The Translation of the Greek Word "Ekklesia" as "church" in the English Bible, and the use of the Term “the church” and its Ramifications.
The purpose of this paper is to show that the early translators of the English Bible improperly translated the word "ekklesia" into the English word "church" instead of "assembly" or "congregation." This translation has helped promote the false doctrine of a universal or worldwide church, a hierarchical authority over the local congregation, and the church as being a building. The purpose of this article is to show how this translation of ekklesia as "church" has adversely affected the proper understanding of the biblical doctrine of the ekklesia will demonstrate the true meaning of the word as God inspired it and reject the influence of any particular church's false theology. I appeal to true Bible believing teachers, pastors, and authors to think seriously about the church of the term "the church" and correctly use the term "Christians." Some may counter that the term is so ingrained in our culture that it cannot be changed. Does that mean then we are to compromise God’s word to appease our politically correct worldly culture?
The term "the church" is universally used in Christianity by most authors, pastors, preachers, and teachers without qualifying who it is addressing. An example: "The church will be raptured before the Tribulation." Think with me. Would it not be biblically correct to say, "Christians will be raptured before the Tribulation"? The term "the church" as used is ambiguous. As the term implies, it is referring to all groups who call themselves a church, whether they are true New Testament churches or not. Using the term "the church" makes no distinction as to who is being referred to. It is left up the understanding of the one hearing the term of whom many are not true believers or a true New Testament church.
In our New Testament you never find the definite article "the" used without a modifying statement or the context, explaining to what particular assembly it is referring to (e.g. 1 Cor. 16:19) or to the geographical location of that assembly "the church at Cenchrea" (e. g. Rom. 16:27). In the statement "the church being raptured," the question is. . . does this mean individual Christians will be raptured or the institution of the local assembly which Christ instituted in Acts 1? It is true that at the rapture of Christians, they all will be assembled in heaven, but not a local assembly as the New Testament uses the word. Christians after the rapture will be a part of Christ's kingdom and be serving and ruling with Him. The scripture makes it clear individual Christians will be raptured.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the passage does not say, "the church" will be raptured, but rather those individuals who ". . . believe that Jesus died and rose again" (e.g. Verse 14). Verse 17 specifically states "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:17) The same is true of 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.
Please note that the use of the word "church" in our English Bible does not mean that it has an error. It is common knowledge that the Greek word from which the word "church" was translated is "ekklesia." Further, the word "church" is used in modern English to denote a local congregation or an assembly as well as buildings and denominations. The problem, as this article points out, is that word "ekklesia" has been interpreted as referring to a "universal church" which encompasses all believers on earth reflecting the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants, new evangelical and cult false teachings. In "Christianity" this how the word is used and does not distinguish between true and false churches. Further, it promotes a hierarchical system of church government, outside the local assembly, which rules over the churches.
If the word had been translated "assembly" or "congregation," the false teaching of a universal or invisible church would have been avoided. It is well to point out why the KJB translators used the word "church" instead of "assembly." We should understand they were Greek scholars and knew the difference. It was the restriction placed on them by King James, that prohibited them from using the proper translation of "assembly or congregation." There is nothing in this article that demeans the King James Bible or casts any dispersions against it. The reason for the article is to uphold the original meaning and use of the word as God inspired and intended.
The English word "church" has various meanings. Webster gives the following definitions for the word church:
1. A building for public Christian worship. 2. A religious service in such a building. 3. (Sometimes cap.) a. The world body of Christian believers; Christendom. b. Any major division of his body; a Christian denomination. 4. A Christian congregation. 5. Organized religion, as distinguished from the state. 6. (Cap) a. The Christian before the reformation. b. The Roman Catholic Church. 7. The profession of an ecclesiastic -V.C. 8. To perform a church service of thanksgiving for (a woman after childbirth). [Go RI (a) on (DOA) the Lord's house). (1)
Today the word church has a wide variety of meanings from referring to a building to performing a religious service. Although we need to understand the modern use of the word, it is of little significance in understanding the use of the word the New Testament. It is essential that we understand its original meaning as it was used in New Testament times. In order to establish a New Testament church we must first know what the word "church" means in Scripture.
In our English Bible the Greek word, "ekklesia" is translated in most places "church." The word "ekklesia" is found in one hundred and fifteen places in the New Testament. It is translated in English one hundred and thirteen times "church" and the remaining times it is translated "assembly." In Greek the word "ekklesia" meant "a called out assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly."(2) The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to "call out." In New Testament times the word was exclusively used to represent a group of people assembled for a particular cause or purpose. It was never used exclusively to refer to a religious meeting or group.
An examination of the Greek word "ekklesia" reveals that the word is properly translated into English as the "assembly" or "congregation." It is used to refer to a group of persons that are organized together for a common purpose and who meet together. Brown states the word was used as early as the 5th Century B.C.:
I. (a) ekklesia, derived via ek-kaleo, which was used for the summons to the army to assemble, from kaleo, to call (--. Call). It is attested from Eur. and Hdt. onwards (5th cent. B.C.), and denotes in the usage of antiquity the popular assembly of the competent full citizens of the polis, city. It reached its greatest importance in the 5th cent, and met at regular intervals (in Athens about 30--40 times a year, elsewhere less frequently) and also in cases of urgency as an extra-ordinary ekklesia. Its sphere of competence included decisions on suggested changes in the law (which could only be effected by the council of the 400), on appointments to official positions and -- at least in its heyday -- on every important question of internal and external policy (contracts, treaties, war and peace, finance). To these was added in special cases (e.g. treason) the task of sitting in judgment, which as a rule fell to regular courts. The ekklesia opened with prayers and sacrifices to the gods of the city.(3)
It should be noted that the word "ekklesia" was used to denote the meeting together of a special assembly. Brown further defines the word as to its political characteristics:
"Thus, ekklesia, centuries before the translation of the Old Testament and the time of the NT, was clearly characterized as a political phenomenon, repeated according to certain rules and within a certain framework. It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions were taken.
What is noteworthy, however, is that the word ekklesia, throughout the Gk. and Hel. areas, always retained its reference to the assembly of the polis. In only three exceptional cases, was it used for the business meeting of a cultic guild (cf. H. Lietzmann, An die Korintlier, 9, 4). Otherwise it was never used for guilds or religious fellowships. These were referred to by such expressions as thiasos, cultic assembly to worship a god; lit, contract of partnership, but in this context a fellowship which held particular feasts (heorte), to which each participant contributed; koinon, lit, that which is in common (--. Fellowship, art. koinos); or synodos, which meant a group following the same --. way, i.e. the same teaching. Significantly, however, none of words found its way into the NT." (4)
Brown shows that the normal usage of the Greek word ekklesia in New Testament times was understood to mean simply a called out or special assembly. In the New Testament era, society used such words as thiasos and synagogue to denote fellowships. More particular Brown says that the word synagogue was used to denote the place of meetings.(5)
In the New Testament “ekklesia” could refer to different kinds of assemblies within the context of the words use or use modifier to explaining who was meeting. For example, in Acts 2:47 the context of the verse tells who was meeting, "Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church (ekklesia) daily such as should be saved." The context tells us in Acts 2:41 it specifically identifies these people who were meeting as those who were saved on the day of Pentecost.
Another example of a modifier being used to identify who was assembling is Acts 8:1 "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church (ekklesia) which was at Jerusalem." The assembly in this case were the believers in Jerusalem. The word never is used to refer to a building or in a general sense referring to all believers.
The English dictionary reveals that the English word "church" which is used in our English Bible is taken from the late Greek word kyriakon not ekklesia."(6) The Greek word kyriakon is not found in the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word ekklesia means a called out assembly.
The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary gives the modern definition as:
"Church" 1. a buildig used for public worship. 2. a particular Christian organization. 3. The Christian religion, as an institution with political or social influence. ORIGIN from the Greek kuriakon doma ' Lord's house'.7)
The word kuriakos is a noun and is used twice and found in 1 Corinthians 11:20 ". . . the Lord's (kuriakos ) supper (deipnon) ." Revelation 1:10 reads "the Lord's (kuriakos) day (hemera )". The word "ku-ri-a-kos" comes from the word "ku- ri-os," which means "lord." The word kuriakos (i.e., "church") means "pertaining to the lord." It refers to something that pertains to, or belongs to, a lord. The Greek kuriakon eventually came to be used in the Old English form as "cirice" (Kee-ree-ke), then "churche" (kerke), and eventually to mean "church" as a building.
The word kuriakon (i.e. church) then, correctly refers the "house of the Lord" meaning the building. This is a different mean that the word ekklesia which means a called out assembly. Thus, the English word "church" cannot be correctly translated back into Koine Greek. The 115 times the New Testament uses the word ekklesia it always refers to a called out assembly and never a building.
As stated earlier, the word "ekklesia" in itself does not explain who is meeting, but only that a group is called to assemble. The context of the passage tells you who is meeting. For example, the word "ekklesia," is used in Acts 19:32,39,41 and demonstrates this word was used to refer to a civil assembly of local town’s people of Ephesus which included idol makers. Acts 19:24-25, records that a man named Demetruis, a silversmith who made idols, called all workmen of like occupation together for a meeting. The reason for the meeting was to discuss the problem that they were having with people who were being saved and who were abandoning their idols which was hindering their businesses. Verse 39 says, "the assembly was confused." The word "assembly" is the Greek word "ekklesia" and is the same word that is translated elsewhere in the KJB New Testament as "church." Here the "ekklesia" was a meeting of idol makers, and the word is properly translated "assembly."
Another example is found in Acts 7:38 which refers to the nation of Israel that was congregated at Mt. Sinai as the "church in the wilderness." The word translated "church" is the Greek word "ekklesia." It is incorrect to refer to Israel as a church and the word should be properly translated "assembly" or "congregation." It is confusing to refer to the Nation of Israel as a church that could be misunderstood and support Amillennialism and other false teachings.
In most places in the New Testament, the word "ekklesia" refers to a local assembly of believers in Jesus Christ and should be accurately translated "assembly" or "congregation." Brown states that the word is limited in use to a particular geographical location:
“The ekklesia has its location, existence, and being within definable geographical limits. The apostle thus writes of the ekklesia te ouse en Korintho, the church which is in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:2), indicating both that it belongs to the people of the place, and that it has a new and different quality. This is also true when he speaks of the “ekklesia Thessalonikeon” (1 Thess.1:1:).”(8)
Brown recognizes that the word "ekklesia" made a specific reference to a group meeting in a particular geographical location. This would doubtlessly preclude using the word to refer to a universal or invisible body of believers. The term “visible body of believers” refers to members assembled in a local church. The term “invisible body of believers” refers to those who are not in a local assembly or all Christians universally. Note the Protestant meaning which is carried over from Catholicism, found in the “Westminster Standards. Chapter 25, "Of the Church," which states:
"The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (sections 1, 2).
This definition refers to the existence of a universal (catholic) of believers. Yet, all believers are not referred to collectively as a church. Paul, who used the word more frequently than any other New Testament writer clearly understood the word to mean an assembly or congregation who met locally together. Brown comments:
Paul always understands ekklesia as the living, assembled congregation. This is expressed particularly in 1 Cor. 15 (vv. 4f., 12, 19, 23, 28). It is only in the meeting and living together of the members that love, described in 1 Cor. 13 as the supreme gift, can be made real, just as it is only in this way that the other God-given gifts can be recognized and acknowledged.(9)
The New Testament believers met in rented halls and in the homes of people. They had "elders" or bishops who were called of God and given the oversight of the local or individual congregations (Acts 20:28). A hierarchical church government outside the local assembly is not found in Pauline writings or elsewhere in the New Testament.
Some falsely conclude that the word can also apply in a limited manner to an invisible or universal church. The Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon refers to two such uses. The first is to "the church universal" and uses Matt. 16:18, Acts 9:31, 1 Cor. 6:4, 12:28, Eph. 1:22, 3:10, 21, 5:23ff, 27, 29, 32 as New Testament references of such use. (10) However, it can be argued that Matthew 16:18 is referring to Christ founding the institution of local churches, not to the establishment of a universal church. Christ could have used other words, but instead used the word "ekklesia" with limited the meaning of referring to an assembly that meets together.
In Acts 9:31, "ekklesia" is plural and is referring to local congregations geographically located in ". . . all Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria." In Revelation 2-3 Jesus addressing each of the seven churches in Asia concludes each message with the statement "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The word churches is plural meaning it was addressed to all the individual churches.
If there was a universal church, then Christ would have used the singular word "church." However, by using the plural word clearly Jesus was making the point that He was addressing individual churches because He did not establish a one church system. If Christ had established a universal church, then it would have been logical for Him to address those who ruled over all these churches collectively. However, clearly the New Testament does not teach there is such a hierarchy outside the local assembly. If Christ instituted a universal church then, He would have addressed the chief rule or head of all the churches. Jesus did not, and His addressed the overseer of each of the seven churches shows there is not a universal church.
Some point to 1 Corinthians 6:4 as referring to a universal church. However, this verse also refers specifically to the church at to whom Paul was addressing. The context of 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, and in particular, verse 27 states, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." Note that verse 27 is a reference is to the "body of Christ" which is the correct term for all believers universally. The phrase "members in particular" refers to membership in a local assembly, which would conclude that verse 28 is also referring to the local "ekklesia" and the believer would be a member. The same argument can be made for passages in Ephesians are reference to local assemblies and not to a universal "assembly" (ekklesia) believers that would be impossible.
Arndt-Gingrich assumes both a local and universal meaning for the word "ekklesia":
“The local as well as the universal church is more specif. called e. tou qeou or e. T. Cristou. This is essentially Pauline usage, and it serves to give the current Gk. Term its Christian coloring and thereby its special meng,:” (11)
Note the change in our understanding of the meaning of the phrase when "ekklesia" is translated correctly "assembly" e.g. "the assembly of God" or "the assembly of Christ." The word "ekklesia" has the specific meaning of an assembly or congregation and can only be interpreted to have a universal meaning by imposing the bias or tradition founded in our modern understanding by the use of the English word. If one uses the sound hermeneutics of a strict adherence to the usage of the word in New Testament times to an assembled body, there are no grounds for concluding that it refers to a universal assembly or to believers worldwide. What then does the Biblical word translated church really mean? It simply means an assembly of people. The New Testament knows nothing of using any formal singular word to refer exclusively to the assembly of believers.
When the Bible was first translated into English the concept of a universal church was already in existence in the form of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of that day. The word "church" was first used by Theodore Beza in 1556, a Protestant, who followed John Calvin at Geneva, Switzerland. As a Presbyterian, Beza believed in the idea of a catholic church and its hierarchical form of government and therefore, chose to support this false concept by using the word "church" instead of "assembly." The reason is obvious in that the use of the word "congregation" or "assembly" would not support his church's hierarchical form of church government. William Whittingham's Testament of 1557 followed Beza's usage of "church" and was actually the first edition of the Geneva Bible and was a revision of the Tyndale New Testament.
The first English Bible translated from Greek did not translate the word "ekklesia" as church. William Tyndale's translation (1526) correctly used the term "congregation." Tyndale completed the translation of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament before he was martyred. John Rogers, an assistant and friend of William Tyndale, completed the translation of the Old Testament using some work from Coverdale and published the first entire Tyndale Bible under the pen name "Thomas Matthew." This Bible was called the Matthew's Bible (1537) and also used the term "congregation." The next English Bible, the Great Bible (1539), also used the term "congregation." However, in 1557 the Geneva New Testament, produced by William Whittingham, was the first to translate "ekklesia" as "church." It is important to note the Protestant source of this translation.
Because the Geneva Bible was printed in Europe and not in England, the English people desired a Bible published in their native country. This was the reason for the next English Bible, the Bishops Bible (1568), which was a revision of the Geneva Bible and this translation continued the use of the term "church" as has every subsequence English translations, including the King James Version. This shows that the use of the word "church" instead of "assembly" or "congregation" came from those who had a bias towards a hierarchical and unscriptural form of church government. To have translated the word "ekklesia" accurately into "assembly" or “congregation" would have exposed their form of church government as being in error.
Why Was the Word Church Used in the King James Bible?
Few people today know why the word "church" was used in the King James Bible instead of the word "assembly" or "congregation." History clearly recorded that when King James authorized the translation of the Bible in 1611, he made 15 rules which the translators were bound to follow in making the translation. Edgar makes this observation of King James:
"He was not an inconsiderable literary figure, and his astounding knowledge of Scripture is reflected in his writings on political theory, poetry, theology, and the Bible. While not yet twenty years old, King James wrote a "Paraphrase on the Revelation of St. John.
King James believed in the divine right of kings, and held that this right was hereditary, and that the king was responsible to God alone, and not to his subjects. As "Defender of the Faith" and head of the State church, he came into opposition with the Puritans on the one hand and the Catholics and their papal claims on the other. In his struggles with both he was motivated by a combination of religious and political considerations."(11)
It was the Puritans who brought the matter to King James of making a new and more accurate translation. The Puritans, from their Calvinistic beliefs, were at odds on a number of doctrinal questions with the Anglican church, but they favored the use of the word "ekklesia" being translated as church. To please them, could have been one of the reasons that King James, who was a devout Anglican and Protestant, insisted on restricting the translators in regard to the translation of old ecclesiastical words.
Two of the rules which King James made mandatory affected the translation of the Greek word "ekklesia":
Article 1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.
Article 3. The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation etc. 12
The Bishop's Bible was used as the immediate foundation for the King James Bible (1611) and used the term "church" instead of "congregation" and thus following the rule the translators continued to use the word church.
It is interesting to read the original Preface to the 1611 King James Bible that states their desire to translate the Bible correctily.
"Another thing we think good to admonish thee of, gentle Reader, that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense every where), we were especially careful, and made a conscience; according to our duty. But that we should express the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by purpose, never to call it intent; if one where journeying, never travelling; if one where think, never suppose; if one where pain, never ache; if one where joy, never gladness, etc., thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the atheist, than bring profit to the godly reader."(14)
The translators are to be commended on their excellent spirit of seeking to make the translation accurate, however, being influenced by several important factors, in several incidences did not follow their stated principles. These factors were; (1) The restrictions placed on them by King James. (2) They were all members of the Church of England, which allowed no freedom of expression of concepts which were outside the official church dogma. Surely, the deaths of the martyrs who openly opposed the church was fresh on their minds. (3) There were financial considerations to be considered.(15)
What is the Significance of the New Testament's use of the Word "Ekklesia?"
This has great and far-reaching implications. First, it means there is no biblical basis for a church hierarchy outside the local church or local assembly of believers. The only "ekklesia" the New Testament knows is a local assembly of believers. It cannot be biblically used in a universal sense, referring to all believers everywhere or what some call the "universal" or "invisible" church. A universal church cannot meet in one place together and assemble, therefore the word cannot be used in referring to all believers of all time all over the world. The New Testament refers to believers universally only once. In Rev. 21:9, New Testament believers are not universally called a church, but "the body or bride of Christ." They they were called an assembly, but that assembly was always local. At the Second Coming (Rev. 21:9), the body or bride of Christ is seen coming with the Bridegroom to earth to reign with Him.
Some conclude that the term "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:1-6) refers to a universal church. In 1 Corinthians 12, the whole of the chapter is referring to the makeup and the relationship of individual members of a local assembly using the analogy of the human body. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, the verse reads, "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." That "body" is the body of Jesus Christ. This is referring to water baptism and is not referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an individual matter with the individual believer receiving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion.
The use of the word church also reflects on the proper understanding of believer’s baptism. Water baptism by immersion is a public declaration of a born-again Christian, obeying the Lord, and identifying himself with Jesus Christ and the local assembly of believers. Clearly, when a believer was baptized, he was baptized into a local assembly (Acts. 2:41,47). A believer becomes a member of the local church when he identifies with Christ and the local church through his public baptism. No believer is baptized into all churches worldwide. In Verse 24-25, Paul says the reason for this instruction was that, “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Cor. 12:25)" This phrase limits the body to a local church and precludes it referring to a "universal" or "invisible" church.
It is beyond human ability to show care for the individual in a worldwide church. The overseeing of all believers on earth is an individual thing done on a local level and is the sole responsibility of Christ Himself. Even if you ignored the context and preclude this is referring to all believers, you must also equally conclude that the application of this verse can only be done on a local level and this verse is not teaching the concept of a universal church.
Further evidence of the passage referring to a local assembly is found in Verse 26, which reads, "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). Clearly, this statement cannot apply to a universal worldwide church. Churches in Africa at this moment are suffering gross persecution, but the effect of it is not felt in America or other parts of the world. What is going on in other churches is not common knowledge to the members of a particular assembly. Even so, when a member of a local assembly suffers, others in that assembly know and share the burden for a brother in the Lord.
Ephesians 4:1-6, clearly teaches the unity of the body of Christ, but as Elwell says:
"Unity, however, does not demand uniformity. Indeed, from the beginning the church has manifested itself in many local churches (in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.); and the one NT church had neither uniformity of worship nor structures, or even a uniform theology."(16)
In this passage, the word church is not used and there is no exegetical reason to preclude this is referring to a universal church, but is rather referring to the local "body of Christ" (See verse 12).
If there is a "universal" church, then why did not God give clear instruction as to its government. In the Bible, God always gave some degree of organization to everything He created. There is no reference or even hint of an organization of a "universal" church. The New Testament example of a church is always a local assembly overseen by one or more local bishops. There is not one reference in the New Testament of a church being established under the authority of a pope, prophet, cardinal, or anyone else.
God clearly did not establish a hierarchical system of government over the churches (plural). Each church rules itself following the New Testament example and principles. God in Rev. 2:6, 15, said he "hated" the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, who sought to set up a hierarchy to rule over the people. It would be against God's very nature to sanction human government over a universal church as it would violate the autonomy of the local assembly of believers whom He clearly established. The "ekklesia" that Christ established had organization and was autonomous meaning self governing. It met together, had pastors, it took the Lord Supper, it baptized new converts into its assembly, it supported missions, administered and edified the members of the church. A so-called "universal" or "invisible" church can do none of these things.
English readers in the 16th Century got their concept of the church from the established denominations (Roman Catholic or Protestant) which at that time all practiced a hierarchical form of government. Even the Puritans favored the translation of the word "ekklesia" as a “church” and had a hierarchical church government. It would be almost a hundred years before the Baptists churches would come into existence in England and later in America and establish a church structured on the biblical doctrine of the autonomy of the local assembly.
It can be deduced, that the use of the word "church" has helped foster the unbiblical concepts of a universal church and a hierarchical form of church government. The English word church means a variety of things, including a building, a congregation, a worship service, a denomination, and was applied universally to all believers. However, the biblical word “ekklesia” the Greek word "ekklesia" has a limited meaning of referring only to a congregation of persons assembled in one geographical location for a specific purpose. This limited Greek definition of the word absolutely precludes the use of the word to refer to a universal church ruled by a hierarchy outside the local assembly.
Another negative consequence of the use of the word church is that it supports ecumenicalism. Use of the term “the church” brings together conservative, neo-evangelical, and liberal Christian denominations with no regard for doctrinal differences. Under the guise of working together for the common good, ignoring doctrinal differences is a direct attack on the word of God. It waters down and makes obedience to God's specific instructions a matter of personal choice, denies there are any absolutes, and ignores any consequences of disobeying God. Jesus Christ’s true assembly is made up of born-again believers who are distinguished from other groups because the New Testament is their sole rule for their faith and practice.
This idea is especially devastating when applied to salvation. It can have fatal consequences to those who embrace this false teaching, that doctrine and the teachings of the Bible are subjective. Using the term “church” implies that what a church teaches is from God making no distinction as to it obedience to biblical truth. To the believer, the practice of ecumenicalism would be a serious hindrance to spiritual growth which is dependent living in obedience to God's word.
The false concept of a universal church is the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant, and a majority of other Christian denominations. This is a heretical teaching that teaches salvation is through their denominations. This completely distorts the New Testament doctrine of salvation by grace through personal faith in Jesus Christ. The use of the word church falsely lends support to this erroneous teaching.
Correctly translating the word "ekklesia" as a congregation or assembly properly defines the local assembly of believers and gives no support to the false idea of a ruling universal church headed by popes, prophets, or any governing body outside the local group, or some mystical invisible church.
The strict definition of the Greek word dictates that the "ekklesia" is to be a local and autonomous congregation which reveals God's program to the assembling of believers. It does not support any form of false doctrine and gives a proper biblical concept of the New Testament church. Sadly, the compromise of knowingly mistranslating the word "ekklesia" has continued the perpetration of false Catholic and Protestant teachings. The fact remains that the King James Bible translators, and the translators in modern times have had the opportunity to correct this inaccuracy yet they have failed to do so and contributed to muddying the waters and sadly have upheld a misconception of what a biblical New Testament church should be as the Lord Jesus Christ instituted it. Further, the use of the term “the church” further promotes a false understanding of this biblical meaning of the word “ekklesia.”End Notes
15. King James not only laid down the rules of translation but was also responsible for remunerating the translators for their work. History records that James did not contribute to the cost of the translation, but encouraged the Anglican church to solicit funds for the translators. However, during the time of their work they were poorly paid for their work. However, King James delayed the appointment of new clergymen to vacant positions in the church until the work was completed. When the translation was finished seven of the forty five translators were raised to episcopal dignity and fourteen were given other comfortable positions [Andrew Edgar. The Bibles of England (London: Paisley and Paternoster, 1884), p. 290.]. Surely this aspect of their works weighted upon their minds.
16. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p.232.* All Rights reserved. This article may be reprinted , copied and used as long as no charge is made or it is sold and the author's given credit for the material.
Baikie, James. The English Bible Its Story. Philadelphia: Lippincott,
Bauer, Walter. Arndt W. F., Gingrich F. W. & Danker F. W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979.
Brown, Colin. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
Bruce F. F. The English Bible, A History of Translations. New York: Oxford, 1961
Edgar, Andrew. The Bibles of England. London: Paisley and Paternoster, 1884.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983.
Guden, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. Edited by James Hastings. In vol. 1. New York: Scribner's, 1909.
Lovett, M. A. The Printed English Bible 1525-1885. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909.
Louw, Johannes P., Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. London: United Bible Societies, 1988.
MacGregor, Geddes. A Literary History of The Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1968.
May, Herbert Gordon. Our English Bible in the Making. Philadephia: Westminister, 1952.
Moulton, W. F., The History of the English Bible. London: James Moulton and W. Fiddan Moulton, 1911.
Pattison, T. Harwood. The History of the English Bible. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894.
Scott R., H. G. Liddell, A Greek-English Lexicon. Grand Rapids: Baker. ed. Henry Struart Johnes and Roderick McKensie, 1977.
Westcott, Brook Foss. A General View of the History of the English Bible. New York: MacMillan, 1927.