Ekklesia is not church

Posted on July 9, 2015


The Lost Word of the Bible— “Ekklesia”

By: Steve Simms

Article here: https://stevesimms.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/the-lost-word-of-the-bible-ekklesia/

A foundational word of the Greek New Testament was lost when the Bible was translated into the English language. That word is ekklesia. How was it lost? And what does it mean?

There are two ways to move a word from one language to another: 1) Translation — to take a word in one language and express its meaning in another language; and 2) Transliteration — to spell a word written in one language’s alphabet in the alphabet of another language.

However, instead of either translating or transliterating the word ekklesia into the English language Bible, most translators completely left it out and replaced it with another word that has a different meaning — the word church.   Here’s how that happened.  (However, Spanish language Bibles did transliterate the word ekklesia into Spanish as iglesia. And English language theologians have transliterated it for non-biblical use as ecckesiology and ecclesiastical.)

In 1525, one of the first people to translate the Bible into English, William Tyndale, translated the word ekklesia as congregation. However, in 1611 the translators of the King James Version of the Bible chose to completely drop the Greek meaning of ekklesia and to replace it with the English word church which has a different meaning.  Since then, most English translations have followed the King James example and used church to replace the meaning of the word ekklesia.

Let’s look at the meanings. The English word church comes from the Middle English chirche from the Old English cirice, both of which mean a religious building or religious place or “the Lord’s house.” 

However, the Greek word ekklesia, now lost to most English Bibles, has a completely different meaning than the word church. Ekklesia literally means “the called out ones.” It also was the proper name of the governing bodies of independent Greek city-states. These bodies (Ekklesias) were open, participatory, interactive assemblies that gathered to conduct city business.

Taking both meanings into consideration, the New Testament definition of ekklesia would be “an open, participatory, interactive assembly of people called out of self-focus and into the pursuit of God’s business”.  Since there is no single English word that conveys the Greek concept of ekklesia (assembly or gathering or congregation come closest but they leave out the participatory and interactive nature of ekklesia), perhaps we should do what the Spanish Bible translators did and restore the lost word by incorporating it into English in its transliterated form — ekklesia.

“I will build My ekklesia.” –Jesus in Matthew 16:18

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