Over at Think Theology, Kenny Burchard has written about the fact that Tyndale did not include the word church in his translation of the Bible. He has also shared something of his own ecclesiological journey to help us understand his position. John Stevens of the FIEC also shared his post with the following question: How might thinking/practice differ if “church” was always translated “congregation” in Bible? My short answer is this: if your ecclesiology stands or falls on the English translation of the word church, you are probably doing it wrong.
Burchard made much of the fact that Tyndale pointedly translates e0kklesia as congregation, not church. However, Tyndale’s bible used the word congregation because the ecclesiastical standard model set by The Church of his day was errant. Tyndale was not attempting to alter perceptions by using a different word for church, he was trying to escape the association with the established Church. It was the established Church that sought to define ecclesiology based on the translation of the word church, not Tyndale.
While combining the two root words (“called out from”) does indeed create something like “called out ones”, the truth is, the word ekklesia is never used that way in the New Testament or its contemporaries. In fact, ekklesia was used to refer to a group of philosophers, mathematicians, or any other kind of assembly in the Greco-Roman world. So unless we’re supposing that actors and gladiators were called to a holy lifestyle by assembling together, we can’t create a relationship between holiness and ekklesia necessarily. While it’s true that the church is composed of “called out” ones – that’s not the particular point of this word. It just means “assembly” or “gathering”.
Burchard argues that the “literal” understanding of e0kklesia means “called out” and seeks to argue, from this, that the word congregation is a better translation as it focuses on community and not on buildings. Yet, the supposed literal “called out” meaning is not the actual meaning of the word. Though congregation is a perfectly valid rendering, it has absolutely nothing to do with being called out or forming a community. It is simply an assembled gathering of people.
Third, and most importantly, just about everybody recognises that the word church has a range of meanings in scripture. Here are just some of them:
- Eph 5:25 – the church – all people, throughout all time, saved by faith in Jesus
- Gal 1:13 – the church – all professing Christians, real or not, that belong to visible congregations
- 1 Cor 11:18 – the church – a gathered meeting
- Rom 16:4f – the churches/the church – a group of separate gatherings and a particular local gathering in one place