Feb 15

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It is interesting to learn that the first English translation of the Greek New Testament, did not translate the Greek word “ekklesia” into the English word “church.” This makes a student of the New Testament to question, why was this is the case? Then, into what English word was the Greek word “ekklesia” translated before it came to be translated “church?” Next question, why is this important to a student of the New Testament?
The first translation of the Greek New Testament into English was done by William Tyndale and he did not translate the Greek “ekklesia” into the English word “church.” So, into what English word did Tyndale translate “ekklesia?” Tyndale did his translation in 1525 A.D. He translated the Greek word into the English word, “congregation.” Tyndale was arrested, jailed, then convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation. Then, his body was burnt at the stake. Though Catholics deny it, it is believed he was put to death because he translated the Bible into English without the approval of the Catholic Church. After his death, his friend, John Rogers, completed the work of translating the Old Testament into English, but used the pen name, “Thomas Matthew,” and this translation became known as the Matthew’s Bible in 1537. He also translated the word “ekklesia” into the English “congregation. It is also important to note, as the subject is studied, the next English translation was in 1539 and is known as the Great Bible, and it also used the word “congregation” and not the English word “church” in translating the Greek “ekklesia.”
This makes us wonder, when was the first time the Greek word “ekklesia” was translated into the English word “church?” More than likely it was Theodore Beza in 1556 who used the English word “church,” when translating the Greek word “ekklesia.” Then, William Whittingham, in 1557, used the word “church” in translating the Greek word “ekklesia.”
Of course, you are asking, what difference does it made? Let us look at the English Dictionary; as it gives the meaning of the word “church.” You may find the first meaning of the word “church” is “a building for public worship.” If the Greek word, “ekklesia” is correctly translated, this meaning would never be found in our dictionaries. Have you ever heard the following: “A church burned in Oklahoma City?” You see, these words would never be used in such statements as: “A congregation was burned in Oklahoma City.” “An assembly was burned in Oklahoma City.” Unless, the people meeting in a building were actually burned to death! With a correct understanding of what the Greek word “ekklesia” means, you would never hear such! So, we are left with the question: “How should the Greek word “ekklesia” be translated?
A good test for any change in wording, is to put the word(s) into the text, and read it. So, let us do just that!
1. Matthew 16:18 – “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my congregation; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
2. Acts 2:47 – “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the congregation daily such as should be saved.
3. 1 Cor. 1:2 – “Unto the congregation of God which is at Corinth, them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,…”
4. 1 Tim. 3:15 – “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the congregation of the living God, …”
These verses were chosen because two of them (Matt. 16:18 and 1 Tim. 3:15) refer to the universal congregation, the house of the living God; while the other two (Acts 2:17 and 1 Cor. 1:2) refer to a local congregations. True, reading these verses with the word “congregation” in them, is a bit awkward, but the more you do so, the less awkward it becomes. However, it is truth we are seeking!
A correct translation of the Greek word “ekklesia,” is the English words, congregation, or assembly. In a third article verses will be studied where the word “assembly” is best used and more history about the word.

— Frank R. Williams

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