Define “Church” (20)

Question #20:  What is the difference between the terms: Kirk >Kirche > Chirchie> Church among the Goths and the Scottish and the English people, AND  the Ek+Kaleo >>Ekklesia of the Greeks? And is it true that the word “Church” could not refer to a chapel or cathedral or building?

Answer:   A study of the background of the English word “church” will help us answer the problems stated above.  Here again is the quotation from a noted church historian, a member of the Church of Christ, Everett Ferguson.  I have a copy of this book.

The quotation is this:   The English word “church” derives from the Greek adjective “the Lord’s” (Kyriakos).  It apparently entered northern European languages from the Goths, who heard this Greek word applied to church buildings (“the Lord’s [house]”) and appropriated the word into their language. Thus we have in Germany Kirche and in Scotland “Kirk.” Hence, the use of the word “church” for a building is proper in English, but this is not true for the Greek word it translates.

 The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia.  Its basic meaning was “assembly,” referring to what was done and not where it was done.  The popular etymology deriving the word from “called out” (ek + kaleo) is not supported by the actual usage of the word.  The emphasis was on the concrete act of assembly, not a separation from others. The New Testament reflects the important stages in the history of the word’s usage as well as the distinctive Christian content given to the word.  (The Church of Christ: A  Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, pp. 129-130, [1996])

       Everett Ferguson has been a long time professor in a university.  He says that the Visigoths of Eastern Europe heard the Greek term Kyriakos which means “the Lord’s” or belonging to the Lord.  And the Greeks applied the term to church buildings.  Kirk to the Visigoth tribe of Germany meant a house, a building.  In Christianity, the building where the Christians assembled belongs to the Lord.  Kirk eventually softened so that the letter K became CH at the end of the word becoming Kirche. Much later, the initial K softened also and spelled Church.  You may consult your unabridged dictionary and find that the letter i in the word Kirk is written as kurk with a circumflex accent (^) over the letter u. So the word kurk became church. 

NOTE:  Ferguson says point-blank: “Hence, the use of the word ‘church’ for a building is proper in English, but this is not true for the Greek word it translates.”  So don’t be cocksure in saying that the word “church” does not apply to a chapel or a building. But if you say “the word ekklesia in the NT never points to a building”, that statement probably is correct.  

        The softening of a word could happen when a certain word transfers into another tribe. Our example is the Ilocano word “Danum” (water).  In the Cordilleras, Danum is pronounced /spelled as “Chanum.” Letter D softens into CH. In the Philippines, the English word “decision” we adopted into our local languages now is commonly pronounced/spelled as “desisyon.”

       Please note the old English translation of John Wycliffe in the year 1395 in London.  We compare Wycliffe’s with Hugo McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel:

PassageWycliffe’s Translation (1395 A.D.) McCord’s Translation (1989)
Matthew 16:18Y schal bilde my chirche build my called-out people
Matthew 18:1 chirche            chirchecongregation     congregation
Acts 7:38 chirche in the wildirnesscalled-out people in the desert
Acts 8:1 chirche that was in Jerusalem called-out people in Jerusalem
Acts 19: 39 lawful chirche in a lawful assembly
Acts 19:41he lete the puple go the chirche of Godhe dismissed the gathering
Acts 20:28 All of Christ’s congregationsLord’s called-out people
Romans 16:16 Alle the chirches of Crist Alle the chirches of Crist
1 Cor. 1:1 the chirche of God God’s called-out people
1 Cor. 11:18 togidere in to the chirche you assemble in a congregation
1 Cor. 14:34 wymmen in chirchis be stille be silent in the congregations
1 Cor. 14:35 womman to speke in chirche speak in the congregation
1 Cor. 16:1 in the chirchis of Galathie Galatian congregations
Ephesians 5:24 chirche is suget to Crist called-out people 
Ephesians 5:25 Crist louyde the chirche loved the called-out people
Philemon 1:2chirche that is in thin hous congregation in your house
1 Tim. 3:15chirche of lyuynge God called-out people of . . . God
Heb. 12:22the multitudethe joyful assembly
Heb. 12:23 chirche of the firste mencalled-out firstborn people

     The translation of Wycliffe in the year 1395 in England captures the German / Scottish adopted term “kirche”.  The Visigoths of Eastern Europe were among those mainland European tribes that invaded the British Isles bringing with them their languages which were woven into the languages of Great Britain.  On the other hand, McCord’s translation copyrighted in 1989 uses modern American English. Acts 7:38 is ekklesia in the Greek text and refers to the assembly or congregation of Israel in the Exodus wilderness which was not the church or called-out people of Christ.  Acts 19:39, 41 have ekklesia both referring to the political or secular gathering or group of the citizens in the City of Ephesus who deified and worshipped the Goddess Diana. Hundreds of years before Christ the Logos became flesh (John 1:14), the Greeks in Macedonia, Achaia and Asia Minor employed the term ekklesia to their public assembly as an exercise of their city state direct democracy.  In the year 333 B.C., Alexander the Great and his army invaded and swept throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Western Arabia, Egypt, Persia up to a big river in western India. At the bank of that river in western India, his generals said that they have conquered the world in ten years and have become tired. So they turned back. While in the City of Babylon, Alexander became sick and in three days he died in the year 323 B.C..  Greek became the lingua franca of Eastern Europe (Near East) and Western Asia (Middle East) plus Egypt (Northeast Africa). About 285 B.C., the Hebrew scripture kept in the library in Egypt was translated into Greek which is known as the Septuagint (LXX). When the apostles and first-century Christians wrote the books of the New Testament, the original manuscripts were written in Greek so the Greek word EKKLESIA was employed. In Spanish, ekklesia evolved into IGLESIA.  Notice that the double k in Greek becomes letter G in Spanish. This Spanish term IGLESIA has been incorporated into the major Philippine languages because our islands were colonized by Spain starting in the year 1521. Then came the English speaking Americans to our Islands in 1898 so the term “church” is woven into our local languages and into our national psyche.

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