Word of the Week
July 24, 2021
Koinōnia: More than Donuts
What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:3
You won’t see many Greek words around the typical church these days, but you just might see the word koinōnia. That’s the word for “fellowship,” and it serves as a nice reminder that fellowship is an important part of life. I once taught an adult Sunday School class called the Koinonia class.
Unfortunately, we use the word “fellowship” rather loosely. When the church bulletin announces a “Fellowship Time” after the morning service, I know that we’re really talking about coffee and donuts!
There’s more to genuine fellowship than merely brushing crumbs off the plate. And a look at the Greek word for fellowship offers an opportunity to recapture the kind of relationship that existed in the early church.
The word koinōnia comes from koinos, which means “common, shared in common.” It was used to describe the kind of Greek that was spoken in New Testament times. Ancient Greece was originally splintered into a mosaic of separate city-states, each speaking a somewhat different dialect of the Greek language. Travelers might find it cumbersome to communicate with people in remote parts of the peninsula. But all that changed with Alexander the Great.
Alexander unified the country and took his army on a whirlwind conquest of territories all the way to India. His troops needed a standardized version of Greek that all could understand, and people in the conquered territories had to deal with their Greek masters, so a universal version of Greek developed, one that was common to all cultures. This common Greek was called Koine Greek.
Koinōnia is the word that describes a close association based on something shared by all. In the secular world, it might be the bond between family members, citizens of a state, or adherents to a philosophy.
In the book of Acts, koinōnia was one of the central features of the early church (Acts 2:42). This was a group of people who were held together by more than a membership list or a formal agenda. Their fellowship was not a scheduled activity, but a deep relationship based on the things they shared.
- Fellowship with God is the bedrock on which all other fellowship rests.
What do Christians share?
A koinōnia with the Father (1 John 1:3).
A koinōnia with the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3).
A koinōnia with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14)
- Because we have a shared relationship with God, we have a common bond with other believers.
We share a basic message: the gospel (Philippians 1:5).
We share a basic commitment of faith (Philemon 6).
We share the task of spreading the gospel (Galatians 2:9).
- Our koinōnia with God and other believers expresses itself in practical actions.
When Paul collected an offering to aid the Christians in Jerusalem who were struggling with financial pressures, he described it as an act of koinōnia (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13). And Hebrews 13:16 exhorts us not to neglect doing good to others, because God is pleased when we do it as an offering to Him.
Jerry Bridges sums it up well: “It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ.”
I’ll seldom turn down a donut, but I need the reminder that biblical fellowship goes far deeper than that!
There are several words built from the root koinos, all sharing the same underlying theme of “shared in common.” I find it helpful to think of koine Greek as an illustration of the idea. However, you have to be careful in jumping from one word to another. Koinos sometimes refers to things that are ordinary and not fit for use in worship, ceremonially defiled. That meaning does not show up for koinōnia, the word we are studying. It can be valuable to look at related words, but you should do it with caution.
Q – Is there anything significant about a word that only occurs once in the New Testament?
A – There is nothing magic about the fact that a word only occurs once, but it’s certainly worth your while to look more closely at such a word. Bible scholars even have a technical name for such words: hapax legomena. That’s Greek for “once spoken.”
When you encounter a Greek word that only occurs once in the New Testament, you will lean more heavily on the lexicons/dictionaries to learn more. Such words are often used in secular Greek outside the New Testament, and you’ll need to consult someone who can trace the usage in those other sources.
Occasionally, you may find a word so rare that it seldom occurs anywhere in Greek literature. That’s the case with “daily” in the Lord’s Prayer referring to “our daily bread.” Similarly, Paul used a little-known verb in Romans 8:37 when he said, “We are more than conquerors.”
Sometimes we have to deal with Greek idioms: phrases that make no sense when you look up the standard meanings of the individual words. My mother used to say someone “kicked the bucket.” Who would guess that the person had just died? Next week we will see how Greek handles idioms.
©Ezra Project 2021