THE MEANING OF EKKLESIA
By H. Boyce Taylor
Published in the Berea Baptist Banner May 5, 1991.
Before we go further in the study of Revelation it will
be well for us to get clearly in mind our reasons for say-ing
that ekklesia never means any thing but an organized
assembly. Every man’s interpretation of Revelation de-pends
on what he means by the word ekklesia or church.
If he starts wrong by perverting the words of the Lord
Jesus and making His ekklesia mean an universal, invis-ible,
unorganized and unassembling body, then his
whole exposition of Revelation will be heretical. He lays
an heretical foundation and his building will be wood,
hay and stubble. So we want to go patiently into what
the New Testament means by the word ekklesia or church.
We maintain that in all and every place where it is found
in the New Testament, whether used of Israel in the wil-derness
or of the church of the Firstborn in Heaven or
the citizens of Ephesus or of a New Testament church, it
always and every where refers to an organized assem-bly.
Its two fundamental and “essential ideas are orga-nization
and assembly”. We think we have good and
sufficient reasons for maintaining that position. Our
readers will have to be the jury to render a verdict as to
whether our contention will hold. Here are our reasons
for saying so.
1. Our first reason for contending that the word ekklesia
never means any thing but an organized and an assem-bling
church is that the Lord Jesus, who is the author of
the Book of Revelation, uses the word ekklesia 20 times
in Revelation and every time He uses it, He refers to a
local organized and assembling church. Seven times He
uses it in the singular in naming the seven churches of
Asia. Thirteen times He uses it in the plural referring to
these seven churches and their successors. Whenever
He spoke of a larger group than a local church He al-ways
used it in the plural.
2. B. H. Carroll for many years a teacher at Baylor
University and later the founder of the Southwestern
Theological Seminary, in a newspaper controversy with
W. J. McClothlin as to the meaning of the word ekklesia,
says: “The proposed new sense (of the word ekklesia)
destroys the essential ideas of the old word, namely,
organization and assembly, and would leave Christ with-out
an institution, an official business body on this earth.
Our Lord Himself uses the word 23 times—once in Mat-thew
16; twice in Matthew 18; and 20 times in Revela-tion.
These 23 instances settle the meaning of the word.”
3. Back in the days when T. T. Eaton was the editor
of the Western Recorder, in discussing with the
“invisiblisticists” the meaning of the word ekklesia in
Matthew 16:18 he gives these seven reasons for saying
the church Jesus built was a local church.
(1). That is the meaning of the word “Ekklesia.”
(2). That is Christ’s universal usage of the word.
(3). That is the only meaning that would have been
understood by the Apostles.
(4). That is the only kind of church recognized in the
(5). That is the only kind of church to which the prom-ise
has been fulfilled.
(6). That is the only kind of church adapted to hu-man
(7). That is the only kind that is suited to preach a
4. Prof. H. E. Dana of the Fort Worth Seminary in his
book, Christ’s Ekklesia, page 23 says: “There were in the
classical use of this term four elements pertinent to its
New Testament meaning: (1) the assembly was local;
(2) it was autonomous; (3) it pre-supposed definite quali-fications;
(4) it was conducted on democratic principles”.
5. Probably the Rotheham translation of the Scrip-tures
is one of the best and most accurate of all the ver-sions.
In the appendix on page 268, in giving his rea-sons
why he uniformly translates the word ekklesia by
the word assembly, he says: “It is well known that the
Greek word for ‘Church’ is ekklesia, and that ekklesia
strictly and fully means ‘called-out-assembly.’” The very
fact that Mr. Rotherham uniformly translates the word
ekklesia assembly throughout the New Testament is the
very strongest proof possible that he thought the word
ekklesia meant only an “organized and assembling” body.
6. Ramsey in St. Paul the Traveller says on page 124:
“The term (ekklesia) originally implied the assembled
constituted a self-governing body like a free city”.
7. Harnack in his History of Dogma says the Catholic
or Universal idea of the church sprang up in the third
third of the third century. Eusebius, Tertullian, Clement
of Alexandria, Hiero, Cornelius, and Cyprian all speak
of “Holy Churches” and never of the catholic or univer-sal
church. On page 83, of Vol. III, Harnack says: “No
one thought of the desperate idea of the invisible church:
this would probably have brought about a lapse from
pure Christianity far more rapidly than the idea of the
Holy Catholic Church”. Do not forget that, Scofield’s
idea of the invisible church is a lapse from pure Chris-tianity.
It is neither biblical nor scriptural but is a des-perate
idea born in the brain of a heretic and swallowed
by Scofield in our day to decoy Baptists into the camp
of the enemies of the only true churches, built and pre-served
by the Lord Jesus Himself.
8. Prof. Royal of Wake Forest College, whom South-ern
Baptists never had a better teacher of Greek, when
asked if he knew of any passage in classical Greek, where
the word ekklesia was ever used of unassembled or.The Meaning of Ekklesia by H. B. Taylor – Page 2
unassembling persons, said: “I do not know of any such
passage in classic Greek”.
9. Joseph Cross, in his book, Coals From The Altar says
this: “We hear much of the invisible church as contra-distinguished
from the church visible. Of an invisible
church in this world I know nothing: the Word of God
says nothing: nor can anything of the kind exist, except
in the brain of a heretic. The church is a body: but what
sort of a body is that which can neither be seen nor
identified? A body is an organism, occupying space and
having a definite locality. A mere aggregation is not a
body: there must be organization as well. A heap of
heads, hands, feet and other members would not make
a body: they must be united in a system, each in its
proper place and pervaded by a common life. So a col-lection
of stones, bricks and timber would not be a house:
the material must be built up together, in artistic order,
adapted to utility. So a mass of roots, trunks and branches
would not be a vine or a tree: the several parts must be
developed according to the laws of nature from the same
seed and nourished by the same sap.”
10. Bishop Hort, one of the publishers of the Wescott
and Hort Greek Testament, whose scholarship and abil-ity
certainly can not be called in question, confesses the
“necessity of finding some other than etymological,
grammatical or historical grounds” on which to prove
the universal church. That means it can not be proved
by the word ekklesia nor by the grammatical construc-tion
of New Testament Greek nor by the historical use
of the word ekklesia in New Testament days. Where does
Mr. Hort say then that the idea of an universal church
came from? He says the idea of an universal church came
from away this side of the New Testament from the the-ology
of uninspired men. Note what he says, He says
that the idea of an universal church is not “the proper
original of ekklesia”: that it is not traceable to “Current
usage”: that the Word ekklesia is always limited by Paul
himself to a local organization which has a “correspond-ing
unity of its own”; “each is a body of Christ and a
sanctuary of God”. By each he means each local church.
Again he says: Paul uniformly speaks of the individual
church “as a body of Christ”—I Cor. 12:27: “a virgin” —
II Cor. 11:2: “a temple.” I Cor. 3:16.
In Ephesians 2:21 he refers to the Ephesian church
as “a holy temple.” In Colossians 3:15 he calls the
Colossian church “called in one body.” All the refer-ences
are from Hort’s Christian Ekklesia. Mr. Hort’s tes-timony
that Paul’s use of the word ekklesia in Ephesians
and Colossians is to the local church at Ephesus and
Colosse is especially convincing because Scofield and
all the balance of the universal church heretics go to
Ephesians and Colossians to substantiate their heretical
teachings. Again Mr. Hort argues that in breaking down
the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile and alien
classes of all sorts, the local church is the chief, if not the
only agency through which this change is manifest.
11. Jesse B. Thomas in his book, Church and Kingdom,
calls attention to the fact that in John 2:19-21 Jesus calls
His own body a temple. This involved both local and
visible tangibility (II Pet. 1:16; I John 1:1). So building
in Matthew 16:18. All these allusions, according to Mr.
Thomas point irresistibly to a concrete organism. In
Ephesians 2:21 (R. V.) the local church is spoken of as
“each several building.” “Fitly framed” refers to the
local church as a building and “fitly joined and com-pacted”
as a body. The first in 2:21 and the latter in
12. Alexander Campbell said in the Christian Baptist,
p. 214: “Ekklesia literally signifies an assembly called out
from others and is used among the Greeks, particularly
the Athenians, for their popular assemblies, summoned
by their chief magistrates and in which none but citi-zens
had a right to sit. By inherent power it may be
applied to any body of men called out and assembled
in one place. If it ever loses the idea of calling out and
assembling, it loses its principle features and its primi-tive
13. David Lipscombe in the Gospel Advocate Oct. 28,
1926: “There is not the shadow of any universal church
in the New Testament, nor is there the representation of
a tangible church or of one that may be reached and
associated with, save the local church”. Again the same
article Mr. Lipscombe says: “Just so, when speaking of
things common to all churches, we say the church is the
body of Christ, not meaning that all the churches are
consolidated to make one body, but that each and ev-ery
church is the body of Christ in its locality and what
is common to all is affirmed of the church as of one
body. This style of speech is common. This can be its
only meaning. There is no development of the church
of Christ in the world save in the local church. Paul uses
this same general language of the church being the body
of Christ to the church at Corinth that he does to the
Colossians, Ephesians and others: ‘Ye are the body of
Christ and members in particular.’ The church at
Rome, the church at Ephesus, at Colosse, each was just
as much ‘the body of Christ and members in par-ticular’
as the church at Corinth. The church at Jerusa-lem
was a complete body of Christ before another
church was established. It lost none of its completeness
when other churches were planted. And every other
church was as complete within itself as was this church
at Jerusalem. Each church was in itself a complete body
of Christ, without any reference to any other church or
churches in existence.
God has given to us the local church as the only mani-festation
of His body. It is the only body ordained or
recognized by God as acceptable to Him. It is the “pil-lar
and support of the truth.” It is “the body of
Christ.” The body of which He is the Head. “From
whom the whole body fitly joined together and
compacted by that which every joint supplieth,
according to the effectual working in the measure
of every part, maketh increase of the body unto.The Meaning of Ekklesia by H. B. Taylor – Page 3
the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Let us sum up a little.
The word church was used by the Master 23 times
and always meant a local church. Mr. Hort of the
Westcott-Hort New Testament, admits that Paul never
used it of anything but a local church. Scholars testify
that ekklesia was never used in classic Greek except of
an assembled or assembling body. The two essential
ideas in the word ekklesia are assembly and organiza-tion.
Every illustration of a church in the New Testa-ment,
such as temple or house or body, makes the veri-est
of nonsense, if it is not assembled and organized.
The etymology of the word ekklesia makes it of neces-sity
a local church. The grammatical construction of the
passages where used can not be twisted to mean any-thing
but a local church. Both Hort and Harnack testify
that historically the word ekklesia was never used of any-thing
but a local church, until long after the close of the
New Testament. So you are on safe ground, when you
say that the church, which as the body of Christ, is al-ways
a local Baptist church. Selah! !
(News and Truth, April 6, 1932, Murray, Ky.).