What Does the Word “Church” Mean?

Every time the New Testament authors use the word ἐκκλησία (“church”) they are not always referring to the same thing. Sometimes they are talking about the universal church. Sometimes they are talking about a particular local church. Sometimes they are talking about a group of churches in a region. So below I have attempted to group the ἐκκλησία passages into 3 different categories so that we can see the different usages and meanings of ἐκκλησία.

If you would like to just see a list of all the New Testament passages that include the word ἐκκλησία – “church.” Then click HERE.

The Universal Church

These passages seem to be referring to all the collective churches all over the world and throughout all time.

Mt 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

1 Co 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,

1 Co 11:16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

1 Co 14:33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,

1 Co 14:34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

1 Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Ga 1:13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.

Eph 1:22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

Eph 3:10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Eph 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Eph 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Eph 5:27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Eph 5:29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

Eph 5:32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Php 3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

1 Ti 3:5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

A Single Local Church

These passages seem to be referring to a particular local church in a specific time, place, and group of people.

Mt 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Ac 5:11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Ac 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Ac 8:3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Ac 11:22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Ac 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Ac 12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.

Ac 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Ac 13:1 Now there were in the church at Antioch (εἰμί + ἐκκλησία – “to be; church”) prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

Ac 14:27 And when they arrived and gathered the (Antioch – see Ac 14:26) church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Ac 15:3 So, being sent on their way by the (Antioch – see Ac 14:26) church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

Ac 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

Ac 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

Ac 18:22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.

Ac 20:17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

Ac 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Ro 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,

Ro 16:5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

Ro 16:23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

1 Co 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

1 Co 6:4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?

1 Co 11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,

1 Co 11:22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

1 Co 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

1 Co 14:4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

1 Co 14:5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

1 Co 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

1 Co 14:19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

1 Co 14:23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

1 Co 14:28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.

1 Co 14:35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

1 Co 16:19 Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

2 Co 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

Php 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

Col 4:15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Col 4:16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

1 Th 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

2 Th 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

1 Ti 3:15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

1 Ti 5:16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

Phm 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Jas 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

3 Jn 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.

3 Jn 9 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.

3 Jn 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

Re 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

Re 2:8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Re 2:12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

Re 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Re 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

Re 3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Re 3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Multiple Churches In The Same Region

These passages seem to be referring to more than one church that are all in the same region.

Ac 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Ac 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church (Lystra, Iconium, Antioch – see Ac 14:21), with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Ac 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Ac 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

1 Co 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.

1 Co 16:19 The churches of Asia send you greetings.

2 Co 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

2 Co 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,

2 Co 8:18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.

2 Co 8:19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

2 Co 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

2 Co 8:24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

Ga 1:2 and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

Ga 1:22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

1 Th 2:14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

Re 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

Re 1:11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Re 1:20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Re 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Re 2:11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Re 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Re 2:23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

Re 2:29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Re 3:6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Re 3:13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Re 3:22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Re 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The following grouping is a list of passages when Paul seems to be referring to multiple churches that are not necessarily in the same regions, but Paul had personal interactions with all of them during his missionary journeys.

Ro 16:4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.

Ro 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

1 Co 4:17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

1 Co 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

2 Co 11:8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.

2 Co 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

2 Co 12:13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

2 Th 1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

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Filed under 9 Marks, Church Planting, Scripture, The Church

One response to “What Does the Word “Church” Mean?

  1. Pingback: Are We Planting Churches or Campuses? | philliphowell

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