The word 'assembly' is used 49 times in the King James Bible and is a translation of nine different words from the original languages; six Hebrew and three Greek. The aim of this paper is to delve a little into the meaning of this word and to see if the semantic alters based upon the underlying word from the original.
Unger and White suggest that in the Old Testament the word 'assembly' is fairly simple; it comes from the single Hebrew word qâhâl (Strongs H6951) which is defined (Strong) to mean assemblage. It is derived from H6950 which means 'to gather'. Brown, Driver and Briggs defines qâhâl rather more concretely into three divisions:
Looking to see how qahal is translated we see that this Hebrew word is translated as assembly some 19 times. The King James Concordance shows that qâhâl has other renderings: congregation (85), company (16), multitude (3) and companies(1).
However inspection of a Strong's encoded KJV text shows that 'assembly' is also a rendering of ‛êdâh (H5712). This word is also most frequently rendered congregation(123) with 9 uses of assembly or assemblies. Strong states that ‛êdâh refers to the fixed or stated assemblage. Exo 12:6 shows the distinction nicely:
Exo 12:6 And ye shall keep1961, 4931 it up until5704 the fourteenth702, 6240 day3117 of the same2088 month:2320 and the whole3605 assembly6951 of the congregation5712 of Israel3478 shall kill7819 it in996 the evening.6153
Thus ‛êdâh refers to all of those named in the congregation and qâhâl refers to those physically gathered into a place.
The word 'assembly' also appears, usually as 'solemn assembly' as a rendering of ‛ătsârâh (H6116). This occurs on nine occasions. The meaning as given by Strong is of a gathering for a festival. The only other rendering of ‛ătsârâh is as a meeting in Isaiah 1:13.
A more intimate meaning is given to assembly on the five occasions it is a translation of sôd (H5475). Strong states that it is a session or group of people in close collaboration. BDB goes further to suggest that the setting is familial or possibly a secret council. In fact sôd is more commonly rendered 'secret' (8 times) than it is 'assembly' suggesting the close and covert connotations involved.
Psalm 107:32 unique translates môshâb as assembly. The word really refers to a seat or location and by extension a dwelling place. Thus the 'assembly of the elders' would be the place where the elders meet.
In Lam 1:15 we see the Hebrew mô‛êd rendered assembly. Strong tells us that mô‛êd points specifically to an appointment; especially a temporal one such as a festival. The word is only rendered 'assembly' three times. On other occasions it is rendered congregation(147), appointed(20), feasts(19), season(10), set(10) and time(3).
When looking at the New Testament usage we see that 'assembly' only occurs fives times. Three of those times it is as a rendering of ekklēsia. The New Testament word ekklēsia is most commonly used to refer to the church or churches; 113 of the 116 occurrences of ekklēsia are rendered this way. However the Greek word really means 'called out' and can refer to any popular or religious meeting. Thus when the rabble is gathered in Ephesus in Acts 19 the Greek uses the word ekklēsia. The translators obviously could not render it church and thus went for assembly instead.
The word 'assembly' appears in Heb 12:23 where the Greek word panēguris is rendered 'general assembly'. This translation neatly shows the compound of the original word which really means 'all - assembly'. This makes it roughly equivalent to the Hebrew ‛êdâh. It is particularly noteworthy that ekklēsia also appears in that verse. Thus we see that at one and the same time the collection of believers is inclusive (we are all there - panēguris) but also exclusive (we are all called out - ekklēsia).
The final New Testament use of assembly occurs in James 2:2 where in a rendering of sunagōgē. As the transliteration suggests this word is most commonly rendered synagogue. It specifically refers to a gathering together of people and can refer to the place to which they are gathered (Thayer). This specific meaning closely relates to môshâb from the Hebrew at least insofar as it is the place rather than the people being referred to.
There is always a danger in summarizing a word study that you will destroy all the definition you have just spent time trying to create. However it appears that in this case assembly can be defined along two dimensions. In the first dimension we are looking at the composition of a group of people gathered together. At the smallest (Hebrew sôd) we get at intimate grouping, this expands to (qâhâl) everyone gathered, everyone called to be gathered (ekklēsia), everyone entitled to be gathered (‛êdâh) and everyone that has ever been entitled to be gathered (panēguris). The second dimension focuses upon the details or purpose of the gathering. ‛ătsârâh looks towards a feast or festival, mô‛êd looks to a meeting with at a specific time, sunagōgē looks for a recurring meeting at a specific place and môshâb looks towards the place where they meet.
Numerically the weight falls to qâhâl and ‛êdâh and thus a general definition of assembly would be somewhere between those of a given group that have gathered together and the group that is able to gather together.