What Does Koinonia Mean in the Bible?

The word koinonia may just be Greek to you, but it has a very important meaning in the New Testament. Its meaning has huge implications for Christians of every kind and place.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 13, 2022
What Does Koinonia Mean in the Bible?

By studying key Bible terms in the languages in which they were originally written (since the Bible combines portions of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), believers of all Biblical literacy levels can deepen their faith. One such term is koinonia, a Greek word you may have heard or seen inside and outside the church. It’s a word that has significant implications for the Christian life.

What Does Koinonia Mean and How Is it Used?

According to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, koinonia is translated as “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, [or] intercourse” within the Bible. Partly, this is because koinonia does not directly translate into English; therefore, multiple words are needed to capture the idea of koinonia.

At times, its usage suggests communion or fellowship with God—a new relationship offered to believers due to Jesus’ work on the cross. Hebrews 10:19-20 speaks of “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” In other words, the distance between God and humanity has been transformed, allowing a special, all-permeating friendship. The term “personal relationship with Jesus,” so often used in Christian circles, echoes this idea.

Elsewhere, the term refers to a special human-to-human connection among believers. Koinonia indicates a bond based on a shared interest or goal—following after Christ, growing in His love and teachings. However, the word also emphasizes the importance of sharing material goods as a sign of following Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In modern parlance, it might be an attempt to build a “tribe” of people who share interests and goals. Jesus’ fellowship followed a much higher purpose. It would also create a group of believers who served one another and sought to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, it would appear that one is reborn into this koinonia relationship with others by rebirth through the Holy Spirit.

Where Does the Bible Use the Word Koinonia?

Since it is a Greek word, koinonia only appears in the New Testament—between 18 and 20 times, depending on the translation used. The word is significant in the New Testament writers’ efforts to convey this new type of life afforded to Christians. Koinonia suggests a bond distinct from the biological one that was so important in the Old Testament, where family and lineage were paramount. In other words, few relationships or arrangements were so strong as to draw someone away voluntarily from their biological family into a new kind of community.

Here are several examples of verses mentioning koinonia with the Lord, others, or both:

Acts 2:42

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV)

It is said by some that the new indwelling of the Holy Spirit experienced on the day of Pentecost was the catalyst for this emerging Christian lifestyle. The Old Testament suggests stronger cultural and ethnic distinctions between the God-fearing Israelites and other peoples. The Book of Acts depicts believers from all walks of life forming a radically different faith community—one that will need to be predicated on supernatural love, service, and respect if it is to flourish.   

1 Corinthians 1:9

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (ESV)

Here we see that “personal relationship with Jesus” on display. This echoes the perfect personal relationship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have shared throughout eternity. The apostle Paul does a fantastic job highlighting each member of the Trinity in this verse.

  • God the Father exercises His faithfulness by creating a way for those He has called.
  • Believers can now enjoy a close association and connection with God the Son.
  • This connection (koinonia) is made possible through the work of God the Holy Spirit.

1 John 1:7

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (ESV)

This verse exemplifies the koinonia experienced when Christians are obedient to the Lord, listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Surround yourself with like-minded people striving for that obedience and active listening, and you’ll likely learn the joy of koinonia. Koinonia comes from the Latin communio, or “sharing in common.” With that in mind, 1 John 1:7 paints a picture of a common bond forged by righteous living modeled after the holiness of Christ. This bond, along with absolution of sin, is a welcome byproduct of deep fellowship with Jesus.

Are There Other Kinds of Fellowship?

The Holman Bible Dictionary notes that the Hebrew word for fellowship comes from the root hbr. This “was used to express ideas such as common or shared house (Proverbs 21:9), ‘binding’ or ‘joining’ (Exodus 26:6; Ecclesiastes 9:4), companion (Ecclesiastes 4:10), and even a wife as a companion (Malachi 2:14)… Interestingly, we find no place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew root hbr is used to describe one’s relationship with God.”

Though the apostle Paul would later use koinonia frequently in his New Testament writings, Christ-followers didn’t have a monopoly on the word. The Holman Bible Dictionary observes, “[p]agan religions could even use the koin- stem to describe union and communion with their god or gods.”

Regardless, koinonia seems to suggest a layered, multifaceted concept. In other words, it goes beyond surface-level connections within a religious body. For the Christian, koinonia is not merely social; it suggests a deep joy that arises from sharing a common goal and purpose as followers of Christ. Part of the power of koinonia is undoubtedly the bond forged by something that far outlasts this temporal world. The Holy Spirit infuses Christians’ relationships with one another, making koinonia stronger than a secular idea of friendship.

How Do We Practice Koinonia Fellowship?

Koinonia can take several practical forms, whether Christians belong to flourishing congregations or underground churches. Here, we can point back to the early example set by the emerging church in the Book of Acts.

According to Acts 2:45, “[the believers] were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (ESV). Christians can practice fellowship by meeting the practical needs of their neighbors, particularly those who may not believe in Christ. Whether believers band together to donate clothing to a shelter or raise money for a food pantry, the Holy Spirit impacts the watching world through these selfless acts. God created His children to feel a great sense of purpose when serving others, and these acts of corporate service can help strengthen the bond between Christians. Giving away our treasures requires sacrificial love and thus brings us into communion with Jesus, the perfect sacrifice.

Acts 2:44 notes that “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (ESV). This verse speaks to a powerful sense of hospitality that isn’t always reflected in modern Christian circles. To achieve koinonia, believers should foster a sense of purposeful communities within their larger church community. Quite often, that looks like being honest and vulnerable with fellow members of a small group or opening up one’s home to allow such a group to meet. These tasks may sound daunting, but they open the door for Christians to pray deeply with and for one another. That prayerful practice is superglue for members of the faith.

The Scriptures are clear: koinonia is not merely an ancient concept but an irreplaceable gift afforded to Christians through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Rawpixel

Anna Oelerich is a Chicago-area church youth director, freelance writer, and graduate of Taylor University. She received her B.S. in Professional Writing in 2018, but has loved words—reading, storytelling, list-making, and even handwriting—for as long as she can remember. Previously, she served as the marketing and communications coordinator for a community foundation, where she shared powerful stories of generosity, and encouraged others to give. When writing an article, or developing programming for her students, Anna enjoys highlighting the historical and cultural contexts of familiar Bible passages so others feel they are living the stories for themselves.

This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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