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What does the word “church” actually mean, and where does it come from? That should be a question of interest, for all true believers. This article contains a study of the etymology on the word “church”, its origin and meaning, and how it came to appear in bible-translations.
The first passage where the 1769 edition of king James’ bible has the word “church”, is verse 18 in chapter 16 of the book of Matthew.
Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (KJV1769)
Many connect the word “church” intimately with Matthew 16:18, and think that Jesus spoke about the formation of a religious organisation, a “church”. But often, things are not what they seem to be, or what they are commonly thought to be. This article clarifies what the word “church” in actual fact points to. Matthew 16:18 and the “true church” dogma are discussed a bit later in this article.
The word “church” comes from an old Greek phrase which meant “the Lord’s house”, but then, it is important to find out who used that Greek term, and especially, which “lord” they used it as a reference to. Below, it will be explained in more detail that the word “church” is not a translation of the NT Greek noun ekklêsia, and that it is not connected to the saints or to New Testament times but refers to something altogether different, something that arose later when the saints were no longer on the scene.
(Saints: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.)
A note: This study contains a number of translation-related comments. If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version is “without error”, make sure to read the article hs03.htm.
Some bible-translations do not use the word “church”. For instance Tyndale in his 1525 translation used it only twice, in both cases as a reference to buildings that were used for idol worship.
Acts 14:13 Then Iupiters Preste which dwelt before their cite brought oxe and garlondes vnto the churche porche and wolde have done sacrifise with the people. (TYN)
Acts 19:37 For ye have brought hyther these me[n] whiche are nether robbers of churches nor yet despisers of youre goddes. (TYN)
Again, the above-quoted 1525 Tyndale translation uses the word “church” only in these two passages, both of which refer to idol temples. – When it comes to the Greek word ekklêsia, he rendered it as “congregation” (using the spelling congregacion).
In the same way, a number of later translations do not contain the word “church” but render ekklêsia as “assembly” or “congregation”. – In this study, it will be shown what the origin of the noun “church” is and what it actually points to and is a name for.
A side-note: The article ia04.htm takes a closer look at the word “worship” and such concepts as “church services” and “going to church”.
The word “church” began to come into use in the English language in the Middle Ages, some time before the 12th century. The 1395 Wycliffe translation used the word “church” (chirche). But, the 1525 Tyndale version did not use it. Tyndale translated ekklêsia properly, as “congregacion”. Well, as was mentioned earlier, he used even the word “church” (churche) – two times, in Acts 14:13 and 19:37 which both refer to buildings connected to idol-worship.
The roots of the word “church” are as follows. It comes via the Middle English chirche, from the Old English cirice. It is said that cirice in its turn came from the first word in the old Greek phrase kuriakê oikia which meant “the Lord’s house”. Thus, the etymology and evolution of the word “church” is as follows:
Old Greek kuriakê [oikia] (“lord’s [house]”) → Old English cirice → Middle English chirche → “church”
That might sound fine at first glance, but let us analyse the phrase kuriakê oikia in more depth, in order to see what and whom it in actual fact pointed to.
Some writers have said that the Greek phrase kuriakê oikia “has been in consistent use since the 300s”. That could be, but then one must ask this question: The religious organisation that the Roman emperor Constantine de facto founded in the 300s, and of which the phrase kuriakê oikia then was used – which kurios (“lord”) did it really serve? Here, it is important to know that all the way to his death, Constantine remained a servant of the lord Mithras (Mithra) the sun-god, and that he forced people to worship Mithras. One of Constantine’s last acts was to uphold the rights of the priests of Mithras. (And yes, in those days Mithras-worship was given a new “make-up”, so that people were caused to think that it was connected to Jesus and the Bible.)
The point here is that the phrase kuriakê oikia, “lord’s house”, which “has been in consistent use since the 300s”, actually refers to the house of the lord Mithras – Sol Mithras Deus Invictus. In other words: Mithras the sun-god was the lord (kurios, whence the phrase kuriakê oikia) whom emperor Constantine and his religious organisation caused people to serve, under the pretence that it all was “Christianity”. And then, Mithras is just another name for the “sun-god” who was also known as Baal. (A note: The word baal meant “lord”.)
Those who know a bit more about the true meaning of certain religious symbols, would find and recognise many Mithras-related symbols in an average “house of the lord” that has been built during the past few centuries.
(There are some notes on the emperor Constantine, under the heading “Constantine” on the index-page kc3.htm.)
The Catholics have built a dogma around Matthew 16:18, claiming that that verse supposedly refers to the Catholic Church. Later, non-Catholics have copied that “true church” dogma, and applied it to their own churches. But, that dogma is not true, neither in its Catholic versions nor in its non-Catholic copies.
As was noted earlier, the word “church” is not a translation of the word ekklêsia which we find in the Greek text of the New Testament. The word “church” has a totally different origin. But, let us nevertheless consider the use of the word ekklêsia in the New Testament, and in Matthew 16:18 in particular.
In the Greek text of the book of Acts, the Epistles and the book of Revelation, the noun ekklêsia is often used of the saints’ fellowships, but when it comes to Matthew 16:18, it is clear that the word ekklêsia is to be understood in its literal meaning “assembly”. It is also clear that the immortal assembly which Jesus said he would form (the one against which the gates of Hadês would not prevail), does not consist of mortals, but of Jesus and saints who have been made into immortal beings. (Well, it could be that that assembly includes even other immortals.)
The story begins in Matthew 16:13. The subject is neither a “church” nor Peter the apostle. The subject is Jesus himself, the question being, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” and also, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 I also tell you that you are Peter, x and on this rock y I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades z will not prevail against it.
x 16:18 Peter’s name, Petros in Greek, is the word for a specific rock or stone.
y 16:18 Greek, petra, a rock mass or bedrock.
z 16:18 or, Hell
(WEB, original footnotes)
Jesus himself was the Petra, the Rock – the bedrock-foundation of the immortal assembly which he said he would form. The apostle Simon the son of Jona, also called Kêphas and Petros (Aramaic and Greek for “stone”), was not the foundation; Jesus the Petra or Rock was. In that analogy, Simon Peter and the other apostles were merely stones which were then laid on the foundation which consisted of Jesus the Petra, Rock.
Here, the point is that the immortal ekklêsia or assembly of Matthew 16:18 (quoted above) is an assembly consisting of immortals, and that Matthew 16:18 has nothing to do with “churches”. The article ia01.htm has more on this and related matters. The article ih07.htm has more on Matthew 16:19, and notes that the “binding and loosing” which that particular passage refers to, is something the apostles were to do when they became immortals and thus members of the assembly which the previous verse refers to. And then, the article hg04.htm has some notes on what really happened to the saints, in the first century. It gives even a short synopsis of what later has come to be called “the Early Church” (the first stages of the Catholic Church, or later written stories of it).
The English word “church” comes via the older forms chirche and cirice, from the old Greek phrase kuriakê oikia, “lord’s house”. But, there is more to the matter. One must also consider who used that phrase, and what they used it as a reference to. Through this, one can find out which “lord” the word kuriakê in that phrase actually refers to.
It was the early Catholic Church that used the Greek-language phrase kuriakê oikia, whence “church”. It can be said that the Catholic Church was de facto founded by the Roman emperor Constantine, who was to his death a servant of the sun-god Mithras.
The religious organisation which Constantine founded, practised Mithras-worship masqueraded into “Christianity”. In various ways, through symbols and by other means, it caused (and forced) people to bow down to Mithras. In short: The phrase kuriakê oikia points to the house of the lord Mithras the sun-god, Sol Mithras Deus Invictus.
So, the lord (kurios) who is connected to the Catholic phrase kuriakê oikia which is the origin of the word “church”, is the lord Mithras, and not the Lord Jesus.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/flist.htm
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → gs09.htm
On the King James translation, the “authorised version”. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → hs03.htm
What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority on the human level? Who can speak for God? → gs06.htm
Matthew 16:18, the translation “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. What was Jesus talking about? What is the immortal ekklêsia or assembly which he said he would form? Is it an earthly religious organisation – a church – or, is it an assembly which has as its members the saints who have become immortals? → ia01.htm
What does Galatians 4:26 mean? It talks about the heavenly Jerusalem, and is a part of an allegory regarding the two covenants, old and new. But some say it refers to a church. Why? → ia02.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → ia04.htm
“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the Church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → ga03.htm
Matthew 16:19, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and “bind” and “loose”. What did the word “keys” depict or symbolise, and what kind of binding and loosing was Jesus talking about? → ih07.htm
Jesus warned about false prophets, deceivers and deception. He said that many would be deceived. → ho09.htm
What happened to the saints, in the first century? Also, some notes on the “early church”. → hg04.htm
The meaning of the words Christ, Christian, Messiah and Messias. Also: Did the saints call themselves “Christians” – christianos or christianoi? → gg07.htm
What does the English language word and concept “doctrine” literally mean? Likewise, the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”, what do they signify? → gs08.htm
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