Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reflections on the "church"

So it's paper time again - and I want to share with you some of the tidbits that I'm learning in my "ivory tower".

So for this go I decided to look at the Hebrew antecedents to the Christian church. In the New Testament the Greek word translated as "church" is ekklesia. This was just a Greek term that meant "assembly" until the Jews/Christians got their hands on it. About 300 years before Jesus the Jews translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (called the Septuagint) and the word ekklesia shows up in there about 100 times.

Most of the time ekklesia translates the Hebrew word qahal which also usually means assembly. Ekklesia never translates the synonym of qahal, 'edah - for that they use the Greek word synagogue - a gathering.

The earlier Hebrew Scriptures tend to use the word 'edah to refer to the covenant people of God, where the books written after the exile tend to use the term qahal to refer to the covenant people. Most people think that it is durring the exile that the Jews developed the Synagogue as a meeting place (since the temple was destroyed). So, after the exile 'edah/synagoge actually referred to a building.

When the Christians needed a term for their meetings they wanted to choose a Scriptural word (the Septuagint was their bible), but they didn't want to have buildings (Synagogues) but rather communities of God's people. Therefore, they chose the word ekklesia.

Fast forward to the future and another word comes into the picture - kurios-oikos (Lord's-house from the Greek) begins to metamorph into Latin and from there into the Romance languages and is the root of our word 'church'. But at that time the New Testament was in Latin and Greek - when the Reformers started to translate the bible into the common languages they sought a term to translate ekklesia and they chose (after much debate) the word 'church', even though that meant a building, not a community of God's people.

So, we are facing the same problem now that the first century Christians faced - we don't want to be identified by a building or a place, but by the God who has called us into community and has made us a people.


Unknown said...

Is that where Ecclesiastes comes from ?

KMiV said...

Good writing James. Also, the Greeks saw ekklesia in democratic terms and called people out to arrive at a decision. The Romans didn't care much for ekklesia. They put men in charge of the ekklesia to tell the gathering what Rome already decided.

Acts 6 shows us that the early church held more to the democratic view of assembly rather than leaders who make decisions for the church.

James T Wood said...

Olivia - wikipedia states that the Hebrew title was a form of the word qahal, meaning 'the one who gathers' and so the Greek translation used a form of ekklesia and the English translations just tranliterated the title from Greek. Basically it means, preacher or teacher.

Ron - thanks, I appreciate it. I'm working more from the OT/LXX since this is a paper for my OT class, so I haven't looked at too much NT stuff at this point in the research.