The Church – English Word


The English Word “Church”

My intent is to show what the Church is by using a methodical study. We need to begin by defining the word. I will be using references that are experts in language and linguistics.

The Word Defined

Overbey in his book (The Meaning of Ecclesia in the N.T. p.7) says, “According to most scholars the word church comes from a Greek word meaning “the Lord’s” with the word house usually understood.” This is taken from the Greek word “kuriakos” which comes from the word “kurios,” meaning “the Lord’s.”

Thayer says, (Thayer’s Lexicon, pl 365) “A Biblical and ecclesiastical word – of or belonging to the Lord, or relating to the Lord.”

Overbey asserts, “Time and the peculiarities of each language had its effect on the word (kuriakos) but the word still remained recognizable. In English it is church, in Old English cirice, in German Kirche, in Scottish kirk, and in Old Scandinavian kyrka.”

The Meaning of the Greek word “Ecclesia”

I want you to remember the word “Church” and it’s meaning while we examine the word “ecclesia”. As previously stated, most scholars agree that the English word “church” comes from a Greek word (kiriakos) which means “the Lord’s” with the word house usually understood.

Here is the etymology of the word Ecclesia.

  • Ek – out of.

  • Kaleo – to call.

  • Hence, a “calling out.”

The word church, according to Overbey, appears in the King James Bible because of Rule 3, established by King James. Rule 3 states – The old ecclesiastical words to kept.

  1. K. Cross makes this observation. “In Acts 19:39-41 the term is used twice. Once to refer to the ‘lawful assembly’ which was called out of the citizens of Ephesus to handle legal matters in the city. The other to refer to the assembly that had been called together to run Paul and his companions out of town. In either case the assembly, or ecclesia (for this is the word used here), was a called out group, called together for a specific purpose, and local in nature. This was the common usage of the term and always the proper definition of an ecclesia. THIS IS WHAT OUR LORD SAID HE WOULD BE BUILDING.”

  1. K. Cross continues, “If Jesus Christ had intended to build another kind of company there were other words in the language He could have used. He could have used the word ‘Synagoga,’ a term without such limitations and yet designating an assembly. It would certainly have been more fitting for a ‘universal company.’ He could have also used the word ‘panagris’ if He had a solemn assembly in mind of a massive and festal nature. But these were rejected in favor of the most limiting term in the Greek language with reference to an assembly; a term that can only be properly interpreted as an assembly local in nature.”

  1. K. Cross further states the word ecclesia is more than a mere assembly. The word is a compounding of two words. Kaleo, ‘to call” and ‘ek’, meaning out, or literally ‘to call out.’ Thus, an ‘ekklesia’ is a Called out assembly, implying some conditions. The Lord did not call all Christians in the area that cared to assemble into His ‘ekklesia,’ but he was very selective about it in Matthew 4:17-22; Matthew 9:1 John 1:43,44 and on until He had 120 in that assembly by the time he went back to the Father. I Cor. 12:28 says that ‘God hath set some in the church (ekklesia)…,’ not all. The same passage states that He set the apostles in the ‘ekklesia,’ and on the occasion when the apostles were chosen there was quite a congregation of disciples present of whom he chose the apostles – and Paul says the apostles, not the crowd, were set in the ‘ekklesia’.

Roy Mason asserts, “…I submit the proposition that the church that Jesus founded was the local assembly, and that to use the word ecclesia to designate a ‘universal,’ or ‘invisible’ church is to pervert its meaning, and to fall into serious error.” (The Church That Jesus Built, Mason, p. 26).

A. C. Dayton said, “The Greek ‘ekklesia’ consisted of certain individuals, who, when assembled and organized, constituted an official body for the transaction of such business as might come before them. It was not merely an assembly, but an official assembly, consisting of persons specifically qualified, and who had each his specific rights and duties as a member of the ekklesia to which was intrusted the management of public business; but the ekklesia were called out from the mass… Every assembly was not an ekklesia, nor was every ekklesia an ekklesia of Christ”. (Theodosia Earnest, pp. 72,73).

This leaves the question, why does the King James Bible use the word Church instead of the word congregation or the word assembly. I have heard those that would use the word assembly instead of Church. I have heard the arguments put forth. Here is what I have to say about the issue. Jesus said “I will build my ecclesia – assembly.

So Wednesday afternoon, I leave my house and walk to the assembly. One of my neighbors happens to be in their yard and ask me where I am going. I say, I’m going to the assembly. Reply – oh, the school assembly, No – Oh, the assembly at 3rd St and 4th Ave. No, I’m not going to the corner tavern. So what assembly are you going to? Church (THE LORD’S). My neighbors reply – why didn’t you say that to begin with? My reply – I wanted to be correct in usage whether you understood it or not. I believe that the word Church was used before they began building Church buildings. I also believe that the assembly we attend is “The Lord’s” assembly. The word Church is proper in declaring to others that we are attending “The Lords’ assembly.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Church – English Word

  1. Well researched and written.


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