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The English word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia (ecclesia), a term that literally means “the people of the Lord,” and from the third century has signified the community of Christian believers. Today the term church is applied primarily to fellowships of followers of Christ, yet the term has also been applied more broadly to refer to the gathering of the faithful in Buddhist and other religious communities.

Some scholars argue that prior to the emergence of Christianity in the Mediterranean region, the Greco-Roman populace of antiquity used the term ecclesia to refer to an association of free male Roman citizens, thus establishing boundaries on gender and citizenship. According to Yale New Testament professor Abraham Malherbe, the early Christian church was an “alternative community” that ...

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