What does the word church mean in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


The word “church” in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, holds significant theological and historical implications. Its meaning is multifaceted, reflecting both its original Greek roots and its contextual usage within the biblical narrative. To thoroughly explore its significance, we must delve into its etymology, scriptural references, and broader theological implications.

Etymology of the Word “Church”:

The word church mentioned in the New Testament comes from the Greek term ekklesia which is formed from two Greek words meaning “an assembly” and “to call out” or “called out ones.” The Bible says there is but one body, or church, into which Jesus calls His end-time people – the bride of Christ. Marriage is frequently employed in Scripture as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His people (Isaiah 54:5; 62:5; Jeremiah 3; Ezekeil 16:8–63; Hosea 2:18–20; Ephesians 5:25–32). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, ekklesia was used to translate the Hebrew word “qahal,” which also denoted an assembly or congregation.

The Body of Christ:

The New Testament church is a body of believers who have been called out from the world by God to live as His people under the authority of Jesus Christ. “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,  which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23, NKJV).

This group of believers or “the body of Christ” began in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost through the work of the Holy Spirit and will continue till the coming of the Lord. The universal family of God consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, NKJV).

Biblical References to the Church:

The New Testament employs the term “church” primarily in the writings of the apostle Paul and the book of Acts, with occasional usage in other epistles. In the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, the word “church” appears over a hundred times. Let’s examine some key passages:

  • Matthew 16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” This verse is often cited as the foundational declaration of the church by Jesus Himself.
  • Acts 2:47: “Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Here, the church is depicted as a growing community of believers.
  • Romans 16:5: “Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” This verse highlights the diversity of the early Christian communities, which often met in homes.
  • Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This passage illustrates the profound relationship between Christ and the church, using the imagery of marriage.
  • Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” Here, the church is envisioned as the recipient of divine revelation.

The Bride of Christ:

One of the most prominent metaphors for the church in the New Testament is that of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:11-16). This imagery emphasizes the interconnectedness and diversity of believers, each contributing to the functioning and growth of the whole.

The Lord has bestowed upon His beloved bride all the grace it needs to reflect His image. “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27, NKJV). The heavenly Father who gave up His Son to a dreadful death also gives unlimited resources of His riches of wisdom and power to the believers (Romans 8:32).

God’s grace is given freely that the believers may be perfected and have victory over sin. Through faith in Christ, the believers can develop the Christian virtues and manifest the fruits of the spirit which are:But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law(Galatians 5:22,23, NKJV). The heavenly Father gives also power to overcome all the power of the enemy. “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10:19, NKJV).

Theological Reflections:

The concept of the church has been subject to extensive theological reflection throughout Christian history.

  • The body of Christ is seen as both a visible institution and an invisible spiritual reality. It encompasses local congregations, and the universal body of believers across time and space.
  • The body of Christ is entrusted with various ministries, including worship, teaching, evangelism, discipleship, and social justice. It serves as a witness to the world and a foretaste of God’s kingdom.
  • The body of Christ is called to unity but only on the truths of the Scriptures.

Practical Implications and Contemporary Relevance:

Understanding the biblical concept of the church informs how Christians engage in community, worship, and mission. It shapes its practices, such as congregational gatherings, pastoral ministry, and service.

  • The body of Christ provides spiritual nourishment, fellowship, accountability, and mutual support for believers.
  • It serves as a locus of worship, where God is glorified through prayer, praise, preaching, and services.
  • The body of Christ is called to embody the values of the kingdom of God, advocating for reconciliation to God and restoration to His holy image.

Conclusion

    In conclusion, the word “church” in the Bible encompasses rich meanings, reflecting the dynamic relationship between God and His people. It denotes both a gathered community of believers and the body of Christ transcending earthly boundaries. Its significance extends beyond mere institutional structures to encompass the spiritual vitality, service, ministry, and evangelism.

    In His service,
    BibleAsk Team

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