I often say in conversation or in my writings, that ekklesia (pronounced ek klay see ah), is not the original Greek word for church. Yet, I am well aware that anyone can google the word church, and find references that imply church and ekklesia are the same. This of course, this would appear to contradict everything I’ve said.
There is a growing number of writers, and online references that reveal the accurate Greek word for church is kyriakos or kyriakon. On the surface, there are compelling arguments for both for ekklesia to be interpreted as church, and for ekklesia not being the same as church.
More confusion ensues as even among those who embrace the true understanding of ekklesia as they yet continue to use church and ekklesia interchangeably. Implicit in this practice is that church and ekklesia are the same. Again, I assert that they are not.
What Difference Does It Make?
There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the beginning stages of learning exactly what Jesus said and meant when He declared He would build His ekklesia (Matthew 16:18). One group of
"...we are in the beginning stages of learning exactly what Jesus said and meant when He declared He would build His ekklesia..."
All ancient manuscripts are clear on the fact that Jesus said He would build an ekklesia. He had other choices that were more ‘religious’ in their connotations. He could have said He would build His temple, which was the most common religious institution of His day. Likewise, He could have said He would build His synagogue, where the Torah and writing of the prophets were read on discussed. Instead, He said He would build His ekklesia, a secular entity, which was commonly known in that day as an arm of the Roman government.
Why would Jesus use a term that was understood in secular terms, and that probably had some negative baggage attached to it?
The people in Jesus day not only understood WHO the ekklesia were, but they also understood WHAT they did. The ekklesia could establish policies, legislate, confer or deny citizenship, and elect officials. They were in fact, a called out ruling council.
By using the word ekklesia, Jesus was declaring that in the same way that the Roman ekklesia was to ensure the policies of the governor of Rome were enacted, His ekklesia would be the arm of the Kingdom of God that would ensure that the polices and decrees of heaven were enacted and enforced in the earth (Matthew 16:19, Mark 16:17-18; John 20:23).
Where Did Church Come From?
Although most English bibles translate the ekklesia into church, the fact is that church is a mistranslation. What is even more startling, is that this mistranslation was no accident.
In 1611, King James gathered a team of 47 scholars to produce what is now known to be the King James Bible. The king gave this group of translators fifteen rules they had to follow in their work. It was rule number three that is so revealing. Here is what he instructed them to do:
The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation…
Why would he explicitly instruct the translators to incorrectly use the word ‘church’?
King James had made himself the head of the Church of England that he ruled through bishops he had appointed. He also considered himself to be a god and said it was a crime to argue about what a king can do. This blog cannot cover all the details of King James mindset, but it is clear, that the third rule exposed his intent to insure his rule was not threatened.
Here’s The Problem…
We have become defined by a word that Jesus never used.
Today, most English bibles use the mistranslated word ‘church’. We have become defined by a word that Jesus
never used. When you think of church, you generally think of the building you go to, or the denomination you belong to. Only as an afterthought are phrases like, “we are the church” or “the church is in me” evoked. Neither of these express the true meaning of ekklesia.
Make an intentional effort to stop using the word church (Yes, I still slip and use the word church from time to time, but I am working on it). More and more I am using words like ‘congregation’, ‘assembly’, ‘gathering’ and ‘ministry’ to describe local bodies of believers. The ancient Tyndale and Geneva bible used these words, which is in effect more accurate to the original language.
For a season, as you read scripture, insert the words ‘ruling council’ where ever you see the word ‘church’. Obviously, this is not a perfect translation of the word ekklesia, but this exercise will help you begin to see the Lord’s intent.
Don’t fear the facts. The implications of understanding ekklesia is enormous for you. It will undoubtedly challenge many religious norms. I believe the Lord is uncovering this truth in this season to empower the Body of Christ.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will clear up any confusion regarding ekklesia and church. “…for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the assemblies of the saints” (1Corinthians 14:33 World English Bible).
Jesus is still building His ekklesia with believers like you. Get ready. The best is yet to come! TLK
Tim Kurtz is the founder of The Ekklesia Center developed to help believers desiring to pursue New Testament values and structure. He teaches extensively on what the impact the mistranslation of the Greek word ekklesia to the English word church has had on the Body of Christ. He has served in numerous capacities in the 'church system' including being a Pastor for over 25 years. He is the author of several books and the primary contributor to the EKKLESIAInsights Blog. Tim is also the host of Good Morning Ekklesia, broadcast live on Facebook. In these daily Study Starters he provides key information that believers can use to study ekklesia deeper. He and his wife Carolyn have been married 46 years and live in Michigan. They have two adult children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.