I have a scholarly friend who believes if you examine the meaning of the word "ekklesia" in the original Classical Greek and later in the Septuagint it had the meaning of a "meeting"(an event in time) and was later transformed by the KJV translators into a "place of meeting", "a thing", a "church". This can have a profound significance on how you perceive or interpret many scriptures. What's your take on this?

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    These answers are all great! I'll just add that, as many of you know, this was a particular sticking point in early English translations of the Bible, with reformers like Tyndale charging that not only was the corruption and hierarchy of the Church out of control, but that the Church structure itself was not biblically warranted. Thus they translated ekklesia as "congregation" or "company", implying that any group that met to worship, read Scripture, and receive the Spirit, was keeping with the Gospels' intentions, more so than the High Anglican Church. Nov 14, 2013 at 17:24
  • When the translators of the KJV met and began the translation work, one of the rules they were given was explicitly that "The ould ecclesiastical words to be kept viz. as the Word Churche not to be translated Congregation &c." (see God's Secretaries, pg. 75). Ironically the word ecclesiastical itself comes from ekklesia... And of course, this issue continues to be argued today. Nov 14, 2013 at 17:24
  • Yep, should have been a comment to begin with! Thanks @Jack Douglas for moving it. Nov 15, 2013 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


An accurate translation of εκκλησια would be 'assembly'. Also, εκκλησια is used as a near-synonym with συναγωγη. Here are a few examples of εκκλησια in the Septuagint (though I am using the common verse numbers, not the LXX's).

Leviticus 8.3: assemble (εκκλησιασον) all the gathering (συναγωγην)

Deuteronomy 9.10: the day of the assembly (εκκλησιας)

1 Kings 8.14: the assembly of Israel (εκκλησια ισραηλ)

Job 30.28: I stood and cried out in the assembly (εκκλησια)

Psalm 22.22: In the midst of the assembly (εκκλησιας) I will praise you

The word-family for εκκλησια was used mainly for groups of people, regardless of where they were meeting. However, we find εκκλησια often used for the assembling of the people of Israel.

While the word is used much more systematically in the New Testament, εκκλησια still carries this primary meaning of an assembly of the people themselves, not the building they meet in (if any).

As the New Testament authors use this word, they regularly apply it in one of two ways. First, they use it for Christians pocket communities in various cities: the assembly in Jerusalem (Acts 8.1; 11.22; 15.4), the assembly in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1.2), etc. Second, they also use it in a global sense, for all Christians throughout the world: the assembly (e.g. Acts 20.28; Ephesians 1.22; Hebrews 12.23).

From what we can see, the first time the word εκκλησια was used for the building, and not the people, was by Clement of Alexandria in about 200 AD:

Paedagogus 3.11: Woman and man are to go to church decently attired...

He does elsewhere use εκκλησια the same way we find it in the bible (as referring to the people), but this particular statement shows that the idea was settling in that 'church' is a place you enter and exit, not a collective group you belong to.

  • Thanks for your comments- this is really helping me to understand these passages better. James Apr 9, 2014 at 6:19

In classic Greek, "ekklesia" referred to a political assembly of citizens. This word was borrowed by the New Testament writers to refer to an assembly of believers. It's not always easy to tell, because the English word "church" has multiple meanings, but the primary meaning in the NT is the gathering of believers.

Here are some of the less ambiguous passages that show this most clearly. (Since you asked about the KJV, I'll use that translation, but this is true for modern translations as well).

Acts 5:11 And great fear came upon all the church ["ekklesia"], and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 11:22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church ["ekklesia"] which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.

Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church ["ekklesia"].

Acts 14:27 And when they were come , and had gathered the church ["ekklesia"] together , they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

Romans 16:5 Likewise greet the church ["ekklesia"] that is in their house.

1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church ["ekklesia"] be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad ?

The same Greek word is used three times in Acts 19 to describe an assembly of pagans.

Acts 19:32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly ["ekklesia"] was confused ; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together .

Acts 19:39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly ["ekklesia"].

Acts 19:41 And when he had thus spoken , he dismissed the assembly ["ekklesia"].

So your friend is mostly right: The Greek word "ekklesia" does refer to the gathered people and not the building. But a careful reading of the English translations will show that the word "church" is being used the same way.


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