So, I have started this new series on the nature of the church . In the first article, I specifically began to look at the background of the word church, which is the English translation of the New Testament Greek word ekklesia. By doing so, we saw that the basic definition of the word is:
- Called out ones
- A gathered people
- A people assembled for a purpose
Though the linguistic background of such a word might seem quite tedious and boring, it does help us get a little glimpse into what the word really means. We are able to actually see what, or who, church really is.
But, let’s move on to some other language studies before drawing final conclusions.
Old Testament Hebrew Word
As we considered in the previous post, when Stephen spoke of the ‘ekklesia [congregation] in the wilderness’ (Acts 7:38), it reminds us that the word has Old Testament roots. The Old Testament, or known to Jews as the Tanak, was originally written in Hebrew. But, due to many Jews becoming Hellenized, Greek speakers following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the then known world, the Hebrew Scriptures were subsequently translated into Greek. This translation became known as the Septuagint, or simply LXX. This actually became the translation that most of the New Testament writers used when quoting the Old Testament.
Consequently, when the Greek Old Testament was translated, the scribes used the word ekklesia to replace the Hebrew word qahal. The word qahal is usually translated ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’, as well as ‘community’ in the NIV.
Thus, we can see that ekklesia, from the Greek, and qahal, from the Hebrew, are basically synonymous with one another. Some places in the Greek Old Testament where ekklesia is used to replace qahal are:
- Deuteronomy 9:10 – the assembly gathered to receive the Law
- Judges 21:5 – a judicial assembly of God’s people
- Nehemiah 8:2 – the assembly gathered to listen to the Law
- 2 Chronicles 6:3 – the assembly gathered corporately for worship
Thus, with the use of the word ekklesia in the New Testament, this would have brought to everyone’s mind Israel, the Old Testament people of the LORD, and even more particularly, the believing people of God. Israel was to be God’s treasured possession (Exodus 19:4-6), which He would use to bring blessings to the Gentiles. Yet, this was to ultimately point to God’s new covenant ekklesia, made of both Jew and Gentile in Christ, which is now God’s treasured possession (1 Peter 2:9-10) called to bring grace and blessing to the ends of the earth.
Other Languages to Consider
So, if ekklesia, and qahal, refer to the gathered ones, God’s called out people, then why might someone ask, ‘Are you going to church?’
Though we use the word ‘church’ as the English translation of the word ekklesia (God’s called out assembly), our English word actually comes from the Old English/Scottish word kirk and the German word kirche.
All three of these words – church, kirk, kirche – are derived from the Greek words kuriake and kyriakon, and they simply mean ‘belonging to the Lord’. In regards to these two Greek words, Louis Berkhof says:
‘The [Greek] name to kuriakon or he kuriake first of all designated the place where the Church assembled. This place was conceived of as belonging to the Lord, and was therefore called to kuriakon. But the place itself was empty and did not really become manifest as to kuriakon until the Church gathered for worship. Consequently, the word was transferred to the Church itself, the spiritual building of God.’ (Systematic Theology, p557)
Therefore, it seems that our word ‘church’ does have some connection to the building in which God’s people gathered. As a result, we may hear the question, ‘Are you going to church?’
Yet, these words of Berkhof quoted above prove interesting to consider:
‘But the place itself was empty and did not really become manifest as to kuriakon until the Church gathered for worship. Consequently, the word was transferred to the Church itself, the spiritual building of God.’
Though it might only seem a case of semantics, and this discussion is definitely not worth breaking fellowship over, our goal is to understand the Biblical teaching concerning the words used in the text. And church, or ekklesia, is a very important word in consideration from the Scripture.
Therefore, though the word ‘church’ is connected to the Greek words to kuriakon and he kuriake, and these words refer to the place of meeting that was to have a special belonging to the Lord, the actual Greek word that we translate as ‘church’ from the Scripture text is ekklesia. And it is this word that points to God’s people, the one’s called out to gather together.
From our Biblical study, we can conclude that, in its essence, the word ekklesia simply means a called out people, the assembly or community of God’s people together for a purpose.
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27)
Therefore, it would be good to remember that, in its essence, church, or ekklesia, is not:
- A building we go to
- A particular day of the week
- An structured institution with programs
And if one is still struggling to grasp the concept that church is about the called out ones, the community of God’s people, a good question to ask is: For whom did Christ give Himself up?
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Christ gave Himself up for a Bride, not a building, a day of the week, or an institution.
Thus, church is about the people of God, the called out community of God’s people. As I had quote Edmund Clowney previously, I believe he sums up ‘church’ very well:
‘According to the Bible, the church is the people of God, the assembly and body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.’
Click on the link here to read my next article in the series – Entrance Into The Church.