Ecclesia part 1

A few of you have asked for sources about my take on ecclesia. It’s simple.

I go to my shelf and look up ecclesia in the standard-setting Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, Walter Bauer, translated by Arndt & Gingrich. (See pic.)


The primary definition is not Christian, but political. In fact it’s not until the fourth definition that you get a sense of a particularly Christian implication, and this developed because of the context anyway.

See how Paul opens his letters by specifying that he’s writing to the ecclesia of God in that town, not the primary meaning of ecclesia.

See how Acts 19:32-40 uses the very same word ecclesia, but without a specifier it means “town meeting,” the primary meaning of ecclesia. (Mark D Roberts concurs.)

When Jesus first used the word in Mat 16:18, it had no Christian connotation. Everyone would have understood Jesus meant ecclesia in the primary sense of the word. “I will build my ecclesia” = “I will build my town meeting.”

In the hearers’ ears, this could mean either:
1) his meeting would be like a town meeting, concerned with the affairs of the town, but done in his Way;
2) his meeting would be concerned with his “town.”

In either case, it did not mean “church” in the English dictionary sense of the term.

If Jesus meant “a gathering of his faithful, to encourage one another and to study the scriptures,” it would seem much more natural for him to use the word synagogue, in the Jewish tradition, which he was extending. But he chose ecclesia, a concept primarily dripping with the concerns of the polis.

Even when the Septuagint uses ecclesia to describe Israel, it still has this political nuance. After all, Israel was the chosen nation of God.

Jesus wants us to regularly gather, concerned with the town around us, and to develop that community in his Way. That’s got to be a large part (not the only part) of what the meeting is about!

Meeting without that primary concern for the town, is meeting in a way that is fundamentally less than Jesus intended. 


One thought on “Ecclesia part 1

  1. I love the rich variety of sources which point me back to the bible and Jesus’ teachings and nuances of meaning. Thanks Geoff, appreciate your work.

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