Language is made up of words which carry ideas from one mind to another. It makes communication possible, even between God and man. According to the Genesis account, the first recorded words God communicated to Adam and Eve were, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it..." (Gen. 1:28). You can be sure that God chose His words carefully to keep from being misunderstood. When God commanded them not to eat of "the tree of knowledge of good and evil," the record indicates that they fully understood the order and its dire consequences (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-3).
All through the ages God communicated His will to the people, sometimes directly and sometimes in a dream or vision. In this last age He has spoken to us through His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1 2).
Jesus chose twelve men, plus Paul, who was "untimely born" (1 Cor. 15:8). The Holy Spirit was given to each one for guidance "into all the truth" (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-13). Paul would say that without this help it would be impossible to know the mind of God, "But we received...the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teaeheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:10-13). The Holy Spirit chose the exact words for Paul so he could reveal the Will of God through the gospel. God did not leave anything to chance.
Paul understood the importance of using proper words to communicate the ideas of God to others. He conveyed this proposition both to Timothy and to Titus, emphasizing the need to speak "the things which befit the sound doctrine," and to warn all not to teach anything contrary to it (1 Tim. 1:3, 10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). In order to accomplish this, Paul told them to "Hold the pattern of sound words which thou has heard from me...That good thing which was committed unto thee guard through the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us" (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
The apostle Peter also joined Paul in admonishing all Christians to be careful how they spoke: "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles (utterances--DO) of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). Every word spoken by the apostles and later written down, was given to them by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19-21).
It is very important for us to understand that the Holy Spirit, working through the apostles, did not supply them with the word "church." This word was chosen hundreds of years later by the clergy of the Catholic Church, and was retained by the Church of England. Both used it as a device to hold people in subjection to the whims of a few powerful men, who controlled the institutional church. The retention of the word "church" in the vocabulary of the religious leaders is important to the institutional church concept even today, and is defended by the modern day clergy for the same reason that it has been for centuries.
The Holy Spirit chose the word ekklesia to describe the people who have been called out of a world of sin and who are the "assembly of God." Simply put, ekklesia means "assembly," "gathering," or "congregation." It is closely akin to the Hebrew word synagogue. It has reference to people, not to something in the abstract.
"Church" is not a translation of ekklesia anymore than "baptism" is a translation of baptizo, but it was chosen by the King James translators for the same reason.(1) They used certain words that covered up the true meaning of the original Greek words and transmitted to the people concepts that served their own selfish purposes. To have revealed the true meaning of these Greek words would have been detrimental to the proponents of the institutional church. In fact it would have weakened the power of the clergy by which they held sway over the people.
Just as "baptism" has accumulated various ideas invented by men (i.e. sprinkling, pouring, etc.), the English word "church" now is barnacled with the same kind of man-made inventions. We hear people using "church" in ways that are foreign to the meaning of ekklesia. The following excerpt underscores the problem. Notice the various meanings that have accumulated to the word "church":
CHURCH comes from a Greek word meaning the Lord's house. The word has many meanings.
1. It may mean the world community of Christians.
2. Church may refer to any denomination or group professing the same Christian creed, as the Methodist Church.
3. It may also signify a natural religious body, such as the Church of England.
4. It may refer to the formal institutions of a religion.
5. It may mean the ecclesiastical organization, power, and authority of a religious body.
6. In early Christianity, church often meant the worship of God by a Christian group, like the Church in Antioch, Syria.
7. Church is also a building used for public Christian worship.(2)
It is amazing when you stop and think that a simple Greek word, ekklesia, which plainly referred to people in some kind of assembled form, could have been so adulterated through the centuries. Of course, the English word church had to be pressed into service in order to carry the meaning of the highly organized, powerful, institutional, corporate body, through which certain men would rule over others. The various meanings listed above took a long time to develop. No wonder there is so much misunderstanding and confusion in the religious world today. It seems to me that each conscientious child of God would want to purify his thinking and strip himself of these false ideas surrounding the word church.
Even among those who claimed heritage in the "Restoration Movement," those who should know better, we see signs of loose talk and faulty reasoning concerning the ekklesia. The doctrine of "the local church," which so many have accepted without questioning because of its constant, repetitious bombardment from the pulpit, but which is nothing more than an expression of the old institutional version of the "church," Romish style, is now considered too much of a sacred cow to be challenged. Even though the tenet of the creed is filled with theological jargon invented in the imaginations of men. For instance, we hear and read often from preachers that there is an "organized, autonomous, functional unit, corporate body, known as the local church," and that one must "join this local church in order to carry out certain functions that can only be accomplished in and through this organization." Furthermore, we read from many of these preachers that "it is absolutely necessary to belong to, and to function through, the local church in order to be saved." Please do not misunderstand me. These theologians among us are saying that in addition to being added to the one body of Jesus Christ, one must join and belong to a local church in order to be saved. Where is it in the scripture my brother'? Quote book, chapter and verse, please. And while you are at it, tell us to what "local church" did the Ethiopian eunuch join himself? Was he saved at the time he "went away rejoicing?" Would his salvation cease at some time if he could not find a "local church?" Did his salvation depend upon his "starting one up," or was he saved by the grace of God and the working power of the blood of Jesus Christ?
I have more questions for you, my brother, you who say that we cannot be pleasing in the sight of God, and therefore, cannot be saved unless we function through this "institutional thing" that you call a "local church." Upon our baptism into Christ, are we not made full "in Him?" The apostle Paul said, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full..." (Col. 2:9-10). You say that being baptized into Christ's body is not enough, that, in addition you also must "join yourself to some local church." You cannot have it both ways. Either you are saved and complete in Christ after being baptized into Christ, or you are not fully saved until you join some "local church." Tell us which way it is, please.
These new theological words, which have been invented in recent decades and amalgamated with concepts of the "church" which are centuries old, cannot be found in the Word of God, and certainly are not inherent in the word "ekklesia." Some have attempted to circumvent the obvious consequence of using words like "organization," "functional unit," and "corporate body," by using words like "collectivity" and "team" to give the meaning of "ekklesia,' but I ask, why? Now, most recently, we read about the "local church" being a "tool." Can you believe that? The "local church" is a "tool" to be "used by Christians!" Where in the Scripture do we get that idea? Well, the theological list keeps growing as men try desperately to explain the institutional version of the "church." Why are we not content to refer to the "ekklesia" as a gathered or assembled people of God? Is it because we cannot load that concept down with all the ecclesiastical trappings of the organized, institutional church? Is it because the "ekklesia" as a reference to the "called out people of God" is too plain and simple to have any value to our thirst for notoriety, or power and control over the lives of people? Is this why we must have the institutional version that men have conceived and developed centuries ago? Or, is it that our reputations are at stake because we have been teaching the institutional church for so long, and we find it humiliating to admit error? History tells us that men are prone to take the pure, simple teaching of the Lord on any subject, and complicate it to the point that it takes a "Philadelphia Lawyer" to understand it and to teach it to the rest of us! No wonder we need "Bible schools" to train our young men in the intricacies of the "Law," which we complicated in the first place, that they might be able to teach the "poor, un-schooled disciples" back home!
Many preachers and teachers talk about "the church" as if it were "something more than .just the disciples or saints that made it up." I have heard many state it as if it came right from Scripture. Why, it is no wonder that so many Christians today talk about "placing membership in" and "belong to," something like an organization. Expressions like "being in the church," "going to church," "getting ready for church," "having church," "wearing church clothes," "giving to the church," and "being faithful to the church," demonstrate the effect that such teaching has had on our understanding, or lack of it, concerning the ekklesia. We do treat it like a social organization with its various social functions. We tend to use "church" in a purely institutional fashion. We cannot deny it, our "language of Ashdod" betrays us. In addition to this, some continue to use "church" to mean the building in which we gather. We talk about "the church on the corner," "cleaning the church," "painting the church," etc. Will anyone deny this? It is not enough to say, "We know better," or "you know what I mean." We need to clean up our language and communicate proper concepts as God has revealed them in the Scripture!
If "church" is not a translation of "ekklesia," and it is not, then where did the word come from, what does it mean, and why is it in our Bibles? In order to answer these questions, we must look at some historical documents and references.
It is not certain where the word "church" originated. It is believed to have originated from the Greek word "kuriakon," a derivative of "kuriakos," which means, "of or belonging to the Lord," but this is disputable. "Kuriakos" is used in reference to the "Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:20), and to the "Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10), the only two places in the New Testament. "Kuriakon" does not appear in the New Testament.
In his Dictionary of the Bible, page 141, John B. Davis makes this statement concerning "church": "Probably from Greek, KURIAKON the Lord's house."
From the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. III, page 77, we find, "Meaning and use of the word; the word 'church' (from Greek Kyriakon, 'the Lord's, i.e., 'house' or 'body')..."
From a Bible Dictionary by William Smith, L.L.D. we find: "church. 1. The derivation of the word is generally said to be from the Greek kuriakon, 'belonging to the Lord.' But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably connected with Kirk, the Latin circus - because the congregations were gathered in circles" (Emphasis mine - DO)
From Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary: "church, AS circe, fr. Gr. kriakon the Lord's house, fr. kyrious master, lord, fr. kyros power."
We can see from the sources above that 1). the word "church" did not come from, nor does it translate, ekklesia; 2). it cannot be proved beyond doubt that the word "church" was derived from kuriakon, as it could have come from the Latin cirice; and 3). the words ekklesia and kuriakon are not synonymous.
As to the likely time that the two Greek words and the Latin word began to merge, we appeal to this reference:
...of this earliest cited instances are in the Apostolical Constitutions (11.597, a300 the edict of Maximinum (303-13)...The Latic equivalent...was also in use at least from the time of Cyprian (c200-258), in the sense of the house of God...While it results from what is stated above the Kirika, cirice, was originally applied to the building, it was assumed as the naturalized equivalent of Latin ecclesia, and used for the word in all its senses. Naturally the first of these would be as the name of the then one great religious organization, the Catholic Church, and especially as represented by its ministers, the clergy, or ecclesiastical order. The extension to other senses took place as these were practically recognized.(3)
We see by this reference that the concept of ekklesia, which the inspired writers of the New Testament meant simply as the "called out and assembled people of God," began to take on a distorted meaning by the year 200. This would coincide with the beginnings of what later developed into the Catholic Church.
According to G.W.H. Lampe, Ely Professor Divinity in the University of Cambridge, the earliest that we can trace the use of "ekklesia" in an institutional sense is about 200 A.D. It was about this time that Clement of Alexandria wrote his treatise of The Instructor, in which he used "ekklesia" in the abstract sense.(4) It seems significant that in all the writings of the second century, as well as in the sacred writings themselves, we do not find an institutional treatment of ekklesia.
It is safe to conclude that the word "church," which does not translate the word "ekklesia," should not be in the New Testament. It is too confusing to the masses. Because it is fraught with the false concepts of men, it leads the unsuspecting down the same institutional pathway that once was traveled by almost every Catholic Pope and Protestant theologian that ever lived. To clear up the matter, every time the word "church" is found it should be rendered "assembly" or congregation," with nothing more implied than a group of people, i.e., saints, disciples, Christians.
Therefore, a better rendering of Matthew 16:18 would be, "I will build my assembly/congregation" (meaning, "assembly,congregation of people"); Acts 8:1 should read, "there arose...a great persecution against the assembly/congregation" (meaning, "assembly/congregations of people:" Romans 16:16 should read, "assemblies/congregations of Christ"); and etc. The Lord intended to call out of darkness a people, an "assembly of people." He was not interested in forming them into a "something," "an institution." Jesus died to save the "ekklesia," the "assembly of people,'' not "an institutional organization."
Scholarly men of the past have concurred that ekklesia would be better translated "assembly" or "congregation," rather than "church." Names such as William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, George Campbell, Alexander Campbell, J.B. Rotherham, and Robert Young readily come to mind.
There are two well know translations of the sixteenth century that do not contain the word "church" but use only "congregation" throughout the New Testament, the Tyndale Bible of 1525 and the Great Bible of 1539. The Bishops' Bible of 1568 reads "congregation" in some places, "church" in most. The King James Version was published in 1611 with the purpose of heading off any further erosion of the power of the Church. We shall see later that King James and Archbishop Richard Bancroft insisted that the translators, fifty-four carefully chosen scholars, retain all "Ecclesiastical words" such as "church," etc.
William Tyndale (1492?-1536) became famous for his translation of the Bible from Greek to English. He wanted to rid the Bible of ecclesiastical words that did not reveal their true meanings, words that preserved meanings attached to them by the Clergy/church. He said to one Church official, "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough should know more of the scripture than thou dost." Tyndale's pursuit of a fair and honest translation put him at odds with the Clergy, who finally succeeded in having him burned at the stake. All this, because he dared to challenge the meanings of certain ecclesiastical words. "Tyndale encountered opposition not so much because his work was unauthorized as because his prefaces, notes and choice of ecclesiastical words (e.g. repent for penance, congregation for church) were simply unacceptable to the Church of England, and because he was reluctant to compromise on these matters."(5) Throughout his translation, Tyndale gave "congregation" as the meaning of ekklesia, and the word ';church" never appears in his translation! Here are some exemplary passages:
Matthew 16:18 -- And I saye also unto the that thou arte Peter: and apon this rocke I will bylde my congregation.
Acts 8:1, 3 - And at that tyme ther was a great persecusion agaynst the congregacion which was at Jerusalem...But Saul made havocke of the congregacion, and entred into every housse and drewe out bothe man and woman, and thrust them into preson.
Romans 16:16 -- The congregacions of Christ salute you.(6)
After the death of Tyndale, the work of giving the English speaking people a Bible in their own vernacular fell upon the shoulders of Miles Coverdale. With the encouragement and support of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, and the publishing genius of Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, Coverdale published a translation that leaned heavily upon the Tyndale Bible. The new work was called "The Great Bible," which was published in 1539. Again, in every case, ekklesia was translated "congregation," and the word "church" never appears in his translation! Some samples follow:
Matthew 16:18 - And I saye also unto the that thou art Peter: and upon this rocke I wil bylde my congregation.
Acts 8:1, 3 -- And at that tyme there was a greate persecucyon agaynst the congregacyon which was at Jerusalem...As for Saul he made havocke of the congregacyon, and entred into every house, and drew out both men and women, and thrust them into preson.
Romans 16:16 - The congregations of Christ salute you.(7)
It is significant that this attempt by Tyndale, Coverdale, and many others to rid the Bible of such ecclesiastical words as "church," in order that the people might know the true sense of the words instead of what the Clergy wanted them to know, brought down the wrath of the powerful Clergy upon them. The same has been true in every generation. Whenever honest people explore the possibilities that what they are being taught by their religious leaders may contain untruths, they run the risk of inciting their wrath. Many religious men are fearful that they may lose control of the people, their livelihood, and/or their reputation.
Several scholarly translations have been made in more recent times. Translators attempted to accomplish many of the same things that Tyndale and Coverdale did. In 1826. Alexander Campbell published "The Living Oracles" which was "The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ, Commonly Styled The New Testament." This work was a compilation of translations made from the original Greek by George Campbell, James Macknight and Philip Doddridge, all scholarly men. Every time ekklesia appeared in the text, Alexander Campbell chose "congregation'' instead of "church" to give the sense of the word. A few samplings follows:
Matthew 16:18 - I tell you, likewise, you are named Stone; and on this rock I will build my congregation, over which the gates of Hades shall not prevail.
Acts 8:1, 3 - And at that time there was a great persecution against the congregation in Jerusalem...But Saul made havoc of the congregation, entering into houses, and dragging men and women, whom he committed to prison.
Romans 16:16 - The congregations of Christ salute you."(8)
Robert Young, who gave us "The Analytical Concordance to the Bible," published a work which he called, "A Literal Translation of the Holy Bible." Here are some samplings:
Matthew 16:18 - And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly...
Acts 8:1, 3 - ...and there came in that city a great persecution upon the assembly in Jerusalem...And Saul was making havoc of the assembly...
Romans 16:16 - ...the assemblies of Christ do salute you?(9)
A Bible Scholar, relied upon by our brethren of yesteryear, J.B. Rotherham, put out a literal translation which he called "The Emphasized Bible." He never used the word "church." Notice the samplings:
Matthew 16:18 - And I also unto thee say - thou art Peter - and upon this rock will I build my assembly
Acts 8:1, 3 - Moreover there arose in that day a great persecution against the assembly which was in Jerusalem...But Saul went on to lay waste the assembly among the houses going in, and dragging off both men and women...Romans 16:16 - All the assemblies of the Christ salute you.(10)
More recently, some of our brethren were significantly involved in a translation that was published by International Bible Company. It is called "The Simple English Bible - New Testament." Notice the following:
Matthew 16:18 - "Upon this rock foundation," Jesus answered, "I will build my community -- those called out by God."
Acts 8:1, 3 - On that day there was a fierce attack on the congregation in Jerusalem. Saul was also trying to destroy them. He even went into their homes. He dragged out men and women and put them in jail. All of the believers had to leave Jerusalem; only the apostles stayed there.
Romans 16:16 - All the congregations of Christ greet you."(11)
Another of the reliable Greek scholars of recent years is George Ricker Berry. Mr. Berry gave the world the "Interlinear Greek - English New Testament." In every case, he translated ekklesia, "assembly;" he never used "church." Note the following samples:
Matthew 16:18 - And I also to thee say, That thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly...
Acts 8:1, 3 - ...And took place on that day a persecution great against the assembly which (was) in Jerusalem...But Saul was ravaging the assembly, house by house entering, and dragging men and women delivered (them) up to prison.
Romans 16:16 - Salute you the assemblies of Christ.(12)
What does all of this mean? First, it is quite obvious that for centuries there have been many students of the Bible that have been concerned about the use of "church" as a translation of ekklesia. Many preachers and teachers today would have us believe that challenging the word "church" is foolish and that it should not be done. They contend that this kind of criticism is of recent origin and that only a "handful of heretics" are raising questions about it. Anyone can see that this is not true. Our study shows that conscientious Bible students have objected to these theological, ecclesiastical words, such as "church" for centuries, and we will continue to do so as long as there are those who insist on conjuring up distorted meanings of ekklesia. Not only that, but our response from many of you indicate that there are literally thousands of concerned Christians across our land who likewise object.
Secondly, challenging the use of "church" today is as legitimate as it was in the fifteenth, and subsequent centuries. Many people, including the religious leaders among us, are trying to make something out of ekklesia that does not belong. They are making the same mistakes that the clerics have done in times past, by attaching concepts to the word that were never meant by the inspired writers. They invent new theological terms to describe the ekklesia, using words that do not convey the plain, simple teaching of the New Testament on the subject. The ekklesia is a word that describes nothing more than the people of God. It was used by the inspired men of the Bible in a figurative sense to allude to "the great assembly of God's people." Also, when coupled with other words, such as "in Jersualem" or "in Corinth," it was used in a restricted sense, but it was never used to describe some kind of "institution, organization, or corporate body." It always referred to people!
Thirdly, the quotations taken from Tyndale, Coverdale, Campbell, et al., shown above as representative of their understanding of ekklesia, indicates that this word was NEVER incorporated into a name of a group. One cannot read of The "Church of Christ," as we see it used today. It was never used exclusively to designate a group of Christians.
This brings us to a word of caution. There is always the danger of incorporating "assembly" or "congregation" into a name as we have done the words "church" and disciple." it would be just as wrong to take the expression, "assembly of Christ," and turn it into an exclusive name that would set one group of God's people apart from another with their "exclusive" designations, as is currently being done today with "Church of Christ," "Christian Church," and "Disciples of Christ," etc. It matters not whether we use a little "a" in "assembly or a capital "A" as in Assembly of Christ. If we contended for this "name" and used it exclusively as our group designation, we would contribute further to the splintering of God's people. Such has been done time and time again. It is ridiculous to argue whether it is appropriate to use little "c" or capital "C" in "Church of Christ," the fact remains that we have designated (named) a group as "the only people going to heaven." God did not give an exclusive name to His people, nor do we have any assurance that He will honor our request, that only the people who wear our own peculiar designation shall be saved. Contrarily, He must find this sectarian, Pharisaic attempt at separatism, appalling.
These names serve only to divide God's people. Drawing lines of fellowship over matters that God did not specify by revelation is as wrong in principle as that which was condemned by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. There, he said, "Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment." He proceeded to administer a severe chastisement for calling groups by various names. This practice was wrong because it was contrary to the command "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4 3) Those that say this only applies to division within a congregation are guilty of quibbling, hoping to escape the force of the argument. It will always be sinful to foster division with party names. God hates division (1 Cor. 1:10-13); Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). Exclusive group names are divisive, and with that God is not pleased. God did not condone the use of party names in the first century, and He does not sanction it today. God speed the day when we shall have the courage to drop all party names and just be content to be called "Christians," and to present a truly united front against the common enemy of God and man, the devil himself. Old Satan is having a field day as Christians "bite and devour one another" under the various sectarian banners. Do we care more for our "church name" than we do for carrying the name God gave us, Christian, into a lost and dying world? We need to strip ourselves of the party spirit and the pride that makes us want to hang on to out' party names, and to humble ourselves with a contrite heart before God Almighty! In the words of Charles H. Spurgeon, noted Baptist preacher of the last century:
"...for I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ's name last forever. I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living. f they will soon be gone. You will say, Why? Because when everybody else sees baptism by immersion, we shall be immersed into all sects, and our sect will be gone. Once give us the predominance, and we are not a sect any longer. A man may be a Churchman, or a Wesleyman, or an Independent, and yet be a Baptist. So that I say, I hope the Baptist name will soon perish; but let Christ's name last forever."(13)
Let us say amen, but also let us add to our prayer the names of all sects and parties, including "Church of Christ," "Christian Church," "Disciples of Christ," etc. "I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a" sectarian "living." "I hope they will soon be gone." I hope these self-styled designations "will soon perish; but let Christ's name last forever!"
As we have seen, over the last four centuries many notable Greek scholars agreed that ekklesia should be translated "assembly," or "congregation," anything but "church." We ask the question, why should these men object to the word "church?" Were they trying to strip the Bible of its institutional ecclesiasticism which was set in place many centuries before, and upheld through the decades by power hungry men? It is doubtful that this was their prime motivation, or if they understood that issue at all. Many of them had been conditioned to accept the institutional emphasis that had been placed upon the "church." But, they were fighting for some cause, a noble cause, one for which they would gladly give their lives. What was it?
These men were fighting against that which they saw as a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They contended that each individual had the right and responsibility to search the scriptures on his own, and not to rely upon the Clergy. "William Tyndale...translated Erasmus' 'Enchiridon Militis Christiani' (The Christian Soldier's Handbook). One of the principle themes of this book is that Christians have individual responsibility to study the New Testament and to count it the final authority for matters of life and doctrine."(14) These men were fighting for the right of the people to have a translation that would give them clear meanings to all the words. They insisted that words like "church," "baptism," "bishop," "deacon," etc. be expressed in simple English words that would make the meanings clear to the people. The "Church" objected, and therein lay the conflict.
The "Church" had been fashioned into a powerful force that dictated "truth" to the people, and wielded the ecclesiastical sword as a political weapon for its own advantage. In addition, the "Church" imposed itself as the "mediator between God and man," making obedience to it an absolute necessity, without which there could be no salvation. The "Church" claimed to have given the Bible to the people, and that it was the rightful guardian of it. Of course, when I speak of the "Church" I am referring to the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, all the Protestant Churches, and especially the Church of England.
Those who held political sway over the masses through the "church" insisted that those like Wyclife and Tyndale be silenced, and that their works be burned. In England, an all-out attack was launched to discredit those "heretics" and to intensify the promulgation of "orthodoxy." The "Church" determined what the truth was for everyone, and the clergy set out to defend it with all vengeance. Religious leaders who did not pledge allegiance to the State religion, The Church of England, were more than looked upon with a great deal of suspicion, they were deprived of certain rights. If he was a clergyman, he was often relegated to an obscure outpost where his work could not influence many people.
Among this group were some of the Puritans. Even though their best scholars were tolerated in the great schools of Oxford, Westminster, and Cambridge, their work and influence were somewhat limited because of their unpopular theological positions. Also, they were considered dangerous because of their insistence that certain ecclesiastical English words should be removed from the translation in favor of words that would be readily understood by the people in the common language.
In 1604, King James I, who was not only the King of England, but head of the Church of England, commissioned fifty-four Hebrew and Greek scholars to give English-speaking people the official version of the Bible. Ironically, this idea was not original, but had been given to him by John Rainolds, a Puritan, who was considered by many to be a threat to the Church. The king had always been interested in Scriptures and was somewhat of a scholar in his own right. He appointed Richard Bancroft, soon to be made the Archbishop of Canterbury, as chairman and "chief overseer" of this committee. In turn, Bancroft selected very few Puritan scholars and sprinkled them around the several sub-committees so that they would be outvoted on any key-word selection issue.
So, the stage was set to give the world a true English translation of the Bible. But the world never had a chance to receive a pure translation because everything was stacked in favor of one that would place the emphasis on the institutional Church and its ruling officers. Certain key words, so important to King James, Archbishop Bancroft, and the entire ecclesiastical alignments were to be retained, instead of words that would better translate the original, such as "congregation," "immersion," "overseer," and "servant." The king ordered it done and the puppet archbishop carried it to completion.
Bancroft set forth fifteen rules that governed the work of the fifty-four translators. Rule number one states that the translators were to follow "the Bishops Bible," which was "the ordinary Bible read in the Church." Actually, the "Bishops Bible," published in 1568 was an attempt to offset the affects of the "Tyndale Bible" and the "Great Bible.'' Notice rule number three: "The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, etc." It was clear to the translators what "Ecclesiastical Words" must be "kept." If they translated "pasche" as "Easter" instead of "passover," and transliterated "baptizo" as "baptism" to keep from exposing their practice of sprinkling, you can be sure that they would have no qualms for choosing "Ecclesiastical Words" that would fit the best interest of the powerful Clergy/Church.
The hypocrisy of the translators, which probably shows the pressure to which they were subjected, can be seen in the opening statements of the last page entitled, "The Translators," found in the First Edition of the King James Version of the Bible (I have taken the liberty to replace the old English with the new):
An other thing we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied our selves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense every where) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty?(15)
The truth of the matter is that the translators uniformly translated "ekklesia" as "church," "episkopos" as "bishop," etc.. This "uniformity" is not wrong in itself, but the retention of these "Ecclesiastical Words" in order to present the institutional concept of the "ekklesia of God" is uncalled for. Furthermore, it hides the true meaning of these words from the people, even clown to our day. Not only does it reflect the extreme bias on the part of the translators, but the end product, a distorted translation, has caused immeasurable harm in perpetuating the institutional church heresy.
There is no doubt in my mind that many of my brethren will condemn me for "attacking" the Bible, but it only displays a certain amount of ignorance on their part. One should remember that the New Testament produced by the Holy Spirit was given in the Greek language, not the English. We are talking about an English translation, a work done by uninspired men. These men made choices to use certain words that would help the Clergy exercise ecclesiastical power, and these choices were governed by rules handed down by their superiors, King James and Archbishop Bancroft.
Remember, that the few Puritans who were chosen to be on the sub-committees, did not have a chance to win their objections to the "Ecclesiastical Words." They were influenced by John Calvin in matters of "church government," favoring the "presbyterian" approach of autonomous congregations. This put them into direct opposition to the clerics of the Church of England, who were practicing an "episcopol" and "hierarchical" form of government. The outcome, which was planned and carried out from the beginning, is reflected in a careful study of Bancroft's rules, as well as in the reading of "The Translators" in the first edition of the King James Version. For instance,
Lastly, we have on the one side avoided the scrupulositie of the Puritanes, who leave the olde Ecclesiasticall words, and betake them to other, as when they put washing for Baptisme, and Congregation instead of Church: as also on the other side we have shunned the obscurities of the Papists, in their Azimes Tunike, Rational, Holocausts, Prapuce, Pasche, and a number of such like, whereof their late Translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sence, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may bee kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speake like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar.(16)
The design and the hypocrisy of the leadership among the translators can be seen by carefully analyzing the above quotation. First, we see that the purpose was to retain all "Ecclesiastical Words," even if it meant a fight with the Puritans to accomplish it. Second, their hypocrisy shows when they accuse the "Papists" of darken(ing) the sence" of the word of God by using certain pet words such as listed above. If ever clergyman were guilty of "darken(ing) the sence" or hiding true meanings of the original words, it was done successfully by the leaders of the Church of England, under the guidance of the Archbishop and by the command of the King of England.
It is incredible that these men should level a charge at the translators and theologians of the Roman Catholic Church of which also they were guilty. They claimed that the "Papists" had "darken(ed) the sence" so that the Bible "bee kept from being understood." But they proudly boast that "we desire that the Scripture may speake like itself," and that "it may bee understood even of the very vulgar," that is, the common people.
Let us look at the facts. Fact 1): In Acts 12:4, the King James translators rendered pasche , "Easter," instead of "Passover." "Easter" is an English word derived fi-om a pagan religious festival of centuries before. It was adopted by the Catholic Church and retained in practice by nearly all Protestant Churches, especially by the Church of England. When these translators gave us "Easter" as the meaning of pasche, were they letting "the Scripture...speake like itself," that "it may bee understood even of the very vulgar?" Or, did this rendering "darken the sence" that the meaning "bee kept from being understood?" There is much confusion and misunderstanding today because of this translation.
Fact 2): Throughout the King James Bible we find the word "baptism." This is not a translation of the Greek word baptizo, but a transliteration. That is, each letter from the Greek was "brought over" into the English to make up a new English word, "baptism." When you translate a word from one language to another, the purpose is to give the sense or, meaning of the word that it might be understood by all people who speak the language. Why was not this word translated? Here, we have a word, along with its variations, that is used 115 times in the New Testament, and yet, the King James translators saw fit not to translate it. Why? One good reason could be that a translation of baptizo would have been devastating to the Church of England, which had retained the practice of the Catholic Church of sprinkling or pouring water on the forehead of the candidate. Baptize means "to dip, to plunge, to immerse, to cover completely." There was a growing segment of the people known as "Baptists," who were causing problems for the clergy of the Church of England. People were beginning to question the meaning of this word, and it made the religious leaders angry (like it does today when you question the leaders about certain words and practices). You talk about a cover-up scheme. This makes "Watergate" look like child's play! Again, we ask, did the King James translators have the people's best interest at heart? Were they trying to help them understand the truth on this matter or was their "purpose to darken the sence that "it may bee kept from being understood" by the common people?
This brings us to Fact 3): The King James translators retained, under orders from the King and the Archbishop, certain "Ecclesiastical Words," including "church." Such words do not give the true meaning of the Greek." "Church" does not translate ekklesia. English words such as "congregation" and "assembly" do. Again, we ask, why were these words not translated? Why were the people deprived of the true sense of these words? What would the Church of England, and subsequent "churchmen,'' have to gain by keeping the people ignorant of the true meanings of these words? We have given you the answers to these questions already in this article. It is so obvious. Look at Facts 1 and 2. Then ask yourself, "Were these translators capable of perpetrating a scheme that would cover up the true meanings of key words by supplying coined words that would reflect the role of the Church in their society, and protect the power that the Clergy/Church held over the people?" Of course they were! Just as men fight today to protect their position, power, wealth and reputation in the religious world, even those who profess to be of the "Restoration Movement."
We began this lengthy treatise by showing from the word of God that the Holy Spirit has always been present to help the inspired man of God select the right words in his preaching and teaching, relative to revealing the word of God. We must stay with words "which the Spirit teacheth" (1 Cor. 2:10-13). We must be careful, when we attempt to explain an idea expressed by these Spirit-given words, not to stray from their original meaning.
My contention is that we have strayed from the original meaning of ekklesia through the English word "church." It does not translate ekklesia, and it distorts the meaning of the Greek word. "Church" was employed by the King James translators to protect their own interests and to keep its readers from a proper understanding of the will of God. I would say that ulterior motives were present. This word has created many false ideas, causing much confusion and division among religious people, even among those who are striving conscientiously to serve the great God of Heaven. The word "church" is not of God, it is the product of man's own theological imagination; it is in a class with "Purgatory," "Easter," "Christmas," "Transubstantiation,'' "Eucharist," etc. For that matter, the ,same can be said of "Bishop" and "Deacon.
But, having said all of that, I conclude that until we can be given an English translation that truly gives the meanings to all these words, including ekklesla, we are stuck with what we have. However, we do not have to succumb to the pressures around us to use the meanings that people have attached to "church." In fact, we can begin to eliminate, or at least limit, the use of the word. We don t have to say, "We are going to church." We can say, "We are going to assemble," or "We are going where the people of God are assembling." Certainly, it will seem awkward at first, and we will search for ways to talk correctly, but it can be done with effort. It is becoming easier for me now, when someone asks me "Where do you go to church?" I now say, "I meet with the Christians at (and I give the address). I have determined to think and talk in terms of the true meaning of ekklesia. It was difficult at first, but it is getting easier. The reason it is getting easier is that I know beyond doubt that "ekklesia" is from God and "church" is from man!
My purpose for this study was not to destroy confidence in the King James Version of the Bible. In many ways it is very adequate to bring us to an understanding of the will of God. But, we all need to have our eyes wide open when we use it. We should not depend on any one translation when we study the scriptures. We should employ good word study techniques.
Just as most of us have learned to understand "baptism,'' and to reject the assumulation errors associated with the use of this word, we must come to understand the word "church." This word is a product of man's own wisdom and is fraught with danger. God, help us!
1. I am not suggesting that "church" is a
transliteration of ekklesia. "Baptism is a transliteration of
2. The World Book Encyclopedia, "Church," p. 421.
3. A New English Dictionary on Historical Principals, Vol. 2, Part 1. pp. 403-404.
4. G. W. H. Lampe, D.D., Editor, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 429.
5. Lloyd E. Berry, Introduction of the Geneva Bible, Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, p. 2.
6. The New Testament Octapla.
8. Alexander Campbell, Editor, The Living Oracles.
9. Robert Young, Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.
10. J. B. Rotherham, The Emphasized Bible.
11 The Simple English Bible New Testament
12 George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament.
13. Charles H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon's Sermons. p. 168.
14. Lloyd E. Berry, op. cit., p. 1
15. The King James Version, First Edition, Translators.
Editor's Note: For the benefit of the reader, we present here a copy of Bancroft's Rules that the translators of the King James Version were required to follow.
1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly
called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as
the Truth of the original will permit.
2. The Names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
3. The old Ecclesiastical Words [o be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, & c.
4.When a word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place and the Analogy of the Faith.
5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the Explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.
7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture on another.
8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amend ed them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered or seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they Consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the General Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
11. When any Place of Special Obscurity is doubted of Letters to be directed, by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgment of such a Place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many as being skilful in the Tongues; and having taken Pains in that kind to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminister, Cambridge or Oxford.
13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminister and Chester for that Place; and the King's Professors in the Hebrews or Greek in either University.
14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tindoll's, Matthews Coverdale's, Whitchurch's, Geneva.
15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assign ed by the Vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well as Hebrew as Greek, for the better Observation of the 4th Rule above specified.