As we study the New Testament‚ we can’t help but notice that the authors chose to use a particular word in describing the Body of Christ. It is the word ἐκκλησία transliterated as “ekklesia” or “ecclesia”. Both transliterations have been used in specialized and popular literature alike.
According to Christopher Blackwell and the team behind one of the best studies of the subject available‚ “the Assembly‚ (ἐκκλησία) was the regular gathering of male Athenian citizens (women also enjoyed the status of “citizen‚” but without political rights) to listen to‚ discuss‚ and vote on decrees that affected every aspect of Athenian life‚ both public and private‚ from financial matters to religious ones‚ from public festivals to war‚ from treaties with foreign powers to regulations governing ferry boats.” ̵’; Christopher Blackwell‚ ed.‚ Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (A. Mahoney and R. Scaife‚ edd.‚ The Stoa: a Consortium for Scholarly Publication in the Humanities).
We can safely assume that when Jesus spoke of the ekklesia‚ He did so within the context of well-established tradition of city governance. Just as today there would be no confusion in most people’s minds as to the meaning of well-established terms and concepts such as Congress‚ Parliament or City Council‚ ekklesia was a well-established institution and the term for it had a singular meaning for hundreds of years. It didn’t have any religious meaning whatsoever. It was strictly a civic institution and term designating civic government. Jesus borrowed this well-established term and used it to describe what He intends to build on the earth – an ekklesia based on the understanding and belief that He is the Son of God. Clearly‚ the ekklesia was meant to be a body of people who represent a specific city‚ who come together for the purpose of city governance. How the term became a religious term is a whole different story in and of itself.
Here are some useful links related to the ancient Greek and Roman states and their civic organization:
- The Athens Dialogues
- The Center for Hellenic Studies
- Demos: Classical Athenian Democracy (digital encyclopedia of classical Athenian democracy)