This Greek term “ecclesia” appears in scripture for approximately 116 times in Scripture. The KJV version translated it (replaced it) with church(es) – which means kuriákos – in most of its instances, except three.
In these three, the word “Ecclesia” was used; however it didn’t refer to Christ. This tied up their hands, for they couldn’t label religion over it.
They had to label it exactly as it was so that others may be able to understand what they are reading.
Fortunately, in these three will we be able to decipher the true meaning of “Ecclesia.”
“Ecclesia” is not a Christian term. It was Greek term which was strongly enforced and elevated during the Roman Empire. Jesus had his reasons for calling his people the Ecclesia. It explained his intent for which the “church” was to perform on earth.
The three instances in Scripture that wasn’t replaced all happened to be in one chapter – Acts 19 (v.32, 39 & 41)
Tale of the Ecclesia (Acts 19)
Let’s review that story:
In this historic chapter, Paul met 12 disciples in Ephesus who were baptized into John’s baptism. Most of us know this story. He told them about Jesus Christ. In the end, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and received the baptism of the Holy Ghost after Paul laid hands on them. These disciples were taught by Paul for two years in Ephesus; and through them, the entire city and all throughout Asia (of those times) heard the Word of God.
Now Paul sent his two disciples, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia to go pave a way for Him. He planned on staying behind a little until the feast of Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:5-9).
During that time, there was this Silver-beater called Demetrius in Ephesus who made crafts and images for the great goddess Diana of the Ephesians. This Diana that the Ephesians worshipped was different from the ones most of us are aware of both in the Roman and Greek (Artemis) mythology, as the twin sister of Apollo.
Diana (or Artemis) was the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. The Diana they worshipped was the ancient goddess of fertility called the many-breasted one. Her statue had many breasts and in celebration of Her festival, the inhabitants indulge in public widespread orgies.
That festival was soon to come up. Unfortunately, Paul came in with the gospel (which has engulfed the city and all of Asia). Paul and his gospel became a serious threat to their culture and the upcoming festival.
Demetrius was concerned. If people don’t celebrate Diana, they wouldn’t buy his art during the great festival. Paul had messed everything up for them.
So Demetrius gathered his colleagues and they protested against the preaching of Paul. They formed a mob and seized two of Paul’s disciples, Gaius and Aristarchus and took them to the amphitheater to punish them as victims for the gladiatorial show. (I hope you’ve watched the movie, Gladiator.)
Before that could happen, there had to be a gathering. Where those two disciples would have a hearing.
The riot brought together the assembly of the townspeople (v.32). This word “assembly” was the English translation of the Greek Word “Ecclesia.” This was the first instance ecclesia was used. It simply meant an assembly or congregation.
This time the translators couldn’t use “church.” Why? Ecclesia had long been used before Jesus was even born.
The town clerk of that city was not a secretary, but elected to be the most influential person of the city. He was part of the Ecclesia. (This Ecclesia is not like the one I earlier described. You’ll find out later).
He dismissed the hearing claiming that it was riotous and that the offenders (the two disciples) were being accused wrongly.
He added that if the people wanted a proper addressing of the issue, they should present them to the lawful Ecclesia; not through an unlawful mob or gathering.
“But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly (Ecclesia).”
Acts 19:39 NKJV
Ecclesia had two main meanings.
1. A local gathering or assembly of people
2. A civil body
The “lawful Ecclesia” was a town council: a civil body in Ephesus. It was a Greek term given to people selected (called out) by the officials and given political and judicial power over its people.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
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.
The town clerk asked that the people should rather set up a hearing before this kind of the ecclesia. As a member of the Ecclesia, he exhibited his authority:
“And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.”
Acts 19:41 NKJV
He had the power to dismiss the assembly that was gathered. If they wanted to charge Paul or his disciples, they should do so the proper way and get the lawful local civil body (ecclesia) in Ephesus, to hear out the plea from both sides and execute judgement.
That was what Jesus had in mind when he called his people, his Ecclesia.
More will be discussed in our next session. Stay tuned!
(Author of “Tree of Righteousness: The Planting of Yahweh“)