Stephen Wiggins

In the 3rd edition of his New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel (1989) brother Hugo McCord refused to translate ekklesia with the term “church.” His reasoning was as follows: He wanted to make his translation as accurate as possible.

The English term “church” historically refers to a physical building, a meeting house, which Christians in the first century did not build, and for which there is no word in the Greek New Testament. The Greek text has one hundred fourteen citations of ekklesia and never does it refer to a physical edifice.

William Tyndale knew the word “church” was an inaccurate translation of ekklesia, which etymologically means “called out.” So Tyndale, in the first English translation of the New Testament from Greek (1525), eliminated “church” in favor of “congregation.”

When King James I produced the King James Version (1611) he had a vested interest in the word “church” since he was the head of the Church of England. He thus ordered the fifty-four translators of the KJV to deviate from Tyndale and use the word “church” as a translation of ekklesia in reference to the Lord’s people. Alexander Campbell knew about this inaccuracy and so in his Living Oracles (1826) reverted back to the term “congregation” as Tyndale had earlier done.

When McCord published the 4th edition of his translation (2000) he had changed his mind. He still knew that “church” ultimately derived from the Greek term kuriakos which means “belonging to the Lord.” He acknowledged that, according to Webster, the Greek doma (“house”) must be added to kuriakos to make the word “church” or “the Lord’s house.”  He further recognized that Webster’s first definition of “church” was a physical building constructed for Christian worship and how this is foreign to the New Testament.

But McCord also acknowledged that universally the English term “church” is used in reference to “a collective body of Christians.”  This is the second definition that Webster gives for the term “church,” a phrase that describes the people whom Jesus has collected and called the ekklesia. McCord then concluded that we can now hear Jesus say in English, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). He then goes on to translate ekklesia with the term “church” eighteen other times when the inspired writers are using the term to refer to that collective body of the Lord’s people.