Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Church Etymology

It is common for the meaning of words to change over time. For example not long ago "make the Yuletide gay" meant something different than it does now. Supposedly Awful used to mean ‘full of awe’. Tell used to mean count, as in "bank teller".

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

Here are some different meanings for the word church.
  1. a family of believers
  2. a family gathering (of believers)
  3. a building for public Christian worship
  4. a religious service
  5. a religious institution or organization
Here are some of the ways we use the word today. I've tried to match each sentence to the meaning I think is being used.

  • I believe in separation of church and state. (#5)
  • I didn't see you at church yesterday? (#4)
  • What time is church? (#4)
  • Bob and Mary became recently became members of our church. (#5)
  • Do you want to go to the park after church? (#4)
  • I'll pick you up at the church parking lot. (#3)
  • There are many opportunities to serve in our church. (#5)
  • We live across from the church on main street near the river. (#3)
  • They wanted to be married in a church. (#3)
  • The United Church has a different attitude towards homosexuality than the Baptist Church. (#5)
  • Mary sang a solo at church. (#4)
Let me know if you think my number matching is inaccurate. Sometimes there could be a bit of overlap between meanings.

I'd like to do the same matching with occurrences of the word church in Scripture (NIV):
Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (#1)

Matthew 18:17 "If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (#1 or #2)

Acts 5:11 "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." (#1)

Acts 8:1 "And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." (#1)

Acts 8:3 "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." (#1)

Acts 9:31 "Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." (#1)

Acts 11:22 "News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch." (#1)

Acts 11:26 "and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (#2)

When we see the word church in the new testament it comes from Greek ekklesia :

ekklēsía(from 1537 /ek, "out from and to" and 2564 /kaléō, "to call") – properly, people called out from the world and to God, theoutcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ) – i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom.
The word ekklesia sometimes also referred to an assembly, it was used when referring to the beginnings of democracy.

The meanings of words do change. There is nothing I can do about that.

However I think the church (people) should understand that whenever it uses the word church to refer to something other than people they are using a definition that is foreign to the New Testament.

When I talk about the church I want to keep in mind that the church is the people - the body of Christ, the family of God.

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sammyze said...

I'm curious, have you looked into King James' rules for his translation? Specifically, two of the rules which he made mandatory and affected the translation of the Greek word "ekklesia":

Article 1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.

Article 3. The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation etc.

Jonathan said...

Hi Sammyze, no I haven't looked into either of those. I wonder what motivated these rules. Did they have a better understanding of the original intent of the word ekklesia?

What are your thoughts on this?

sammyze said...

No, I don't have a better understanding, nor do I think it was a better understanding of the original intent which motivated them. William Tyndale more correctly translated "ekklesia" as "congregation." I suspect the political and religious leaders wanted to keep their power, and this translation furthered their agenda. I've spent the majority of my adult life at self proclaimed "bible-teaching" churches that go through bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, yet they never taught any of this. I think, perhaps, b/c some may not know. Others may know but don't care b/c it fits their "Moses-model" of leadership. I had recently been studying this and was curious if you were also aware.