“How to Approach the Bible” 

A study series by Arthur J Licursi


Part 17 of 24 - It Helps to Clarify the Word “church”

It would help us to properly interpret the word “church” as we study the written word of God. The word church immediately has a meaning to most who hear it. But, there is a great misunderstanding of this word – “church”; most associate “church” with the organization and/or the building that most call “churches,” but this is not the meaning of the word at all, as it is used in the Bible.

Many consider that all the believers in God who have trusted God through the ages as being members of “the church, which is His body.” This is not the truth. The fact is that there have been many churches through the ages and they are not the same church. A misunderstanding of the word church leads to misinterpretation of what the word “church” means, thus distorting “the church, 23which is his body,”-  the body of Christ, as it was revealed to Paul the Apostle for us (Eph 1:22b-23a). The KJV here uses the inanimate word “which” in the phrase “the church, which is his body,” but since it is made up of living people and not inanimate, the relative pronoun “which” should be translated “who” since its form is the same. Thus, the church Paul writes of is “the church, who is His body.” The body of Christ is organic, consisting of the members of Christ’s living body on earth today.

Lets’ now take a closer look by considering the Greek word often mistranslated as “church.” The correct transliteration to English is ekklesia, as seen below. Note below that the word’s that Vines Expository Dictionary assigns as the proper translation of “ekklesia” are assembly, or congregation. Thus, we could have an assembly of people congregating for any reason, not necessarily religious or spiritual, and we have such examples in the Bible.

Word: church, Transliteration: ekklesia, Phonetic Pronunciation: ek-klay-see'-ah Strong’s: G1577, Root: from a compound of <G1537> and a derivative of <G2564> Part of Speech: n f,

Vine's Bible Dictionary Words: Assembly, Congregation - From a compound of <G1537> (ek) and a derivative of <G2564> (kaleo); a calling out


The “church” then is an assembly or congregation of people who gather out from among the other people. The same word for church, “ekklesia,” was also used here in Acts 19:32 for what was almost a riotous group. Paul’s preaching against worshipping idols had stirred up no small dissension in Ephesus . A near riot occurred in the area of the Temple of the Goddess Diana. The craftsmen around the idol temple, who sold their idol images, were in fear of losing business after they heard that Paul had spoken against worshipping idols.  So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together.” Here the verse 32 the KJV says “the assembly was confused,” using the very same Greek word “ekklesia,” that sometimes is translated “church.” Though the word here is the same “ekklesia,” it certainly is not referring to the “body of Christ,” or a “religious church” of any kind.

The same Greek word “ekklesia” is used of the church (or assembly) in the wilderness” in Acts 7:38, below. Here the word “church” is used to describe the “assemblyof Israelites “in the wilderness” of Sinai, after God delivered them from Pharaoh’s Egypt .

Acts 7:38 This is he, that was in the church (ekklesia, assembly) in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the Mount Sinai

This certainly was not “the church, which is the body of Christ.” This refers to a time that was long before the cross and the revelation of “the body of Christ” to the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul (Rom 11:13).


Christians in this day of “the dispensation of the grace of God,” which Paul taught as his “mystery” gospel (Rom 16:25), are not just any “ekklesia,” but rather a specific “ekklesia,” which in Eph 1:22b-23a is called “the church, which is his body.” Ephes. 1:22-23 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.


Here, in Acts 2:47, Peter is speaking to “Ye men of Israel who were found to be “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church (the Jewish, Messianic church) daily such as should be saved.” This church referred to in Acts 2:47 is not “the body of Christ,” rather these were Jews, the circumcision, saved to the Messianic Kingdom gospel that Peter preached to the “the Jews only” (see Acts 2:22, 11:19, Matt 10:5-6). At that time, “the body of Christ” which is the only church of “the dispensation of the grace of God,” had not yet been revealed, since Paul had not yet been converted and he had not yet received the revelation of “the body of Christ.” None of Jesus of Nazareth’s “twelve” Apostles even knew of this “church, 23 which is his body” that was to later come to fruition.

By the foregoing understanding, we can see that when we see the word “church” in the Bible, we should ask “which assembly” is the text speaking about. Is the particular church Israel in the wilderness, or the Jews who rejected and undermined Paul’s message of grace, or “the body of Christ,” or is it another “assembly of folks” entirely?”

So as to be clear, we might better refer to the church today as “the body of Christ” than to call it “the church.” By properly defining the various “ekklesias” more specifically, we will then no longer refer to such accounts as the Acts 2 “assembly of Jews” referred to on the day of Pentecost, as “the body of Christ”; I refer to that Acts 2 church as the “Messianic Church,” or “the Pentecostal Church.”

We should note that it was Paul who introduced and used the term “the church, which is His body,” per the revelation Paul received direct from the ascended Jesus Christ, as a key part of the “mystery gospel” that he preached (Rom 16:25, Col 1:26-28a). Paul received the revelation of the church that is of “the mystery” gospel from Christ, some 8-10 years after the cross and Pentecost. This occurred only after the Jews had rejected the King and His Messianic Kingdom when they stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Saul of Tarsus was there that very day, holding the cloaks of Stephen’s executors. Shortly after that we read of his conversion and the introduction of “the church” for today, which is called “the body of Christ.”

Hence, we can see that it might be best today to refer to believers today as being members of the “body of Christ,” of whom Christ is “the head,” not confusing it by the often misused of the word, “church.”

Colossians 1:18 (KJV) And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Many misuse Paul’s words in this verse. Ephesians 5:23 (KJV) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Some have the mistaken idea that “the body of Christ” is the bride of Christ, but actually Israel ’s elect is to be His bride at His coming. The issue here in Eph 5:23 is the headship of a husband over his wife during “the dispensation of the grace of God” on earth. The mistaken idea of Christ as the bridegroom of the church, “the body of Christ” is not the matter at hand. What we do see here also is the matter of the headship of Christ over His “the body of Christ,” without whom His body would be headless.