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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Starting with the letters "Ao" to "Az"

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See preceeding lists for words beginning with Aa to Am or An

bullet Apikoros: A Jewish term for an unbeliever.
bullet 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 in the Bible.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

bullet 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.
bullet Apologetics: A systematic defense of a belief system. It is derived 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:
bullet Classical Apologetics: uses rational arguments to prove that God exists, and relies on evidence to support biblical claims and miracles.
bullet 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.
bullet 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
bullet Apologist: A Christian who gives an intellectual defense of their religion.
bullet 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 theoretically mean execution in some Islamic countries. The Roman Catholic church stopped burning European apostates at the stake in 1792 CE.

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bulletApostle: 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." (NIV)
bulletApostle'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 the apostles.
bullet 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.

bulletApostolic 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.
bulletApparition: 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 ghost.
bulletAppollinarianism: 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 heresy, first at the Council of Alexandria (378 CE) and later at two subsequent Councils.
bulletAramaic: A semitic language used throughout southwest Asia. Used by Jews after the 6th century BCE.
bulletArchangel: a member of the highest rank of angels. Only two are mentioned in the Bible: Gabriel and Michael.
bulletArchbishop: (Derived from a Greek word for "chief overseer"). A bishop who has administrative responsibilities over an archdiocese.
bulletArchdiocese: 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.
bulletArchon: A Gnostic term which refers to the Demiurge -- the creator of the material world -- and his angels.
bulletAreligious: Indifferent to organized religions.
bulletArhat: 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.
bulletArianism: 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. Constantine's vote swayed the balance, and it became a heresy.
bulletArigocity: 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.
bulletArk: In a religious sense, it has two unrelated meanings:
bulletNoah's Ark was the boat constructed by Noah in which he and his family survived the great flood.
bulletAn acronym for aron kodesh (holy chest). A box in which the Torah scrolls are stored.
bulletArmageddon: 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).
bulletArminianism: A set of Christian beliefs suggested by Arminius, a theologian from the Netherlands, in reaction to Calvin's five points. He maintained that
bulletEveryone has free will and can chose to be saved;
bulletGod selected some individuals to be saved on the basis of his foreknowledge of who would respond;
bulletJesus died for all;
bulletPeople can resist the call of God.
bulletOne 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.

bulletAryan: 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. 
bulletAsa, Æs. Æsir: The name for the Gods in Norse Heathenism, either as individuals or as a collective.
bulletAscended 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.
bulletAscension: 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.
bulletAscension, feast of (a.k.a. ascension day): A Christian holy day celebrating Jesus' bodily ascension from Earth to Heaven. It is celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter Sunday.
bulletAscension of Abdul Baha: A celebration by the Baha'i Faith of Abdul Baha's spirit rising to heaven.
bulletAscension 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.
bulletAsceticism: 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 Christianity to Native American spirituality.
bulletAshkenazi: A term referring to Jews of eastern and northern European origin. See also Sephardi.
bulletAshoora: 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. 3
bulletAshram: A Hindu term for a religious retreat center where a student can learn under the guidance of a guru (teacher).
bulletAsh Wednesday: This is the first day of Lent, observed by Christians. It is held on the Wednesday which is 40 days prior to Easter.

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bulletAssimilation: Becoming integrated into mainstream culture.
bulletAssumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
bulletA Roman Catholic holy day which commemorates the Virgin Mary's death and direct ascension to heaven.
bulletThe 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.
bulletAstral plane: A plane of existence that is separate from, but which overlaps, the physical world.
bulletAstral 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.
bulletAstrology: 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.
bulletAthame: A knife, typically double sided with either a black or natural wood handle used by Wiccans and other Neopagans during rituals.
bulletAtheism: from a Greek term meaning "no deity."
bulletAccording to many Atheists: having no belief about a deity.
bulletAccording to most non-Atheists, actively denying that a deity exists. More info.
bulletAtheist: A person who believes in Atheism.
bulletAtlantis: An sunken island. generally believed to be in the Atlantic ocean, which some people assert once held an advanced civilization.
bulletAtonement: 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. In Christianity, the doctrine that Christ's death has the power of canceling the sins of those Christians who are "saved."
bulletAtonement, 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. After death, those who are not chosen by God will be tortured in Hell for all eternity.
bulletAttributes 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.
bulletAura: 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 emotional and physical state from its color and variation. 2
bulletAuthoritarianism: A system of control in a group, family, country, religion, etc. in which most members are heavily controlled by a few.
bulletAuthority, 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 to humanity." 5 Religious liberals commonly discount some sections of the Bible as authoritative because they are judged to be profoundly immoral when compared to today's religious and secular moral standards.
bulletAuthorized Version: Synonym for the King James Version of the Bible.
bulletAutosoterism: 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 denominations.
bulletAvatar: A Hindu concept of a God adopting a human or animal form. A God-man Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu.
bulletAverah (a.k.a. aveira): A Jewish term for sin.
bulletAyah: 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.
bulletAyyam-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


  1. "Apologetics," The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, at:
  2. 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 details.
  3. "Learning about Islam," at:
  4. Millard J. Erickson, "Christian Theology," Baker, (1985), Page 241.
  5. Steven Ibbotson, "Biblical Authority," Prairie Bible Institute, (2000), at:
  6. 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-JAN-01
Author: B.A. Robinson
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