Defining the word “Church”

The word “Church” today is commonly used for the place Christians meet. Generally a person would say things like “We are going to Church” or “The Church is empty”.

Before going into Biblical Definitions, we must know some basic information and history about the Bible.

  1. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew also known as the Tanakh.
  2. There was a Greek translation done of the Hebrew Scriptures in the 2nd Century BCE, (Before Yeshua‘s Birth) called the Septuagint.
  3. Most of the remaining New Testament manuscripts are in Greek.

Even though we use an English translation of the Bible, we know that sometimes meaning can be lost in translation. Because of this, going to the root languages of the Manuscripts can lend much more insight into the real meaning of the word “Church”. What we now need to research is, which word in the Greek was translated to the word “Church”

The Word “Church” is a translation for a Greek word called “ekklēsia”, which means “Called out”, “Assembly” or “Congregation”. (Strong’s Hebrew/Greek Dictionary – G1577)

While throughout the bible, “ekklēsia” has been translated as “Church”, there are a few places it is translated as “assembly” as well – Acts 19:31,39,41

An interesting point to note is, that in very much the same way, the word “Synagogue” is a translation for a Greek word called “sunagōgē”, which means “Assembly”/”Congregation” as well. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary – G4864)

“sunagōgē” is translated as “assembly” in James 2:2
“sunagoge” is translated as “congregation” in Acts 13:43

Both words, “Church” and “Synagogue” meant bodies of people. Not a building or a place.

Now that we know that “Church” doesn’t mean an institution, a place or a building, let’s tackle one of the other common misconceptions, which is that Yeshua(Hebrew name of Jesus) came to build a “Church”, and that there was no “Church” before Yeshua.

Language, I believe, has become one of the biggest barriers of our time. Since we have a big barrier which is a New Testament(NT) in Greek, and an Old Testament(OT) in Hebrew, comparing the two languages are next to impossible, as they are worlds apart. Because of this, we will turn to the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the OT. Comparing the NT Greek and the OT in Greek using the Septuagint, we can land on some solid answers.

Armed with this knowledge, let’s check whether we can find the Greek word “ekklēsia” in the OT. And true to the fact, there are more than 70 locations where “ekklēsia” is used, in place of “Assembly” or “Congregation”. These places are listed below.

Deu_4:10, Deu_9:10, Deu_18:16, Deu_23:1, Deu_23:2, Deu_23:3, Deu_23:8, Deu_31:30, Jos_8:35,
Jdg_20:2, Jdg_21:5, Jdg_21:8, 1Sa_17:47, 1Sa_19:20, 1Ki_8:14, 1Ki_8:22, 1Ki_8:55, 1Ki_8:65, 1Ch_13:, 1Ch_13:4, 1Ch_28:2, 1Ch_28:8, 1Ch_29:1, 1Ch_29:10, 1Ch_29:20, 2Ch_1:3, 2Ch_1:5, 2Ch_6:3, 2Ch_6:12, 2Ch_6:13, 2Ch_7:8, 2Ch_10:3, 2Ch_20:5, 2Ch_20:14, 2Ch_23:3, 2Ch_28:14,
2Ch_29:23, 2Ch_29:28, 2Ch_29:31, 2Ch_29:32, 2Ch_30:2, 2Ch_30:4, 2Ch_30:13, 2Ch_30:17, 2Ch_30:23, 2Ch_30:24, 2Ch_30:25, Ezr_2:64, Ezr_10:1, Ezr_10:8, Ezr_10:12, Ezr_10:14, Neh_5:7
Neh_5:13, Neh_7:66, Neh_8:2, Neh_8:17, Neh_13:1, Job_30:28, Psa_22:22, Psa_22:25, Psa_26:5, Psa_26:12, Psa_35:18, Psa_40:9, Psa_68:26, Psa_89:5, Psa_107:32, Psa_149:1, Pro_5:14, Lam_1:10,
Joe_2:16, Mic_2:5

A Sample is shown below in Bold:
Greek Septuagint – Deu_31:30  και ελαλησεν μωυσης εις τα ωτα πασης εκκλησιας (G1577) ισραηλ τα ρηματα της  ωδης ταυτης εως εις τελος

English KJV – Deu 31:30  And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended.

This leads to quite an amazing conclusion. In about 70 instances in the OT where the English says “Assembly” or “Congregation”, the Septuagint translates those words to “ekklēsia”.

Let me put the comparison of the words in a simpler way to digest:
ekklēsia (Greek NT) = church (English NT)
ekklēsia (Septuagint Greek OT) = assembly / congregation (English OT)
which means: church (English NT) = assembly / congregation (English OT)

So effectively, if the words are the same, (ekklēsia = church = assembly = congregation)
we would be able to read more than 70 other scriptures in the OT alongside Deut 31:30 as,
“And Moses spake in the ears of all the church of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended”.

To everyone who believes that the “Church” came after Yeshua, I ask you to look at the evidence. Do not get stuck with a particular language or a word. Look at the meaning of the word, rather than the word itself.

Now, I know that some people would still say that I am putting too much effort and forcing my ideas through. To all those people, my answer would be to compare and check the evidence. Don’t believe me. But if there is sufficient evidence, don’t shrug it off. Be open to learning something new, even if it goes against some of your beliefs.

In closing, I would like to say that, as people living in a technologically advanced age, why can’t we put all the resources we have to good use and audit our translations, check for the real meanings and compare historical documents. I hope, I have made a good enough case to prove,
A) That “Church” means the people and not any institution, building or place
B) That the “Church” existed even when Moses led Israel, as the people/congregation was the “Church”.

When Yeshua said “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my CHURCH; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Yeshua did not mean He was creating a new institution, a new system, a new building or a new place. What He meant was that, He is going to build His people, His assembly and His Congregation – the “Called Out” ones.

13 thoughts on “Defining the word “Church”

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  12. Thomas Lorenz

    Good article, thank you.
    Yes, do not get stuck with a particular language or a word.
    But also, do not get stuck with meaning of the word.
    The only relevance is the biblical context. Not the translation, nor only the meaning.
    Acts 2:44 and 1Cor 14:23 make it crystal clear that a big building was there, if they did not meet on a big field. In Acts 14:27 they called the church together, where? 1Cor 4:17 says that Paul taught IN every church, not AMONG every church. 1Cor 6:4 talks even about people being -seated- in a church. 1Cor 14:34 clearly differentiates between the “church” and “homes”.

    1. RameshDeSilva Post author

      Dear Thomas,
      I wonder whether you really did read the article or glossed over it before commenting on it. The whole point of the article was to show that the word “church” we see in the NT was not a building but a body of people. You quote Acts 2:44 but have clearly not read 2 verses down. They did not sell their homes and go stay in one building. Whoever had much, shared with the rest. Coming together clearly means building a community and not a building. There were buildings that they gathered in, which were called synagogues. But the building is never called a church. Acts 7:38 should be ample evidence. Did Moses also have a church in the wilderness? Please read the Word carefully with the help of the Spirit, without being hasty and jumping into conclusions because of preconceived notions.
      Be a blessing to everyone around you


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