Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 26, 1956

The New Testament Church (II.)

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

Etymology Of Ecclesia

Some Greek words are formed by compounding or joining together two or more words. The preposition 'ek' (out, out of) is prefixed to the adjective 'kleetos' (call) and this from 'ek' prefixed to the verb `kaleo' (call) to form 'ecclesia' (the called out ones). (See Thayer: Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 195.)

"The Greek dictionary gives two meanings to ecclesia: (1) 'gathering of the people,' (2) 'church'; and calls the former secular, the latter Biblical. The last edition of Lidell and Scott retains this division, but subdivides the second part, bringing in the Septuagint: (1) 'assembly duly summoned' less general than sullogos; (2a) in the Septuagint 'the Jewish congregation'; (2b) in the New Testament the church as a body of Christians."

"The New Testament Lexicons give two meanings; (a) the whole body of believers, (b) the individual congregation.... The dictionaries show that in both religious and secular Greek ecclesia covers the two ideas of COMING TOGETHER and BEING TOGETHER, and this seems to point to some such rendering as 'gathering' which has the advantage of being available for the abstract as well as the concrete." (Bible Key Words, II Church by K. L. Schmidt from Gerhard Kittel's Woerterbuch, pp. 34.)

Schmidt believes there should be a uniform translation of ecclesia since both secular and New Testament writers consistently use the same word (ecclesia). He suggests the word 'church' for the universal sense and 'congregation' for the local in the New Testament. (ibid. pp. 4, 58.) He says if one always desired the exact reproduction of Biblical usage 'assembly' (of God) would be correct, but this cannot be done since language is not amenable. (ibid. pg. 59.) Most everyone will agree with Schmidt on the preceding statements but not all will accept his further statements about etymology. He believes the history of the word ecclesia is more important than its etymology; in fact the etymology of a word is unessential for a proper understanding of the word. (ibid. pp. 58, 60.) A. T. Robertson is in full agreement. Concerning ecclesia, he states that "we must banish from our minds all remembrances of its etymology." (Grammar, pg. 174.) To these one may add the questionable statements of Hort: "There is no foundation for the widely spread notion that ecclesia means a people or a number of individual men called out of the world or mankind. In itself the idea is of course scriptural and moreover it is associated with the word and idea 'called' 'calling' 'call.' But the compound verb ekkaleo is never so used, and ecclesia never occurs in a context which suggests this supposed sense to have been present in the writers mind. Again, it would not have been unnatural if this sense of calling out from a larger body had been as it were put into a word in later times, when it had required religious associations. But as a matter of fact we do not find it so. The original calling out is simply the calling of the citizens of a Greek town out of their houses by the herald's trumpet to summon them to the assembly and Numbers 10 shows that the summons to the Jewish assembly was made in the same way. In the actual usage of both ecclesia and qahal this primary meaning of summoning is hardly felt. They mean simply an assembly of the people; and accordingly in the Revised Version of the Old Testament 'assembly' is the predominant rendering of qahal." (Christian Ecclesia, pg. 6.)

All three of these men are recognized as scholars and what they have written is influential and carries weight. However, they are not infallible. All three have denominational background and have been influenced in their thinking and reasoning about the church. Hort was a member of the church of England; Robertson was a Baptist; Schmidt, a Lutheran. If one followed their conclusion that the word ecclesia is completely removed from its etymology, then the word church would become a meaningless word without any definite background or root meaning. It would be a fluid word to be cast into whatever shape or form as deemed necessary. Thus there would be grounds for a state church, for synods, for association of churches, for Missionary Societies, for a sponsoring church through which many congregations could work. When sectarians or our brethren make statements accurately about Bible doctrine, what they teach is true because it is scriptural. But when either deviate or err from the truth, they teach error. It is evident to all honest and sincere thinkers and believers that the sponsoring church brethren have followed the sectarians in their conception of the church and consider it a meaningless word. Such a conception would permit the church to embrace and include all kinds of institutions which are man-made as homes, schools, societies and the like.

The above argument that the root meaning is lost and the history alone determines the meaning of the word is rejected for the following reasons:

(1) The same argument was made concerning baptism. All must admit that the root meaning of baptidzo is immersion, covering up. But the argument has been made that the etymology or root meaning of the word is not felt; that in its history the usage came to be sprinkling or pouring. Baptism is not separated from its root meaning, neither is ecclesia.

(2) For every practice of the Christians of the apostolic age which is sanctioned by the apostles there must of necessity be a God given command for that practice. Such practices leave inspired examples for Christians today to follow and are to be accepted as a direct command. Thus when Paul wrote, "When ye come together in the church" (1 Cor. 111:18), he acknowledged the assembly as God given and condemned only the abuses of it. (cp. Acts 20:7.) There must therefore, be a divine call to the assembly and worship.

(3) When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth or Thessalonica all the words in the epistle are addressed to that church. This fact Hort and the others overlooked. All the epistles from Romans through Revelation are written to either a church, or churches or individuals and are complete in every detail including the call to assemble to worship, the call to the church to edify itself and the commission to preach the gospel to the lost. If not, then we are meeting for worship without divine sanction.

(4) There is no more powerful call than the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation.

(Rom. 1:16.) The word 'call' is connected with Christ, the church, and Christians. Isaiah wrote prophetically about the church: "It shall be called the way of holiness." (Isa. 35:8, cp. Acts 9:2; 22:14.) About Christians he wrote: "Thou shalt be called by a new name which the mouth of Jehovah shall name." (62:2, cp. Acts 11:26.) Of the mission of Christ: "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Matt. 9:13.) Sinners are called by the gospel to obtain forgiveness of sins. (2 Thess. 2:14.) The gospel call is the basis of being in Christ, in the church. If no one obeyed the gospel there would only be the divine pattern but no Christians. Christians are "to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." (Eph. 4:1.) The word of God is a continual summons and call to Christians to live the Christian life. God "called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9.) One is called to fellowship in Christ, (1 Cor. 1:9); in peace, (1 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:15); into His own kingdom and glory, (1 Thess. 2:12); to follow His steps, (1 Peter 2:21); for sanctification, (1 Thess. 4:7); to inherit a blessing, (1 Peter 3:9); unto His eternal glory in Christ, (1 Peter 5:10); to lay hold on to eternal life, (1 Tim. 6:21.)

(5) Both ecclesia and qahal (assembly) have the root 'call.' Qahal is derived from the verb 'qol' (call). Other words used by inspired writers which are found in secular writing retain the root meaning. Such a prominent word as 'Jesus' is used by profane writers and ascribed to the Caesars in Rome. They were called saviors of the country. No evidence nor decisive reason is given to prove that the word ecclesia lost its root meaning.

(6) Those who obey the gospel are called into fellowship of a congregation, of a church. Schmidt admits ecclesia is the only technical term for the Christian community and places the church over against the world and cults. (The Church, pp. 27, 28.) Thus all those in Thessalonica who obeyed the gospel were called by the gospel, they were called for active service in the church, they were called into fellowship in Christ along with all others who shared in the common faith. So the meaning of gathering together and being together is in the word ecclesia.

The following quotation shows that not all agree with Hort:) "To the Jew, the Ecclesia had been the assembly of the congregation of Israel, summoned to meet at the door of the tabernacle of Jehovah by men blowing silver trumpets. To the Greeks, the Ecclesia was the sovereign assembly of the free Greek city-state summoned by the herald blowing his horn through the streets of the town. To the followers of Jesus it was to be the congregation of the redeemed and therefore, of the free, summoned by His heralds to continually appear in the presence of their Lord." (Lindsay: The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, pg. 4.)

Etymology Of The Term Church

Philologists both English and German believe the word 'church' comes from the adjective 'kuriakos' which means 'belonging to the Lord' or `the Lord's.' The word occurs twice in the Greek Testament: Revelation 1:10, "the Lord's (kuriakee) day" and 1 Corinthians 11:20, "the Lord's (kuriakon) Supper."

The problem has never been satisfactorily solved as to the route or how and when the word was carried from the East (Asia Minor) the Greek speaking church to the West or Latin speaking church. Historians reveal that it was during the time of the cleavage in the apostate church; that a barrier existed between the two and relations were not congenial. As a result there were but few communications.

Dana makes the following remarks. The Goths overran Asia Minor by 255 A.D. The Goths were Teutonic or German and remembered the houses they robbed better than the technical word ecclesia. At this time the word kuriakon was on the building. The word church is colloquial rather than literary. The Goths not being literary depended on word of mouth. Also the apostate church adapted its propaganda to crude ceremonies and sacred places. Thus the meeting house became the essential, most tangible expression. Uphila of Cappadocia (311 b.) was a missionary to them and invented an alphabet for them. He came from the very region where kuriakon was used. That which would impress them most would be the church building. (Manual of Eccliology, pp. 20-1.)

Schmidt believes an early wave of Arian missionaries took the word into Germany but which group and by what route is not definitely established. (Church, pg. 60.)

The facts of history may not reveal when and how the word entered the West but one thing seems certain and that is the word church comes from kuriakos. Linguists realize there is a certain affinity of words and these fall into word groups or families. Thus with the Anglo-Saxon "Circe'; Scottish `Kirk'; German `Kirche'; Scandinavian `Kyrka.' All these words mean 'church.' `Kirk' in old English was difficult to say so it was given a smoother pronunciation and spelled 'church.' All of these are from the older word kuriakon. One language is based on words from other languages which it borrows and incorporates. One need only to briefly examine Websters Unabridged Dictionary to learn that the English language borrowed words from many languages.

Conclusion: The word 'church' puts the emphasis where it belongs — on the Lord.) The church is composed of God's people whether assembled or not. It was purchased by the blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28); it is God's own possession (1 Peter 2:9). Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:23); He is the foundation (Eph. 2:20). Redemption and salvation are in Christ. When the word is properly understood it proves very satisfactory as a rendering of ecclesia.