“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church (ekklesia).”

I understand the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ is translated as “church” in English, together with the Scottish word “kirk”. I have read answers to a similar question here: In Matthew 16:18, how should "ekklesia" be translated and understood? but my focus is on a different angle.

From what I’ve discovered, ‘ekklesia’ is a compound word rooted in the simple verb ‘kaleo’ = to call, or ‘kletos’= called, or ‘klesis’ = calling. When the preposition ‘ek’ is added (which means “out of”) we get the compound “ekklesia” which literally means “that which is called out”.

How do we get from there to the English word “church”? If that is an inaccurate translation, then what is a more accurate translation of ‘ekklesia’ and how is it significantly different from “church”?

  • If I answered, I would proffer the same answer as previously in hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/54140/… I fail to see how this is any different.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 11:09
  • The etymology conveys the imagery of an ancient orator, publically calling out to people (on the streets, or in the marketplace, etc.) to assemble and form an audience, and then starts speaking and addressing the audience, delivering the intended message or discourse.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 13:00

2 Answers 2


Etymology of the word 'church' from Oxford English Dictionary (Note: Subscription required or a UK library card number.)

Etymology: Cognate with Old Frisian tzerke , tzerk , tzierke , tzark , tziurke , kerke (West Frisian tsjerke ), Old Dutch kirika , kerk (only recorded in a place name and a derivative; Middle Dutch kirke , kerke , keerke , kerk , Dutch kerk ), Old Saxon kerika , kirika (Middle Low German kerke , karke ), Old High German kirihha , khirihha , chiricha , also (with dissimilation) chilihha , chīlihha (Middle High German kirche , also kilche , German Kirche ), probably < a variant of Byzantine Greek κυριακόν (4th cent. a.d.), use as noun (probably short for κυριακὸν δῶμα , lit. ‘house of the Lord’) of κυριακόν , neuter of Hellenistic Greek κυριακός (adjective) ‘of the Lord, dominical’ < ancient Greek κύριος lord (see Kyrie eleison n.) + -ακός -ac suffix.

It seems that the word 'church' may have originated with the Greek word οἰκία (meaning house) rather than from the Greek word ἐκκλησία which is sometimes given the meaning 'assembly', although, as the OP points out, the root derivation is 'called' 'out'.

Thus the word 'church' has connotations of 'the Lord's house' from its derivation and its somewhat perambulatory journey into modern English.

Seemingly, the original focus of the word was that the Lord is present in the gathered company and it is his 'household'.

However the modern day usage of the word 'church' is considerably weaker than that and its use denotes (again this from the OED, its supposed primary usage) :

A building for public Christian worship or rites such as baptism, marriage, etc.,

Not so good. The meaning has deteriorated into a mere label for a type of building, all memory of the Lord himself being, apparently, lost and even the congregation being a background artefact of the structure, rather than the focus of the concept.

This is the reason that some prefer to drop the word altogether and to use the transliterated Greek word ekklesia (no italics as it is now an English transliteration) in order to convey a somewhat better concept than the degenerated modern word.

  • 1
    Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 21:44

"Church" is a right translation; ekklesia simply means assembly, congregation, a synonym of synagogue. If Church is derived from the ancient "Lord's house", even then it has the same connotation as ekklesia or synagogue, since the assembly would only meet at a place, be it the official building or at a house, so it is going to conflate with the place of assembly.

Etymology of Church

From Middle English chirche, from Old English ċiriċe (“church”), from Proto-West Germanic *kirikā, an early borrowing of Ancient Greek κυριακόν (kuriakón), neuter form of κυριακός (kuriakós, “belonging to the lord”), from κύριος (kúrios, “ruler, lord”), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱewH- (“to swell, spread out, be strong, prevail”).

Thayer's Lexicon:

ἐκκλησία, ἐκκλεσιας, ἡ (from ἔκκλητος called out or forth, and this from ἐκκαλέω); properly, a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly; so used

  1. among the Greeks from Thucydides (cf. Herodotus 3, 142) down, an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating: Act 19:39.
  2. in the Septuagint often equivalent to קָהָל, the assembly of the Israelites, Jdg 21:8 ; 1Ch 29:1, etc., especially when gathered for sacred purposes, Deu 31:30 (Deu 32:1); Jos 8:35 (Jos 9:8), etc.; in the N. T. thus in Act 7:38; Heb 2:12.
  3. any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance or tumultuously: Act 19:32; Act 19:41.
  4. in the Christian sense, a. an assembly of Christians gathered for worship: ἐν ἐκκλησία, in the religious meeting, 1Co 14:19; 1Co 14:35; ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις, 1Co 14:34; συνέρχεσθαι ἐν ἐκκλησία, 1Co 11:18; cf. Winer's Grammar, sec. 50, 4a.

On Synagogue: συναγωγή, συναγωγῆς, ἡ (συνάγω), the Septuagint for קָהָל and very often for עֵדָה. In Greek writings a bringing together, gathering (as of fruits), a contracting; an assembling together of men. (Τhayer)

LDS Lexicon συνα^γωγ-ή , ἡ,
A.a bringing together:
I. of persons, “ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικός” Pl.Tht.150a; collecting, ὄχλων, ἀνδρῶν, etc., Plb.4.7.6, D.L.2.129, etc.; “συμποσίου” Ath.5.192b; assembling, meeting, “τῶν λογιστῶν” IG12.91.9, cf. Test.Epict.4.7.
2. assembly, LXX Ex.12.3, OGI737.1 (Egypt, ii B.C.), etc.; “τῶν συνέδρων” IG5(1).1390.49 (Andania, i B.C.), cf. Test.Epict.4.25; place of assembly, esp. of the Jewish synagogue, Ev.Luc.8.41, Act.Ap.9.2, BCH 56.293 (Stobi), etc.; meeting-house, “Μαρκιωνιστῶν” OGI608.1 (Syria, iv A.D.); conventicle, Cod.Just.

συναγωγή (in origin abstract, a leading [bringing] together, convening an assembly, then concrete, a [religious] meeting), a meeting (assembly), a place of meeting (assembly), particularly of Jews for the reading of scripture and for worship, a synagogue. In certain passages it is doubtful whether the congregation (e.g. John 6:59. 18:20) or the place of meeting (e.g. James 2:2) is particularly intended, but the sense is not seriously affected by the doubt. In the O.T. συναγωγή and ἐκκλησία are practically synonymous, but in ordinary Christian writings the former is rarely used, and seemingly only of communities of Jews or Jewish Christians (e.g. James 2:2, where it is probably the building).

Souter, A. (1917). A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (p. 246). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • 1
    +1 I can only imagine the downvoter was offended by the notion that 'church' and 'synagogue' might be considered synonymous. However, that is how the 'non-cult' world sees the words. For example, see 'Places of worship' here britannica.com/topic/architecture/…
    – enegue
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 22:58

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