Distinct Calling of the New Testament Church
The English word “church” does not come from the Bible. Its exact origin is unclear. Some believe it evolved over centuries from the Greek word kyriakon, which means “belonging to the Lord”. However, kyriakon is used only twice in the New Testament and doesn’t refer to the church either time. Instead, it is used in reference to a supper “belonging to the Lord” or “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20) and a day “belonging to the Lord” or “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). The New Testament indicates that both a supper and a day belong to the Lord. However, it never specifically mentions the church as “belonging to the Lord”.
The Greek word translated into the English word “church” in the New Testament is ecclesia (ek-klay-see'-ah). With specific reference to the church, it is used 111 times.
Ecclesia is derived from the verb ekkaleo. The compound ek means “out,” and kaleo means “to call or summon.” Thus, the literal meaning of ecclesia is “to call out.” Therefore, many have simply presumed that the church is called out of the world. However, the literal meaning of ecclesia does not constitute its best interpretation.
Ecclesia was a familiar word in ancient Greece long before the New Testament was written. Its secular usage can be traced back to at least the fifth century B.C. where it was used in reference to a regular “assembly” of citizens of privileged status.
The secular ecclesia in ancient Greece was predominantly a political meeting. Scott and Liddel define it as "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier; the legislative assembly."1 Seyffert adds that the ecclesia was "the assembly of the people, which in Greek cities had the power of final decision in public affairs."2
In the third century BC the meaning of ecclesia was also identified with the assembly of citizens for religious purposes. In the Septuagint (LXX), the translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, ecclesia was translated into Greek from the Hebrew word qahal (kaw-hawl). Thus, the translators of the LXX believed that the Hebrew qahal was synonymous in meaning with the Greek ecclesia. The Old Testament Hebrew word qahal is generally translated into English as assembly, community or congregation. It describes various gatherings and assemblies called together for a specific purpose. Frequently it was used in reference to the community of Israel, especially in relation to its religious status as the people of God.
Both ancient secular Greek and the Septuagint (LXX) use the word ecclesia in reference to an “assembly” of people. It was typically political or religious in nature.
It is important to note two things about the early usage of ecclesia. First, it referred to a group of people “called out” to assemble together and, second, it was indicative of the assembled group, not the individuals comprising the group.