About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Church Really Church?
Have you ever wondered
where our word “church” came from?
Well, maybe you haven’t, but you’re probably not surprised
that I have. Here are the
technicalities. Our word “church” wasn’t always spelled the way it
is today. In 1300 AD it was
spelled “chirche”. In
500 AD it was spelled “cirice”, and came from the Greek word “kuriakon”,
meaning “of the Lord”. “Cirice”
meant “house of the Lord”. “Kuriakon”
has many uses in the New Testament when connected to other words such as
“supper”, as in “supper of the Lord”. So
the Greek “kuriakon” was
imported into English as “cirice” which became “chirche”, which
evolved into “church”. Got
it so far?
Just so you know,
“kuriakon” isn’t a religious word. It’s a regular old
word and could be used in
such a phrase as, “the army ‘of the
Knowing this you might
think that every time you read the word “church” in our New
Testament, it’s translated from the Greek word “kuriakon”, right? Sorry,
but that’s wrong. The word “church” in the New Testament is
translated from the Greek word “ekklesia”.
“an assembly of people set apart with a certain distinction”.
“Ekklesia” isn’t a religious word either.
One example of its New Testament use is found in Acts 17:5 where
it’s translated as a riotous “mob” of people.
So to sum up, the Greek
“kuriakon” evolved into our English word church, but the word
“church” isn’t translated from “kuriakon” in the New Testament
but from the word “ekklesia”. Have
I totally confused you now?
Now pretend that you live
in the 15th century and for the first time in your life
you’re reading the first of many future editions of
the King James Bible. Say
you’re reading Matt. 16:18 where Jesus says “I will build my
church”. What would your
mental image of church be?
I believe you’d picture
church to be the massive institutional structure of the day that you
grew up with. You couldn’t
have known anything else. The
Papal authorities would have made sure of that by indoctrinating you
with their unbiblical traditions
and refusing to allow you to have your own Bible to learn the truth for
yourself. So after reading
Matt. 16:18 you’d think that Jesus had built the institution you know
so well. But did He really build the Roman Church that was more like a
political organization than anything else?
Was Jesus thinking about
institutionalizing His followers when He told them He’d build His own
church as the Papal system taught? Certainly
not. Jesus used the word
“ekklesia” in Matt 16:18 and He understood “ekklisia” to mean an
assembly of His followers and not an institution because that’s what
the word means. Jesus
didn’t invent a new meaning to “ekklesia”. We did that. As
I’ve said before, Jesus had no interest in replacing an old
institution with a new one.
If Jesus wanted to
institutionalize His disciples He would have designated them as voting
members of a registered charity, appointed a board of directors with a
CEO, and presented them with a strategic operating plan for the first
few fiscal years. He
didn’t do that. He just
returned to Heaven, leaving His followers alone until they received the
Holy Spirit who would lead them the rest of the way. There’s
quite a difference between these two scenarios, don’t you think?
“Ekklesia” is used
throughout the New Testament. When Paul wrote to the “ekklesia” at
Now some of you may need
to find some extra grace for me for my next point.
I believe the King
James translators did us a disservice by translating “ekklesia” as
“church” and not as “a gathering of Jesus’ followers”. I
think the word church gave original King James readers the wrong
impression of what “ekklesia” is, and that has carried on down to us
today. I can’t put all the
blame on the King James translators because other
English translations have done the same. I suppose if you understand
church to be the body of Jesus’ followers then the insertion of the
word “church” for “ekklesia” is fine, but 15th
century readers understood church to be institutional, and many do today
It’s interesting that
Tyndale’s English Bible written some decades before the first edition
of the King James Bible translated “ekklesia” as “congregation”
and not as church. Congregation
is more of a people word than an institutional word and provides a more
accurate picture of what “ekklesia” means.
The conclusion to all of this is that we need to understand, and act as if we understand that the church is not an institutional hierarchal system. It’s a functional body of Jesus people who are united and set apart through their mutual association with our Lord Jesus Christ, whether they own a building or not, whether they belong to a denomination or not, or whether they attend a Sunday meeting or not. Many of us say we understand the true nature and meaning of church as seen in the New Testament, but our speech and lifestyles betray our words. Wouldn’t it be something if we could begin to live what we say we believe so the world could see church as it should be seen.