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David Thomas on the Meaning of ekklesia

Posted by on Nov 10, 2010 in books, church history, definition | 6 comments

David Thomas on the Meaning of ekklesia

David Thomas (1813-1894) first published his commentary on The Gospel of Matthew at the end of the nineteenth century. I ran across this commentary in my research for my dissertation.

In his comments on Matthew 18:15-20, Thomas begins by defining the Greek term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia – normally translated “church”). He defines the term here because it is one of only two occurences of the term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) in any of the four Gospels.

Here are his comments:

It seems necessary, at the outset or our endeavour to reach and develop the spirit of this passage, to get a clear and a definite idea of the thing which Jesus here designates ἐκκλησία —the church. It is scarcely necessary to remark that the simple meaning of the word is an assembly… The term is never used to designate a building, a class of religious functionaries, or a system either of doctrine or of worship. In the Christian sense it means nothing more than an assembly of Christians. The assembly may be large or small, held in a city or a village, in a public building or in the open air. (pg 359) (italics in original)

The more I read older commentaries, the more I find comments and definitions like this. As a definition of ἐκκλησία (ekklesia), “assembly” is much better than “called out ones,” which relies primarily on etymology instead of usage.


6 Comments

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  1. 11-10-2010

    Hi Alan,
    So then, in a nutshell, what has happened in the past 100 years or so that has changed the way people view and define “church”? If the older commentaries generally deal with it as your post describes then why the changes we see today? I’m just curious regarding your thoughts here.
    BLessings,
    Chris

  2. 11-10-2010

    B. H. Carroll, in Ecclesia majors on the meaning of assembly, but includes the called out part as follows: “an organized assembly, whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs.”

    See: http://maelandcindy.blogspot.com/2010/10/carroll-ecclesia-church-bible-class.html

  3. 11-10-2010

    Chris,

    All of the commentaries do not agree that ekklesia means “assembly.” But, since some do, it shows that this is a new definition.

    Maël,

    Do you think “whose members have been properly called out from private homes or businesses to attend to public affairs” is a necessary part of the definition?

    -Alan

  4. 11-10-2010

    Alan:

    Carroll uses that definition because he claims that it is the definition of the word ecclesia at the time of Christ. If it is in fact the definition used at that time, then why should we not consider it as a necessary part of the definition?

  5. 11-11-2010

    This part seems obvious, “The term is never used to designate a building, a class of religious functionaries, or a system either of doctrine or of worship.” But not so sure this is as precise as it should be: “In the Christian sense it means nothing more than an assembly of Christians.” I think it IS something more.

    Acts 19:32-41 is an example of the usage of ekklesia (3X) in the NT era as a physical assembly of people who had “come together” and could be “dismissed.” So, they were only an assembly when assembled. I don’t think this is exactly the way the writers in the NT used the term for the “ekklesia of God which He purchased with His own blood.” I don’t think this ekklesia disappears when not physically assembled in a place on earth.

    I think it has the sense of a permanent assembly: we have been assembled, we are seated in the heavenlies, we exist in the world not only when we come together physically. This assembly that exists can come together physically or not, but that doesn’t bring it into being. God has brought it into being forever. But when it does come together, we have God’s Assembly, assembled.

    So, we can have Acts 11:26: “And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the ekklesia, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

  6. 11-11-2010

    Maël,

    In Acts 19, there is an example of an ekklesia that was not “properly called out,” but it is still referred to as an ekklesia.

    Art,

    I agree with everything you say. But, that truth does not rest on the Greek term ekklesia.

    -Alan

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