Glossary of religious and spiritual terms
Starting with the letters "Ap" to "Az"
See preceeding lists for words beginning with Aa to Am or An
||Apikoros: A Jewish term for an unbeliever.
||Apocalypse, apocalyptic: From a Greek word meaning "revelation." A style of mainly Jewish and Christian writing that was
common from about 200 BCE to 200 CE.
The writings prophesized the destruction of evil and triumph of good.
Sometimes narrowly used to refer to the Book of Revelation -- the last book in the Christian Scriptures.
||Apocatastasis: The belief that all living entities will
eventually attain Heaven, including individuals sent to Hell, Satan,
demons, etc. Hell will thus eventually be cleared of all of its
inhabitants. This is considered a heresy by most Christian
denominations. One meaning of the term "universalism" is similar to "Apocatastasis,"
and is a lot easier to pronounce.
||Apocrypha: A Greek term meaning "to hide." A collection of books written after the
last book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and before the
first book of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). The books are: 1 & 2
Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of
Daniel and Esther. They were widely considered sacred scriptures by various groups within the early Christian movement. They are called the Deuterocanon by Catholics, and were
removed from the Bible by Protestants at the time of the reformation in the
16th century. They are accepted by
the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches and some Anglicans as part of the inspired cannon of the
Bible. Protestants generally reject them.
Outside of the field of religion, the term often is used to refer to writings or statements of dubious authenticity.
||Apocryphal addition: A passage that an unknown author or copyist added to a manuscript. The term is often used to refer to biblical passages that were not part of the original autograph copy as written by the author. In any other field than religion, it would be simply called a forgery.
||Apologetics: A systematic defense of a belief system. It is
from the Greek "apologia" which means to create a
defense. See 1 Peter 3:15. Most apologetics texts are directed to members of another religion,
or to secularists. However they tend to be read in
practice by the faith group whose beliefs are defended. See Polemics. In Christianity:
||Classical Apologetics: uses rational arguments to prove that
God exists, and relies on evidence to support biblical claims and
||Presuppositional Apologetics: starts with the assumption that
God exists and that the Bible is true. They argue from this that their
particular belief of the Trinity, salvation, Heaven, Hell, etc. is valid.
||Evidential Apologetics: uses evidences such as miracles,
fulfilled prophecies, etc. to prove that God exists and that the
biblical account of Christ and his message are valid and trustworthy. 1
||Apologist: A Christian who gives an intellectual defense of
||Apostate: From the Greek apo - histanai ("depart from a
stand.") A person who was once affiliated with a faith group, but has since
"fallen away" and left the group. One group's apostate is
generally another group's
convert. Very severe penalties exist in some countries of the world against individuals
who abandon the state religion in favor of another faith. It can
mean execution in some Islamic
countries if a Muslim leaves Islam. The Roman Catholic church stopped burning European apostates at the stake
in 1792 CE.
|Apostle: A Christian term to refer to Jesus' immediate
followers. An apostle must generally a man was personally chosen
by Jesus, and to have seen him. Sometimes, the term is used to refer only
to the twelve disciples, or to the twelve disciples and Paul. Other times, it has
been used to refer to the 70 disciples selected by Jesus. In Romans
16:7, Paul refers to a female apostle, Junia, as "outstanding among the apostles."
||Apostle's Creed: A summary of Christian beliefs. Many
Christians believe that the Apostles personally wrote the creed so that
they could coordinate their missionary efforts as they spread out through
the known world. However, there is evidence that the creed was written
near the end of the second century CE, about a century after the time of
||Apostolate: A Roman Catholic term used to describe a religious ministry that is typically formed by lay Catholics working under the direction of the local bishop. A few, like the Call to Action organization, have evolved into a dissident group dedicated to reform within the Church.|
|Apostolic succession: The Catholic belief that Jesus Christ
ordained the twelve
apostles, who ordained bishops, who in turn ordained their successors in an unbroken
sequence up to the present day. Non-Catholic Christian denominations generally
regard apostolic succession to be a myth.
|Apparition: From the Latin word "apparere:" to
appear). A paranormal incident involving the appearance of a
non-existent entity or object. A visual apparition is generally called a
|Appollinarianism: An early Christian belief promoted by
Apollinarius (b 310) who lived in Syria. He believed that Jesus was
entirely divine and had no human nature. The belief was declared a
first at the Council of Alexandria (378 CE) and later at two subsequent
|Aramaic: A semitic language used throughout southwest Asia. Used
by Jews after the 6th century BCE.
|Archangel: a member of the highest rank of angels. Only two are
mentioned in the Bible: Gabriel and Michael.|
|Archbishop: (Derived from a Greek word for "chief overseer"). A
bishop who has administrative responsibilities over an
|Archdiocese: A diocese -- a geographical area -- that is
particularly large or has an important past. Its priests are under the
direction of a single archbishop. The term is used by the Roman Catholic
church, the Greek Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion.
||Archon: A Gnostic term which
refers to the Demiurge -- an inferior deity who is the creator of the
material world -- and his angels.|
|Areligious: Indifferent to organized religions.
|Arhat: A Buddhist saint who has liberated
themselves from samsara: the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth into
the world. They typically lead a monastic live.
||Arianism: An early Christian heresy named after Arius (250-336 CE). He taught
that Jesus was not in existence for all time, but was created by God near
the end of the first century BCE. He also taught
a form of monotheism in which there is only one person in the Godhead
-- the Father -- and not a Trinity. The church at the time was evenly
divided over whether Arianism was truth or a heresy. Because of Constantine's political power, his vote
swayed the balance, and it became a heresy.|
||Arigocity: A word coined by Adam Bolt, an Australian
photographer, to mean the acceptance of spiritual diversity. The word does
not seem to have caught on yet, because the only location on the Internet
where the word appears is on Bolt's personal web site. Still, it is a word
that seems needed, particularly in the U.S., which is the world's most
religiously diverse country.
|Ark: In a religious sense, it has two unrelated meanings:|
|Noah's Ark was the boat constructed by Noah in which he and his
family survived the great flood.|
|An acronym for aron kodesh (holy chest). A box in which the Torah
scrolls are stored.|
|Armageddon: A battle that is prophesized to occur in the plain of Megiddo,
Israel. Jesus and Satan, and their armies, will fight a final battle (as
stated in the biblical Book of Revelation).|
|Arminianism: A set of Christian beliefs suggested by Arminius,
a theologian from the Netherlands, in reaction to
Calvin's five points. He maintained that
|Everyone has free will and can chose to be saved;
|God selected some individuals to be saved on the basis of his
foreknowledge of who would respond; |
|Jesus died for all; |
|People can resist the call of God.
|One cannot lose one's salvation unless they abandon it.|
Calvinists regard these as a heresy. The controversy continues to the
present time, because both Calvinists and Arminians can justify their
positions through reference to biblical passages.
|Aryan: A term used by the German Nazi government to refer to
Caucasians of the Nordic type. Originally, the term referred to persons
who speak an Indo-European language. |
|Asa, Æs. Æsir: The name for the Gods in Norse Heathenism, either as individuals or as a collective.
|Ascended Masters: A New Age belief that there are spiritual,
non-physical, entities who live on an astral plane and can communicate
spiritual truths to humans through channeling.
|Ascension: In Christianity, this refers to the belief that Jesus
ascended to heaven to sit at God's right hand. According to two
gospels, Luke, Jesus ascended to heaven on a Monday, the day after
his resurrection. Acts explained that it occurred 40 days later.|
||Ascension, feast of (a.k.a. ascension day): A Christian holy day celebrating the belief that
bodily ascended from Earth to Heaven. It is celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after
|Ascension of Abdul Baha: A celebration by the Baha'i Faith of Abdul Baha's spirit rising to heaven.|
|Ascension of Baha'u'llah: A remembrance by the Baha'i
faith of the death of its founder, Mirza Husayn Ali, and the ascension
of his spirit to heaven.
|Asceticism: The belief that a conflict exists between one's body and spirit. By
renouncing the needs and desires of the body, one can attain a higher spirituality. This
is concept is found in many religions and faith groups, from
Native American spirituality.
|Ashkenazi: A term referring to Jews of eastern and northern
European origin. See also Sephardi.
|Ashoora: A one-day fast in which Muslims recall the death of
Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet of Islam. He sacrificed his
life and the lives of many of his family members and friends in Karbala
Iraq, in order to preserve the teachings of Islam.
|Ashram: A Hindu term for a religious retreat center where a student
can learn under the guidance of a guru (teacher).|
|Ash Wednesday: This is the first day of Lent, observed by
Christians. It is held on the Wednesday which is 40 days prior to
|Assimilation: Becoming integrated into mainstream culture.|
|Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
|A Roman Catholic holy day which commemorates the Virgin Mary's death
and direct ascension to heaven.|
|The declaration on 1950-NOV-1 that the Virgin Mary's body and soul
directly ascended to heaven. This event does not appear in the Bible.
However, it has been argued on the basis that Jesus would not have
allowed his mother's body to decay in the earth.|
|Astral plane: A plane of existence that is separate from, but
which overlaps, the physical world.|
|Astral projection: A practice among some Pagans and New Agers
whereby they believe that they can transfer their consciousness from the
physical world to the astral plane.|
|Astrology: a belief that the positions of the planets affect
events and states of being on earth. It was developed independently in
Greece and India circa 300 BCE.
|Athame: A knife, typically double sided with either a black or
natural wood handle used by Wiccans and other Neopagans during rituals.
|Atheism: from a Greek term
meaning "no deity."|
|According to many Atheists: having no belief about a deity.
|According to most non-Atheists, actively denying that a deity exists.
||Atheist: A "weak Atheist" is a person who has no belief about a deity; a "strong atheist" is person actively denies the existence of any deity.
|Atlantis: An sunken island. generally believed to be in the
Atlantic ocean, which some people assert once held an advanced
||Atonement: In general, an act that unites enemies as friends.
In Judaism, it refers to a process of healing the relationship between God
and humans achieved through repentance, seeking forgiveness and making
amends. Among many Christians, it refers to the doctrine that Christ's death has the power of
canceling the sins of those Christians who are "saved."|
||Atonement, limited: One of the five points of Calvinism: Christ
died to atone for certain sins of specific individuals -- only those who are
elected by God to be saved. He did not die for the all sins of all humanity; he only died for certain selected individuals.
After death, those who are not chosen by God are out of luck; they will be tortured in Hell for all
|Attributes of God: God, as viewed by followers of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam is traditionally thought to be omnipotent
(all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere)
and omnibeneficient (all loving). The theodicy
paradox addresses the apparent impossibility of God holding these four
attributes simultaneously. Other attributes include holy, good, wise, and just.|
||Aura: An energy field believed by some to surround humans or
objects. Some people believe that they can detect an aura visually and
determine an individual's current emotional and physical state from its color and
variation. 2 |
||Authoritarianism: A system of control in a group, family,
country, religion, etc. in which most members are heavily controlled by a
one or a few leaders.|
||Authority, Bible: Biblical authority is the belief -- near
universally held among conservative Christians -- that: "the Bible,
as the expression of God's will to us, possesses the right supremely to
define what we are to believe and how we are to conduct ourselves."4 Steven Ibbotson
states: "The Bible is authoritative because it is God's inspired word
Religious liberals commonly deny the authority of some sections of the Bible because they are judged to be
profoundly immoral when compared to today's religious and secular
||Authorized Version: Synonym for the King James Version
of the Bible originally published in 1611 CE|
||Autosoterism: The belief that a person is responsible for their
own salvation which is attained through their good works. This is a vary common
belief among North Americans, although it is unequivocally rejected by
fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian denominations. Jesus is described as accepting Autosoterism in the Sheep and Goats section of Matthew 25. He explains that the sole criteria for salvation of individuals of all religions, and none, is whether the person has engaged in good works by helping the needy. Jesus does not mention the need for repentance or the need to accept him as Lord and Savior.|
|Avatar: A Hindu concept of a God adopting a human or animal
form. A God-man Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu.
|Averah (a.k.a. aveira): A Jewish term for sin.|
||Axis Mund: (a.k.a.cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, center of the world, world tree) Sometimes referred to as the center of the world, the world's point of beginning, or the navel of the world.
Examples include: the Garden of Eden with its four rivers; the North Pole where the four directions meet; Mount Ararat where Noah's Ark allegedly landed, the Tower of Babel; the Temple and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem; the Kaába in Mecca; the Bodhi tree where Buddha obtained enlightenment, etc. Many are a tall mountain where Heaven and Earth are believed to be closest.|
|Ayah: An Arabic word referring to a sign or miracle. It is
usually used to refer to one of the 6,236 verses in the Qur'an.
|Ayyam-I-Ha: The first intercalary day, required to balance
the Baha'i calendar. Members of the Baha'i faith engage in acts
of hospitality and charity towards others on this day.|
See preceeding lists for words beginning with Aa to Am or An
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Apologetics," The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry,
- If you believe that you can detect auras, and would be willing to
prove it, then you may be eligible to win an award of over one million
dollars in U.S. funds from a Florida group. Please
contact the author for
- "Learning about Islam," at:
- Millard J. Erickson, "Christian Theology," Baker, (1985), Page 241.
- Steven Ibbotson, "Biblical Authority," Prairie Bible
Institute, (2000), at:
- Adam Bolt, "Latest News," at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written on: 1996-MAR-11
Last update and review: 2015-OCT-21
Author: B.A. Robinson