Origin of the Term Church

Written by Glenn Kay

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What is the Origin of the Term "Church"

  The Greek term (ekklesia) ekklesia which is commonly translated as "church", 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 NAS). The citizens who were quite conscious of their privileged status over against slaves and non citizens were called to the assembly by a herald and dealt . . . with matters of common concern. When the early Messianic Community understood themselves as constituting an "assembly" or "congregation", they no doubt perceived of themselves as called out by God in Messiah Yeshua for a special purpose and that their status was a privileged one in Messiah Yeshua (Eph. 2:19 NAS).

  It should be noted that, (ekklesia) ekklesia was used more than one hundred times in the Greek translation of the Tanach in common use in the time of Yeshua. The Hebrew term from which (ekklesia) ekklesia is derived is (qahal) lhq which simply meant 'assembly' and could be used in a variety of ways, referring for example to an assembling of prophets (1 Sam. 19:20 NAS), soldiers (Num. 22:4 NAS), or the people of God (Deut. 9:10 NAS). The use of the term in the Tanach in referring to the people of God is important for our understanding of the use of the term 'assembly or congregation' (ekklesia) ekklesia in the New Covenant Scriptures.

  The first Messianic Believers were Jews who in many cases, used the Greek translation of the Tanach. For them to use a self-designation that was common in the Tanach for the people of God reveals their understanding of the continuity that links the Old and New Covenant Scriptures. The early Messianic Community understood themselves as the people of the God who had revealed Himself in the Tanach (Heb. 1:1-2 NAS), as the true children of Israel (Rom. 2:28-29 NAS) with Abraham as their father (Rom. 4:1-25 NAS), and as the people of the New Covenant prophesied in the Tanach (Heb. 8:1-13 NAS).

  As a consequence of this broad background of meaning in the Greek and in the Tanach , the term 'congregation or assembly' is used in the New Covenant Scriptures of a local congregation of called-out Messianic Believers, such as the 'Messianic Congregation" (ekklesia) ekklesia of God which is at Corinth' (1 Cor. 1:2 JNT), and also of the entire people of God, such as in the affirmation that Messiah is 'the head over everything for the Messianic Congregation, which is His body' (Eph. 1:22-23)" JNT).

  We have seen in the overview above the Greek word (ekklesia) ekklesia is consistently used in the Greek translation of the Tanach and is understood in all other Greek language literature as meaning "assembly" or "congregation". The word used in the Scriptures should read "assembly" or "congregation" from the Hebrew ( qahal) lhq or (edah) hd[ or the Greek (ekklesia) ekklesia , but not "church."

   Why is it then that in the New Covenant Scriptures the same word is translated as "church" and where does the word "church" come from? We will first examine the source of the word "church" and then examine several passages in the New Covenant Scriptures in seeking to determine why (ekklesia) ekklesia would be translated as "church", contrary to normal rules of translation.

  So where did the word Church come from? It comes from the German word KIRKE. Gary Amirault, in an article on the internet entitled;"Circe (Church)--Daughter of the Sun" shares the following incites:

Those of you who have been in "church" or have "gone to church" for any length of time have probably heard that the origin of the word "church" is from the Greek word ekklasia written in English ecclesia which would translate into English as called out, an assembly, or collection. This may be the definition of the word ecclesia, but the English word "church" does not come from this Greek word. Webster says the English word "church" comes from the Greek word kuriakon meaning "the Lord's" or "the Lord's house or belonging". Sounds plausible, doesn't it? This is what the seminary students are taught when they enter into the halls or walls of christendom as they study to become "heads of the churches." To most of you, this explanation would probably suffice, but I am a nosy type, and I like to dig. Looking into Young's Concordance, I discovered this word kuriakon is not in the Greek text of our Bibles. Strange that the Creator of the Universe would name his body on earth kuriakon and then not use the word in His Holy Word. Something did not smell right, know what I mean?

I am in touch with many people who spend much time doing word studies, and play around with what has been called "etymology", that is the study of word origins. I also read much material from different authors who have traced many of our "church" words to pagan mythology, especially Greek, Roman, Babylonian, and German or Teutonic mythology. Most of you are not aware of the fact that English is really a part of the German language. As a matter of fact, about 90% of the words in the King James Bible are German in origin. The English peoples are also called Anglo-Saxons. The Webster's Dictionary says under Anglo-Saxon "A member of the nation created by the consolidation of Low German tribes that invaded England in the 5th and 6th centuries, together with native and Danish elements, which continued as the ruling power of England until the Norman Conquest." Their language dominated England. Even the name England reflects this. I point this out so that you are aware of how German or Norse mythology has much to do with many of our English words.

Now Webster says that the root of this word "church" is a Saxon word "circe, or circ, or cyric." Those of you who are versed in Greek mythology or in the Greek language should begin to be raising your eyebrows. This information is so embarrassing that Webster did what he could to hide this in his first edition, but later editions made it easy to uncover. In the Original Webster's under the word "circ" are the simple words "see circus." Who says our Father doesn't have a sense of humor? But it gets more interesting than that! The first entry as to the etymological meaning and origin of the church is "circe." Now for those who are versed in Greek, this connection is so obvious and embarrassing that Webster did not put this noun in his dictionary, but he did put the adjective which is "Circean" I cannot prove it, but I think this omission was intentional. Under "Circean" we find the following definition: "adjective; Pertaining to Circe, the fabled daughter of Sol and Perseis, who was supposed to possess great knowledge of magic and venomous herbs, by which she was able to charm and fascinate." Later editions of Webster's finally had the courage to enter the noun under which we find more information: "Circe noun [L., fr. Gr. Kirke.] In the Odyssey, an island sorceress who turned her victims by magic into beasts but was thwarted by Odysseus with the herb moly given him by Hermes-Circean, circaean adj.."

A couple of years ago Dr. Ernest Martin sent me a photocopy of an old book written in England with a cover page that went as follows: "The MYTH OF KIRKE: Including the visit of Odysseus to the Shades. An Homerik Study by Robert Brown, Jun., F.S.A.." It had a quote from the famous Milton on the title page that read, "Who knows not Circe, The daughter of the Sun?" It appears at the present time few people know her for who she really is. Dr. Martin opened my eyes and since then I have spent much time gathering the pieces to reveal Circe, Church, the daughter of the Sun.

Father willing, we will trace how the Greek Kirke became Circe in the Anglo-Saxon, which became Chirche in Church Latin who finally manifested in full glory as Church, daughter of the Sun, a woman who had the power to turn men into animals.

   As we have just seen above the term "church" does not come from the Greek word (ekklesia) ekklesia . However one views it (whether from the Hebrew ( qahal) lhq or (edah) hd[ or the Greek (ekklesia) ekklesia , it never means "church" but an assembly, meeting, or congregation of people. So what then is the reason for translating (ekklesia) ekklesia as "church" when the Greek word does not mean "church?" Could it not be a matter of scholarship but simply a case of a plain and simple anti-semitic bias on the part of Bible translators? Let us consider several examples:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church (ekklesia)... (Mat. 16:18 NAS)
Compare this with:
I also tell you this: you are Kefa [which means Rock], and on this rock I will build my Community... (Mat. 16:18 JNT)
So what's the difference between church and community? Isn't just a matter of words? Possibly, but which captures more the real sense of the Greek (ekklesia) ekklesia?

In commenting on his choice of the term, "community" in his Jewish New Testament and The Complete Jewish Bible, David Stern says:

Community, Greek ekklesia, which means called-out ones, and is used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew kahal lhq, assembly, congregation, community. The usual English translation of ekklesia is church; and from it comes the word ecclesiastical, meaning, having to do with the church. The JNT sometimes uses Messianic community or congregation to render ekklesia. What is being spoken about is a spiritual community of people based on trust in God and his son the Messiah Yeshua. This can be all people throughout history who so commit themselves, or a group of such people at a particular time and place, such as the Messianic community in Corinth or Jerusalem. The phrase, the ekklesia that meets in their house (Ro 16:5), refers to a particular congregation. Unlike church, ekklesia never refers either to an institution or to a building. (The Jewish New Testament Commentary (page 54)

The point Stern is making is that to translate ekklesia, as "church" simply does not fit nor is it warranted by the context of the passage. Yeshua is building a "community" an "assembly" of His followers. To Translate ekklesia as "church", only confuses the issue - is Yeshua talking about a building or a community?

To translate ekklesia as "assembly" or "congregation" is not only consistant with the context of the passage but also consistant with the Greek translation of the Tanach and other Greek literature outside of the New Covenant Scriptures. So why would one risk clairity of translation just to use the word "church", unless the translators are trying to make a point , "Yeshua is building a NEW community - the CHURCH - as opposed to Israel? Could it be that in translating ekklesia as "church" rather than "assembly or "congregation" the translators reveal not scholastic honesty but rather a case of a plain and simple anti-semitic bias on their part?

The case becomes even more clear if we look at Matthew 18:17.
And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (ekklesia) ekklesia; and if he refuses to listen even to the church (ekklesia) ekklesia, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (NAS)
If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation (ekklesia) ekklesia; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation (ekklesia) ekklesia, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector. (JNT)

If we look at these two passages, which makes more logical sense of the basic meaning of the word (ekklesia) ekklesia? Again the simple meaning of what Messiah is teaching is that in an area of disagreement between bretheren we are called to consult with other believers the (ekklesia) ekklesia the "assembly". Again the Biblical translators choose to use the word "church". Many of these same scholars do not even believe the the "church" came into existance prior to Pentecost (Shavuot) - so who then is the "church" - a non-existant body that is not yet around? The choice of the word "church", only confuses the issue - is Yeshua talking about a building or a community?

To translate ekklesia as "assembly" or "congregation" is consistant with the context of the passage we seek the counsel of other believers, the "assembly" or "congregtion." So why would one risk clairity of translation just to use the word "church", unless the translators are trying to make a point , "Yeshua's NEW community - meets in a New Building, the CHURCH - as opposed to a Jewish Synagogue? We will be considering the term synagogue (sunagoge) later in this article. Could it be that in translating (ekklesia) ekklesia as "church" rather than "assembly or "congregation" the translators reveal not scholastic honesty but rather a case of a plain and simple anti-semitic bias on their part?

For our next passage we will be comparing three translations. Let us now consider Hebrews 2:12:

"Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church (ekklesia) ekklesia will I sing praise unto thee. (KJV)
saying, "I will proclaim Thy name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation (ekklesia) ekklesia I will sing Thy praise" (NAS)
"I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation (ekklesia) ekklesia I will sing your praise" (JNT)

This passage is a direct quote from Psalm 22:22. Let us first look at how they deal with the Hebrew text of Psalm 22 before we consider the quote in Hebrews 2:12

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation ( qahal) lhq will I praise thee. (KJV)
I will tell of Thy name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly ( qahal) lhq I will praise Thee. (NAS)
We can see here that Psalm 22:22 uses the word ( qahal) lhq, which as we noted above should be translated as "assembly" or "congregation." Interesting to note between these two translations we have both meanings of ( qahal) lhq expresed.
We also noted above that (ekklesia) ekklesia was used more than one hundred times in the Greek translation of the Tanach in common use in the time of Yeshua.

Based on this we would expect that the Bible translators would then translate (ekklesia) ekklesia for ( qahal) lhq and arrive at a consistant translation of either "assembly" or "congregation" in Hebrews 2:12. But is this the case?

The (NAS) to it's credit does. It translates both as using either "congregation" in the case of Psalm 22 or "assembly" in the case of Hebrew 12:2.
But what happened to the (KJV)? In Psalm 22:22 it did a good job in translating ( qahal) lhq as "congregation." But look what happened to (ekklesia) ekklesia - it has suddenly become "church." One might just wonder, what "church" did David attend? Was it First Bapist? United Methodist? Obviously such questions are : ludicrous! But so too is translating (ekklesia) ekklesia as "church."

While we credit the (NAS) for translating (ekklesia) ekklesia as "congregation" in this case. We wonder why, in this case do they translate (ekklesia) ekklesia is more consistanly translated as "church" by the (NAS) but here choose to use "congregation"? Could it be that they consider David to be a Jew - and therefore - he would not be going to a "church" to "proclaim Thy name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation (ekklesia) ekklesia I will sing Thy praise

What of the "Gentile Believers", do they proclaim Thy name to their brethren, In the midst of the "church" they will sing Thy praise? One would be led to believe so by the way they consistanly translate (ekklesia) ekklesia as "church" in the New Covenant Scriptures. It seems as though may Bible Translators have bought into the "Two People of God" heresy which plagues so much of the "church!" And again it must be asked; "Could it be that in translating (ekklesia) ekklesia as "church" rather than "assembly or "congregation" the translators reveal not scholastic honesty but rather a case of a plain and simple anti-semitic bias on their part?"

There is another other issue we would like to consider. What about the Greek for synagogue (sunagoge) (see James 2:2 NAS) and why is sunagoge translated as "assembly.?"
Stern in his commentarty writes:
Your synagogue. This is a Messianic synagogue, a congregation of believers in Yeshua, predominantly Jewish, expressing their New Covenant faith in a way retaining most or all of the prayers, customs and style of non-Messianic synagogues. The word in Greek is sunagoge; it appears 57 times in the New Testament. Fifty-six times it refers to a Jewish place of congregational assembly and is translated "synagogue" in virtually all English versions. Yet in the present verse KJV and the Revised Standard Version render it "assembly," and other versions translate it by "church," "meeting," "place of worship" and other avoidances of the word "synagogue." This reflects the translators unwillingness to acknowledge the Jewishness of New Covenant faith and the overall antisemitic bias that has infected Christianity over the centuries (see Ro 10:4&N 1). The New Jerusalem Bible prepared by Roman Catholics does use the word "synagogue," but adds in a note, "James is writing to Jewish Christians; it is possible that they may even have still been attending Jewish synagogues, or it may be his word for the Christian assembly for liturgical services." "Even...still...attending Jewish synagogues" - how backward of them! And how backward of Shaul, who made it his "usual practice" to do so (Ac 17:2 2)!

Yaakov is talking neither about a Christian church service nor a gathering of Jewish nonbelievers but a Messianic synagogue. He would not refer to "your synagogue" and assume his readers were in charge of seating visitors if the synagogue was not controlled by the Messianic Jews. There is no reason why "synagogue," with its unmistakably Jewish connotation, should have been "his word for the Christian assembly " in general, since the term the New Testament uses 112 times for that is ekklesia (ekklesia) ekklesia (usually rendered "church" in other versions; see ( Mt 16:18N); Yaakov himself employs it at 5:14 4 JNT). The idea that this synagogue was Messianic simply did not occur to the Jerusalem Bible note-writer. Rendering (synagogue) sunagoge "church" instead of "synagogue" robs Messianic Jews of their identity.

This verse establishes a solid New Testament basis for modern-day Messianic synagogues, provided they do not exclude Gentile believers. To do so would "raise the middle wall of partition" once again, in violation of Ep 2:11-16&NN 5. A Messianic synagogue, while committed to preserving and developing a Jewish rather than a Gentile mode of expressing New Covenant faith, must be open to participation by believing Jews and Gentiles alike.6

So where did the word Church come from? It comes from the German word KIRKE.The word "KIRKE" is a word whose root goes back to circle - circe (the false goddess). Kirke is similar to the Hebrew word (kikkar) rKK meaning a disk or circle. Or SUN WORSHIP! (see Zech 5:6-11 NAS). The sun was worshipped as baal or lord by a full circle of pagans. Is it any question why some then worship on sun-day?


1 . The evidence that non-Messianic Jews have not submitted themselves to God's way of making people righteous (v. 3), which itself shows that their zeal for God is not based on correct understanding (v. 2), is that they have not grasped the central point of the Torah and acted on it. Had they seen that trust in God as opposed to self-effort, legalism, and mechanical obedience to rules is the route to the righteousness which the Torah itself not only requires but offers (9:30-32a&N), then they would see that the goal at which the Torah aims is acknowledging and trusting in the Messiah, who offers on the ground of this trusting the very righteousness they are seeking. They would see that the righteousness which the Torah offers is offered through him and only through him. They would also see that he offers it to everyone who trusts to them and to Gentiles as well (vv. 11-13 below; 3:29-4:25 and 9:24-30 above).

Is Shaul guilty of stereotypical thinking and prejudice? Does he accuse all non-Messianic Jews of relying on self-effort and having an attitude of legalism? No, rather, he considers this to be the prevailing establishment viewpoint in the non-Messianic Jewish community of his time. Stereotypical thinking and prejudice (which when applied to Jews is called antisemitism) arises when an attribute possibly predicated truly of a community is applied uncritically, often falsely, to each individual in it. This Shaul does not do.

An error made by all major English versions and by most commentators and one with profound antisemitic implications even when none are intended is the rendering here of the Grekk word telos as end, in the sense of termination. The King James Version is ambiguous in it the verse reads, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; this leaves to the reader the decision whether end means termination or purpose (as in the end justifies the means). But other versions decide the matter for him, and they decide it wrongly. The New English Bible says, For Christ ends the law and brings righteousness for everyone who has faith; and the margin gives as an alternate, Christ is the end of the law as a way to righteousness for everyone who has faith. The (Roman Catholic) Jerusalem Bible goes even farther: But now the Law has come to an end with Christ, and everyone who has faith may be justified. Likewise Today's English Version (the Good News Bible): For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God.

However, the Messiah has not brought the Law to an end, nor is he the termination of the Law as a way to righteousness. The Torah continues. It is eternal. God's Torah, properly understood as the very teaching which Yeshua upholds (1C 9:21&N, Ga 6:2&N), remains the one and only way to righteousness although it is Yeshua the Messiah through whom the Torah's righteousness comes. For the Good News that righteousness is grounded in trust is proclaimed already in the Torah itself; this is the central point of 9:30-10:21. In seed form this was already stated at 1:16-17; Shaul declares it directly at Ga 3:6ff. To such a Torah there is no cessation, neither in this world nor in the next.

This truth is not peripheral but central to the Gospel, and it cannot be compromised, even if the whole of Christian theology were to oppose it! While there is a recent and valuable strand of modern Christian scholarship which acknowledges that Shaul is neither anti-Jewish nor anti-Torah, very little of this has penetrated popular Christianity. To Jews with even a modest amount of Jewish training the Torah is correctly understood as a central and eternal element of God's dealing with mankind in general and with Jews in particular. Therefore, the idea that the law has come to an end with Christ is for them both shocking and unacceptable. Fortunately the idea is also untrue!

According to Arndt and Gingrichs A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,the Greek word telos, used 42 times? in the New Testament, has to mean finish, cessation, termination in four or five places (Mk 3:26, Lk 1:33, 2C 3:13, MJ 7:3, 1 Ke 4:7). But in the great majority of cases its meaning is either (1) aim, purpose, goal toward which a movement is being directed (1 Ti 1:5, 1 Ke 1:9), or (2) outcome, result, consummation, last part of a process not obviously being directed and which may or may not terminate (6:21-22 above, Mt 26:58, MJ 6:8). These meanings are reflected in the English word teleology, the branch of philosophy dealing with goals and purposes. Then why is ˆ£telos regularly regarded as meaning termination here? Because theology gets in the way of exegesis, wrong theology that falsely understands the Mosaic Law as not offering God's righteousness through trust, wrong theology that denigrates God's Torah and thereby both the God who gave it and the Jewish people to whom he gave it.

Even the paraphrases of the Living Bible (Christ gives to those who trust in him everything they are trying to get by keeping his laws. He ends all of that) and Phillips (Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-Law for everyone who believes in him) miss the point. The verse is not about our struggle but about God's Torah. It is true that whoever comes to trust in Yeshua relies on Yeshua for salvation and thus ends his self-effort. But this verse does not speak of ending anything. It says that the great sweep of God's purpose in giving the Torah as a means to righteousness achieves its goal and consummation in the coming of the Messiah.

It therefore follows, Shaul says, that a person who has the trust in God which the Torah itself requires will precisely because he has this trust, which forms the basic ground of all obedience to the Torah (1:5) understand and respond to the Gospel by also trusting in God's Messiah Yeshua. It is in this way and only in this way that he will be deemed righteous in the sight of the God he wants to serve and whose Torah he wants to obey. Only by believing in Yeshua will he be able to obey the Torah. By disbelieving in Yeshua he will be disobeying the Torah. This is because the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers the Torah's righteousness, which is God's righteousness, to everyone who trusts. The Jewish New Testament Commentary (page 395-396)

2. After passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, Shaul and Sila came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue. According to his usual practice, Shaul went in; and on three Shabbatot he gave them drashot from the Tanakh (JNT)

4. Is someone among you ill? He should call for the elders of the congregation. They will pray for him and rub olive oil on him in the name of the Lord. (JNT)

5. These verses, often misused by Christians against Messianic Jews, are actually part of the charter for Messianic Judaism. They are fundamental to understanding both the nature of the Torah, which still exists and is binding on believers, and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community (1:22). The Jewish New Testament Commentary (page 581)

11.Therefore, remember your former state: you Gentiles by birth-called the Uncircumcised by those who, merely because of an operation on their flesh, are called the Circumcised
12. at that time had no Messiah. You were estranged from the national life of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God's promise. You were in this world without hope and without God.
13. But now, you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah's blood.
14. For he himself is our shalom - he has made us both one and has broken down the m'chitzah which divided us
15 by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create In union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make shalom,
16 and in order to reconcile to God both in a single body by being executed on a stake as a criminal and thus killing in himself that enmity.

6. The Jewish New Testament Commentary (page 728-729) Copyright © 1989, David H. Stern  Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc.   P.O. Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029  Which be obtained at this link

"Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible,
Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,
1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
The Jewish New Testament
Copyright © 1989, David H. Stern
Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029
Which be obtained at this link

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