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Where Did the Word “Church” Come From?
“Conventional,” “orthodox evangelical,” or “dispensational” Christian theology teaches that the “Church” came into existence at Pentecost and will cease to function in its present capacity at “the Rapture” (also known as “the Second Coming” or the “Translation of the Church”), and that the “Church” therefore consists of all the saints of “the present age,” and I faithfully taught that doctrine for over thirty years. My recent studies of the Scripture have rendered that teaching in some very serious doubt in my mind for the following reasons:
a. The Greek word that is translated “church” in the English Bibles is ekklesia (ekklesia), which is made up of the two words ek (ek), which means “out of,” and kaleo (kaleo), which means “to call.” Ekklesia (ekklesia) therefore means “called out” or, when used with the definite article (“the”), “the called out ones.” This concept carries with it the idea of being “elect” or “chosen,” and it should be properly translated as either “called out” or “the called out ones” or simply “the elect” for simplicity sake. Other than the pre-existing religious bias of the Bible translators and the traditions of men, there is absolutely no grammatical reason for this word to be have ever been translated as “church.” (Thus in Spanish, the word is not even translated, but only transliterated as iglacia.)
b. The Hebrew word arqm (miqra) carries the same meaning as the word ekklesia, and is used in the Tenakh (the “Hebrew Bible” or so-called “Old Testament” ... the only “Bible” that was used by Yeshua and all his Shliachim, or Emissaries) to refer to the “holy convocations” of Israel. It can also readily be translated as “called out.”
c. While most “conventional” Christian theology teaches that the so-called “Old Testament Saints” were saved by observance of Torah (usually mistranslated as “the Law”), the Apostolic Scriptures (so-called B'rit Chadasha, “Renewed Covenant”, or “New Testament” — particularly Hebrews 11; Romans 3:21-4:25; Romans 11) teaches that salvation (justification) has always been solely on the basis of faith in Mashiach, totally apart from any “works of righteousness,” and Rabbinical literature from the Second Temple Period to the present reveals that Judaism recognizes no such concept as “justification through Torah observance.”
d. The “called out ones” before the resurrection of Mashiach were justified (saved) by faith in the completed work of Mashiach that was yet to be performed.
e. The “called out ones” after the resurrection of Mashiach are justified (saved) by faith in the exact same completed work of Mashiach that has now been performed.
h. The “called out ones” before the resurrection of Mashiach and the “called out ones” after the resurrection of Mashiach are therefore related to Mashiach in exactly the same manner. (Rom. 3:30)
Where, then, is the scriptural basis for saying that “the called out ones” before the resurrection and the “called out ones” after the resurrection are two different groups of humanity?
There is, therefore, no Scriptural basis to claim that God started something “new” or “different” at Pentecost. In fact, the Apostolic Scriptures clearly state that at the Pentecost event in Acts 2 the new Messianic Believers were “added to” that which was already in existence:
The only apparent difference between “the called out ones” before Pentecost and “the called out ones” after Pentecost is that Ruach HaKodesh was now to permanently indwell those who came to faith in Mashiach, whereas before Pentecost that indwelling seems (at least from our limited human perspective) to have been more temporary in nature.
Although the exact etymology of the word “church” is far from certain, some Bible dictionaries and commentaries suggest that it came to be used for the ekklesia because it is thought that early believers may have met in a circle (see following). However, that concept is highly suspect because if one correctly understands that the believers met in synagogues until far after the end of the first century, there is nothing specific in synagogue worship that lends itself to the concept of a circle, unless it refers to Davidic dance, which is generally performed in a circle.
It is highly possible, however, that the practice of meeting in a “circle” could have developed during the Middle Ages (5th through 16th centuries), particularly in the British Isles, due to the influence of the Druids, Celts, and Saxons.
Throughout England, pagan religious gatherings were always held in a circle. The Druids with their Stonehenge, the Celts, and Saxons also met in stone circles, to worship their gods. Many of these stone circles still exist throughout England and about twenty eight are found in the Wycliffe’s Yorkshire area. Many of the first English Christian buildings for worship were located on these circle sites or were built using stones from these circles. Through this association, the people of Wycliffe’s day continued to call these buildings a “kirk” (Scottish), a cirice (Old English), or chirche (Wycliffe’s version), each variation meaning “circle” and describing a place — occult — and not the people. [Steve Bydeley, internet article “A Study in the Word Church” http://www.lapstoneministries.org/church.html
According to some other dictionaries, the modern English word “church” is supposedly derived from the Middle English word chirche or kirke, which in turn is derived from the Greek word kyriakos, which is said to mean “belonging to the Lord.” However, the strongest evidence against that position is simply that the word kirke is far more ancient than Christianity, and was (according to many sources on the internet) either originally derived from, or related to, the name of the pagan demi-goddess Circe, the daughter of the Greek sun god Helios, whose priests and priestesses gathered in a “circle” to worship her (hence the supposed source of the word “circle”).
The etymology of this word is generally assumed to be from the Greek, Kuriou oikos (house of God); but this is most improbable, as the word existed in all the Celtic dialects long before the introduction of Greek. No doubt the word means “a circle.” The places of worship among the German and Celtic nations were always circular. (Welsh, cyrch, French, cirque; Scotch, kirk; Greek, kirk-os, etc.) Compare Anglo-Saxon circe, a church, with circol, a circle. (Entry “church” in The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894.)
Still other dictionaries and commentaries suggest that the word “church” it is derived from the Teutonic kirk or kirche, which is a circle of trees that was used for human sacrifices (again apparently related to Circe-worship).
Since the “church” as we know it today owes most of its form to its Roman Catholic ancestor, I believe that the best explanation is that the word “church” apparently actually refers to the “inner circle” of the Babylonian Mystery Religion (closely related to the Teutonic kirk in both form and function).
In 63 BCE Julius Caesar was officially recognized as the head of the Romanized form of the Babylonian Mystery Religion (which, though many different names are used for the gods and goddesses, is in reality the worship of Nimrod [Gen. 10:8-9] and his mother, the “Queen of Heaven,” who became known as Ishtar), and was given the title of Pontifex Maximus, or “supreme bridge” (that is, the supreme bridge between man and the gods). That title was continuously held by the Roman emperor until 376 CE, when Emperor Gratian rejected the title, and transferred it to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, who retains the title to this day.
When he became Emperor, Constantine (Pontifex Maximus of the Mystery Religion) desired to consolidate his power over both the civil and religious aspects of the Empire (ca. 311). At that time, Judaism (which included Messianic Judaism, or “The Way,” as a sub-set, or “sect” of Judaism) was one of the “authorized” religions of the Empire. Constantine, who never actually became a Believer in Messiah, simply decreed that his more-inclusive religion, which he called “Christianity,” would be the “official” and only acceptable religion in the Empire.
All he actually did was to take the Roman form of the Babylon Mystery Religion, dress it up with “Bible words,” and change the names of the pantheon of “gods” and “goddesses” to the names of prominent first-century Messianic Believers, particularly the Apostles. The names of the gods and goddesses were then removed from their statues in the Roman temples, their new names were chiseled into place, and the “worship” of these gods and goddesses continued as “the veneration of saints.” (For example, the mother of Nimrod, who was worshipped as the “Queen of Heaven,” was renamed “Mary” and continues to be worshipped as the “Queen of Heaven,” and the statue of “Peter” that presently stands in the Vatican is actually a statue of the Roman god Jupiter, which has simply been renamed.)
The first level of pagan priests under Constantine was known as the “circle” and derived that name from their practice of meeting in a circle to worship the sun/sky god Jupiter. (See the reference to the worship of Circe, above.) Sun worship was so prevalent in ancient Rome that they named the first day of the week Sun-day, and had a law that no work could be done on Sun-day under penalty of death. Constantine simply appointed the priests from the Mystery Religion as “bishops” (now called the College of Cardinals) in his new hybrid religion, and he himself continued to rule over them as their “high priest,” or Pontifex Maximus.
He then called the Council of Nicea, to which only the Gentile bishops were invited, and made the observance of any Jewish tradition punishable by death. Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits were replaced with the Feast of Ishtar (one of the many names of the pagan goddess of fertility — two of the most common symbols of fertility are eggs and rabbits); Shabbat worship was replaced with Sun-day worship; the Lord’s “birthday observance” was moved from Sukkot (Tabernacles) to Saturnalia (the feast of Saturn, Jupiter’s father); all Hebrew versions of the Scriptures were destroyed [including, I believe, all extant copies of the original Hebrew versions of the Apostolic Scriptures, thus we now have only the remaining Greek copies]; and all Messianic Jewish Believers were given the choice to either become “Gentile Christians” or die.
It is possible that by the time the Bible was finally translated into English, the entire pagan Roman cult had come to be known as “the circle” and this term was later rendered into Old and Middle English as “church.”
When Tyndale produced the first English translation of the Bible, he correctly translated the word ekklesia as “assembly,” and Wycliffe used the word “congregation” in an apparent effort to avoid the influence of the Druid, Celts, and Saxon “worship circles” that could be found around his Yorkshire home. However, when King James commissioned the 1611 translation, they apparently arbitrarily decided that the word be translated using the common term for the Roman cult, “church,” and so that tradition has also been followed by modern translators without regard to the actual grammatical meaning of the word ekklesia.
The body of true “Called Out Ones” (Miqra or Ekklesia) that Yeshua established—beginning with Avraham—has always survived alongside both the apostate synagogue and the apostate “church,” just as He predicted in His parable of the wheat and the tares. He will sort them all out when He returns to rule over the earth.
[This opinion is where my research has currently taken me. The subject is still under serious investigation.]