Ekklesia 01 - What is Ekklesia?
Today we are beginning a new series that is designed to help us understand what the Bible teaches about the Lord’s church. I have titled the series “Understanding Ekklesia.”
If you did not know, Ekklesia is the greek word that is used in the New Testament that is translated most of the time in our English Bibles as “church.”
This is an important topic for us to discuss. There are many misconceptions regarding what the church is, not just in the world, but also among those who are Christians. I know that even my own understanding of what the church is has been flawed in the past. I have had many erroneous views that have needed to be changed. I have talked about the church differently than it is spoken of in the New Testament. This is an area where our beliefs can at times be based more on the specific religious tradition that we have been brought up in instead of on scripture itself, and we can often be guilty of using words differently than how scripture uses them because of how we hear others use them.
So, for our first lesson in this series today, I would like us to begin by looking at the greek word that is translated church and how it is used in the Bible and at the time of Jesus and His Apostles.
THE GREEK WORD
First, it is important for us to understand this point, and this is usually a surprising point when it is seen for the first time, the Greek word “ĕkklēsia” is not inherently a religious word like our English word ‘church’ is. Let me say that again. The Greek word that is translated as ‘church’ in our Bibles (Ekklesia) is not inherently a religious word.
In the Greek world the word ekklesia simply designated an assembly or group of people. We see this idea even in the use of ekklesia in the New Testament. It is not just used as a religious word.
THE BIBLE’S USE OF EKKLESIA
First, let’s look at . In the context of this passage, the people were stirred up by the silversmiths and craftsmen who built idols. Their businesses were in danger because of the preaching of the Gospel and people being told to not serve God’s made by human hands. A riot ensues and they all enter a theatre yelling and screaming. Here is what we are told in verse 32:
“32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” (, ESV)
In this passage, the word ekklesia is talking about a mob that was in a theatre. Yes, it could be argued that it was religiously motivated, but it surely was not God’s people coming together. Verse 41 also uses the word ekklesia when it mentions the dismissing of this assembly of people.
One other verse in this passage uses the word ekklesia. Verse 39. I will read verse 38 also…
“38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly.” (, ESV)
This is the town clerk saying these this. The last word there in verse 39, “assembly” is ekklesia. He is talking about an assembly where that the people of a city were often called to in order to talk about grievances that they had and to get judgments from the authorities.
So in all of these verses the word is translated as an assembly. One final passage I would like to look at before we look at the religious use of the word ekklesia is in . . This is during the sermon that Stephen gave before he was stoned to death. In talking about Moses, he said:
“38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.” (, ESV)
In this verse, the word ekklesia is translated as “congregation.” It is speaking of all of God’s people who came out of the land of Egypt, many of which were not faithful to God at all. They were a congregation — an assembly of people.
THE SEPTUAGINT - EKKLESIA BEFORE COMING OF JESUS
Before Jesus came, we see this same usage of the word ekklesia in the Septuagint — the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Ekklesia is used over 50x in the Septuagint, and in most of the cases where this word is used, it is also talking about an assembly, congregation, a bunch of people, or a group of people. It is often used to talk about the Israelites who were assembled together in the wilderness.
I would like to give you a couple other examples of how ekklesia is used in the Greek Old Testament:
As David speaks to Goliath, he declares that all “all this ekklesia shall know” that “the battle is the Lord’s” ( [Lxx I Kings 17:47]) Here, ekklesia is used to describe armies that came out for battle
David says that he avoids & hates “the ekklesia of evildoers” ( [Lxx 25:5]) Ekklesia here is an assembly containing “men of falsehood” and “hypocrites” (v4).
In the account of David and Goliath, ekklesia is used to talk about all those who were present and would see David fight Goliath.
So this Greek word: Ekklesia — was used in the Greek speaking world at to describe collections of people. Ekklesia was a word that was used to describe a bunch of people, whether they were religious or not.
THE EKKLESIA of JESUS
With these things in mind, let’s begin to talk about the ekklesia of Jesus. It is important for us to keep in mind what this word meant in the common usage of it in the first century, because doing this will help us to begin to see what the church is. Whenever we think of the church or the community of Jesus’ people, we should not think of buildings or clergy or church leaders or organizations or institutions. These views show a misunderstanding of how the word was used in the Greek speaking world. Instead, we need to think about people. The ekklesia of Jesus is the assembly or congregation or community of Christ’s people.
I would like us to quickly consider some different contexts in which the word ekklesia or “church” is used in the New Testament in referring to Christians. We will look at these in more detail in future lessons.
THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
First, the word ekklesia is used in reference to all of God’s people — all who have been saved by the blood of Christ. You may have heard this group of people referred to before as the “universal church.”
Let’s consider a couple passages where the word ekklesia is used in this way: First let’s look at :
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (assembly/community/congregation), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (, ESV)
In this verse, Jesus is teaching His disciples what the foundation — the bedrock principle — that His church — His group of people — His congregation would be built upon. It would be built upon the foundation of who Jesus is. Every person who is willing to make the confession that Peter did — that Jesus is the Son of God, and decides to become a disciple of Jesus — is added to this group of people — this one community of people.
We see this in the book of Acts. As people were obeying the Gospel — as they were being baptized into Christ, Luke tells us that God was adding those who were baptized to their number — speaking of the group of the disciples who had become Jesus’ New Covenant people already. They were added to Jesus’ assembly.
“…and to the assembly of the firstborn [Jesus] who are enrolled in heaven.” (, ESV).
This passage is talking about the same group of people as . Speaking of all those who are saved — this passage talks about how the names of this group of people are enrolled in Heaven. Those who are Jesus’ church — His saved people, are known by God and recorded in His presence. The Lord knows those who are His people — His assembly.
It is important to understand that, in these verses, Jesus is not talking about an organization or institution or denomination that He was going to create. He is talking about people. The assembly — the ekklesia — the church is described as individuals whose names are recorded in Heaven. This group of people is His body — His bride — His holy nation — His priesthood — His people who will be with Him for eternity.
A GROUP OF CHRISTIANS IN A SPECIFIC GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION
The second way the word ekklesia is used in reference to God’s people is in talking about a group of Christians in a specific geographical area. What we see come about in scripture is that when the Gospel reached different cities, when there were multiple disciples that were made, then they would be called “a church of God” or a “church” in that specific city/town.
Here are some examples of ekklesia being used in this way:
“To the church of God that is in Corinth…” (, ESV) “…To the church of the Thessalonians…” (, ESV)
These verses are all talking about local groups of Christians in different areas that Paul preached in, and these passages all give descriptions of these groups.
The Christians who lived in Corinth are described as God’s ekklesia. They are the people of God’ in that city. They shared this common identity of belonging to the Lord.
The ekklesia in Thessalonica is spoken of as the church/assembly consisting of people from the city of Thessalonica. At that time, it was common to be part of the local church that was in the city that you lived in. They were the church of the Thessalonians because they were all from Thessalonica.
These are all acceptable ways to describe ourselves no matter what may be on the sign out front. We are just as much a local church of God as we are a church of Christ. We are the church of those who are from Boone, Madrid, Luther, etc…
The local assembly — the congregation is the people. Just as with the universal church, it is not an institution or an organization. It is not some kind of business enterprise. It is a group of people.
Our third point could be a sub-point of our second point because it is talking about local groups of Christians…
Local church assembled
The third main way the word ekklesia is used in the New Testament is to describe the local group of Christians assembled together for worship and to build each other up.
It is helpful for me to consider this context of ekklesia because we still are a local church outside of the walls of the building. We still have responsibilities to one another. What we do when we assemble is a small part of what we do with our brothers in sisters we worship with.
We see this usage of ekklesia in .
This chapter describes what the assembly does when they come together for worship. Paul gives them many instructions on how their worship should be organized so that it could be most beneficial and helpful for the church. Let’s look at verse 28:
“But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” (, ESV)
Once again, this context makes it clear that Paul is talking about a specific period of time. Paul isn’t talking about any time when a local church comes together or any time we are together with Christians. He is specifically talking here about what happens when God’s people come together for worship. One other passage:
“If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (, ESV)
In both of these verses, some translations say “in the church.” Just keep in mind, these two passages are not talking about a building, but about God’s people when they come together. This is not talking about any time that God’s people get together. These restrictions are for a specific period of time.
These are the three main ways that the word ekklesia is used in the New Testament. The word is used to talk about all of the people of God, and it used used to talk about the people of God who live in a certain geographical location, whether they are assembled or not. When we are talking about the church, we are talking about the people. A group of people and nothing more than this. It is important to understand these concepts because most problems in understanding Jesus’ church stem from not recognizing the differences between these ideas.
Before we end today, we want to offer you an opportunity to become a child of God — to become a Christian if you have not done so already. If you have not yet confessed Jesus as LORD and have not been baptized into Christ for the remission of your sins, we encourage you to do so as soon as you can, even now. We want to be here for you to help you do so today.
If you are a disciple of Jesus and you need the prayers of God’s people or you need help in overcoming a sin in your life that is disrupting your fellowship with God, why don’t you make things right with God today also?
If there is anything we can do to help you, why don’t you make your need known as together we stand and sing?