Church, Congregation, Synagogue, or Called Ones?
The Greek words synagoge (or synagogue) and ekklesia (often translated as congregation) have very similar meanings.
Synagogue means a gathering (syn = together, and ago = bring, or, bring together), while ekklesia (ek = out of, klesia
= call) means a calling out of.
So, ekklesia doesnÔøΩt just mean called together, gathering, or church; it also implies a calling outÔøΩ as from ÔøΩthe world,ÔøΩ and always translating it as congregation (gathering) or church (the gathered or the building of worship) can be very misleading.
It is interesting that in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible, you find the words synagogue and ekklesia
interspersed when describing the people of IsraEl. The choice of the words was probably up to the person who translated that portion
of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek.
So the words, although different, must have originally been synonymous in the minds of the translators.
You might wonder why IsraEl was so frequently referred to as a synagogue or congregation rather than as a nation.
However, it helps to understand that the Greek word for nation, ethne (from which we get the word ethnic), is usually applied to mean those that are not Hebrews, and it is often translated as gentiles.
Also, it helps to understand that along with the true IsraElites that left Egypt with Moses came a vast group of mixed-race peoples that also
became known as IsraEl by accepting IsraElÔøΩs God (Jehovah) as their God and by following His Sacred Agreement and His Laws.
So, those that were called IsraElites werenÔøΩt necessarily all the descendants of Jacob or IsraEl.
And thereafter, ethnics continued to join with IsraEl and become known as IsraElites down to the time of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was himself a descendant of two noted ethnics (gentiles), the Caananite prostitute RaHab and the Moabite woman, Ruth.
So IsraEl wasnÔøΩt necessarily a race, but rather, they were a gathering or congregation of worshipers of Jehovah that were called IsraEl.
Nevertheless, over time, the word synagogue came to mean about the same thing that we think of today when we hear it usedÔøΩ
a place or building of Jewish worship. For notice how the word synagogue was applied in Matthew 4:23:
ÔøΩThen [Jesus] traveled throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and curing all the diseases and infirmities that the people had.ÔøΩ
So by the First Century, synagogue had come to mean the building (not just to the people), much in the same way as church
(ekklesia) is now usually thought of as a building.
However, recognize that when synagogues are spoken of as buildings in the Christian-Era Scriptures, it may not necessarily mean just a meeting place of Jewish worship. For even the places where Christians met in the First Century could have been called synagogues, especially around Judea.
Notice, for example, how JesusÔøΩ half-brother James used this term at James 2:2-4:
ÔøΩFor if a man that is wearing a gold ring and fine clothes enters your synagogue, then someone whose clothes are filthy also enters, you favor the one that's wearing the fine clothes and say, Here's a good place to sit. Then you say to the poor one, Stand [over there], or, Sit here under my footstool!
So, aren't you showing favoritism among yourselves and judging from evil thoughts?ÔøΩ
Yes, the Greek word that James used there is synagogen, although it usually isnÔøΩt translated that way in other Bibles.
This would have been the word that he used whether he was speaking of the group or of the building, because James likely spoke in his native tongue of Hebrew or Aramaic. Therefore, he wouldnÔøΩt have used the Greek word, ekklesia.
And the word synagogue in this instance probably denotes that James was speaking of the building in which the congregation met.
However, there is quite a bit of evidence from the context that JamesÔøΩ letter wasn't written to Christian congregations, but to Jews in the diaspora. And if so, then all references to synagogues in the NT appear to be speaking of buildings where Jews worshipped.
For notice that in his opening words, he addressed his letter to ÔøΩthe twelve tribes that are scattered about,ÔøΩ or, the diaspora, which is a term that referred to all Jews living outside of their homeland.
There is one more important reference to the NT use of the word synagogue; itÔøΩs where Paul used the term at Hebrews 10:25,
when he wrote:
ÔøΩAnd don't stop meeting together (as some have made it their custom), but [continue to] encourage each otherÔøΩ and [do this] even more so as you see the Day getting closer.ÔøΩ
The Greek word that Paul used here (which we have translated as meeting together) was epi/synagogen, and he was clearly urging Christians to meet together in a place, although some had apparently stopped doing that.
So he was saying that Christian association is necessary for the purpose of encouragement, and (as he wrote in the previous verse),
ÔøΩTo help each other to grow in love and good deeds.ÔøΩ
Yet, although the word ekklesia is usually thought of as being a group of believers that associate and meet together for worship,
it really means ÔøΩa calling out.ÔøΩ
So it could also refer to their having been called to a hope, as opposed to being an earthly religious organization or gathering.
Take for example, PaulÔøΩs use of the word ekklesia in his concluding greetings at Romans 16:5
(note that Paul likely spoke Aramaic, so he might have actually written synagogue). There we have translated him as saying,
ÔøΩAnd [greet] the called ones in their home.ÔøΩ
For the Greek words found there are,
ÔøΩkai ten kat oikon auton ekklesian,ÔøΩ
which literally translate as,
ÔøΩand the house of/them called/ones.ÔøΩ
Other Bibles translate these words as reading,
ÔøΩand the church (or congregation) that meets in their home.ÔøΩ
However, as you can see, the words ÔøΩthat meetsÔøΩ are not in the original text.
So the greeting may have been to the called ones that lived in their home (their family and servants).
Therefore, we must be careful whenever we come upon the word congregation in the Bible, because the specific reference may imply either those that gather in a place, or those that are called by God. For notice the following group of scriptures to see what such a calling implies:
Matthew 22:14: ÔøΩFor many are the called, but few are the chosen.ÔøΩ
Romans 1:6: ÔøΩfrom which youÔøΩve also become called ones who belong to Jesus the AnointedÔøΩ
Romans 1:7: ÔøΩGodÔøΩs loved ones who were called to be holy.ÔøΩ
Romans 8:28: ÔøΩNow, we know that God makes everything work together for the good of those that love Him (those that have been called to do His Will).ÔøΩ
Romans 8:30: ÔøΩHe calls all those whom He selects, then He makes all those whom He calls righteous, and He glorifies all those whom He makes righteous.ÔøΩ
1 Corinthians 1:2: ÔøΩTo you that have been made holy in the Anointed One Jesus, who are called to be Holy Ones.ÔøΩ
1 Corinthians 1:9: ÔøΩGod who called you to have a share with His Son (our Lord Jesus the Anointed One) is faithful.ÔøΩ
2 Corinthians 5:20: ÔøΩSo, God is calling [people] through us. We are begging on behalf of the Anointed One, Come back to a relationship with God.ÔøΩ
Galatians 5:13: ÔøΩYou were called to be free, brothers.ÔøΩ
Ephesians 1:18: ÔøΩso you can know the glorious richness of the hope that He has called you for and which He holds as an inheritance for the Holy Ones.ÔøΩ
Philippians 3:14: ÔøΩIÔøΩm running toward the goal, the prize of the upward calling from God.ÔøΩ
Colossians 3:15, ÔøΩLet the peace of the Anointed One serve as the referee in your hearts, because it called [all of] you into one body.
1 Thessalonians 2:12: ÔøΩ[We did this] so that you would keep on walking in a way thatÔøΩs worthy of The God whoÔøΩs calling you to His Kingdom and glory.ÔøΩ
1 Thessalonians 4:7: ÔøΩFor God didnÔøΩt call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.ÔøΩ
2 Thessalonians 2:14: ÔøΩThis is why He called you through the good news we brought: So you would receive the glory of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.ÔøΩ
1 Timothy 6:12: ÔøΩPut on the age-long life to which you were called, and about which you offered such a fine confession in front of so many witnesses.ÔøΩ
2 Timothy 1:9: ÔøΩHe saved us and called us to holiness, not because of anything weÔøΩve done, but because of His Will and the loving care that He felt for us (through Jesus the Anointed One) in the times before the ages.ÔøΩ
Hebrews 3:1: ÔøΩTherefore, holy brothers that share in the heavenly calling; letÔøΩs think about this Apostle and High Priest whom we confess, Jesus.ÔøΩ
1 Peter 1:15, 16: ÔøΩBut like the Holy One that called you, become holy in all your ways. For itÔøΩs written; You must be holy, because I am holy.ÔøΩ
1 Peter 2:9: ÔøΩHowever, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people that were specially selected to announce the virtues of the one that called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.ÔøΩ
2 Peter 1:10: ÔøΩBrothers, this is why itÔøΩs so urgent for you to make your calling and choosing firm.ÔøΩ
Revelation 17:14: ÔøΩBut, because he's the Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb and those that are with him (the called, elected, and faithful) will conquer them.ÔøΩ
It is God who calls people to Him (Romans 8:30, 11:26, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Corinthians 5:20, Ephesians 1:18, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Peter 1:15)
Not everyone that is called is chosen (Matthew 22:14, 2 Peter 1:10, Revelation 17:14)
The called ones belong to Jesus (Romans 1:6)
They are called to be holy (Romans 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 4:7, 2 Timothy 1:9, 1 Peter 1:15, 16)
They are called to do GodÔøΩs will (Romans 8:28)
They are called out of darkness into the light of God (1 Peter 2:9)
They are glorified and considered righteous (Romans 8:30)
The calling means freedom (Galatians 5:13)
The calling means ÔøΩage-long lifeÔøΩ (1 Timothy 6:12)
The called are given an inheritance with GodÔøΩs son (1 Corinthians 1:9)
The called become part of the body of the Anointed One (Colossians 3:15)
They are called to GodÔøΩs Kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12)
The called will be glorified like Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
There is an upward calling (Philippians 3:14)
The called become a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).
Note that although many are apparently called, not all that are called are chosen.
For more information, see the linked document, ÔøΩThe New Covenant.ÔøΩ
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