What does the word Church mean?

07.26.19 3:10:16 PM Comment(s)

Is it an assembly of God? Or just an Assembly?

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What is the Church?

Was Peter the Church of Christ? Were there divisions in the Church of God? Did the entire Church send a greeting to people? Is there more than one Church? Did Diotrephes cast men out of God’s Church? Is the Church divided? These questions exist because of incorrect Scriptural translations. Thankfully, there are easy answers and they are found in the Matthew Bible: Modern Spelling Edition.


Possibly the most misused word in biblical parlance; If not among the most misused, it is certainly among the most confusing. Tyndale said, “This word church has different significations[i].” People speak of going to church, of being in the church, and their church denomination. The reason for much of the confusion and ambiguity seems to stem from the multitude of definitions. Church can mean:

  • A place of worship (worship house)
  • The ministry
  • A specific gathering of people (a congregation).
  • An association of people (“We are the church”)
  • A denomination (Churches of Christ, Church of God, Brethren Church, Berean Church)
  • A Religious headquarters (The Roman Catholic Church, The Church of England)
  • And perhaps most accurately, from a biblical perspective, Church means the kingdom of God (the house of God) – God’s church which is comprised of every believer no matter where they are located and over whom his son Jesus the Christ reigns.

When people say the word church it can mean many things and often leads to miscommunication. Speaking of a need of church reformation can mean at least six different things to different people and because of this vagueness the speakers intended message is sometimes, if not always, lost.

To add to the confusion surrounding the word church is the mistranslation of “the Greek word ekklesia (ecclesia)—the Greek word that is translated into church—which was mistranslated as church in English language Bibles. Originally, “an ekklesia was the city council in ancient Greek city-states, not a place of religious worship.[ii]” Most modern Bibles obscurely translate almost every instance of ekklesia into the word church. The problem is further compounded when a reader then tries to combine every scripture that says church into a common theme – especially if the Old Testament is also thrown into this mix.

Ekklesia (ecclesia) means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.”[iii] Ekklesia can refer to any gathering of people who assemble in a public setting. Different assemblies exist: Religious or secular; scheduled or impromptu; physical or metaphorical. The word church is not necessarily an incorrect translation, it is simply a vague one; whereas, other words would be better at presenting the intended meaning of the original authors.

In the New Testament, the word ekklesia was borrowed to mean the house of God (Kingdom). 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “The house of God, which is the congregation of the living God” (oikos theos [which is] ekklesia) -MBMS. Because of this scripture, we are given insight into Timothy’s definition of the word ecclesia. To him it meant “the house of God” in a metaphorical sense: A group of people called away from their own private dwellings and into the larger assembly of God - into his communal household.

William Tyndale,  John Rogers and Coverdale were aware of this problem with the word church and were careful in their use of it in the Matthew Bible, the first original languages-to-English Bible translation. In fact, the word church is only found once in the entire Bible (Acts 14:13), and the word churches is used three times. Compared to the King James version where variations of Church are used 117 times.

Tyndale said,

[When translating the Greek word ecclesia into English] the circumstance does ever tell what congregation is meant. … wheresoever I may say a congregation, there may I say a church also; as the church of the devil, the church of Satan, the church of wretches, the church of wicked men, the church of liars, and a church of Turks … church is as common as ecclesia. …Ecclesia is a Greek word and was in use before the time of the apostles, and taken for a congregation among the heathen, where was no congregation of God or of Christ. And also, Luke himself used ecclesia for a church, or congregation, of heathen people thrice in one chapter, even in Acts 19.[iv]

The King James Version translators ran into a problem with using church for every instance of ekklesia and in Acts 19 they were forced to use the word assembly. Had they continued using the word church the scripture would read, “for the church was confused”, “it shall be determined in a lawful church”, and “he dismissed the church.” Perhaps had they used the word assembly in all the other locations their version of Scriptures would be more clearly presented.

The Greek word ekklesia, that is so often translated as church, does not always mean a church of God. A lot of confusion exists among various religions and denominations because of the use of the word church. Thankfully, Rogers and Coverdale were careful in the Matthew Bible to make sure the word was not misunderstood: They kept Tyndale's translation intact, refusing to replace each instance of ekklesia with insert the word church.

Clearly, the Holy Scriptures teach that there are a group of people who are spiritually called away from their own private dwellings and into the larger assembly of God - into his communal household; however, there are also people who assemble without the divine presence of God among them. To confuse the two assemblies would be to overlook the power of God that keeps those of his household pure and unspotted from the world, victorious, righteous, and free.

Visit TheMatthewBible.com to learn more about the Matthew Bible: Modern Spelling Edition and to stay updated on the publication date of the book of Psalms, the Matthew Bible: Modern Spelling Edition, and to subscribe to the Matthew Bible Podcast.

[i] https://archive.org/stream/tyndalesanswer00tynduoft/#page/n3/mode/2up

[ii] Church says "adios" to sermons and meets like a support group. (2016, Feb 17). M2 Presswire Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1765522001?accountid=12085

[iii] Thayer’s Bible Dictionary, 1968

[iv] https://archive.org/stream/tyndalesanswer00tynduoft/#page/n3/mode/2up