Supper, (1 Corinthians 11:20 NASB) Also see Revelation 1:10.

    I was in the Spirit on the Lord's (Gk. kuriakos) day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10 NASB)

Although the path gets quite convoluted suffice to say that over a considerable length of time Kuriakos morphed into the Old English cirice (unrelated to the Greek goddess of the same name). The following is an excerpt from an answered question on Tomorrow's World and well worth reading. All emphasis added.

    The ultimate source is probably the early Christian Greek phrase kyri(a)kon (doma), "the Lord's (house)"...  church is akin to the Dutch kerk, the German Kirche, the Old Norse kirkja, and the Scottisk kirk. All these came from Greek via Germanic. But these words (like their original Greek source) meant the place of assembly, rather than the assembly itself as the biblical ekklesia does. [01]

Kirk became the informal name for the Church of Scotland and is still in use today. Eventually cirice evolved into the modern English church gradually including not just the place, but also the ceremonies conducted there and the people who conducted those ceremonies. In other words, the word "church" is an acceptable translation for the Greek word kuriakos. However, not by any stretch of the imagination is it an acceptable translation for ekklesia.

The questions of how and why ekklesia came to be translated into the English "church" instead of the far more accurate "assembly" or "congregation" will be addressed a little later on in Chapter 6

When Was The Ekklesia Established (Or When Were People First "Called Out")?
Called Out? Out Of What?
We need to bear in mind that when someone is "called out" they have to be called out from something - it is only the context that tells us from what. In keeping with the Bible's overriding theme of separation and holiness, believers are "called out" or called to be separate from the world, which is one of the two Biblical definitions of "Holiness". See What Is Holiness?

Many believe that the church was born in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when three thousand people believed and were saved. However, the verse in Acts says three thousand souls were "added".

    So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41 NASB)

Just as when someone is "called out", they have to be called out from something, when someone is "added", they have to be added to something. So what was it that these three thousand people were added to?

Acts 1:13-15 tells us that after Jesus' ascension, a number of disciples returned to Jerusalem and "along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" continually devoting themselves to prayer. According to verse 15 there were as many as one hundred and twenty people gathering together. When one hundred and twenty baptized believers gather together to pray they (the people) cannot be called anything other than a "church".

The three thousand new converts were added to an already existing church.

Jesus Called Out His "Church"
And that already existing church consisted of believers who were all called out by the Lord Himself. He "called them out" from the Jewish system of religion to be His disciples. He "called them out" to be separate from the community that surrounded them, and to be the first to proclaim the the good news of the Kingdom He came to earth to proclaim. 

    Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He *said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22 NASB)

    The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me." (John 1:43 NASB)

See What Was Jesus' Primary Message? (It wasn't love as so many believe)

For three years, both before and after His resurrection, Jesus' ekklesia walked with Him and were taught by Him. They observed the Lord's Supper with Him, and were commissioned by Him to take the Gospel to the world. When He commanded His ekklesia to wait in Jerusalem it was only to be equipped to do the job they had already been commissioned to do.

In other words, The church wasn't founded but empowered on Pentecost. 

One of the times that Jesus used the word ekklesia, only supports the fact that the church was already in existence. It  would not make sense for Jesus to instruct His disciples on to how to discipline a member of a church that didn't yet exist .

    "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (ekklesia); and if he refuses to listen even to the church (ekklesia), let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NASB)

We need to remember that whenever we read the word "church" in the New Testament, it does not refer to a building, a religious organization, a Sunday morning service, or a profession, but is speaking about the 'called out' group of believers who collectively form the church, which brings us to the next point.

Continue On To Chapter II - Where The Early Church Met
We are so accustomed to 'doing church' in buildings that virtually have no other function, that we forget that the ekklesia, or early church met exclusively in people's homes. In support of this, there is a distinct lack of evidence for formal public church buildings before Constantine made public Christian worship legal. What makes it worse is the fact that they were modeled on the Roman Basilica - the architectural style of which can be traced back to the temple of the Egyptian God Amun-Re.

End Notes
[01] https://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2012/may-june/questions-and-answers


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