Translation of EKKLHSIA

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Tue Aug 22 23:31:37 EDT 2000

At 7:51 PM -0400 8/22/00, Marc Pembroke wrote:
>I suppose my problem is that I'm not certain how easy it is to delineate a
>"religious context" from a "nonreligious context." Even in the modern
>post-Christian western societies, much of language, culture, and behavior
>are steeped in religious references and implications. The American President
>puts his hand on the Bible as he takes the oath of office. Is that
>"religious?" Does that mean that presidential political authority is
>considered derivative of Divine authority?
>Similarly, the  Vice President traditionally tosses the first pitch of the
>baseball season. Does that make baseball "political?"  The fact is that
>depending on the ambient culture and religion, all gatherings may have a
>religious overtone. Graduation ceremonies, football and hockey games, and
>dozens of other "assemblies" frequently include an invocation. Even many
>"secular" corporate banquets start with an invocation or grace before a
>My contention is that in many other contemporary societies (Islamic,
>Japanese Shinto, Indian Hindu, and many others) it's nearly impossible to
>speak of a truly "non religious" event. My guess is that the problem is no
>less complex in the ancient world. People may not have agreed on theology,
>but everything, from politics to meat slaughtering, was done in the name of
>one religion or deity or another.
>So, just how much of the Bible can be properly called "non religious?"
>Marc A. Pembroke
>P.O. Box 882
>Jackman, ME 04945
>(207) 668-4160
>maplaw at
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Carl W. Conrad" <cwconrad at>
>To: "Biblical Greek" <b-greek at>
>Cc: "Biblical Greek" <b-greek at>
>Sent: Tuesday, August 22, 2000 7:17 PM
>Subject: [b-greek] Re: Translation of EKKLHSIA
>> At 12:26 PM -0500 8/22/00, Lynn Trapp wrote:
>> >I'm interested in getting your thoughts on the best translation for
>> >EKKLHSIA. I would particularly like to know what effect the members of
>> >list think the use of this word in a religious context (referring to
>> >people) may have had on the development of the meaning of the word in the
>> >language as a whole.
>> I've seen the answers by others; it seems to me dubious that the word has
>> always the same sense throughout the GNT, but I think it more often than
>> not refers to a "house church," and I wonder whether the most neutral and
>> still meaningful way to convert it to English might not be: "meeting."
>> That's not necessarily political more than social, and it's traditional
>> enough even through the centuries in English for a religious gathering. "I
>> went to meeting on the Lord's Day."

I'm not quite sure what your problem actually is. It's pretty clear that
the original sense of EKKLHSIA in Greek usage was political, but the Greek
term was taken over by Hellenistic Jewish translators to convey heb. qahal,
which may also have been translated by the good Greek word SUNAGWGH. What
seems to have been the earliest NT sense (in the unquestionably authentic
Pauline letters) is the gathering or "meeting" of a local Christian
community in one place for sharing its faith in varied activities. I
wouldn't want to fix upon a distinctly religious or a distinctly secular
sense for EKKLHSIA, but I do doubt that the word itself has any clear and
original domain in NT usage. And that's why I thought "meeting" might be
just about right.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at

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