ekklesia tou Theou
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The phrase ekklesia tou Theou is the Greek equivalent of qehal'el. Translators generally render the phrase as church of God, but sometimes Church of God, in the New Testament, referring to a class or assemblage of the people of God who have been "assembled" or "called together." Translating ekklesia tou Theou as Congregation of God or Assembly of God loses no meaning and in a technical sense is closer to both qehal'el and ekklesia tou Theou.

In the New Testament this proper noun phrase occurs in reference to the congregation-at-large (II Corinthians 11:8, Ephesians 5:23. I Timothy 3:5) as well as specific congregations (I Corinthians 14:23, 34; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14) but used in the sense of an assembly. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (Roberts and Donaldson 1987:5), the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (Roberts and Donaldson 1987:33). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians (Roberts and Donaldson 1987:79, 85), and The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians (Roberts and Donaldson 1987:72), employ this convention as do later authors such as Epiphanius, Irenaeus, and Eusebius.

Epiphanius referred to the "Holy Church of God" in relating a legend concerning the apostle John (Epiphanius Anacephalaiosis 30.24.1; Klijn and Reinink 1973:191) and again in reference to the throne of David established in the "holy church of God" (Epiphanius Panarion 29.3.7; Pritz 1992:31, 114). Irenaeus (ca. 120/140–200/203) used the phrase in reference to people returning to the "Church of God" in his Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) written about CE 180 as a refutation against Gnosticism (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.6.3, 1.13.5; Roberts and Donaldson 1987:324, 335). Klijn and Reinink use "Church of God" in rendering Eusebius’ reference to the four Gospels as the only indisputable ones (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4; Klijn and Reinink 1973:147). Eusebius quotes Polycrates’ ca. CE 190 admonishment to Roman bishop Victor to not cut off "whole churches of God" (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.24.11; Lake 1959:508-509; Boyle 1955:210]) and Dionysius’ (ca. 200–265) reference to Valerian’s household being "a church of God" (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 7.10.3; Oulton 1986:150-151). The decree of the Church Councils convened at Antioch ca. CE 264 and 269, to consider the charges against Paul of Samosota, was in the name of the "bishops, presbyters, or deacons,...together with the churches of God,..." (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 7.30.2; Oulton 1986:214-215; Boyle 1955:304). In the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics the latter appears in quotation as the "Churches of God" (Stone 1928:186). While the apostolic fathers employ the phrases Church of God and Churches of God it gradually fell into disuse except as a descriptor of the greater church throughout the world.

Later Greek texts, reflecting the ninth century Orthodox view of the people who shifted the Greek text from majuscules to minuscules, fail to continue the capitalization in čkklesía. The governance of the Greek-speaking Eastern church rested on the independence of the patriarchs. Each patriarch maintained a high degree of autonomy. The Latin-speaking Western church, with the papacy, administered itself through a more or less centralized authoritarian system of control. For a Christendom organized into two branches, although the final schism did not occur until CE 1054, the use of čkklesía tou Theou, "church of God," was consistent with the realities of Greco-Roman Christianity of that day. In today’s world the phrase "church of God" permits many diverse forms of Christianity, often competing, to be categorized as part of a greater church. To translate čkklesía tou Theou' as church of God accommodates a Christianity decentralized into denominations, fellowships, independent ministries, unstructured groups, and the unaffiliated—the so-called "invisible" church.

Page last edited: 02/02/06 08:10 PM

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