What is the meaning and origin of the word 'church'?
The English word "church" comes from the Old English circe or cyrce which is related to the Dutch kerk and German kirche. All of these words derive from the Greek phrase kuriakon doma, which means "Lord's house" from kurios meaning "Lord or master." Because "church" comes from the Greek for "Lord's house," the English word often refers not only to the group of people, but more often to the building where Christians meet.
However, every time "church" is mentioned in the New Testament, it refers only to the people who believe in Christ, and a different Greek phrase is used. The Bible uses the Greek ekklesia, which means "an assembly of people who have been called out." Paul explained this understanding of "church" in 1 Corinthians 1:2 when he wrote, "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." The word "church" in this verse in the original Greek is ekklesia, and Paul emphasized that his letter was meant for all people who submit to Christ Jesus as their Lord.
So if the biblical concept of church is the assembly of people who have been called out to follow Jesus, how did the concept of the "Lord's house" as "church" begin? One clue may be found in Paul's letter to Timothy. First Timothy 3:15 says, "if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." Here "church" is connected with the concept of "the household of God," so perhaps Christians began to refer to their times together as coming to the Lord's house because together they were "the household of God." Of course, even today, the English word "church" also still can be used to refer to the people of God who believe in Jesus. However, this English word is a good example of how our understanding of biblical concepts can be enhanced by studying the Bible in its original languages and context.
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