You are hereEkklésia: “Church” or Called-out Ones?

Ekklésia: “Church” or Called-out Ones?

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By Virgil - Posted on 18 August 2004

This chapter endeavors in part to demonstrate that the word “church” cannot refer to living, earthly members of the kingdom of God. First, in Acts 19:37 the phrase “robbers of churches” (King James Bible) is mistranslated from the Greek word hierosulous. The root of hierosulous, hiero, signifies a sacred place, a sanctuary of a temple, or a temple. The longer passage of Acts 19:1-20:1 refers to the temple of Artemis in the city Ephesus in Asia Minor (now Turkey), and thus the correct translation in Acts 19:37 of hierosulous is “robbers of temples.”

Except in Acts 19:37 every other occurrence of the word “church” or “churches” in English-language Bibles is mistranslated from the Greek word ekklésia or a form thereof. Ekklésia is a composite word combined from ek, meaning “out,” and a derivation of kaleo, meaning “to call.” The correct English translation of ekklésia is “called-out ones,” and, for instance, in 2 Corinthians 6:17, the people whom the Lord calls out (“come out from among them and be ye separate”) are the called-out ones, a term and entity synonymous to the true disciples of Christ, or New Testament saints.

Thus, what English translations of the Greek New Testament refer to as “the church” in ancient Corinth, for example, are the disciples of Christ who were dwelling in ancient Corinth. The concept ekklésia does not refer to a material structure, a legal entity, or a religious corporation in ancient Corinth.

The occurrence of ekklésia in reference to Laodicea (Rev 3:14), however, would either present a paradox or could only be figurative if the congregation were wholly apostate. Here is where another Greek word, such as kuriakon (see below), might have done in place of ekklésia.

Why the mistranslation of “church” from ekklésia occurred in the Authorized Version is known from the translation rules which King James decreed to his Bible translators; specifically, rule number three: “The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz., the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.”

Some scholars have proposed that the word “church” was derived from the Greek word kuriakon, which occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and is translated “of the Lord,” and kuriaké, occurring in Revelation 1:10 and translated “Lord’s,” but philologically this is untenable. (These are the only two occurrences of the word used genitively.) The chief objection to this derivation of “church” is that the Greek word from which “church” is translated is, as described above, ekklésia, and this is the etymological root which passed into Latin (hence “ecclesiastical”) and all the Romanic and Celtic languages.

Nevertheless, there is general agreement among scholars in referring to kuriakon as being a name of the Christian house of worship, a signification which occurred first in the third century. Semiotically, however, the word “church” cannot refer to living, earthly members of the kingdom of God.

John 4:21-24 provides a hint of the difficulty that “church-goers” face (Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman):

“The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. . . . But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus prophesied a new phenomenon of worship which is the very opposite to what the tradition of churchmen (cf. Col 2:8) has promulgated throughout most of the more than 1,900 years since Jesus' death and resurrection.

Also contrary to what the tradition of churchmen has propounded over the centuries, Jesus — not Peter — is the Rock upon which he established his body of New Testament worshippers. Matthew 16:18 records Jesus saying to Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church [body of called-out ones].” In Matthew 16:18, “Peter” is translated from the Greek word petros, which is like a pebble that has eroded off a boulder or one of many pebbles into which a boulder has been smashed; and “rock” is translated from petra, which is a large rock, such as a boulder. Furthermore, when Jesus said “and upon this rock” he was not referring to Peter, because he was speaking to Peter, and by Jesus’ use of the definite adjective tauté té (“this”) — and because it is extremely doubtful that Jesus was pointing to a boulder — he was referring to himself as the Rock. Obviously, when Jesus said that he would build his ekklésian he was not referring to a material structure.

In reference again to John 4:21-24, prior to Jesus’ death and the spilling of his blood, the worshipping of YHWH had been centralized in the temple at Jerusalem, pursuant to the law of Moses. (The Samaritans had built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, which is the reference of “this mountain” in John 4:21.) Upon Jesus’ death, the rending of the veil to the holy place inside the temple symbolically and concretely decentralized worship of YHWH for the members of God’s kingdom. Forty years later, the total physical destruction of the temple by the Romans not only decentralized the worship of YHWH but dissolved both the religion and the ethnicity, or ethnic significance, of the Israelites — which raises the questions (though beyond the scope of this chapter) of whether the term “Jew” refers specifically to an inhabitant of pre-A.D. 70 Judaea and whether the term “Jewish” refers specifically to adherents to the post-A.D. 70 version of the religion of the pre-A.D. 70 Judaeans.

In concordance with John 4:21-24, Acts 17:14 records Paul as saying, “God . . . dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” In this passage the word “temples” is translated from the Greek word naois, which signifies a material structure such as a building. Whereas the doctrines of some religious organizations dictate that the only place where their members must pray, for example, is inside a specific material structure, Acts 17:14 expounds that a naois embodies no spiritual significance and along with John 4:21-24 establishes that the assembling together inside a specifically designated material structure such as a “church building” contradicts the decentralization of the worship of God by acting to reinstitute the Old Covenant Jerusalem-temple model of the worship of God.


Jer's picture

Ekklésia is a composite word combined from ek, meaning “out,” and a derivation of kaleo, meaning “to call.” The correct English translation of ekklésia is “called-out ones,”


"overhang" is a composite from "over" and "hang." Therefore, it means "something that hangs over." Hmm... "hangover" is a composite of... hey, wait a minute! What about "butterfly"? Does it really mean "airborne milk fat"? A words meaning is not necessarily determined by it's component parts ;)


Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

Language and Linguistics John Lyons

Lexical Semantics D. A. Cruse

Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek David Alan Black

Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation Peter Cotterell and Max Turner

Semantics of New Testament Greek J.P. Louw

Praeterbro's picture

Oh. I always thought "church" came from Latin, "circe" meaning "circle."

Incidentally, "butterfly" occurred due to an ancient "typo" was supposed to be "flutter-fly."

Jer's picture

If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, having 'fun with Greek' certainly won't either. If the church of Christ considers someone a heretic this is the tactic all heretics take: vaporize her with smoke and mirrors. Killing the Bride of Christ is the murderous past-time of all heretics. It has always been that way.

If you really want to have some fun with Greek, look up 'prevail' and shudder like the demons.

SuperSoulFighter's picture

Great news, Zorro! The gates of hell DID NOT prevail against the New Testament Church. She was preserved unto the coming of her Lord and King and was wedded to Him in 70 AD. She abides forever with Him in heaven! What a wonderful fulfillment of that promise, eh? God keeps His Word - even unto the end!

Oh, and by the way - "hell" was destroyed in the First Century too. So stop worrying about its gates. They don't exist anymore, and in THIS realm - neither does the Church. No "smoke and mirrors" are required to substantiate this Biblical reality. The Scriptures alone clearly verify these facts.

Stop emoting and start learning.


Seeker's picture


I sent you a message on this site.



SuperSoulFighter's picture

Thanks, Seeker. I'll respond tonight!


JL's picture


Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Aramaic. The Aramaic New Testament uses the Aramaic word for assembly to describe both the group of people in the synagogue and for the building the synagogue meets in.

The church had no buildings in NT times. But it is consistent with Aramaic usage to call the building and the people within the building by the same name.



JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture


Actually there is a clear differentiation in the greek meaning of synagoge and ekklesia. One means "gathered together", another one means "called out of" or "the called out ones". The primary word for "the church" is the word "ekklesia", however one could argue I guess, the "what" these people are called out is "out of the world", or "out of the Jewish system"? I would go for "the world", and the layout of the New Jerusalem and its separation from the rest of the world confirms this.

JL's picture


I can see the differentiation in the Greek. I can't find it in the Aramaic.

Half of the NT was originally Aramaic. If the differentiation doesn't exist in the original, then it doesn't matter in the Greek translation. It's a distinction that the translator made, not a distinction the author made.



JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture

Do you have access to the aramaic manuscripts?

JL's picture


JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture

There is not enough you can gather from the gospels and Acts 1-15 to use aramaic to support what you are suggesting. What am I missing here?

JL's picture

One Aramaic word "assembly" (and it's plural) becomes several different Greek words. The article makes a big distinction between these Greek words. The distinction exists in Greek but not in the original Aramaic.

The King James Bible one gospel quotes Jesus as saying "Thou shalt not kill." Another quotes "Thou shalt not murder." If I were to make a big deal out of the difference between those two words, you'd think I was silly. The Greek in both cases is the same.

Take the article above. Replace every Greek word with the equivalent Aramaic word. Does the point the article is trying to make still hold?



JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Ed's picture

As you have rightly pointed out, "ekklesia" is "the called out ones". As Paul uses it in 1Cor 10, in describing the Israelites of the Exodus as "the church (ekklesia) in the wilderness". This wording that Paul utilized indicated that the Exodus "called (the Israelites) out (of Egypt)". In the same way, Jesus was "calling (the dead) out (from the ministration of death - i.e., the Old Covenant). Since the Old Covenant has NOW passed away, there is no longer a need to "call out" anyone from anything. The ekklesia was complete - brought into full maturation/completeness.

Your explanation of the word "church" lines up with what I shared some time ago about where we meet, and who meets. All people are now invited to synagogue (assemble - verb), in Christ's synagogue (assembly - noun). I believe that the word "church" can rightly be used for those who have come to worship the One Who has given us life.


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