kyriakon is found twice in the New Testament; once in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and once in Revelation 1:10, and in neither case is it translated as “church.” In both cases it is properly rendered as “Lord’s”; first referring to the “Lord’s supper,” and secondly to the “Lord’s day.” It is an adjective meaning “belonging to a lord.”
Doma, which was dropped by the time the term made its way into German and English, (and a host of Teutonic languages) means “house top” or “roof” and is the origin of our word “dome.” It is found seven times in the New Testament. (Matthew 10:27, Matthew 24:17, Mark 13:15, Luke 5:19, Luke 12:3, Luke 17:31, Acts 10:9) It seems that this word eventually came to represent not just the roof, but the entire building, hence kyriakon doma means “building of a lord,” or “the lord’s building.”
It should come as no surprise that the primary dictionary meaning, and the understanding of most people, is that the church is a building; it has meant that since its adoption into the English language. It is somewhat ironic that the English word “church” is indeed a transliteration from the Greek, but not of the word used by our king’s ambassadors (often transliterated as “Christ’s apostles”) to represent the thing we think of as the “Church.”
What is Church in Greek?
So what did the Greek word ekklesia mean? Its denotation is derived from two Greek words meaning “called out,” and many would have us to believe that this is the sense intended by its use in the New Testament. “We are the Church” equals “we are called out of the world.” While this is a true statement, it may not be the meaning of the word. As we learned earlier we must decide how it was used, before coming to our conclusion. To this end we are assisted by the Encyclopedia Britannica which gives:
Ecclesia, Greek Ekklēsia, (“gathering of those summoned”), in ancient Greece, assembly of citizens in a city-state…. the Ecclesia became coterminous with the body of male citizens 18 years of age or over and had final control over policy, including the right to hear appeals in the hēliaia (public court), take part in the election of archons (chief magistrates), and confer special privileges on individuals…. Assemblies of this sort existed in most Greek city-states, continuing to function throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, though under the Roman Empire their powers gradually atrophied.
Put simply, an ekklesia was a gathering of citizens to exercise their authority. We are further told that the word eventually became coterminous (having the same boundaries or extent in time, space, or meaning)with the citizenry. In other words by the time of our king’s arrival, ekklesia had become a term that referred to a collective body of citizens excising their authority.
Is this what you think of when you hear the word church? Hmm…
In our next post we will look at how the the Greek and Hebrew Old Testaments shaped the understanding of the New Testament authors as they used the word ekklesia