The Doctrine of the Church - Lesson # 1


I. What does εκκλησία (transliterated ekklēsia; pronounced ek-lāy-see-a) mean?

       A. Secular Greek background

            1.  Any assembly

            2.     Assemblies of citizens in a Greek city

            3.     Non-Christian secular use found in New Testament - Acts 19:32, 39-41

       B. Jewish background

            1.  The Hebrew word for the people of Israel assembled or as a community was qahal. In the Greek Old Testament (LXX or Septuagint), this Hebrew word was sometimes translated by the Greek term "synagogue" (synagogē), and more frequently by ekklēsia.

            2.  In the New Testament it can refer to the congregation of Israel - Acts 7:38 (see the KJV of this verse)

            3.  In the first few decades of the church, it is possible that ekklēsia and "synagogue" were used interchangeably by Jewish Christians for the body of Christ (Jas. 2:2; 5:14). After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the widening gap between Judaism and Christianity resulted in the choice of ekklēsia by Christians to distinguish themselves from the Jewish synagogue. Likewise Greek Christians would prefer ekklēsia to distinguish themselves from the local Jewish community. It was a word which they found in their Greek Old Testament in reference to God's people, and it had a noble heritage in secular Greek language.

       C. Origin of the English word "church."

            1.     "Church" probably comes from the late Greek word kyriakos, which means "belonging to the Lord." "It apparently entered northern European languages from the Goths, who heard the Greek word applied to church buildings ("the Lord's [house]") and appropriated the word into their language. Thus we have in Germany Kirche and in Scotland "Kirk." Hence the use of the word "church" for a building is proper in English, but this is not true for the Greek word it translates" (Ferguson, The Church of Christ, 130).

            2.     Some of the meanings of the English word "church" are very similar to the meaning of εκκλησία, so it is not necessary to abandon "church" as a translation of εκκλησία. To say that "church" is a non-biblical word and that we need to use the biblical words "assembly" or "congregation" is contradictory. Only a small portion of English words derive directly from a Greek ancestor, and many of those have changed meaning over time. "Assembly" and "congregation" are derived from the French language. While they are useful translations of εκκλησία, they are not "biblical" words to be preferred over the "non-biblical" term "church." The biblical word is εκκλησία, and we should use whichever English words best approximate the meaning of εκκλησία, and "church" is very satisfactory in most instances.

            3.     "Although a precise equivalent to our English word `church' is not employed in the New Testament as a description of the people of God, the English word is serviceable, correctly understanding the nature of the `church' as the Lord's people" (Stagg, New Testament Theology, 180).

       D. The meaning in the Greek New Testament when applied to God's people

            1.  "the Christian church or congregation" (BAGD, 240-41)

            2.  The "church" universal, either of all Christians in the world at one time, or all Christians of all ages - Mt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18

            3.  The "church" assembled, thus, the "assembly" - 1 Cor. 11:18; 14:19, 23, 34

            4.  The "church" as a local body or congregation, the most common use of the term in the New Testament.

                 a.   Often located geographically - Acts 8:1; 11:22; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1

                 b.   Even though there is only one church or one body of Christ, the plural form ("churches") is correct when referring to multiple congregations - Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:1, 19; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 2:14; Rev. 1:4

                 c.   Some churches met in homes, or were primarily made up of members of a single household, thus they were a church in someone's house - Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Phile. 2

       E. Etymology or derivation

            1.     Frequently εκκλησία has been defined as the "called out" due to its supposed derivation from ek ("out") and kaleo ("called"). This derivation is disputed and is far from certain. The origin of a word does not necessarily tell us its meaning. Furthermore, the meaning of many words change over time. The meaning of a word should be defined by its usage in the time period under study.

            2.  The idea of "separation" from others by being "called out" is a biblical concept, but it apparently was not inherent in the word εκκλησία. "In the New Testament the concept of the separation of the people of God from the world is expressed in several ways, in the word `saint' and `holy' and more especially by the group of words which are translated `elect' or `choose'" (Roberts, "The Meaning of Ekklesia in the New Testament," 29).


II. Qualifying phrases

       A. Ownership and origin

            1.     "church of God" or "God's church" - 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15; Acts 20:28

            2.     "church of the Lord" - Acts 20:28 in some manuscripts

            3.     "churches of Christ" or "churches in Christ" - Rom. 16:16; Gal. 1:22

            4.  "the church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" - 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1

       B. Nature or essence

            1.     Sometimes specified ethnically - Rom. 16:4

            2.     Theologically - Heb. 10:23

            3.     Study how the apostle Peter discusses the church without using the word εκκλησία - 1 Pet. 2:9-10.


III. Significance

       A. Examine meanings of the English word "church" from an English dictionary. Which of these are appropriate for the Greek word εκκλησία and which are not.

       B. Since the "church" is God's people, what significance does this have for personal involvement on the part of an individual Christian? What do people mean when they say: "They (the church) did not come to visit me," or "The church mistreated me," or "The church ought to do this or that."

       C. List a hymn which talks about the church.

       D. In light of qualifying phrases giving ownership of the church to God and Christ, what implications does this suggest?

       E. Memory verse - Mt. 16:18