Specifying the "ekk^lesia"

By Simon Barrow
October 19, 2007

Our friend Deirdre Good, Professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary, New York, USA, has a post which is of natural interest to us on her fine blog ...

For reasons of wisdom you will want to discover, the blog is called On Not Being A Sausage. The entry concerned is here. I quote, in full:


Hillel Italie reports for AP yesterday that Gary Wills presides over three metal music stands while at work in his study, his chosen "scores" including dictionaries of Greek, Latin and Italian.

He might need, for example, to look up the Greek word "ekklesia," which appears in the New Testament and is commonly translated as "church." A mistake, Wills says. "Ekklesia" means "gathering," an informal assembly. "Church" implies a Christian hierarchy that never existed in biblical times.

Matthew 16:18 actually. Tyndale here is helpful:
"And I say also unto thee that thou arte Peter. And upon this roocke I wyll bylde my congregacion."

Perseus has a hypertext dictionary entry for "ekkle^sia" that yields:

"Assembly, duly summoned (with texts); In LXX the Jewish congregation (with text); In NT, the Church as a body of Christians (with Matt 16:18 and other texts)."

The LXX actually has 114 instances of the noun or verb which presumably had some effect on Matthew. (Perseus is deficient in its citations from the LXX). Uses of the noun are invariably translated "assembly" or "congregation" by the NRSV e.g. at Deut 23:2, "Assembly of the Lord." Take 1Chr. 29:20 ¶ Then David said to the whole assembly, “Bless the Lord your God.” And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king.

Wills has a point. How is it helpful to separate English speaking readers of Matthew's gospel from uses of "ekkle^sia" in the Hebrew Bible? Isn't this Christian privileging?

[Wills' book on the Gospels was published in Spring 2008.]

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