Ekklesia

by Steve Cawthon

EKKLESIA must be quite an important word. The Holy Spirit uses it 114 times in the New Testament. Instead of going to the lexicographers now for a definition, let's simply read the text and see what we can learn.

The first appearance of ekklesia is in Matthew 16:18 after Peter confessed to Jesus, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The Lord responded, "And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

Whatever eklklesia is, it is related to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. And it is something threatened, but not overcome, by Hades (death).

The second reference comes two chapters later in Christ's instructions regarding a brother who sins. If he will not repent even after one or two witnesses have confronted him, "tell it to the ekklesia also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican" (Matthew 18:15-17). The ekklesia is something that can hear and speak. It hears the report of a brother and the witnesses. It speaks to the sinful brother in an effort to bring him to repentance. It is therefore the group of people who are somehow related to these individuals who are dealing with the sinful brother.

The next occurrence of ekklesia is in Acts 5:11. (It is not found in the most reliable manuscripts of Acts 2:47.) "And great fear came upon the whole ekklesia, and upon all that heard these things" (Acts 5:11). The ekklesia feared. Again, it is obvious that the ekklesia is people. The "whole" ekklesia indicates it is a collective noun. It is a group. This passage distinguishes ekklesia from other people who "heard these things." Some people are part of the ekklesia (which Jesus built), and some are not.

At this point we might think Jesus confined the term ekklesia to describe the people who are built by and upon Him. But this is not the case, for in Stephen's last speech, he spoke of the group of Israelites with Moses in the wilderness as the ekklesia (Acts 7:38). Obviously, that group of people preceded Christ's ekklesia. Notice also that the term is used in Acts 19 to describe a mob of citizens in Ephesus who were not Christ's people. They were worshipers of the goddess, Diana. Luke said of them: "The ekklesia was in confusion; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together" (verse 32). The town clerk addressed them: "But if ye seek anything about other matters, it shall be settled in the regular ekklesia" (vers 36). "And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the ekklesia" (verse 41). Therefore we conclude that ekklesia is a generic collective noun used to refer to a group of people. It might be compared to the English words "group, assembly, congregation." The context determines what group of people is under consideration.

Most of the time in the New Testament, the group of people identified as the ekklesia are followers of Christ, whether physically assembled together (1 Corinthians 11:18) or simply identified in a town (Revelation 2:1), region (Acts 9:31), or universally (Hebrews 12:23). Modifiers often verify this, as "All the ekklesia [plural] of Christ salute you" (Romans 16:16); "the ekklesia of God which is at Corinth, {even} them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [Greek klatois; Thayer notes the correlation between this and ek klesia - "the called out"] to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their {Lord} and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2); and ". . .the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the ekklesia of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). While "flock" may be used to refer to any group, Christ's flock is distinguished from others by the fact that, as He said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27,28). "Even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep; And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring and they will hear my voice: and they shall become one flock, one shepherd. Therefore doth the Farther love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again" (John 10:15-17). Christ has one united ekklesia (see Ephesians 4:4). He is the only authority over these people. "For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the ekklesia {being} himself the saviour of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). The ekklesia is the body of people who are saved by Jesus.

We could, with accuracy, translate the term ekklesia as "group of people." And Christ's ekklesia is a group of people who hear and follow Him. They have eternal life. He died for them. They are "purchased with his blood." They are His group, His flock, His ekklesia.

In the New Testament, ekklesia is usually translated "church."


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