What is The Ekklesia?
This is an “in depth” look at the Church… The Ekklesia… It will help you to see what Jesus was really saying in Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
I want to talk about this verse and dig into it a bit. Let’s look at it and see what Jesus was saying in the original language it was written down in… Greek.
The Greek word that we have translated “Church” in Matthew 16:18 is Ekklesia. Its basic meaning is “the called out ones”. Starting around 650BC in the early Greek times the word was usually used to denote one of two things:
- The Convocation of the citizens of a Greek City-State
- The Council of Elders in a City-State
If Jesus used the word “Ekklesia” why do you think that the Translators of the Bible so many years later changed the word to something else? Why say “church” when Jesus said “Ekklesia”???
Holman Bible Dictionary says:
The Greek term basically means “called out” and was commonly used to indicate an assembly of citizens of a Greek city and is so used in Acts 19:32, 39. The citizens who were quite conscious of their privileged status over slaves and noncitizens were called to the assembly by a herald and dealt with matters of common concern.
We’ve all grown up used to the word “church” but I think that this change, which we’ll dig into more in a moment, is actually part of the enemies’ plan to undermine the power of the Body of Christ by switching words which, to most people, does not seem to be a big deal BUT I think you’ll agree as we go along… it is huge!
Let’s look at this passage of Scripture to understand the word Ekklesia as it was used by the Greeks:
Acts 19:21-41 (NKJV)
When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. 23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.
25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. 32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.
33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
35 And when the city clerk (the Mayor) had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? 36 Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly (ekklesia).
40 For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia).
This word was used here to describe citizens coming together… At first it was referring basically to a “mob” but the Mayor (town clerk) told them that the matter should be decided in a “lawful assembly”. We can see here that the Mayor is referring to the legal gathering of the citizens to discuss and decide civil and governmental affairs.
This is the proper use of the word “ekklesia” here in the Book of Acts. Now, Jesus specifically chose this word to convey what He wanted to tell us about what He was building… or maybe it would be better to say; What He was Creating…
Jesus chose this word “ekklesia” to communicate to us something special about the Body of Christ but this word has basically been removed from our Bibles…
I’d like to get “Ekklesia” back into our vocabulary… Let’s dig a little deeper and I think you’ll begin to see why.
This is key to understanding the word “ekklesia” in the New Testament.
LOOKING DEEPER INTO THE EKKLESIA
Remember, the Ekklesia was the lawful call to citizens to assemble together to deal with matters of concern to the city.
First of all, only those who were citizens of a City-State were eligible to participate in the process of government. So they were “called out” of the general population to form the ekklesia.
For the first three hundred years of the Church these same meanings held true for the followers of Jesus. Remember that to the Greeks the ekklesia was:
- It was the Convocation of the citizens of a Greek City-State
- It was The Council of Elders in a City-State who were “called out” from among the citizens to be the Political Leaders of the City State
To the Believers it was:
- Those “called out” of darkness into His marvelous light i.e. the Citizens of The Kingdom of Heaven
- The Apostles and Elders who were “called out” from among the members of the Body and were the Spiritual Leaders of the Household of God.
OK… let’s stop here and think for a minute…
Ask anyone on the street: “What’s the Church?” and they’ll tell you; “It’s that building down the street.”
Somebody might say “It’s God’s people” but that wouldn’t happen too often…
More people would point to a building, wouldn’t they?
When we think about Sunday we say: “I’m going to Church”. Is that the meaning Jesus had in mind when He spoke to us in Matthew 16:18?
I don’t think so!
It seems that somehow there was a change in emphasis from this thing called “The Ekklesia” to this thing called “church”…
So, you’re asking: “What’s the big deal? I know what the Church is. I go to Church every Sunday!”
Well, again, is going somewhere what Jesus was emphasizing or was it something else? Let’s see…
THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD
Peter gives us a powerful definition of The Called…
1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out (kaleo) of darkness into his marvelous light:
Peter shows us that the Ekklesia of Jesus Christ are:
- A Chosen Generation
- A Royal Priesthood
- An Holy Nation
- A People who are God’s own Possession
So, The Ekklesia is composed of The Called who are a Chosen Generation, a Royal Priesthood, an Holy Nation and the Lord’s own chosen Possession.
Let’s look at this Household…
Ephesians 2:19 (NKJV)
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household (oikeios) of God
Acts 16:31 (NKJV)
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household (oikos).”
Acts 16:14-15 (KJV)
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household (oikos), she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my home (oikos), and abide there.
Luke uses Oikos here in Acts 16:15 twice. It is translated household, which includes her family and the servants who lived with her and home which was an invitation to become a part of her “oikos” just as she had become a part of God’s Oikos; which she rightly understood as The Ekklesia!
Look and see how Paul combines Oikos and Ekklesia…
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NKJV)
These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the household of God (oikos) which is the church (Ekklesia) of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
So “The “Ekklesia” (the Assembly of the Called Out Ones), met in homes (oikos) and was considered “The Oikos” or “Household of God”.
The places where Christians met were never referred to as belonging to God… That was someone’s house where God’s Family met together!
It was not the “place” that belonged to God…
It was His People!
1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, God’s own possession who declare His praises because He called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…
HOW DID THE EKKLESIA BECOME “THE CHURCH”?
The word “Church” evolved out of the Greek word “kyriakos” which is only used twice in the NT:
Now we’re going to start to get to the heart of this matter…
Let’s see the two places this word “kyriakos” is used…
1 Corinthians 11:20 (KJV)
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s (Kyriakos) supper.
Revelation 1:10 (KJV)
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s (Kyriakos) day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
OK… these two Scriptures are pretty clear… they are saying exactly what the word means…
“Kyriakos” means “pertaining to The Lord”…
But, it’s a stretch to understand why a word that is used only two times in the entire NT becomes the choice word used to translate the word “Ekklesia” which occurs 118 times in the NT.
When you think about it, it is correctly translated “Assembly” 3 times in Acts 19 but it is incorrectly translated “Church” 115 times!
PERTAINING TO THE LORD
When Christians first gathered together they met in someone’s home to worship and hear the Word of God. This is clearly seen in the New Testament:
So, let’s look at some Scriptures that speak of The Ekklesia and substitute “pertaining to The Lord” to see how it reads…
Acts 8:3 (NKJV)
As for Saul, he made havoc of the pertaining to The Lord (Ekklesia), entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Romans 16:3-5 (NKJV)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the pertaining to The Lord (Ekklesia) that is in their house (oikos). Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
Colossians 4:15 (NKJV)
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the pertaining to The Lord (Ekklesia) that is in his house (oikos).
They don’t make sense do they? No! Not at all! So why did the translators make this change?
Now, let’s look at the Scriptures the way they should be read by putting in the true meaning of The Ekklesia there…
Acts 8:3 (NKJV)
As for Saul, he made havoc of the Assembly of the Called Out Ones (Ekklesia), entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Romans 16:3-5 (NKJV)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the Assembly of the Called Out Ones (Ekklesia) that is in their house (oikos). Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
Colossians 4:15 (NKJV)
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the Assembly of the Called Out Ones (Ekklesia) that is in his house (oikos).
Now, that makes sense! Now that we have that done we can see clearly that the word for “church” – Kyriakos – does not belong there!
FROM EKKLESIA TO “CHURCH”
The Emporor Constantine persecuted the FiveFold Ministry and he forbade house meetings with Jewish people – he effectively stopped them from getting saved!
Soon after that house meetings were forbidden completely!
Existing Roman Temples were converted into meeting places for the Christians. They also built many new building that were dedicated to The Lord. These were called “churches”…
It was then, at that time, that the change was made from Ekklesia to kyriakos;
The House of the Lord. Over the years with the changes that take place in language kyriakos became kirkus which eventually became church.
So, thanks to Constantine the emphasis upon the words of Christ: “Upon this rock I will build my church has come to mean; “Upon this rock I will build my building”.
It should mean something like this:
“Upon this mountain I will gather my Ekklesia; the citizens of Heaven who will do Kingdom business on earth”!
But, it does not mean that any more…
Sadly the world and even most Christians relate this verse to “a building” called “the church” and the concept of an “Ekklesia” being called out to gather to take care of the affairs of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth has all but disappeared from our culture.
As we have already seen, this word made its way into both German (kirche) and Middle English (chirche) and eventually became the word “church”.
Kyriakos is not the same word as Ekklesia…
The word Ekklesia literally means “The Assembly of the Called Out ones”… Ekklesia is made up of two words in Greek: Ek = Out and Klesia = Called.
So, the place where the Ekklesia gathered became a “church”; “The Lord’s Place”…
When this happened, the emphasis was placed on the building and it came off of the people!
The Ekkesia no longer mattered to the Emperor and “Roman church”…
It was the “building” with its ceremonies and rituals that was important to them!
The focus went from “The People” to “The Place”
And, to begin the long term domination of The Ekklesia, Rome began to purge The Ekklesia of its Leaders! They wanted to control the people through their own religious leaders who continually deemphasized The Ekklesia and emphasized the building and the ceremonies they were creating!
The whole reason why Jesus said He would build or gather His Ekklesia was to put the emphasis on the people of God and not on any “place” they gathered…
He did not want to simply continue the “Temple System” in a different manner. In that system the “place” where the people met was more important than the people who met there! And, He also did not want to see leaders in charge who would control the people and the place just as the priests and the Sanhedrin had done for centuries!
Jesus was instituting something new… He took the concept of the Ekklesia from the Greek City States and gave it a new meaning as His People… The People of the New Covenant! People who were “called out of darkness into his marvelous light”!
Peter knew what Jesus was doing… He shows us in 1 Peter 2:9 that the “Old System” was over and a “New Thing” was being done!
The “seed” of the Priesthood of every Believer was being planted into the soil of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!
By the time that the Bible was finally translated into the other languages the use of the word “church” was so common and the minds of God’s people was so conformed to the importance of “the place”, they did not even bother to translate the word Ekklesia correctly! They just substituted the word “church” for it! And, the word “church” does not carry the same meaning as the word “Ekklesia”!
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
In the New Testament, “ekklesia” (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens, duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.
Obviously, in Greece an ecclesia had no resemblance to a church. An “ekklesia” was a civil assembly in Athens even before the writing of the New Testament.
The Oxford Universal English Dictionary
Ekklesia – from SUMMONED -A regularly convoked assembly, especially the general assembly of Athenians.
This clearly shows us that the “ekklesia” was originally a select group of citizens who were summoned and convened for a particular purpose. Is this what Jesus was thinking of when He used the word “Ekklesia”?
And, what then did the writers of the New Testament mean when they used the word “Ekklesia”? Well, it’s clear that they intended to convey the original Greek meaning of the word put into a Christian context. To them it meant:
The Citizens of The Kingdom of God. The one who were “Called Out” of the Roman and Judean system
to come together to discuss and legislate the affairs of Heaven on Earth!
This was one of the crucial reasons why Christians were persecuted by Caesar and the rulers of those worldly systems and governments. They were arrested, crucified and martyred. They had forsaken Caesar and embraced Christ as King!
So, how do we understand Matthew 16:18 now???
So if we look at Matthew 16:18 in light of all this take all of these things into account we would probably see it this way:
And I also say to you Simon that now you are no longer a “reed” but you are Peter, “a rock”, and upon this mountain I will call out of the world those who believe in me and they will become citizens of The Kingdom of Heaven and I will gather them as My Ekklesia, and as they Advance the Kingdom throughout the earth and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against them.
THEY SERVED A DIFFERENT KING!
When we ask “How did the Early Church accomplish so much? We find the answer in the Book of Acts…
Acts 17:1-7 (NKJV)
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”
4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. 5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king–Jesus.”
They Served another King… Jesus!
Now is that clear? Do you see what they were doing? They were announcing ANOTHER KING! Not Caesar! They proclaimed a different Kingdom… The Kingdom of Heaven!
Paul and his team of Apostles were forming bodies of believers (Ekklesias) that no longer looked to Caesar as their king. They were advancing The Kingdom of Heaven and its King… They were spiritually at war with the kingdoms of this world!
Paul and Silas weren’t “church builders” like preachers today claim. They weren’t trying to get people to join a “church”. They were kingdom builders! They were changing the mindsets of people! They were dethroning Caesar in the minds of the people and destroying the mental hold Caesar had upon them through his ungodly, hedonistic, worldly government.
They were teaching the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven – The Government of God. They were putting out the call of God to whomever would hear and obey, and those whose hearts responded to the call became citizens of Christ’s kingdom and joined themselves to the Ekklesia, the “Called Out Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven”!
When you consider the fact that an “ecclesia” was “a civil body politic”, this is strong proof that the Christian Ekklesias we read about in the New Testament were independent civil bodies of Christians; independent from worldly kings and governors, ruled by a “Theocratic Government” led by The Holy Spirit.
They wanted freedom to serve King Jesus. They weren’t building and attending churches! Please understand! The pattern laid down in the New Testament bears no resemblance to what we know today as “church”. God’s people are meant to live by the ekklesia pattern; together in communities, holding all things common, under the government of God through His anointed leaders. Quit saying “church” when it is supposed to be “ecclesia”! It’s an important step in retrieving your brain from the trap of religious confusion.
A CHRISTIAN “BODY POLITIC”
The ekklesia meant independent self-government under Christ! It did not represent a religious organization for meeting on weekends. The Will of God was never to see the “buildings” and the “ceremonies” would become more important the People of God!
The change of words was not sanctioned by Scripture. The change had taken place in the minds of the people and in their leaders over the centuries.
When you see it you understand that this was the plan of the enemy! The entire system that we call was created to control God’s People… What we see as “the church” is not what Jesus envisioned as “The Ekklesia”!
Can we ever get back to the real meaning of Ekklesia? Can we fellowship in the household of God wherever we choose? Can we ever become free of the ideology and mind trap of modern churches that keep the masses of Christianity complacent and powerless to change the world around them?
Why is it that the Mega-Churches have not changed society?
Why is it that Cities with hundreds, even thousands of “churches” cannot bring transformation to the people they live among?
It’s because that’s not what there are thinking of! They want a nice building with nice music and exciting preaching or religious ceremonies that satisfy their souls but makes them impotent!
They are not trying to “turn the world upside down” by preaching a New King! One that they must Serve and Follow! They have drunk “church kool aid” and are doomed to the status quo; “church as usual” all the time!
We have to be Kingdom Builders again! We have to change the mindset of God’s People; His Oikos. We must renew the meaning of The Ekklesia so we live and act as Citizens of Heaven Called Out of the World’s Society to affect change in that society and advance the Kingdom of Heaven everywhere we go.