Glossary of Christian & Religious Terms
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One of several ancient, Semitic fertility gods.


Hebrew, "gate of God" -- a city in Shinar where Noah's descendants attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens, of which God put an end to by a confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:1-9).


Capital city of Babylonia, an ancient empire in SW Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It flourished cerca 2100-689 B.C., and rose again between 625-538 B.C. as Chaldea, the "New Babylonia." The Jews were conquered and deported by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon in 597 B.C., then released by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 B.C.

Bahaism (Babism)

A universal faith which proclaims religious unity, international government, and planetary interdependence begun in Persia around 1844 by Mirza Ali Muhammed (1819-1850), who claimed to be the Bab (Bab-ud-Din, "Gate of the Faith," formerly Babism), a forerunner to the Promised One of God. A follower of his, Mirza Husayn Ali, claimed to be this messiah in 1863 and came to be known as Baha'u'llah, "the Glory of God." Although he died in 1892, he prophesied a worldwide economic cataclysm which would lead to the Baha'i faith uniting all men as brothers. Bahaism was introduced into the U.S. in 1912 and continues to spread through evangelization, primarily through those who have escaped religious persecution in Iran. The Baha'i faith promotes the following principles: oneness of the human race; unity of all religions; a universal language; independent search for truth; equality of men and women; justice with universal peace; a world court; abolition of extreme wealth and poverty; harmony of science and religion; work as worship; universal education; elimination of all prejudice. It forbids slavery, alcoholic consumption, multiple wives, and begging, among other things. With the dictum, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens," it also claims to be the fulfillment of the world's major religions, including Christianity.


Either of two Islamic festivals following the fast of Ramadan.


Irish bean sidhe (bean, woman + sith, fairy) -- from Irish and Scottish folklore, a female spirit believed to wail outside a house as a warning that a death in the family would occur soon.


Greek and Latin baptisma, "immersion" or a dipping under -- a symbolic act of a cleansing of sin or spiritual purification by immersion in, pouring on, or sprinkling of water. (Affusion is the pouring on of water and aspersion is the sprinkling of water.) Matthew 3:11, baptism of fire. A baptismal font is a tub or tank in a church for baptizing, also called a baptistery. A baptist is a member of a Protestant church that believes in full immersion of one who has confessed faith in Christ, an act which is seen as crucial to salvation; in a general sense, one who baptizes.


A doglike goblin in English folklore whose appearance supposedly foreshadows death or bad luck.


Hebrew bar mitswah, "son of the commandment" -- the Jewish ceremony celebrating a boy's thirteenth birthday, the age when he becomes religiously responsible.

Barth, Karl

(1886-1968) Swiss theologian.

Basil the Great

(A.D. 330-379) Bishop of Caesarea, celebrated June 14.


Greek basilike, "royal" -- originally, a royal palace; Christian church built in the style of an ancient Roman building used as a courtroom or public hall: rectangular with a broad nave ending in an apse and flanked by colonnaded aisles.


Hebrew bat mitswah, "daughter of the commandment" -- a Jewish ceremony of Conservative and Reform Judaism where a young girl undergoes the transition analogous to a bar mitzvah for boys, wherein she becomes a religiously responsible woman.


Before Christ.


Before the Common Era


Hebrew b'dolah, a myrrhlike gum resin from a tree of the genus Commiphora, mentioned in Genesis 2:12 (aromatic resin, also in Numbers 11:7 and possibly similar to natap in Exodus 30:34), from the land of Havilah on the Pishon River near the original garden of Eden. Many rabbinical interpretations render this as a pearl or carbuncle (red garnet).


A minor parish officer in the Church of England whose responsibility was to keep order in church (similar to a sexton).


An archaic term in the Roman Catholic Church for a list of names of the dead for whose souls prayers are to be said. A beadsman is one who is paid to pray for another's soul (same as bedesman or bedeswoman).


Process in the Roman Catholic Church of determining the sanctity of one who has died and declaring him or her to be among the blessed in heaven. They are then entitled to public veneration and usually canonized as a saint.


First part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12): "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (NIV)


Hebrew Ba'al zebub, "god of flies," and Ugaritic Ba'al zebul, "lord of the lofty dwelling" -- the chief devil among Satan's horde, often associated with Satan himself. In Matthew 9:34 and 12:24, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Greek Beezeboul or Beelezeboul), the prince of demons. Satan's chief lieutenant among the fallen angels in Milton's Paradise Lost.


Procreate; father or sire; bring into being.


Job 40:15-24, "Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly! His tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are close-knit. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like rods of iron. He ranks first among the works of God, yet his Maker can approach him with his sword. The hills bring him their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby. Under the lotus plants he lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. The lotuses conceal him in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround him. When the river rages, he is not alarmed; he is secure, though the Jordan should surge against his mouth. Can anyone capture him by the eyes, or trap him and pierce his nose?" Many have thought this to be a description of an elephant or a hippopotamus, however, the discovery of dinosaur bones reveals this to more accurately describe a brachiosaurus or a diplodocus.


Akkadian form of Baal, the Babylonian god of heaven and earth, mentioned in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 50:2 and 51:44 (also known as Marduk). Akkad was an ancient region in northern Babylonia that flourished cerca 2800-1100 B.C. The prophet Daniel was given the name of Belteshazzar ("Bel, protect his life!") by King Nubuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:7, 4:8). The name of the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar (Hebrew belshatstsar), means "may Bel protect the king" (Daniel chapter 5).

Belial (Beliar)

Hebrew beliya'al, "worthlessness" -- wickedness or worthlessness as an evil force (Deuteronomy 13:13), sometimes associated with Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15, Greek Beliar).


Hebrew ben, "son" or son of.


French monastic order founded in A.D. 529, based on the teachings of St. Benedict of Nursii (A.D. 480-543); also an order of nuns.


Latin benedictio, to hallow or bless -- a Roman Catholic devotional service during which a concecrated Host is exposed in a monstrance and a solemn blessing is given with the Host; in general, a blessing or invocation of divine blessing, particularly at the end of a church service. Benedicite (Latin benedicere) means "bless you!" and is the invocation of a blessing, such as before meals; more specifically, the canticle which begins Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, Domino (Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord). Benedictus is Zecharias' hymn from Luke 1:67-79 about John the Baptist (the first word is Benedictus, "blessed"), sung daily at Lauds; also a short hymn of praise used in Mass, derived from Matthew 21:9, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."


Charity, derived from the word benefice, an endowed church office providing a living for a vicar or rector. Beneficent is doing good, being kind, or giving generously (variant of benevolence).

Benefit of Clergy

The exemption which the medieval clergy had from trial or punishment except in a church court; an administering or sanctioning by the church.


The twelfth tribe of Israel, descended from Jacob's youngest son.


Teaching of French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), which maintains that there is an original life force (élan vital) caried through all successive generations, that time or duration is being, and that reality is apprehended by intuition.


The philosophy of Irish bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753), which holds that physical objects exist only in being perceived by a mind.


French order of Cistercian monks founded in 1115 by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153, celebrated August 20).


Type of medieval natural history book with moralistic or religious fables about actual and mythical animals


Hebrew beth 'el, "house of God" -- (Genesis 28:10-22) The place between Beersheba and Haran (formerly the ancient city of Luz, located north of Jeresalem) where Jacob stopped to sleep for the night and had a dream of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the LORD appeared and promised the land to his descendants. When Jacob awoke, he set up a stone pillar on the spot and anointed it with oil, calling it God's house. In a later dream, the Lord addressed himself to Jacob as the God of Bethel (Genesis 31:13). Incidentally, Bethel came to be a city of idol worship (1 Kings chapters 12 and 13, 2 Kings chapter 23, Amos 3:14, 5:5-6). In general, bethel is a holy place of worship to God, such as for seamen or non-Anglican Protestants.


Hebrew be 'ulah, "married" -- Israel, from Isaiah 62:4. "No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah ("my delight is in her"), and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married."


Sanskrit, "Song of the Blessed One" (also known as Gitopanisad) -- a 700-verse, philosophical dialogue about self-realization between Lord Sri Krsna ("the Supreme Personality of Godhead") and his intimate devotee Arjuna, a soldier on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, which is considered a sacred Hindu text and found in the ancient Vedic epic, the Mahabharata. It is considered by many to be the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important Upanisads (late Vedic metaphysical treatises dealing with man in relation to the universe).


Sanskrit, "a share" -- devotion in Hinduism to one god, with all the tasks and activities of life selflessly directed to its service.


Greek biblia, "collection of writings" -- Christian collection of the books, prophesies, and scripture that make up the Old Testament (39 books) and the gospels and letters that make up the New Testament (27 epistles); in Judaism, all the Scripture of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or Tanach; any translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew and Aramaic and of the New Testament from its original Greek.

Bible Belt

Term coined in 1925 by H. L. Mencken pertaining to the southern region of the United States where fundamentalist beliefs prevail and the Christian clergy are especially influential.

Bible Code

Bible Paper

A thin, strong opaque paper used for mass producing Bibles and other reference sources, such as dictionaries.

Biblicist (Biblist)

An expert on the Bible or a specialist in Biblical literature; someone who takes the words of the Bible literally.


Prediction based on a Bible verse or literary passage chosen at random.

Biddle, John

(1615-62) English theologian and founder of English Unitarianism.


A theory of cosmology which holds that the expansion of the universe began with a gigantic explosion.


Latin birrus, hood or cloak -- square cap with three projections and a tassel on top, worn by Roman Catholic clergy.


Latin episcopus and Greek episkopos, "overseer" -- a high-ranking Christian clergyman with authority over other clergyman and usually supervising a church district or diocese, known as a bishopric. A coadjutor is an assistant bishop, often a successor.

Black Magic

A form of sorcery aimed at harming others (thus the term "black"), it was first introduced into the Americas by slaves from West Africa who practiced supernatural rituals and worshiped the spirits of nature and their ancestors. With the ancient belief that demons dwell in everyone and can be malevolently manipulated through black magic, the spirits are then reached through various means, including necromancy, spells, witchcraft, astrology, potions, charms, Ouija boards, and tarot cards. Along with protection from evil spirits, black magic is often used either for revenge or prosperity, concentrating on inflicting its victims with disease, physical danger, and unfortunate circumstances. It also includes superstitious beliefs in ghosts, vampires, and witches. Specific forms of black magic include Voodoo, Macumba, and Santeria. Black magic is also used by Satanists to summon the power of the Devil and evil spirits to cause harm to others.

Black Mass

Requiem Mass in the Roman Catholic Church at which the clergy is dressed in black; a blasphemous parody of the Mass by worshipers of Satan.

Black Muslim

Derogatory term for a member of a predominantly black Islamic sect in the United States.


Profane, contemptuous, mocking, irreverent, or disrespectful speech, writing, or actions against God or anything held as divine. Blasphemy against the name of God was punishable by death in Jewish society, according to Leviticus 24:13-16. The Pharisees tried to stone Jesus when he claimed to be one with the Father, because a mere man claimed to be God (John 10:22-33). Stephen was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy when he said he saw heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56-58). According to Numbers 15:30-31, anyone who sins defiantly blasphemes the LORD and must be cut off from the people because a blasphemer despises the commandments of God. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was considered the one unpardonable sin by Jesus, who said, "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:28-29, also Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10).

Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna (Madame Blavatsky)

Russian theosophist (1831-91, born Helena Hahn)

Bless (Blessed, Blessing)

Old English bletsian, right of consecration by sprinkling the altar with blood -- to make or declare holy by spoken formula or a sign; consecrate or hallow; to receive divine favor; to gladden; to become prosperous; to praise or glorify; to favor or endow. Blessed (generally pronounced bless-ed) is holy, sacred, or consecrated; a title applied to someone who has beatified; theologically, those dead whose souls are in heaven. (Blest is past tense or present participle of bless.) Blessing is an invocation or benediction; gift of divine favor; good wishes or approval; grace said at meals.

Blessed Sacrament

(see Eucharist)

Blessed Virgin

Latin Beata Virgo Maria, Blessed Virgin Mary (see Virgin Mary).


"(God) blind me" -- British exclamation of surprise or wonder.


From the Old English blithe, carefree, cheerful disposition -- great joy or happiness; spiritual joy or heavenly rapture; ecstasy.


Sanskrit, one enlightened in essence -- a potential Buddha; one who has achieved great moral and spiritual wisdom, usually rejecting nirvana in order to assist in aleviating the suffering of mankind.


An imaginary evil being or spirit; goblin; anything that is especially or needlessly feared; bugbear. The bogyman is an imaginary being used to frighten children.

Böhme, Jakob

(1575-1624) German theosophist and mystic.


Italian theologian and scholastic philosopher (1221-74, born Giovanni Fidanza), celebrated July 14.


A slave or one bound to service without pay.

Book of Common Prayer

Official book of services and prayers for the Church of England and other Anglican churches.

Book of Mormon

Book of the Dead

An ancient Egyptian book of prayers and charms intended to assist the soul in the afterworld.


Boxing Day

The first weekday after Christmas, marked by the giving of Christmas boxes to employees and civil servants, celebrated in Canada and a legal holiday in England.

Boy Scouts

International boys' organization founded in England in 1908, which stresses outdoor life and service to others.


In Hinduism, the supreme and eternal essence or spirit of the universe, who created the universe and is the chief personage of the trinity (including Vishnu and Siva).


Sanskrit, worship or prayer -- a member of the high, priestly Hindu caste. Brahmanism is the religious system and doctrines of the brahmans.

Branham, William (Branhamism)

William Branham (1909-65), was a native of Kentucky who claimed to have had several angelic visitations and was empowered with the gift of spiritual healing. He also made several end time prophecies that were to come about in the twentieth century, most of which were not fulfilled. He claimed himself to be a fulfillment of Malichi 4:5, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." Although he taught unorthodox Christianity and his scriptual views were often skewed, he developed a devout cult following, generally referred to as Branhamism.

Breastplate (Breastpiece)

An embroidered cloth set with twelve jewels representing the twelve tribes of Israel, worn on the breast of the Jewish high priest.


Latin breviarium, an abridgment -- a book containing the prayers and hymns that priests and other clergy of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches are required to recite daily. Brevier is 8 point type, so called from use in the printing of breviaries.


A papal letter of the Roman Catholic Church less formal than a bull.


Old English brynstan, burn and stone -- sulfur.

Brith Milah (Bris)

Hebrew berith milah, "covenant of circumcision" -- the religious rite in Judaism of circumcision on the eighth day after birth, the ceremony of which is known as a bris.

Broad Church

Party of the Anglican Church which, in matters of doctrine and communion, holds a position between the ritualism and formality of the High Church and the evangelism of the Low Church.


Giordano (1548-1600): Italian philosopher burned at the stake by the Inquisition. St. Bruno of Cologne (1030-1101): German monk who founded the Carthusian order, celebrated October 6.

Buber, Martin

(1878-1965) Israeli Jewish philosopher and theologian, born in Austria.

Buddha (Buddhism)

Sanskrit, the enlightened one -- Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.), religious philosopher and teacher who lived in India and founded Buddhism in the sixth century B.C., which became a major religious and philosopical system of central and eastern Asia. Buddhism teaches that right thinking and self-denial will enable the soul to reach Nirvana, a divine state of release from misdirected desire. The name Buddha is a a title applied by Buddhists to someone regarded as embodying divine wisdom and virtue.


An imaginary hobgoblin or terror used to frighten children into good conduct, such as the bogyman; anything causing seemingly needless fear or anxiety.

Bulfinch, Thomas

(1796-1867) U.S. writer and mythologist.

Bull (Bulla)

Latin bulla, a seal -- an official document, edict, or decree from the Pope. A bulla is a round lead seal attached to a bull.


A flat piece of wood at the end of a string, which makes a roaring noise when whirled, used in religious ceremonies of some peoples.

Burnt Offering

An animal or food substance burned at the altar as an offering to God.


Of or pertaining to the Eastern Orthodox Church, prevalent during the Byzantine Empire (A.D. 395-1453) in SE Europe and SW Asia, formed by the division of the Roman Empire; of the art and architecture of Byzantium developed between the fourth and fifteenth centuries A.D., characterized, among other traits, by colorful, two-dimensional frescoes and elaborate mosaics, religious symbolism, domes over square areas, and round arches.

        I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galations 1:6-9)

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  Reference Sources: Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, published by Prentice Hall Press, ©1986 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.; Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1968 Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation; Larson's New Book of Cults, ©1982 and 1989 by Bob Larson, printed by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Jewish Virtual Library (