Acts 5:11 New International Version

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

ἐκκλησίαν (ekklēsian)
Noun - Accusative Feminine Singular
Strong's Greek 1577: From a compound of ek and a derivative of kaleo; a calling out, i.e. a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation.

"Church" was a new concept at that time. Outside of the Bible, did the word ἐκκλησία mean a congregation of a Greek religion?

Acts 19:39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly [ἐκκλησίᾳ].

Here the same lexeme refers to a non-religious body of people. What is the meaning of the Greek word ἐκκλησία at the time of Jesus before local churches appeared?

  • 1
    The Greek kaleo, which you mentioned in your post, is etymologically related to the English call. When calling upon someone, one needs to use one's voice, as when invoking or convoking someone. So the translation covering all possible meanings would be convocation. Believe it or not, I just woke up from sleep a couple of hours ago, and, for some reason, before opening up the PC, one of the first things that came to mind was precisely the etymology of this particular Greek term. :-) – Lucian Oct 19 at 22:55

According to Barley Newman's lexicon (see UBS4 and UBS5 appendix) ἐκκλησίᾳ comes from two Greek words: ἐκ + καλέω = out + call = to call out, or the called out ones.

According to BDAG, ἐκκλησίᾳ means:

  1. A regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, eg, Acts 19:39
  2. a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, a gathering, eg, Acts 19:32, 40
  3. people with shared belief, community, congregation, eg, Heb 2:12, Acts 7:38, Matt 18:17, Acts 5:11, etc.

The word was also used in the LXX of the Israelites in connection with a covenant gathering, eg, Deut 9:10, 10:4, 18:6, 1 Kings, 8:14, 22, 55, 65, 1 Chron 13:2, 4, 28:8, etc. The same use is made in the NT when it talks about the assembled congregation, etc.

Thus, in secular Greek, it had nothing to do with anything associated with church. In Luther's German, the word is consistently translated by "Gemeinde" = community or congregation, not Kirche" (= church). Tindale adopted the same practice and always translated "congregation" (never "church") for which (inter alia) he was burnt at the stake.

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Here is the entry in the Liddell/Scott Greek dictionary:

ἐκκλησί-α, ἡ, (ἔκκλητος)

A assembly duly summoned, less general than σύλλογος, Th.2.22, Pl.Grg.456b, etc. ; applied to the Homeric Assemblies, Arist.Pol.1285a11 ; to the Samian Assembly, Hdt.3.142 ; to the Spartan, Th.1.87 ; to the meeting of the Amphictyons at Delphi, Aeschin.3.124 ; at Athens, ἐ. κύριαι, opp. σύγκλητοι, Arist.Ath.43.4 ; κυρία ἐ., at Amorgos, IG12(7).237.46 ; ἐ. συναγείρειν, συνάγειν, συλλέγειν, ἀθροίζειν, call an assembly, Hdt.3.142, Th.2.60, 8.97, X.HG1.6.8 ; ἐ. ποιεῖν Ar.Eq.746, Th.1.139,al. ; ἐ. ποιεῖν τινί Ar.Ach.169 ; διδόναι τινί Plb.4.34.6 ; ἐ. γίγνεται an assembly is held, Th.6.8 ; καταστάσης ἐ. Id.1.31 ; ἦν ἐ. τοῖς στρατηγοῖς And.1.2 ; ἐ. διαλύειν, ἀναστῆσαι, dissolve it, Th.8.69 (Pass.),X.HG2.4.42 ; ἀφιέναι Plu.TG16 ; ἐ. ἀνεβλήθη was adjourned, Th.5.45 ; ἐ. περί τινος Ar. Av.1030, etc.

2=Lat. Comitia, ἐ. λοχῖτις, φρατρική, = Comitia Centuriata, Curiata, D.H.4.20.

3 = ψήφισμα, ἀναγιγνωσκομένης ἐ. Philostr.VS2.1.11.

II in LXX, the Jewish congregation, De. 31.30,al.

2 in NT, the Church, as a body of Christians, Ev.Matt. 16.18, 1 Ep.Cor.11.22 ; ἡ κατ' οἶκόν τινος ἐ. Ep.Rom.16.5 ; as a building, Cod.Just.1.1.5 Intr., etc.

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If you are interested in etymology outside of the Bible, it is primarily a legal or political entity:

ἔκ-κλητος, ον, (ἐκκαλέω) selected to judge or arbitrate on a point, ἐ. πόλις an umpire city, Aeschin. 1.89, IG22.111.49,al., cf. Plu.2.215c; ἐν ἐκκλήτῳ δικάσασθαι Michel1335.30; δίκην ὠφληκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐ. IG12(7).67.63 (Amorgos); χρόνος ἔ. time-limit for appeals, PRev.Laws21.15 (iii B.C.). 2. οἱ ἔκκλητοι, in Sparta and elsewhere, a committee of citizens chosen to report on certain questions, X.HG2.4.38; ἔ. Ἀργείων ὄχλος E.Or. 612, cf.949. 3. subject to appeal, δίκας IG22.111.74, D.C.52.22; κρίσις PHal.1.68 (iii B.C.); τὰς ἐκκλήτους [δίκας]..ἐφ’ αὑτὸν ποιούμενος, prob. for ἐγκ-, Arist.Oec.1348b14; ἔκκλητον δικάζειν exercise appellate jurisdiction, D.C.51.19.

It is interesting that Dr Luke decided to use a political term to represent the new concept of a local church.

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