I’m very busy with the new seminary load, but if you guys are ever looking for a good book on the church I’m really enjoying The Nature of the Church, by Earl D. Radmacher. His word study over ekklesia is very interesting.
My analysis on his section dealing with the classical Greek usage of the term:
1. Present the classical meaning of ekklhsia and its help in understanding NT use. Sorry about the fonts…
The word ekklhsia has a multifaceted history from Greek, Jewish and Christian use. A view toward the development of the word can be instructive in its implications for New Testament usage. An analysis of the etymology of the word yields two distinct parts, ek meaning out and kalew meaning to call or to summon. Liddell and Scott define it as “an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly.” Thus we see the Classical usage of the word seems to be more specific than its later development. Trench adds to Liddell and Scott’s definition the idea of separation indicating that the ones who were called were called in contrast to those who were not summoned. Those that were called were in fact of higher class or status. Radmacher points out that others resist this connotation in the words classical usage such as Broadus and Backer who explains, “the idea was not of segregation but of summoning.” Radmacher summarizes to say, “The summons to any selected few—it was not exclusive; it was a summons from the state to every man to come and shoulder his responsibilities.” With time however, the more precise meaning of “citizens called out by the herald to transact public affairs” came to mean simply an assembly. In fact the verbal form ekklhsiazw is used of convening an ekklhsia, “sometimes used of assemblies that were not assemblies of citizens and, so far from being duly summoned, were probably not summoned at all.” By NT times even a mob could be called an ekklhsia. Acts 19 is a prime example; the group was not even sure why they were assembled. Finally, Campbell notes that in ordinary usage ekklhsia meant only an assembly, not the body of people who gathered together, in fact, the boule or council was a body even when it didn’t meet. But an ekklhsia was only when citizens gathered and furthermore, there was a new ekklhsia every time they met.
Although it is difficult to read too much into a word’s historical meaning, the development of ekklhsia provides interesting insight. First, I think it is important to note that the idea of examining the etymology of ekklhsia to provide a definitive answer to its meaning is unwise. It is often argued on the basis of the etymology that the church is “called out” by God to be separate from the world and its desires. While these ideas may be true, they should not be supported on the basis of the etymology of the word.
It is also interesting to note Campbell’s point about how the classical usage of the word communicated an “assembled” body in contrast to another word which would refer to a body of individuals assembled or not assembled. The New Testament usage of ekklhsia would seem to break from this pattern of usage in that it often speaks of an ekklhsia as a body of individuals even independent of the fact that they are gathered or not when referring to the universal church.
That being said, Dana does see value in comparing the organizational usage of the classical to the New Testament usage when referring to the local church. He sees similarities the following ways: “(i) the assembly was local; (ii) it was autonomous; (iii) it presupposed definite qualifications; (iv) it was conducted on democratic principles.”
Nevertheless, there are some who question the value of the classical usage in determining the New Testament usage at all. Johnston points out that “ekklesia is never the title for a religious group.” Craig says, “The Greek word ekklesia had not special religious connotation.” Furthermore, even organizational similarities could be incidental. It seems that ekklhsia gained heightened significance in its New Testament usage and it remains to be seen how significant its historical development can be to our understanding of the term.