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04 November 2022

Ekklésia - The Assembly

The New Testament usage of the term “assembly” is based on the image of Israel assembled before Yahweh for worship in the Hebrew Bible. The Greek noun rendered “church” in English is ekklésia, meaning “assembly, congregation.” In secular Greek it may refer to an “assembly” of citizens gathered to conduct matters of state; however, that is not the sense found in the New Testament.

In the Bible, the term ekklésia occurs only twice in the four gospel accounts, and both times it is found on the lips of Jesus. Thus, its original application to congregations of disciples can be traced to him (Strong’s - #G1577 - Matthew 16:18, 18:17).

The term occurs over one hundred times in the Greek New Testament and most often is applied to congregations of believers. But it is Paul’s usage of ekklésia that is the most distinctive and instructive.


First, the Apostle employs both the singular and plural numbers when applying it to local groups of believers, but he does so with discrimination. Invariably, when referring to a local congregation in a city, he applies the singular form to it (e.g., the “CHURCH at Corinth” - 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1).

Second, when he refers to different groups of believers collectively, he uses the plural noun. For example, to the church at Corinth, he writes that God is not “a God of confusion, but of peace, as in ALL THE CHURCHES of the saints.” To the believers in Rome, he remarked that “ALL THE CHURCHES of Christ salute you– (1 Corinthians 14:33, Romans 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:14).

This does not mean that each city church is independent of the others, and certainly not that each maintains its own doctrinal traditions and practices. But each congregation represents THEchurch” assembled for worship in its respective location.

Several times, Paul describes the local congregation as the “church of God,” and collectively, he labels all his congregations as the “churches of God” - (1 Corinthians_1:2, 10:32, 11:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:14).


Paul’s usage reflects the influence of the Hebrew Bible, especially its descriptions of the “assembly of Israel” gathered before the Tabernacle.

Several times in the Pentateuch, when Israel is assembled before for worship, it is called the “assembly of Yahweh” or the ‘qahal Yahweh’, and the “assembly of Israel.” For example:

  • (Exodus_12:6) – “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at even.”
  • (Leviticus_16:17) – “And there shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the holy place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.”
  • (Deuteronomy_16:8) – “Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to Yahweh your God; you shall do no work therein.”
  • (Deuteronomy_23:1-2) – “He that is wounded in the stones, or has his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh. A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh.”

The ancient prohibitions against anyone in an “unclean” state participating in the “assembly of Yahweh” is echoed in several of Paul’s declarations about proper and improper behavior in the church. For example:

  • (1 Corinthians 11:22) – “What? Have you not houses to eat and to drink in, or do you despise the assembly of God, and put them to shame that have not?
  • (1 Corinthians 14:34) – “Let the women keep silence in the assembly, for it is not permitted them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also says the law.”
  • (1 Timothy 3:15) – “But if I tarry long, that you may know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In the preceding verses, Paul is concerned with behavior that occurs in the “assembly,” and not necessarily with Christian conduct outside church gatherings.

Thus, in the New Testament, the “church” is not a building or the designation for a sect or denomination, but the local assembly of the saints gathered before the Lord in worship, the place where God’s presence is found among His new covenant people.