Circus or Church


I enjoy etymology.  Etymology is basically the account of the birth and development of a word.  I like to say, “All words have a story to tell.”

Today’s one-word-prompt is circus, and so I wondered just where this word originated. After a bit of investigating I discovered the word circus originated from the Greek word kirkos.  To my surprise, I found that our word “church” comes from the same Greek word.

So, I guess-in sense-albeit loosely, we could make the claim that circus and church are cousins of a sort.  Sounds silly, but it made me smile. Goofing around, as so often I do, I wondered if one word could be substituted for the other.

For example in the book of Matthew Jesus tells Peter, “…upon this rock I will build my church.”  Substitute circus for church and Jesus says  “…upon this rock I will build my circus.” Even though some churches may resemble a circus more than the house of God, obviously this in not what Jesus meant to say at all.

In that particular passage of scripture,  Jesus used the Greek word ekklesia.  Ekklesia is used 115 times in the New Testament and 114 times it is translated within the KJV Bible as church.  In fact, the only time it is “correctly” translated is in Acts 19 with the word “assembly.”  So, whenever ekklesia is translated as church it is technically incorrect.      The Tyndale Bible, translated in 1524, never once used the word church but used the word congregation instead.

So how did the incorrect translation come to be about?

The earlier translations (before KJV) failed to give honor to the King in their footnotes.  Therefore,  King James, sometimes referred to as “Queen James”-because of his homosexual lifestyle, began the process of translating his own version. Fifty four scholars were nominated for the task; however, by the time the actual process began only 47 of the 54 remained because of death or other undisclosed circumstances.

The 47 scholars were given 15 “edicts” or “laws” that they had to follow during their translation process.  One of the fifteen edicts-the third one to be precise-was  “in select places, they were to use the word “church,” and not “congregation,” in place of ekklesia.”  [ ]

Why was King James so adamant about using the word church instead of the word congregation?  Most likely because as King he knew he had jurisdiction over the “church” and not a “congregation.”

Richard Anthony  writes in his article:  (Christ’s Ekklesia and the Church Compared)

“He [King James] has no jurisdiction over the congregation (people), but he does over the church (physical buildings). So you can see he never wanted the word “assembly” associated with the original meaning of the Old Testament which meant “congregation.” So he knew the correct translation, obviously, but he didn’t want it in there, that way they retain control over “the church.” (From Christ’s Ekklesia and the Church Compared, by Richard Anthony)

It seems logical to me.

Who would have thought my quest into circus would lead me to church!

If this topic interests you, check out the following websites:  [All are fascinating reads]



12 Comments Add yours

  1. I love this, you never know where the origin of a word my take you.

    1. It is so fascinating! Love finding the origins of phrases as well. 🙂

  2. thesmilingpilgrim says:

    Words are definitely fascinating to learn about 🙂

  3. Circus and church. Thanks for letting me in on the connection.

    1. It’s funny where words will take us 🙂

  4. This was really fun and interesting to read! I’m surprised my pastor hasn’t mentioned this (he knows his Greek), maybe he did and I missed it. In my world, when I teach college students about the Ancient Greek origins of “Leisure,” the word schole translates both into school and leisure. So I tell my students that school is leisure. Always good for a chuckle.

    1. LOL Love it! Words can be so interesting. I know very little of Greek so when I find out something I feel like a kid in a candy store. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words.

  5. Ok I am deeply intrigued by this now.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading. 🙂

  6. DeniseBalog says:

    Good post Lisa! Yes, word origin are amazing. Hebrew rocks my boat.. Love Circus and Church. Deep stuff here with a smile on my face:) So blessed to know our Jesus has a sense of humor, and enjoys laughter. Blessings friend:) denise

    1. Blessings and peace to you, my friend.

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