ekklesia/Mitchell Gray

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Jul 28 20:02:21 EDT 1999

Several interesting points are made here; I have to say honestly that
several points within the whole disturb me; I'll try to focus closely on
what seems particularly problematic to me.

At 5:22 PM -0400 7/28/99, Mike Sangrey wrote:
>When thinking of doing word study linguistically (I'm no linguist,
>just know what I read) one might form an attribute tree of the
>word's meaning as this meaning exists in the original language.
>Would EKKLESIA have a 'local' or 'global' attribute?  The answer I
>believe is neither (I'll try to somewhat back this up in a moment.)
>So, I think, the discussion regarding 'local' versus 'global' is
>outside the meaning; however, that is not to say the discussion
>has not been helpful.  In this, the discussion hovers around the
>'usage' of the word and not the 'meaning' and that is beneficial.
>But, as we know, this requires great care; it is very, very easy
>to slide from 'usage' into 'meaning' and back again without knowing
>we've subtlely changed focus.
>I think we too sloppily read the usage back into the meaning as well
>as doing the same with the entymology, even though we know better.

This looks "buggy" or even "fishy" ('ichthymology') to me, but I suppose
that 'etymology' was meant. What bothers me about the above is what seems
to me a rather mystical or metaphysical conception of "the word's meaning
as this meaning exists in the original language." Then there is what
appears to be a determination to make some sharp distinction between
"meaning" and "usage"--a distinction that I simply do not understand. While
I'm willing to say that any particular word is rooted at some point
historically in an original derivation from an etymological root and
related to cognates, I wouldn't want to argue that a word's "meaning" is
something other than its usage in a particular time and place as evidenced
in recorded speech or written texts. I can relate AGORA to the verb AGEIRW,
"gather"--but I have to distinguish a Homeric meaning of "assembly" from
later classical and Hellenistic meaning of "gathering place/market
place/market." Nor can I imagine that EKKLHSIA (not EKKLESIA) has some
meaning other than that attested in speech or textual evidence at times and
places within the historical continuum.

>That is not to say these layers do not influence each other, they
>most certainly do--a word derives its meaning from its context,
>whether that context is within the composition, the common usage at
>the time, or the baggage brought with the word from its history.
>Or, even semanticly related words--EPISUNAGWGH, for example, must
>be considered when studying EKKLESIA.

This paragraph is one I'd agree with, but it seems to me to stand in
contradiction to the preceding paragraphs. As for a relationship to
semantic cognates, what I'd want to know is whether EPISUNAGWGH is
synonymous with or overlaps in meaning with EKKLHSIA, or if the two words
are really quite distinct in their implications for a kind of gathering.

>My thoughts related in the next paragraph are somewhat motivated by
>Ephesians, where, I believe EKKLESIA is always used (note: usage)
>with a global flavor.  The Ephesian discourse can be caught in
>the sentence, "Christ's effective work secures the unity of all
>believers, so live like it."

I would not argue with this, so far as it goes.

>                      So, what I'm about to do, without
>the detail, is apply the context of Ephesians to the meaning
>of the word EKKLESIA; that is, the meaning of EKKLESIA as it is
>used in the NT, must be consistent with the meaning of Ephesians.

While many may believe this to be true, I personally do not, and I think it
really begs the question. It's really based upon a hermeneutical assumption
about either the nature of the NT corpus of documents or upon a
metaphysical assumption about the nature of language and meaning. We're not
here (on this list, at any rate) to argue hermeneutics. We do seem to be
having an argument about the nature of language. For my part, I think that
the word SARX is used in very different ways in the gospel of John and in
the letters of Paul; I don't think that a consistent definition of EKKLHSIA
can be derived from any one NT document and forced upon texts in other

 [material omitted]

>I'm of the opinion that the early believers made no distinction
>in their relationships with other believers when they used the
>term EKKLESIA.  The idea we have today of a local gathering being
>distinct from the global gathering of believers and relationally
>distinct from other local gatherings was completely foreign to them.

I think this is exactly that, an opinion. The second sentence strikes me as
a question begged. Indeed, my own reading of the Pauline correspondence,
and most particularly of 1 Corinthians, leads me to think rather that Paul
went to great pains, with questionable success, to convince believers that
they should even think of the local congregation as an integral body rather
than as a conglomerate of believers. And I view his persistent effort to
collect a monetary offering for the Jerusalem church as an endeavor to
demonstrate his own commitment to and urge others to share what they were
not by nature inclined to share--his notion that all believers belong to a
common fellowship. But if we want to see a universal conception of EKKLHSIA
	in Ephesians, I'm more inclined to be convinced by the suggestion
of Joe Friberg this afternoon: that this universal conception is likely to
be related to the 'encyclical' nature of the Letter to the Ephesians.

>      . . .  Also, there's a hint of this 'oneness' in the
>prepostional prefix EK.  Think of the group that somehow has an 'out'
>meaning to it.  The fact that EKKLESIA was used in the koine in both
>local and global ways emphasizes both the universal and practical
>oneness all believers are to have.  So, 'oneness' is an attribute.

I honestly don't think that the prefix EK is discerned in the usage of the
word EKKLHSIA at all--any more than what was once a prefix EPI- was
discerned in the historical verb EPISTAMAI or its cognate noun EPISTHMH (it
is the initial E- that is augmented in the past indicative forms of
EPISTAMAI); I've heard putative etymological explanations of EPISTHMH as
"under-standing"--although if it were, it ought to be hUPO-STHMH). I think
it probable that EKKLHSIA as a political term for "popular assembly"
derived originally from EKKALEW in the sense "call out" the freeborn males
entitled to what magistrates and BOULH would set before them as business,
and that later usages of EKKLHSIA, including that in the LXX, are
extensions of that historical sense of "assembly of the people." The
question to be ascertained is: WHEN (and WHERE) did EKKLHSIA first come to
convey the sense of a "gathering of the people" OTHER than at a particular
time and place? It MAY have that meaning somewhere in the LXX, but I'd like
to be convinced. I really don't think it comes to have that sense in the
earlier NT documents, although I think it probably DOES have that sense in
LATER NT documents (as in Mt 16:18, which I personally do think is a later
NT document rather than an earlier one).

>Another attribute of EKKLESIA, I think, must be 'separation'.
>The appropriate preposition certainly is used in composition here.
>No denying it.

I would deny it. I honestly don't see any evidence of it; I'm not aware of
any NT text where the prefix EK- can be clearly shown to be critical to
understanding the meaning of EKKLHSIA, whereas the sense of "meeting of the
people" seems quite sufficient as a historical background sense at work in
NT usage.

I'm sorry to be so negative here but I just don't understand the philosophy
of language that is being set forth here.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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