Common Usage

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Isa. 58:6-7 π Mt. 6:2-4 π Mt. 16:18 π Mt. 18:17 π Mt. 23:13 π Mt. 24:10 π Mt. 25:6 π Lk. 21:28 π Jn. 4:24 π Jn. 6:29 π Jn. 15:12 π Jn. 17:20-23 π Acts 2:47 π Acts 5:11 π Acts 7:48 π Acts 15:22 π Acts 17:24 π 1 Cor. 1:10 π 1 Cor. 5:9-11 π 1 Cor. 11:20 π 1 Cor. 12:24-25 π 1 Cor. 13:4-8 π 2 Cor. 6:17-18 π Eph. 2:10 π Eph. 2:19 π Eph. 4:12 π Eph. 5:29-30 π Col. 1:12-13 π 2 Ths. 2:3 π Heb. 13:13-14 π Jas. 1:27 π 1 Pet. 5:3 π 1 Jn. 4:8 π Jude 3 π Rev. 1:10 π Rev. 12:11 π Rev. 17:1 π Rev. 17:2 π Rev. 17:5 π Rev. 18:4-5 π Rev. 18:24
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Loveagape – [26] π Assembly, “Church” (KJV)Ekklesia – [1577] π Lot, Partkleros – [2819] π Belonging to a Lordkuriakos – [2960]

Sometimes it benefits us to read a familiar passage in the Greek. Since most of us are not New Testament Greek scholars, however, this is neither as possible nor as fruitful as one would hope. But as reads of the New Testament, we – without ever realizing it – have often experienced a subtle shift in meaning simply because the New Testament we read is in English and not in the original Greek.


Consider the following passage, a favorite of many people:

“Agape is patient, agape is kind. Agape does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Agape is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Agape does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Agape always protects always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Agape never fails…” ( 1 Cor. 13:4-8; top )

Most readers of the English New Testament will experience a sense of newness of understanding after reading this passage with the Greek word reinserted into the text. They may or may not be able to express or verbalize exactly what that newness is but that sense of a new wrinkle added to an old cloth will be there nonetheless. For many this sense may be best expressed as, “You know, maybe I don’t know this passage as well as I thought I did.”

This sense is there because we have given the English word “love” (or “charity” as in the old King James) a certain internal definition that is quietly included in our every reading of the passage by what we might call our “internal dictionary,” some hidden part of our soul that subliminally or subconsciously alters our thinking. Some call these “paradigms” or “world-views.” But when we read the passage as above, if our internal definition of “agape” is in any way different from that of “love” or “charity,” we will immediately sense a difference we should pay close attention to that sense for it is telling us that there may well be some very real differences between the original Greek and the modern English, differences that just might indicate dire spiritual consequences.

Let us consider what “agape” means. Strong’s ([ 26 ]) renders it simply as “love, i.e. affection or benevolence.” But we know, especially from Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you” ( Jn. 15:12 , etc.), that this word embraces a divine love that is completely unearned and unearnable and that is self-sacrificed and utterly giving in its nature. God is agape. ( 1 Jn. 4:8; top ) It has been well noted that the New Testament writers, as it were, pirated the word “agape” and infused it with their own divinely-inspired ideas and meanings, going far beyond what the word meant before they began using it.

Now the English word “love” is also defined by such terms as “affection, attraction, tenderness, admiration, benevolence, attachment, devotion, unselfish loyalty, benevolent concern for another’s good, adoration.” (Webster’s) Likewise “charity” means “benevolent, aid, generosity and helpfulness toward the needy or suffering, relief of the poor.” (Webster’s) Each of these meanings have something that reflects back toward the common meanings that “agape,” “love” and “charity” share.

But the English words have accumulated further meanings over the centuries that pull us away from the original intent of “agape.” Perhaps the most obvious is “charity” – indeed, the scholars and editors of the New King James version opted away from using “charity” precisely because of some of these accumulated meanings. “Charity” also means “an institution engaged in relief to the poor, public provision for the relief of the needy, a gift for public benevolent purposes.” (Webster’s - emphasis added) Whereas valid, even beautiful insights can be gleaned insights can be gleaned by seeing God’s magnificent charity toward us poor, needy and even wretched souls, there is nothing institutional or public about God’s agape love toward individuals.

Indeed, Christ plainly taught, “When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their rewards in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” ( Mt. 6:2-4; top )

Another trend that has developed is what can only be called “vicarious charity.” This is most often a donation of cash to some institution or organization in the expectation that some well-trained, professional personnel will attend to the details of actually serving the needs of the poor, needy and afflicted. There is certainly nothing wrong with this method per se, except where this impersonal giving completely replaces one’s personal involvements with the poor, needy and afflicted. And this is precisely the trap many wealthy or over-working “church”-ites have fallen into, especially by the giving of their “tithes and offerings” to fund the “church” staff and “pastor” to do “the work of the ministry.” (see Eph. 4:12 however to see who is really supposed to do the work of the ministry!) God still expects you to attend to the needs of the poor. (see Isa. 58:6-7; top )

Yet another trend that has developed in our modern mammon-centered, bureaucratic system is that of viewing “charity” as any gift that can be deducted from one’s taxes owed to the government. If one’s giving (as directed by God) conveniently falls into such a category, one is probably wise to take such a deduction. But the poor and needy whom God would most like to see experience more concrete expressions of His agape love from their wealthier brothers and sisters most often do not fit into such convenient deductions. In fact, the government’s tax codes seem intentionally structured to support impersonal, vicarious “charity” while it simultaneously tries to eliminate personal care and giving. When one’s choice of which “charity” to participate in is based on whether and how much one receives a tax deduction, God’s agape love has been left far behind.


There is a second word that has suffered similar transition in meanings over the centuries – the word “church.” The English word is defined as “a building for public and especially Christian worship, the clergy or officialdom of a religious body, a body or organization of religious believers.” (Webster’s - emphasis added)

When we take the original Greek word and re-insert it back into the text, we experience, even stronger than with “agape,” the sense of a difference of meaning, intent and understanding. Consider just these few instances drawn from the over 100 times the Greek word “ekklesia” [ 1577 ] has been translated as “church”:

These few quotes with the Greek word re-inserted produce a very different sense from reading it in English only.

The linguistic trail of the word “church” betrays even still further deception. The word “church,” closely related to the Scottish word “kirk,” legitimately traces back to the word “kuriakon.” [ 2960 ] This word is used only twice in the Greek New Testament ( 1 Cor. 11:20 , Rev. 1:10; top ) yet the word “church” appears some 115 times in the English New Testament. How do we account for this blatant discrepancy?

The word “ekklesia” that was employed in the Greek New Testament simply has no direct English equivalent such as the French “eglise” or Spanish “iglesia” would supply. “Ekklesia” is dawn from the political realms of the city-state and, like “agape,” is infused with newer, transcendent meaning. The “ekklesia” were those citizens who were responsible for attending to the issues and needs of the city-state they lived in. They were called by a herald to assemble and attend to those affairs – whether that was civic issues, judicial/legislative questions or even war. For the follower of Christ, this refers to those who have been called by Christ out of this world’s darkness and translated into His kingdom of light ( Col. 1:12-13 , etc.) and who are now responsible for attending to the issues, affairs and needs of His kingdom in their locale. It has been rightly observed that the genuine ekklesia is the intersection of time, space, eternity and divinity. Such citizens of heaven ( Eph. 2:19 , etc.) are expected to work in unity (unanimity, “one accord” – Acts 15:22 , 1 Cor. 1:10 , Jn. 17:20-23 , etc.; top) to accomplish the will of God. This is the original intent conveyed in the word “ekklesia” and yet we find the word “church” (especially in its institutional, organizational and official practices) is diametrically opposed to virtually all that the original Greek word stood for.

The Counterfeit

When John is given revelation insight, one of the pictures shown to him is that of a woman called “the great prostitute” ( Rev. 17:1 ) bearing the title of “The mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” ( Rev. 17:5 ) While a complete study of this “woman” is impossible in this short treatment – “she” is an entity that has touched the kings of the earth ( Rev. 17:2 ) and “in her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all [from Abel to the present day and until this prophetic picture is completed) who have been killed on the earth.” ( Rev. 18:24; top ) Such an entity, who encompasses physical, spiritual and historical realities, cannot be fully explained in a few paragraphs. Nor can “she” be completely identified as being only one of the many expressions that appear throughout human history such as the Roman Catholic “church” (though that is indeed one of “her” more recent, more visible, more readily discernible expressions). This is a complex entity, to say the least.

The primary aspect of her existence that bears heavily on the present discussion is that a prostitute performs, usually for personal profit or gain, various acts and functions that God has declared appropriate only for the married relationship of a man and wife. When we see (with spiritually enlightened eyes) the transcendent role of the ekklesia and we see (with those same spiritually enlightened eyes) the counterfeit, religion-for-profit, sectarian, Nicolaitan, demonically-driven “church,” we are looking at the difference between the bride of Christ and the prostitute practicing abomination to draw followers away from Christ. We are seeing the great falling away from the faith, the “apostasy,” that occurs shortly before the return of Christ. ( 2 Ths. 2:3 , Mt. 24:10; top )

The call of God at this time is that of “Come out!” “Come out of her My people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” ( Rev. 18:4-5 ) “Come out from them [the so-called “Christians” who are in reality idolaters – also see 1 Cor. 5:9-11 ), and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” ( 2 Cor. 6:17-18 ) It is “midnight” and the cry is ringing out, “Here’s the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” ( Mt. 25:6 ) It is time once again that we must go outside the “camp” of men’s religious organizations and institutions (“churches” and denominations), bearing any disgrace they might heap upon us, so that we may truly go to Him and press on toward the city (our true home) that is to come. ( Heb. 13:13-14; top ) We must persevere and endure and overcome and walk through lonely wildernesses – but all these are but light and momentary afflictions compared with the glory of His righteousness that will be ours for all of eternity.

In the midst of all the growing darkness and while men seat their eternal destinies for good or evil, let us diligently look up because our redemption is drawing closer than ever before ( Lk. 21:28; top ) and let us be transformed ever more into His likeness as we press onward and upward into His marvelous light.

The common usage of terms that are basic to the faith which was given once for all ( Jude 3 ), common usages that betray a subtle change of meaning accomplished over centuries are simply more evidence of the great ongoing spiritual struggle that we ignore at our own peril. Let us, at this late hour, carefully take up the armor of light and fight the good fight of faith – let us rely on the blood of the Lamb, maintain our proclamations of His life-changing power and recognize the utter futility and worthlessness of any life without Christ. (see Rev. 12:11 ) Let us truly forsake all counterfeits and be truly His and be only His in both spirit and truth. ( Jn. 4:24; top )

Let he who has ears hear.

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