Ecclesia is the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament. Here are the various ways ekklhsian was used generally in the Hellenistic world, in the Septuagint and Rabbinic culture, and in early Christian history (including the New Testament):
1. General Greek Usage: a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating. b) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously
2. OT usage: the assembly of the Israelites (most often in the Septuagint it represents the Hebrew word qahal–meaning assembly, multitude, gathering1)
3. Christian usage: a) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting b) a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake c) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body d) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth e) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven
I think it’s wonderful that the word for church2 cannot be pegged to any one particular usage. Even the general Greek definition is somewhat vague and contradictory…is it a gathering that is planned or spontaneous? In the New Testament, the word represents all Christians and yet also referred to individual gatherings3. Perhaps part of the problem for contemporary Christian culture is that we have defined church too clearly. Maybe it’s meant to be enigmatic…too slippery for us to get our dirty fingers around it.
1 See the following two links for a quick look at the word’s usage in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint the word is translated both as ecclesia and as the Greek word for synagogue.
Link 1 & Link 2
2 The English word “church” is really a bad translation in our English Bibles. “Church” derives from the Greek word kuriakon, having a simple meaning “of the Lord”. In Old English and German the word was pronounced ‘kirché.’ In Scotland, it was ‘kirk.’ The word kuriakon only appears in the New Testament in two places. It is found once in 1 Corinthians 11:20 where it refers to ‘the Lord’s supper,’ and once again in Revelation 1:10 where it refers to ‘the Lord’s day.’ In both of those cases, it is translated ‘the Lord’s’ – not ‘church.’ This word does not appear again in the New Testament. A better translation for ecclesia would to have been simply “assembly”, “community”, or perhaps, “the called together”…although perhaps the Body is properly the ecclesia kuriakon, a gathering of people belonging to the Lord.
3The word is used to describe the body of believers in Acts 20:28; Gal. 1:13; Eph. 1: 22, 23; 5:23. 1 Cor. 1: 2, speaks of the ecclesia in a specific area, as does 1 Thess. 1: 1 and 2 Thess. 1: 1, while, Acts 9:3 1, seems to be speaking of the ecclesia(s) in the areas of ‘Judaea and Galilee and Samaria. ‘ Romans 16:3-5, and verse 23, speak of individual ecclesias in the homes of specific individuals