Vol.VII No.VI Pg.6
August 1970

Word Study From 104 A.D.

Robert F. Turner

There is much controversy regarding the word used in the N.T. to designate Gods people, the ekklesia The studious will be interested in this quote from Light From The Ancient East by Deissmann, an authority in his field. (Pp. 112—f.)


The first scattered congregations of Greek-speaking Christians up and down the Roman empire spoke of themselves as a (convened) assembly; at first each single congregation was so called, and afterwards the whole body of Christians everywhere was spoken of collectively as the (convened) assembly. That is the most literal translation of the Greek word ekklesia. This self-bestowed name rested on the certain conviction that God had separated from the world His saints in Christ, and had called or convened them to an assembly, which was Gods assembly, Gods muster, because God was the convener.

It is one of the characteristic but little considered facts in the history of the early Christian missions that the Latin-speaking people of the West, to whom Christianity came, did not translate the Greek word ekklesia (as they did many other technical terms) but simply borrowed it. Why was this? There was no lack of words for assembly in Latin, and as a matter of fact contio or comitia was often translated by ekklesia. There must have been some special reason for borrowing the Greek word, and it lay doubtless in the subtle feeling that Latin possessed no word exactly equivalent to the Greek ekklesia.

There is evidence of this feeling even in non-Christian usage. Pliny the Younger employs the Latinized word ecclesia in one of his letters to Trajan. Some years ago a bilingual inscription of the year 103-4 A.D. came to light at Ephesus, which furnishes a still more interesting example. It was found in the theatre, the building so familiar to readers of Acts XIX, one of the best preserved ruins in the ancient city. A distinguished Roman official, C. Vibius Salutaris, had presented a silver image of Diana (we are reminded at once of the silver shrines of Diana made by Demetrius, Acts XIX, 24) and other statues that they might be set up in every ekklesia in the theatre upon the pedestals. The parallel Latin text has, ita ut (om)n(i) (e)cclesia supra bases ponerentur.

The Greek word was therefore simply transcribed. Here we have a truly classical example (classical in its age and in its origin) of the instinctive feeling of Latin speakers of the West which afterwards showed itself among the Western Christians: ekklesia cannot be translated, it must be taken over.


While we are gasping at this depth we may as well note that Christians at Corinth were called (to be) saints just as Paul was a called Apostle. The thought is NOT that they were designated or given the name saints but that they were set-apart as the result of Gods holy calling. (1 Cor. 1: 1-2) The church is Gods (convened) assembly, Gods muster, fruit of His calling.