Most English bible translators have interpreted the Greek word “ekklesia” as “church”, but “ekklesia” has nothing to do with the word “church”! Every word study and reference available agree that the word “church” does not come from the original Koine Greek word “ekklesia”, but comes from a different, late Greek word, which has a totally different meaning!
“Ekklesia” means an assembly of the “called out”, or “gathered apart”. In Scripture, it refers to a “convocation, assembly, or congregation”. “Ekklesia” clearly refers to people.
However, the word “church”, as you will learn, is defined as a place (physical building and its associated institutional infrastructure), and not as a people. That is the difference. Now, a group of believers, the Ekklesia, may go to a “church” building to worship God, but the “church” building and its supporting infrastructue is not the Ekklesia.
The English word “church” is derived from the Greek word kyrios, meaning ruler or lord. Specifically, it comes into English in the context of, “kyriake oikia”, “Lord’s house”, which by the 4th century was shortened to the adjective “kyriakon”, “of the Lord”, and was used to denote houses of Christian worship. Neither “kyriake oikia” nor “kyriakon” ever appear in the Greek New Testament referring to a congregation of worshippers or as a place of worship. This association did not occur until about AD 300, 270 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Regardless, this is the late Greek word that was first translated into Old English as “cirice”. It was then translated into Middle English as “chirche“, from which we get the modern English word “church”.
The Wycliffe Bible (1385), the first Bible printed in vernacular English, was a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible (Jerome used “Ecclesiam”), and Wycliffe used the Middle English words “chirche”, “chirches”, and “chirchis” some 111 times in the New Testament.
On the other hand, if you look at William Tyndale’s Bible (1526), which was the first English Bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, he correctly translated “ekklesia” as “congregation”.
The first recorded use of the Modern English word “church” in a Bible was in 1556 by a Presbyterian follower of John Calvin, Theodore Beza. The following year the New Testament of the Geneva Bible (the Bible of the America’s Pilgrims) was published by Beza’s friend, William Wittingham, and he also used the word “church”. And of course, the later King James Bible of 1611 also uses the term “church”.
The word “ekklesia” is used 115 times in the Greek New Testament, and in most English bibles, it is always incorrectly translated as “church” with the exception of three instances (Acts 19:32,39,41) where it is properly translated as “assembly”.
By the Protestant Reformation, after some 1,200 years of institutional cathedrals, clergy, liturgy, ritual, doctrine and dogma, Jesus’s New Testament concept of “ekklesia” had become so obscured that Protestants, long preceded by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churchmen, considered the Greek word “ekklesia” virtually synonymous with “church”! We continue that convenient institutional rationalization and error today.
“Church” is not found in the original Greek New Testament in either word or concept. It is an afterthought and convenient rationalization of post-apostolic institutional men.