As a 1st Century Jew, if you wanted to communicate or impress someone that you were going to a “religious gathering,” you would use the word synegoge (synagogue). If you were just wanting to communicate that you were going to participate in some generic meeting, city council, men’s guild, shepherd’s gathering or even an out of control mob of sign carrying zealots, you would use the word Ecclesia. Like the word agape, when Jesus and the early writers chose to use it, they snatched a plain vanilla word, and began to add flavor, sprinkles, syrup and nuts to the concept, so that when they were done, it looked nothing like the culture around them. Interestingly, Jesus only used the word we translate “Church” two times in His recorded ministry. Here they are with some surrounding context:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (ecclesia), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church (ecclesia); and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
If these were the ONLY two passages you could use to draw your definition of the Church from, how would you define the word given all the information you have so far?
Do you think Jesus was trying to “define” a religious institution by using this word (and not the word synagogue)? Explain your answer also.
What happens if you combine your definition of “Soma” (the Body) with Ecclesia? Do they blend well together in the context of Matthew 16 & 18?
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.