Articles addressing Scriptural concepts that are misunderstood by many Believers today.
It seems simple. It seems self-explanatory. But why then is there a large amount of disagreement among denominations and sects and factions? The simplistic, non-theological answer would be, “Church is a building that Christians meet together in.” For all intents and purposes, that is correct. Yet the term “church” as it appears in most of our Bibles is so much more than that. The common Christian response is “Church is the people, not the building.” To be sure, there is a great deal of study that needs to be put into this matter. But where to begin? In this writing, I hope to shed some light or, at the very least, provoke you (the reader) to study this on your own.
As with anything, context is king. My intention here is to crack open a little bit of the language used in Scripture to gain a more full understanding of the word “church.” We’re going to study things a little bit backwards this time. Instead of starting in the Hebrew Tanakh (Old Testament), we’re going to start in the Greek Writings (New Testament). After covering the established usage of “church” terminology, we’ll move on to the Tanakh.
The word translated as “church” in most Bibles is εκκλησια (ek-klee-see-uh). Ekklesia is derived from two other Greek words, εκ meaning “of” or “out from,” and καλεω (ka-lay-oh) meaning "to call," or "to name." So ekklesia means “the called out.” So that should be enough indication that the term ekklesia is not referring to a building.
I won’t be getting into it in depth in this writing, but there is sufficient evidence that the mere word, “church” is not, itself, innocent. It is traced through the ages to the Old English “circe,” the Dutch “kerk,” German “kirche,” and back to the Greek “kirkos.” This is a combination of the words, “kurios” (Lord) and “doma” (house). It seems benign enough, yet multiple sources indicate that a “church” wasn’t just used by Christians.
“First attested in English 14th century, the word circus derives from Latin circus, which is the romanization of the Greek κίρκος (kirkos), itself a metathesis of the Homeric Greek κρίκος (krikos), meaning “circle” or “ring”. The early Christian writer Tertullian claimed that the first circus games were staged by the goddess Circe in honor of her father Helios, the Sun God. This claim accords well with the fact that many Roman games were indeed dedicated to the Sun God.” (circus, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus) (krikos, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus).
This information is readily available on the internet. As a side note, there is also useful information on Wikipedia. If you do not consider Wikipedia as a reliable source, it is also cited at the bottom of the page to outside sources. Simply put, the word that we derive “church” from means “lord’s house,” but is also more closely related to the circus games, and the celebrations of Helios and Circe. It is akin to naming your building a temple instead of a church. There were many temples back then. There was The Temple built by the Israelites, then there were temples to all sorts of false gods as well.
Why does this matter? Because in proper context, I personally believe we should avoid the term “church.” It is not innocent in its origin, it is not in Scripture, and it is not even the correct translation for the Hebrew and Greek terms. The word ekklesia, as shown above, does not translate as church. It should be rendered, as some Bibles do, “assembly” or “congregation.” (In the SQV, we have rendered it as "assembly.") It is simple to replace “church” with “assembly” in our minds and speech. I consider this related to replacing the term “God” with Elohim. Not because "God" is evil (despite what many falsely teach), but simply because it is not as accurate as we can be.
Moving on. So to sum it up thus far, the Greek word ekklesia means “the called out ones” or the “assembly.” That is how the body of Messiah is referred to in the Writings (New Testament).
The word first appears in Matthew 16:18 when Yeshua says, “I also say to you, you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia…” Now one thing to point out here. The Roman Catholic Church (and many protestant churches as well) believe that Yeshua is saying He will build his “church” on Peter. That is not the case, as is easily seen when reading the Greek directly.
Peter’s name in Greek is the word “petros.” Petros means rock, but by implication a small rock, or pebble. The word used for “rock” is “petra” meaning boulder, or great rock. I’ll paraphrase here. Yeshua is basically saying, “You are a small rock, but on this Rock [Himself] I will build my ekklesia [assembly].” I’m not going into the next verse as it would require a study all on its own. But consider also this: in multiple examples Peter showed that he was weak and movable. (For a deeper study on this verse, and a comparison of it between Greek and Aramaic, see article Aramaic Primacy of the NT)
Think about Matthew 14 when he began walking on water and became afraid. Think of Luke 22 when he denied having known Yeshua. Even Paul makes mention in Galatians 2 of having rebuked Peter. Peter was human, he was weak, and like all of us he was movable. He was a small stone. Yeshua is the Rock (1 Corinthians 10, Romans 9, 1 Peter 2) and He is unmovable. That is why the assembly is built upon Him. It is also noteworthy that in Luke 6:48, when talking about the wise man who built his house on a foundation of rock, the word used is “petra,” same as how Yeshua referred to Himself. The strong foundation, the unshaken Rock.
1 Corinthians 3:11 says, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Yeshua Messiah.” The ekklesia is the assembly of called out Believers. 2 Timothy 1:9 says Yeshua has "called us with a set-apart [holy] calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Messiah Yeshua from all eternity.” The word used here for “called” and “calling” are both forms of “kaleo” meaning “to call.”
The other word in Greek that is often used, but more often misunderstood, is synagogue. Synagogue is usually simply transliterated (written with English letters) rather than translated. Its meaning is “assembly” or “congregation,” just like ekklesia. While ekklesia is the word used to represent the assembly of Believers, synagogue is the word used to represent the assembly of the Jews. I personally believe there is a direct translational bias. That is, the translators had the intention of making a separation of the assembly of the Jews and the assembly of Believers. Notice in places such as Luke 4, Mark 3 and John 6 that Yeshua went into the synagogues to teach. It even says in Luke 4, “as was His custom.” We see Paul teaching in the synagogue in Acts 13, 14, 15, 17, 18 and many other places, and apparently it was “his custom” as well. The only clear differentiation between synagogue and ekklesia is that the synagogue is implied to be a place of meeting, such as a building. Ekklesia, as previously stated, is the congregation or group of Believers.
But what about the Tanakh (Old Testament)? How were true believers referenced back then? The common term “b’nei Yisrael” or “children of Israel” is most often what is used. However, there are two other Hebrew words primarily used to mean “congregation” or “assembly.” The first is קהל (qa-hal), meaning "assembled," or "gathered together." Given a different vowel mark (pronounced with a longer ‘a’ sound) the word means assembly. This is used to denote when all the people are gathered together. It means, quite simply, a large group of people. The other word is עדה (edah) meaning "congregation," but actually refers to a company of witnesses. This is used when referencing the body as a whole. In particular, edah is used of the children of Israel, whether assembled or not, during their journeying from Egypt to Canaan. Thus edah assumes quasi-technical status as the People of Elohim, but qahal continues to denote only the actual assembly or meeting together.
In the Greek LXX (Septuagint) the word 'synagogue' is used for both qahal and edah. Ekklesia is used in place of qahal in some 80 cases in the Septuagint, though synagogue is used as well. The primary differentiation is still that one is a gathering or meeting, and one represents the group of people. Ekklesia (like edah) refers to the people, while synagogue (like qahal) refers to the meeting or gathering together.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting every group that meets together should call themselves a synagogue. In this day and age a lot of people avoid terms like “Messianic” just because of the connotation and reputation that it carries. The term “Messianic” gets associated with a lot of things I personally do not agree with, so I try to avoid calling myself anything other than a Believer. People like to label you and put you in boxes. I try to avoid that. Synagogue, though originally simply the Greek term used to identify the meeting place of Jews and/or early Believers, is now completely and totally associated with Judaism. Judaism, despite its many wonderful practices, still continues to reject Messiah Yeshua, and therefore it denies the Father as well (1 John 2:23). I would avoid the term synagogue for the same reason I avoid the term Messianic. Simply because of its associations.
To conclude, I want to make my position clear. I am neither bashing the church nor those in it. Many people are still deceived and their eyes have not yet been opened. I am not calling Christians 'pagan' because they call themselves/their building a church. I am not calling all Jews non-Believers. As I stated in a previous article (see article Provocation), anyone, no matter their race, that rejects Yeshua is a non-believer. I put this writing together to show what the term “church” refers to in its proper context in Scripture. The assembly of YHWH is the made up of all Believers, no matter their race or origin. I pray this study blesses you.
Be Berean. Shalom.