THE GREEK WORD TRANSLATED "CHURCH" IN THE RENEWED COVENANT
by Glen Penton
When Yeshua and His early followers began to refer to the Body of
believers, they needed some word to refer to it. The word the Holy Spirit
chose is translated "church" in most translations of the New Covenant portion
of the Scriptures into English, but when Yeshua and His apostles were
teaching, neither the New Testament, nor the Christian religion, nor the
English language, nor the word "church" existed yet. The New Covenant was
written in Greek, the language of most of the Jewish People in that part of
the world at that time. At least three Greek words were available: eccleeseea,
synagogy, and keenoneea. (The latter is a common word in the Greek language of
that time, often translated into English as "fellowship".) The Holy Spirit
chose the word eccleeseea.
I suggest the following five reasons:
- He could have coined a new word, but He didn't. He used a word already
full of meaning to the Jews of that time. The non-technical Hebrew word qahal
(meaning "a gathering") is used in the Hebrew Scriptures with technical
religious meanings, such as, "a congregation," "the People of Israel," and
"the gathering of all Israel in Jerusalem for holiday worship." When Jews
spoke Greek and translated the Hebrew word qahal, they always used the Greek
word eccleeseea. Christian translators of the New Testament should preserve
the Holy Spirit's message by avoiding altogether the use of the Christian
technical religious term "church" in their translations, and use whatever word
they use to translate qahal from the Hebrew Scriptures ("assembly,"
"community," "congregation" or the like in English). This co-operation with
the Spirit would short-circuit a lot of un-Biblical theology that tries to
find conflicts between the Old and New Testaments. Some places where
the choice to translate eccleeseea as "church" in the New Covenant
logically demands the same translation of qahal in the Hebrew Scriptures, are
Deuteronomy 9:10, 10:4, 18:16,
Psalms 22:22 and 25, 35:18, 40:9-10, 89:5, 107:32, and 149:1.
- Eccleeseea seems to have had more dignified connotations than its synonym,
synagogy. For example, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the
Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), synagogy usually refers to the motley,
disorganized band of ex-slaves that was Israel in Moses' time, whereas
qahal>eccleeseea is more often the religious-national gatherings of later
- Among Jews of that time, the word synagogy was well on its way to evolving
the same meanings as the modern English word "synagogue." If the early church
had used that word, it could have implied that they were in competition with
already-existing Jewish religious organizations. They were not. Those early
Christians were loyal Jews who worshipped God in the Jerusalem Temple and in
synagogues on Saturday along with the other Jews.
- Among Jews of that time, the Greek words synagogy, keenoneea, and ayresees
(from which we get our English word "heresy.") were sometimes used to refer to
the various denominations within Judaism. Use of any of those terms by the
early Christians might have suggested a self-understanding as "just another
Jewish denomination." While Christianity in those days certainly was a new
Jewish denomination, and that fact was obvious to everybody, it was far more
than that. For exactly the same reason, the same Holy Spirit Who lead the
early church AWAY from such terminology now leads modern Messianic Jews
TO USE terms like "synagogue" precisely because so many Jews today
don't recognize Messianic Judaism as Jewish.
- Among non-Jews of the time, synagogy and keenoneea probably would have had
some religious connotations, while eccleeseea probably would not. Using a
non-religious term probably avoided both unnecessary persecution and a
too-easy confusion of Christianity and paganism. Such confusion is exactly
what happened after the apostles died.
an article about
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and the Church
"And the LORD gave me the two
tablets of stone written by God's finger. On them were inscribed all the words
just as the LORD had said them to you on the mountain, from out of the fire,
on the Day of the Assembly."
Deuteronomy 10:4, "And He
inscribed on the tablets the same as what He wrote on the first ones, the Ten
Commandments which He had said to you on the mountain, from out of the fire,
on the Day of the Assembly."
Deuteronomy 18:16, "As you
requested the LORD your God at Mount Horeb on the Day of the Assembly ,
'I must not hear the Voice of the LORD my God again, or see this great fire
any more, or I'll die.'"
"Who You are to my brothers and sisters I'll tell,
Assembly praise You as well."
"My praise in the great
Assembly's from You.
My vows I'll fulfill before those who reverence You."
"In the great
Assembly I will thank You.
Among a mighty People I will praise You."
"I'll tell good news
of right actions in the greatAssembly.
Look! My lips aren't sealed. LORD,
You know they aren't.
Your right ways I won't hide inside My heart.
what a trustworthy Savior You are,
And not conceal Your truth and sacrificial love
from the great Assembly."
"And exalt Him in
the Assembly of His People,
And in the leaders' meeting praise Him."
"Praise the LORD!
Sing a new, happy song to the LORD,
His rightful praise in the Assembly
Of those who do His humble love."
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