The Word "Church"

Usually when one begins a word study he goes to a concordance and then to a lexicon. If he were studying the word "church" he would find that it is translated from the Greek word, "ekklesia", which originates from "ek" (out of) and "kaleo" (call), thus, "called out." Immediately, if he professes to be a Christian, there comes to his mind, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called (kalesantos-aorist participle of kaleo) you out (ek) of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). And that is a good starting point. Now let us take into consideration an extremely important aspect of word study -- CONTEXT.

According to The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament by Moulton and Milligan, "ekklesia" meant originally "any public assembly of citizens summoned by a herald" (page 195). According to Bauer's lexicon, "ekklesia" is found in the writings of Euripides, the Greek tragic dramatist, and Herodotus, a Greek historian; both of whom wrote in the fifth century B.C. And Orpheus, priest of Dionysus, "formed for himself the 'ekklesian', a group of wild animals, who listen to him, in the Thracian mountains where there are no people" (Bauer).

While "ekklesia" may have reference to the New Testament church, it is also used in the Septuagint in reference to the community of the Israelites. In Greek history, it is used in reference to the community of Pythagoras (Bauer). And even in the New Testament it may not refer to the Christian church. During the riot which Demetrius, the silversmith, stirred up in Ephesus, Gaius and Aristarchus were seized and brought unto an "ekklesia" (Acts 19:23-41). Thus, from general contexts, we may determine that "ekklesia," of itself, has no especially Christian, Judean, nor even religious denotation.

Having made that determination, let us now consider "ekklesia" in the New Testament era. To begin this phase of our study, we will briefly take into consideration SYNTAX -- how words fit together.

The preposition "ek" serves to further define "klesia," the substantival form of "kaleo," to which it is attached. It is used only with the ablative (some grammarians refer to the ablative as the genitive of separation) case which may be described as the "whence" case -- it indicates from whence something is separated; in other words, its source or origin. Thus, "klesia" is further defined as having a source "out of" which it came. If the source of the call follows immediately, as it often does, the source will be in the ablative case. Sometimes the writer assumes that the reader already KNOWS the source. And with diligent examination the source can usually be determined. With that in mind, let us return to some specific contexts.

In Acts 19:25 we find that Demetrius called the workmen together, which call ultimately resulted in the assembly at Ephesus. Thus, Demetrius is seen as the source out of which the call originated.

Now let us consider what is generally spoken of as the New Testament church. In 2 Samuel 7:11-16 the Lord promised David He would "set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels" (vs. 12). And in verse 16 the Lord promises, "And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever."

According to the genealogy of Matthew, Jesus Christ is the son of David (1:1) In Acts 2:30 Peter refers to the promise made to David, "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne." Peter then goes on to interpret the promise, "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses" (vs. 31-32). And in verse 36 Peter says, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Paul says God "hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Colossians 1:13). Peter speaks of "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11). Therefore, we see through the scriptures that Jesus Christ, the seed of David, and His everlasting kingdom are the fulfillment of the promises make to David. Speaking of Christ, Paul says, "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). From these passages we determine that God, through Jesus Christ, is the source from whom the call originated.

The "ekklesia" referred to as the New Testament church are those who have been assembled into the body of Christ through hearing, believing, and obeying that call.

And to whom has that call been made? Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, says, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to ALL that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39). On Mar's Hill, Paul proclaimed that God, "Now commandeth ALL men EVERYWHERE TO REPENT (Acts 17:30)."

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive