Church - Trench's New Testament Synonyms
Churchekklesia (G1577) Church
synagoge (G4864) Synagogue
panegyris (G3831) Assembly
There are words whose etymology it is interesting to watch as they are transformed and consecrated by the Christian churchwords that the church did not invent but. has employed in a loftier sense than the world has ever used them. The very word by which the church is named is a key example of this type of transformation. For we have ekklesia in three distinct stages of meaningthe secular, the Jewish, and the Christian. As a secular term, he ekklesia (= ekkletoi) was the lawful assembly of free Greek citizens met to transact public affairs. That they were summoned is expressed in the latter part of the word; the first syllable indicates that they were summoned out of the whole population as a select portion that included neither the populace, strangers, nor those who had forfeited their civic rights. Both the calling (the klesis [G2821]; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 1:9) and the calling out(the ekloge [G1589]; Rom. 11:7; 2 Pet. 1:10) are the distinctives that make the word well adapted for its new Christian usage. It is interesting to observe how the word returns to this earlier significance on one occasion in the New Testament (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).
Before more fully considering ekklesia, however, it is necessary to review the earlier history of synagoge. Although synagoge occurs two or three times in Plato, it is by no means an old word in classical Greek. It completely lacks the technical signification that it began to receive in the Septuagint, and even more plainly in the Apocrypha, and that it has fully acquired in the New Testament. But synagoge, while evolving in this direction, did not lose the meaning it had in classical Greek; it often denotes any gathering or bringing together of persons or things. Between the closing of the Old Testament canon and the opening of the New, synagoge acquired the technical meaning that it possesses when the gospel history begins. It designates the places set apart for purposes of worship and the reading and expounding of the Word of God, the "synagogues." Although numerous, they were the necessary complement of the temple, which by divine intention was unique.
Ekklesia did not pass immediately from the heathen world to the Christian church; the Septuagint supplied the point of transition. When the Alexandrian translators undertook the rendering of the Hebrew Scriptures, they found two constantly recurring words: 'edah(G5712) and qahal(G6951). For these they employed their most adequate Greek equivalents: synagoge and ekklesia. This is the rule they seem to have followed: to render 'edahfor the most part by synagoge and never by ekklesia. We may wish that theyhad shown the same consistency with respect to qahal, but they did not. Although ekklesia is the more frequent rendering of qahal, synagoge is also used, thus breaking down for the Greek reader the distinction that undoubtedly exists between the words. Our Authorized Version shows the same lack of consistency in its use of "congregation" and "assembly." Instead of constantly assigning one English word to the same Hebrew word, it renders 'edah now by "congregation" (Lev. 10:17; Num. 1:16; Josh. 9:27) and now by "assembly" (Lev. 4:13). Qahal is sometimes translated "assembly" (Judg. 21:8; 2 Chron. 30:23) but much more often "congregation" (Judg. 21:5; Josh. 8:35).
Vitringa has an interesting discussion on the distinction between these two Hebrew synonyms.
Qahal, strictly speaking, denotes an entire multitude of some people united by the bonds of society and making up a republic or a certain state, while the word 'edah, from the nature and force of its emphasis, speaks of only any assembly and gathering of people, whether small or large.
Later in the same discussion, he says:
synagoge, as also 'edah, always signifies an assembly joined and gathered together, although bound by no strong bond; but he ekklesia [=qahal] designates some multitude which makes up a people joined together by laws and bonds, although frequently they may happen not to be assembled or are not able to be assembled.
This distinction resulted in the choice of ekklesia by Christ (Matt. 16:18; 18:17) and his apostles as the more noble of the two words. It designated the new society of which Jesus was the founder, being as it was a society knit together by the closest spiritual bonds and altogether independent of space.
The title ekklesia, however, is not wholly withdrawn from the Jewish congregation; that too was "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38), for the Christian and Jewish congregations differed only in degree and not in kind. Synagoge is not wholly renounced by the church; the only Christian use of it in the New Testament is by James (2:2), the apostle who maintained unbroken to the latest possible moment the outward bonds connecting the synagogue and the church. Episynagoge (G1997), I may add, on two occasions is honorably used but in a more general sense (2 Thess. 2:1; Heb. 10:25). Still, there were causes at work that led the faithful to use synagoge less and less of themselves and in the end to leave it to those whom the Lord had characterized for their fierce opposition to the truth as "the synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 3:9; cf. John 8:4). In addition, the use of ekklesia became more widespread as the church rooted itself more predominantly in the soil of the secular world, breaking away from its Jewish stock and stem. The use of synagoge declined because it was permanently associated with Jewish worship, while the use of ekklesia increased, not only because it was already familiar but also because it had an honorable meaning in Greek culture. It is interesting that the Ebionites (in reality a Jewish sect, though temporarily part of the Christian church) acknowledged the appropriateness of this distribution of terms. Epiphanius reports of the Ebionites: "These people call their own congregation an assembly and not a church."
Given these conclusions, Augustine, by a piece of good fortune, was only half in the wrong when he transferred his Latin etymologies to the Greek and Hebrew without pausing to enquire whether they would hold good there. He finds the reason for attributing synagoge to the Jewish church and ekklesia to the Christian church in the fact that convocatio (= ekklesia) is a nobler term than congregatio (= synagoge). Convocatio is the calling together of men, while the second term is the gathering together (congregatio, from congrego [gather together], and that from grex [herd, flock]) of cattle.
The panegyris differs from the ekklesia. In the ekklesia there is the sense of an assembly coming together for the transaction of business, while the panegyris was a solemn assembly whose purpose was festal rejoicing. Business might grow out of the fact that such multitudes were assembled (and many for various reasons would be glad to avail themselves of the gathering) but only in the same way as a "fair" grew out of a "feria" and a "holiday" out of a "holy-day." Strabo notes the businesslike aspect that the panegyreis commonly assumed and that was to such an extent their prominent feature that the Latins rendered panegyris by mercatus (festive assembly), even when the Olympic games were intended. These, with the other solemn games, were eminently, though not exclusively, the panegyreis of the Greek nation.Keeping this festal character of the panegyris in mind, we shall find a peculiar fitness in the word's employment in Hebrews 12:23, the only place in the New Testament where it occurs. The apostle sets forth the communion of the church militant on earth with the church triumphant in heavenof the church toiling and suffering here with that church from which all weariness and toil have forever passed away (Rev. 21:4). How could he better describe this last state than as a panegyris, the glad and festal assembly of heaven? Very beautifully Delitzsch says:
Panegyris is an assembly that is at full count (or has a large attendance) and is exceedingly festive in mood and indulges itself in a revelry of delights. At the mention of panegyris, one thinks of festive song, festive frolicking, festive games; and, indeed, life in the presence of God is a truly unending festive celebration.