What is “ekklesia”?
by Richard Amick
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 Mathew’s 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.
WHAT DOES “EKKLESIA” MEAN?
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.)
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF “EKKLESIA”?
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.
Why “Ekklesia” (Part Two)
by Richard Amick
The first international language was an ancient form of Greek. We know it as “Koine” (common) Greek. The writings from which we get the New Testament are in Koine Greek. It has long become a dead language in that people are no longer learning it as their native language. The Greek spoken today descended from it. Since it is not a living language, the meanings of words remain unchanged. An example is “ekklesia.” It means the same today as when translators chose it for the Greek translation of what Matthew recorded in Matthew 16:18.
Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, and Matthew originally wrote his account of Jesus’ life in either Aramaic or Hebrew. Soon thereafter, some person(s) unknown translated his work into Greek. The account in Matthew 16:18 relates what Jesus said he would build. Most Bibles read “church.” The actual transliterated form of the Greek word is “ekklesia.” It frequently appears in the context of people who accept the message of salvation. It is a compound of “ek” (of) and “klesis” (a calling), a derivation of “kaleo” (call). Taken together, it means the called out. It is the word one would use when speaking of an assembly, a congregation or a community of individuals.
WHY IS “EKKLESIA” SIGNIFICANT?
The word “ekklesia” is of note due to the numerous passages that speak of a call or a calling. Note the following.
- Jesus came to call sinners (Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Romans 8:30).
- God called people He foreknew would come into a relationship with Him (Romans 8:30).
- By God’s grace and mercy, He called people from among Jews and Gentiles to be His people (Romans 9:24-26).
- The believers in Corinth were called into fellowship with Jesus Christ (First Corinthians 1:9).
- God called us to peace (First Corinthians 7:15).
- As God called us, or in whatever circumstances that God permits and that we may find ourselves when called by God, we are to live so as to glorify Him (First Corinthians 7:17-24).
- The calling is by the grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6).
- The believers in Galatia were called to freedom (Galatians 5:13).
- Paul implored the saints at Ephesus to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1, compare First Thessalonians 2:12).
- The believers at Colossae were called in one body (Colossians 3:15).
- God calls us into His own kingdom and glory (First Thessalonians 2:12).
- God called us in sanctification or with a calling to conduct our lives in holiness (First Thessalonians 4:7, compare Second Timothy 1:9, First Peter 1:15).
- God called the believers in Thessalonica by the gospel (Second Thessalonians 2:14).
- God called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (First Peter 2:9).
Each passage cited has the Greek “kaleo” (translated call or called). The passages have to do with our relationship with God. This is only a partial list. It does not include passages that have the word “klesis” (e.g. Romans 11:29, Philippians 3:14, et al). In reading the passages cited, it makes sense that in translating Matthew’s writing from Aramaic or Hebrew to Greek, the word chosen to communicate what Jesus said, when speaking of what he would build, would be a word that means “the called out” (ekklesia).