What is “ekklesia?”

What is “ekklesia”?

by Richard Amick
(Revised 09/12/2009)

What is ekklēsia (ek-klay-see’-ah)? What does ekklēsia mean? Ekklesia is a transliterated word. To transliterate a word is to use the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. In this case, ekklesia is the English transliteration of a koine Greek word. The Greek word we’re talking about is one found in the Greek translation of Mathews writing where he recounts the event where Jesus said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).

Most likely Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language. A belief held by many is that Matthew originally wrote his account of Jesus life either in Aramaic or Hebrew. Some person(s) unknown translated his writing into koine Greek, which early disciples received as being of authority. The word used for what Jesus said He would build is ekklēsia.

We find the ekklēsia used approximately 115 times in New Testament scripture. The King James Version renders it church some 76 times, churches 36 times, and assembly three times. Luke used it of a riotous mob in Acts 19:32 and 41). He also used it when referring to a lawful gathering in Acts 19:39.


The Greek word ekklēsia is a compound of ek (out of) and klesis (calling), a derivation of kaleo (call). A literal meaning would be a calling out or the called out. Although ekklēsia is a transliteration of the actual Greek word that appears in place of church and churches, it is not a religious word. For it to have any religious connotation at all, it must have other words to modify its use. An example is the phrase ekklēsia ho Theos, where ho Theos (translated of God) modifies ekklēsia (Acts 20:28). (See the entry for Assembly in Vine’s Expository Dictionary.)


People readily understood its meaning. The term ekklēsia was familiar to both Jews and Gentiles. By the first and second century, koine Greek had long been an international form of speech. It is not surprising that this ancient form of Greek became the medium for teaching and spreading the good news of salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

There is more to the significance of ekklesia than it being a word in common use by the people. As we read the New Testament Scriptures, we frequently see words like calling or call” that are English translations of Greek words related to ekklēsia.

(to be continued)

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