The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Ecclesia: Church or Assembly?

E. L. Bynum

The critics of the King James Version never seem to let up in their relentless attack. Many critics are simply modernistic or of the new evangelical persuasion, and these we can understand. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand why professed fundamental Bible believers would join this insane attack upon the Word of God. When I continue to hear and read these attacks by men who are otherwise sound in the faith, I can only say, "Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Independent Baptists generally place a strong emphasis on the local church. Many of them, and rightly so, refuse to believe that the Bible teaches the existence of a universal invisible church , or body. I happen to be of that persuasion. Some of these dear brethren have been led to believe that some words are wrongly translated in the KJV, and that they would be helped doctrinally in their stand against the universal invisible church theory, if the translation was changed. With this we do not agree.

Is Ecclesia Translated Wrong In The KJV ?

The Greek word "ecclesia" is translated "church" in the KJV, where the Scripture is referring to the Lord's church or churches. When the Bible is referring to a lawful or unlawful assembly of citizens, such as in Acts 19:32, 39, 41, it is translated assembly. In fact, these are the only three verses in the KJV where it is so translated.

To find out the meaning of a word in English, we consult a good dictionary, such as Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. To find out the meaning of a Greek word, we consult a concordance, lexicon, or Bible dictionary. You cannot always depend upon those authorities, as to the true meaning of a word used in the Bible. It is generally needful to find every time that peculiar word is used in the New Testament. From the clear context of how it is used in many different instances, we can discover its true meaning in the Scriptures.

What Is The Meaning Of Church ?

Webster's Unabridged Dictionary has this to say of the origin of our English word church. "church. N. [ME. chirch, cherche; AS. circe, cyrce; Late Gr. kyriakon, a church, from Gr. kyriake (supply doma, house) the Lord's house, from kyriakos, belonging to the Lord or Master; kyrios, lord, master; kyros, supreme power, authority.]"

This simply means that the word is traced back through Middle English, Anglo Saxon, to the Greek. That the local church is the Lord's house, is certainly not something that is contrary to the Scriptures. "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15). The church certainly is the Lord's house, and it does belong to our Lord and Master.

Webster gives many different examples of the meaning of church. One of them is, "any organized body of Christians occupying the same edifice for religious worship; a congregation; as, a pastor and his church." Does this not sound very much like the true meaning of church or ecclesia, as found in the New Testament? Yes, it does, for the church is a called-out assembly.

Of course Webster also gives examples of other definitions of church, such as the building, or a universal body, etc. I can almost hear someone say, that is the reason why ecclesia should not be translated church in the first place. Let us go on to further study before jumping to such conclusion.

What Is The Meaning Of Ecclesia ?

When we consult the authorities on Greek words, we come up with confusing answers to that question. W. E. Vine, in his word studies, tells us that Ecclesia means a called-out assembly. But he says, "It has two applications to companies of Christians, (a) to the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era...(b) in the singular number.. to a company consisting of professed believers..." So Vine leaves you with some unscriptural definitions, just as surely as Mr. Webster does.

When we consult Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, we come away realizing that his definitions are also confusing and contradictory. He also indicates that ecclesia is a called-out assembly, which is good as far as it goes. Yet, he turns right around and gives many other definitions that are most certainly contrary to New Testament usage. He says that ecclesia also means, "the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth; collectively, all who worship and honor God and Christ in whatever place they may be." That is the false universal church theory, and you cannot make anything else out of it.

You will run into the same thing if you consult Strong, Berry, or Vincent. Some have called attention to the fact that Berry in his Interlinear New Testament renders ecclesia as assembly in every place where it is found. These same people fail to tell you how Berry defines ecclesia in the back part of the same book. He gives more than one meaning. He says ecclesia means, "an assembly of Christian believers, a church in one place.. the whole body of believer on earth.. or in heaven." This brings us right back to the universal invisible church, which Berry allows for in his definition.

I wonder how many of those who clamor for ecclesia to be rendered assembly, have looked up the English word "assembly" in a good dictionary. It certainly has some meanings that are fitting to describe a New Testament Church, but some of them just would not fit.

Many who object to the word "church" in the KJV, also object to the transliteration of baptizo in the KJV. They think that it should have been translated immerse instead of baptize. This leads to another problem. If the Greek sunagogee had not been transliterated synagogue, it would very likely have been translated assembly. In that case you would have had the same English word for a church as for a Jewish synagogue. Both Vine and Webster agree that a synagogue is an assembly or a congregation. Would not that have been a confusing situation, when reading the New Testament ?

How To Know The Truth

You cannot know the whole truth on the meaning of ecclesia, church, or assembly without studying the Word of God. If you depend on the experts, you will surely go wrong. If the word "ecclesia" was translated "assembly", then you would still have the same division over its meaning as you currently have over the word "Church". Some honest brethren will disagree with me about the meaning of church. We would still have the same disagreement if it was translated assembly. It is a matter of interpretation of the Scriptures, and it will also remain so.

Many of those who lean toward changing church to assembly, also lean toward the New American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New King James Version. It is interesting to note that all three of these version render ecclesia as church.

It is our contention that it is the business of the Christian to study the Word of God for himself. It is the business of the teacher, and the preacher to study and explain the words of the Bible. We have always contended that the church is a called-out assembly. We can expound upon that without declaring that the KJV is wrongly translated. I would plead with brethren to cease this constant criticism of the KJV and simply preach and teach what the Bible says. It is sinful to destroy faith in the Word of God.

To Those Who Disagree

There will be some who will continue to declare that the KJV is wrong in translating ecclesia as church. Your sincerity will be far more convincing to me, when you take the name "church" off of your building and put the word "assembly". Of course, you are going to be a little late, for the Assembly of God has already beat you to it, and you can see just how much assembly has kept them straight on doctrine.

If the name of your assembly is Trinity Baptist Church, and you say that the KJV is wrong, then you are also wrong in perpetuating an error. If church is wrong in the Bible, then it is wrong on your building and all the advertisements that you print. In all honesty you ought to call it Trinity Baptist Assembly.

If you believe Baptist and baptism are translated wrong in the KJV, you ought to change the word Baptist to immerser. Then you could call it Trinity Immerser Assembly. Why not call a business meeting of the assembly and tell them how unscriptural the words "church" and "baptism" really are, and challenge them to vote the name change? Of course I can't predict the result of such a meeting. It might mean that some pastors would be looking for another immerser assembly to pastor. But if you really believe you are right on this Bible translation issue, you ought in all honesty to take your stand. As for me, I will take the KJV just as it is written. I have no sympathy for the scholars in their tampering with the Word of God. They leave you nothing that you can stand upon, except their scholarship. To hear them tell it, the KJV is not infallible, but they seem to think that they are.

As for me, I had rather have an infallible Bible, than an infallible scholar any day of the week. The scholar will die, and other scholars will disagree with his conclusions, but the Word of God will never die. (See Isa. 40:8)