About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
Etymology Of Church
The meaning of words is
important. If you
misunderstand the meaning of a word, your misappropriation of the word
will be evident in the way you live.
Let's look at the word "church".
When I speak of the
etymology of our English word church I am referring to how its spelling
has historically evolved into what it is today.
The word "church" wasn’t always spelled the way we
spell it. In 1300 A D it was
spelled "chirche". In
500 A D it was spelled "cirice", which found its roots in the
Greek word "kuriakon", meaning "of the Lord".
"Kuriakon" was thus associated with the "house of
the Lord" as a place of worship.
In brief, the Greek word
"kuriakon" was exported into English as "cirice"
which evolved into "chirche", and later into
the New Testament was written in common street level Greek known as
Koine Greek, you'd conclude that the word "church" in the New
Testament was translated from the Greek word "kuriakon".
That's not the case. The
word "church" is translated from the Greek word
"ekklesia", which meant any group of people set apart from the
general population for a specific purpose.
In Acts 17:5
"ekklesia" is translated as an angry "mob of
Mathew 16:18 it's translated as "church".
That's the verse where Jesus said that He'd build His church, or,
He'd build His "ekklesia". In
other words, Jesus said that He'd form His own special group of people
who He'd call out from the general population to accomplish His specific
Beyond the etymology of
the word church we should understand the etymology of the meaning of
church. At the risk of
complicating things, we should know that for the most part Jesus never
spoke Koine Greek. He would
not have said "I will build my ekklesia".
Jesus was a Jew who primarily spoke to Jews.
He would have spoken Hebrew, or its linguistic cousin, Aramaic.
Jesus would have said, "I will build my
"synagoge". So, in
order to be good hermeneutical students of the Bible we must know how
the Hebrew word "synagoge" was understood by Jesus and those
to whom He spoke.
You will notice that the
Hebrew word "synagoge" is where we derive our English word
"synagogue", a Jewish place of worship.
Once you realize how Jesus, and even most Jews, understood the
word "synagoge" you'll understand why the Jews were so angry
with Jesus when He said He'd build His own "synagoge".
"synagoge", although being a place of worship, meant more than
a building. The underlying
meaning of "synagoge" was the community of God's people that
was distinct and separate from all other religious, political, cultural,
and ethnic, peoples. "Synagoge"
was an extended family; a place where the individual could both provide
for the needs of those in the family and be provided for when necessary.
The individual wasn't an isolated island unto himself.
The very existence of the individual was intertwined and immersed
into the community of God's people.
This community was to submit to the rule of God so it could be a
clear expression and an exact representation of God to the nations of
The foundation of
"synagoge" as understood by Jesus and the Jews goes back to
the day when God pulled Abraham away from the existence he had known all
of his life. God called
Abraham out of the general population of
failed in its calling to be God's special community of people so Jesus
said that He'd form His own "synagoge".
Now think about this for a minute.
Jesus dared to buck the social, cultural, and religious, systems
of His day. The Jews knew
exactly what He was telling them, and for this reason they hated Him.
He was about to form a counter cultural "synagoge"
apart from the existing one that was now in shambles.
His community of God's people would stand in stark contrast to
the failed "synagoge" of the Jews.
That angered the Jewish establishment to no end.
All that "synagoge" meant would now be found in Jesus'
"synagoge", otherwise known as His "ekklesia" to the
Greek speaking world, or, His "church" to the English speaking
If I offer you a
genetically modified apple that looks like a peach, you'd probably call
it a peach and not an apple. If
you offer me an unbiblical modified church, why would I call it church?
The Hebrew meaning of "synagoge" is what Matthew
16:18 and church is all about. I
prefer to replace the word "church" in the New Testament with
the words "community of God's people" because, for the most
part, our English word "church" no longer reflects its
Biblical meaning. Words are
important. If we
misunderstand the Biblical meaning of church, our misappropriation of
church will be clearly evident in the life of that which we call church.