1Timothy 3:15 "Church" meaning question


A non-Catholic stated this to me about what “church” means in 1 Timothy 3:15. How do I respond to this?

"The primary meaning for the word “church” in the bible is people not a building or a religious organization. It’s individual believers the called out ones. So the proper interpretation for 1Timothy 3:15 is “the house of God, which is the believers of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. Reference 1 Peter 2:5 You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. So you see the pillar and ground of the truth is nothing more than the believers themselves not a religious organization. Do a word study on what words in context mean in scripture and you will know what a particular verse means.”


That’s absurd.

Simply ask him how the “pillar and ground of the truth” can say both “infants can be baptized” and “infants can’t be baptized” or “Mary is the Mother of God” and “Mary isn’t the Mother of God” or any other doctrine you want to pick. Some part of his notion of the “pillar of truth” is false, thus it isn’t the “ground on truth,” thus the Bible is lying, thus the Bible isn’t God’s word, thus we shouldn’t believe it when it says “individual believers are the called out ones.”

His argument refutes itself.


Do a word study on what words in context mean in scripture and you will know what a particular verse means."

One does a better job understanding a verse by considering the entire verse in context, rather than simply examining a few words in the verse.

Your friend is isolating a word (‘ekklesia’), and missing the forest for the trees. The entire verse reads:

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.”

If the church is simply the individual believers – and therefore, the individual believers are “the pillar and foundation of truth” – then why must Paul instruct Timothy how to instruct the pillar and foundation of truth in proper behavior? If they’re the base of truth, then they should not instruction in the truth!

Rather, as a presbyter, Timothy represents the authority of the Church. Therefore, he (individually – since in 1Tim 3:15, Paul is speaking to him singly) must know how to instruct the individual believers… since individuals aren’t the ‘base and pillar of truth’.


I think we can use the Bible to answer this misunderstanding.

Matt. 18:17 - “If a man refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

This verse distinguishes between “The Church” and individual believers. The believers must listen to the Church. Ask your friend to explain that.


Some Protestants explain that “the church” there is a local congregation of Protestant Christians, that is, any one specific Protestant church or assembly of people. This of course doesn’t convince me. :shrug:

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible gives this interpretation:

[quote=“Ignatius Catholic Study Bible”]18:17 the Church: Mentioned only here and 16:18 in the Gospels. Whereas 16:18 envisions Peter’s authority over the universal Church, this verse pertains to a local congregation of Christians. Gentile . . . tax collector: Two groups generally despised by first-century Jews. The choice of these terms suggest that Jesus requires a policy of non-association with those who are disciplined by leaders of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-13; 2 Cor 6:14-15)

As far as 1 Tim 3:15 goes,

[quote=“Ignatius Catholic Study Bible”]3:15 pillar and bulwark: The terms refer to structural supports that hold up a building. The Church is set in place to support the edifice of gospel truth. The Spirit makes this possible by enabling the successors of the apostles to preserve the apostolic faith from corruption and distortion as the centuries pass. Without this protective grace, the bishops of the Church would be no more than fallible human teachers unequipped to fulfill the mission granted to them by the Lord. Other passages suggest that Paul may envision the leaders of the Church as the pillars and foundation stones of God’s living Temple (Gal 2:9; Eph 2:20; CCC 171, 768, 2032).


Sword Brethren

The primary meaning of ekklesia is simply “assembly,” a gathering together. On that point, as far as it goes, your non-Catholic friend is absolutely correct. In the case of this verse in 1 Timothy, Catholic teaching places one construction upon the word in this context and Protestants a different one (or even, I think, several different ones). By all means argue about it and defend the Catholic interpretation, but remember that the subject you’re discussing is alternative translations of a Greek noun. It’s not so much a question of religion as a question of linguistics.


"Matt 18:15-17 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

1 Jesus is saying go to someone in private who has sinned against you.
2 If they do not listen take along one or two witnesses.
3 If they still will not listen take it before the whole congregation the collective body of believers.
4 If they are still unrepentant treat them as pagan or tax collector.

The church here is the whole congregation of believers. As you can see Jesus is telling us to try to settle our differences in private first. Then if the offender still won’t change you are to elevate the level of public involvement.

Please show me how this is interpreted as church hierarchy ie catholic church proper not the congregation of believers?

The ironic thing here is there was no church per se when these words were spoken."


The accepted reading of part 4, treat them like…, is Jesus is saying, kick them out. Kick them out of what? The assembly of all believers? Someone, or someones must have the authority to kick them out in this passage. And where there is authority, there is hierarchy.

By the way, as an individual believer, a called out one, can I decide what is scripture and what is not? Why should anyone accept what a hierarchical institution promulgated as the NT? Where did they get the authority? And if they are not the pillar and the bulwark of truth, why should I accept their canon of scripture?


I’d say that the church might not have been completely started at this point but this is after Matt 16 where Jesus declares He will have a church and appoints Peter with the authority over it. I could be wrong but id take this as Jesus teaching the apostles how the church [will] function once its time.


That’s a self-refuting argument, since there is no such thing as A protestant church. There are tens of THOUSANDS of protestant churches.

So have them explain how this situation would be resolved.

Jim is a Presbyterian and Bob is a Baptist. Jim believes in abortion and works for Planned Parenthood. Bob correctly knows this is gravely sinful. Bob goes to Jim privately and tells him to stop working for PP and to renounce abortion. Jim refuses. Bob then takes 3 of his fellow Baptists to Jim to encourage him to quit and renounce abortion. Jim still refuses. Bob then wants to follow the instructions of Jesus, and wants to take Jim to the church so the church can warn him to repent or be excommunicated.

Well here’s a problem. Bob tries to take him to his Baptist church, but Jim refuses, as he doesn’t recognize them as an authority. He wants to go to his Presbyterian church for a decision, especially since they approve of abortion. Well we have a problem here, don’t we?

This example shows that there CAN’T be multiple churches, or that “church” in this instance simply means all believers. It can’t.


Doesn’t the “house of God” resonate with a building of some sort? Jesus when he cleaned up the money changers and merchants from the temple calls the temple his father’s house Jn 2:16. And Luke 2:49 as well.

Mat 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church. The context lends itself to an institution of some sort. And Peter will be given the keys of this institution, not keys to a group of believers.


That is indeed a good counterexample and it’s one of the reasons that, like I said, it doesn’t convince me. I was speaking recently to a sola scriptura guy (he doesn’t recognize himself as such, but the way he treats the Bible hints at it) and he told me that “the church” could also be those that have the true understanding of Sacred Scripture, being inspired by the Holy Spirit. I asked him how one knows that that is one’s case; he said, “you’ll know”. :confused::shrug:


What does ecclesia mean in Latin? Is it the same as the Greek meaning?

1 Timothy 3:15


3 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The Latin Vulgate

3 15 si autem tardavero ut scias quomodo oporteat te in domo Dei conversari quae est ecclesia Dei vivi columna et firmamentum veritatis



I think I have found out what ecclesia means in Latin. It has the same meaning of the greek ekklesia. The official Bible of the Catholic Church the Vulgate uses the word ecclesia which means the same as ekklesia. So protestants are wrong when that say the Catholic Church was misleading people with the English translation of ekklesia with the word church. Am I right?


Also found in: Legal, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

(ĭ-klē′zhē-ə, -zē-ə)
n. pl. ec·cle·si·ae (-zhē-ē′, -zē-ē′)

  1. The political assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state.

a. A church or congregation.

b. The collective body of Christian believers regarded as constituting a universal church.

[Latin ecclēsia, from Greek ekklēsiā, from ekkalein, to summon forth : ek-, out; see kalein in Indo-European roots.]



Latin Dictionary

ecclesia : church.


ecclesia, ecclesiae



declension: 1st declension
gender: feminine

1.(Universal) Church (Dif)
2.assembly, meeting of the assembly (Greek)

Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: Ecclesiastic, Biblical, Religious
Geography: All or none
Frequency: Very frequent, in all Elementry Latin books, top 1000+ words
Source: “Oxford Latin Dictionary”, 1982 (OLD)



Sword Brethren

I think you’ve got it exactly right. Ecclesia isn’t, strictly speaking, a Latin word. It’s a borrowing from Greek. It was used by Roman writers in connection with Greek institutions, such as the assembly of all the citizens in Athens, but it was never used as the name of any Roman institution until it came into Christian use. It survives in worn-down form in several modern languages, as the word for “church”: *église *in French, iglesia in Spanish, igreja in Portuguese, and chiesa in Italian.

As I said earlier (#6 on this thread), it’s not so much a question of religion as a question of linguistics.


That excuse makes no sense. Scripture say a Christian will know how to behave by remaining in the Church. That has to be some undeniable, clear thing that Christians can turn to.

The whole point is to clear up the “you’ll know” confusion. There are LOTS of devout, simple people who are easily swayed by those who are passionate or charismatic. The Church MUST be an entity that is easily recognized so that the sheep know who to listen to and not have to decide on their own.




I received this reply , “It’s not a private interpretation. Do a word study on what words in context mean in scripture and you will know what a particular verse means.” and “As you said when you put the words in scripture into their original language in context you get some very different interpretations from catholic teaching.”


No – when you look at the words in context and in the source language, you get a rebuttal of what your interlocutor is asserting (as I pointed out in post #3 in this thread)…!

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