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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Words & phrases starting
with the letters "PB to PO"


See elsewhere for terms starting with the letters "PA" or "PR to PY"

bullet Peccability: The concept that Jesus Christ could have sinned if he had wanted to.

bullet Pedobaptism: The practice of baptizing an infant. Most conservative Protestant denominations defer baptism until later in life when a person becomes born again.

bullet Pedophile: From two Greek words: ''pedo" means "child;" and "philia" means "love for." This is a word whose meaning is changing. In the past, it referred to an adult who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children -- often those who fall into a specific age range, like 5 or 6. Currently, it is evolving to mean a person who sexually molests pre-pubescent children. See hebephile.

bullet Pelagianism: A concept proposed by Pelagious (circa 356 to circa 418) who denied the existence of original sin inherited from Adam. He taught that a soul created by god cannot inherit sin from an ancestor. Thus humans are born morally neutral. They can fall into habits of sin but can overcome sin through mental effort. He promoted adult baptism in place of infant baptism. His beliefs were declared heretical by the Christian movement.

bullet Penance: A Roman Catholic sacrament in which sins are forgiven by a priest.

bullet Pentacle: a five pointed star inside a circle -- most commonly used by Wiccans and other Neopagans. Some Satanists invert the pentacle so that one point is downwards and two upwards; they often add a goat's head to the inverted pentacle.

bullet Pentagram: a five pointed star. Wiccans and other Neopagans are the main North American groups who use a pentagram as a religious symbol. They orient the star with one point upwards, two downwards. The points of the star are often interpreted to refer to earth, air, water, fire and spirit. Satanists, who are numerically much smaller group than Wiccans, sometimes use an inverted pentagram. 

bullet Pentateuch: See Torah

bullet Pentecost: From the Greek word "pentecoste" which means the 50th day. 
bullet In Christianity, a holy day celebrated 49 days after Easter Sunday. It recalls the visitation of the Holy Spirit to 120 Christians 50 days after Jesus' resurrection. They spoke in tongues This is usually regarded as the date of the birth of the Christian church. Also known as Whitsunday.
bullet In Judaism, a festival which was called "Pentecost," because it was observed 50 days after Passover.  

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bullet Pentecostals: those Christian individuals, churches and denominations who believe in the Holy Spirit Baptism, a second manifestation of the power God of which follows an individual's conversion to Christianity. It is evidenced by glossolilia, or "speaking in tongues". Services are highly emotional. There are about 50 Pentecostal denominations in North America, including the Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Association of Vineyard Churches, the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, United Pentecostal Church International, Church of God in Christ and the Pentecostal World Conference. This is the fastest growing family of denominations in Christianity. Its roots can be traced to the National Holiness Movement which came into being after the Civil War, and to the Baptist, Methodist denominations. Most denominations allow women to become at least junior pastors. Jim Bakker, Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson are among the most famous Pentecostal leaders. BeliefNet estimated that there are about 24 million Pentecostal followers in the U.S. in early 2001.


People of the Book:

  • In Islam, the term "People of the Book" refers to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sabians, and followers of other monotheistic religions.
  • In Judaism, the term refers to the Jewish people.

bullet Perfectionism: The belief that a person can attain a state of sinlesslessness.

bullet Perseverance of the Saints: This is the fifth of the five points of Calvinism:  It is the belief that whoever is saved and will remain saved forever. "Once saved, always saved.


Personhood: Possessing the status of a human individual. A human ovum is generally understood to be a form of human life because most people consider it alive and it certainly contains human DNA. So too, for a spermatozoon. But neither is normally considered a person. Meanwhile, a newborn human baby is almost universally accepted as being a person. (Some aboriginals in a few areas of the world only consider a newborn to reach human personhood when she or he receives a name).

Unfortunately, there is no consensus about when personhood begins. Different people have argued it is achieved at conception, at implantation in the womb, when the heartbeat can first be heard, when the embryo loses its gill slits and tail, when it first looks vaguely human, at quickening, at sentience when the fetus' higher brain functions are first activated, when it is viable, when the umbilical cord is cut, when it is breathing on its own, etc. Many people believe that the processes that start at conception and end with the newborn breathing independently should not be intentionally interrupted once personhood is attained. Thus people's belief about the timing of the beginning of personhood is a key question in presentations, discussions, dialogues, and debates about the morality of abortion. Many people regard the conflicts involving abortion and the unrelated conflicts over marriage equality to be the two most important religious struggle in the U.S.

bullet Perspicuous: Writing that is written in a style that is clear, unambiguous, easy to understand, and not subject to interpretation.

bullet Pesach: Hebrew term for Passover. It celebrates the escape from slavery in Egypt.

bullet Pesher: Hebrew term for interpretation. The term refers to a system of interpretation of scripture which views scripture as written in two levels: a surface meaning for the general public, and a deeper, concealed level for Hebrew specialists.

bullet Pharisees: From the Hebrew word perushim which means separatists. A Jewish religious party composed of the synagogue rabbis and their followers. They formed one of about two dozen Jewish religious groups during the 1st century CE.

bullet Phylacteries (a.k.a. Tefillin): Small black leather boxes worn by Orthodox Jewish males on their forehead head and non-dominant arm at weekday morning prayer. They contain passages from the Torah.

bullet Physico-theology: A 17th and 18th century approach to the belief in God derived from observations of physics in nature. William Derhamwrote a book with the same name in 1711. He said: "Let us ransack all the globe, let us with the greatest accuracy inspect every part thereof...pry into them with all our microscopes and most exquisite instruments, till we find them to bear testimony to their infinite workman."

bullet Pietism: "...a religious reawakening in the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany and the Anglican church in England during the 17th and 18th centuries. Pietism stresses conversion and a personal experience of salvation, Bible study, devotional life, evangelical witness and a continuous openness to new light. There is also an emphasis on Christian social responsibility..." 2

bullet Pilgrimage: A long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of personal significance. Pilgrims -- individuals who engage in a pilgrimage -- are found in many different religions. 3

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bulletPluralism: In a religious sense, the term has two quite different meanings:
bullet The belief that all religions and secular world views are legitimate and valid. Each is "true" when viewed from within its own culture. Other common views of religions are exclusivism and inclusivism.
bullet The fact that religious diversity exists within in a country or the world.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes not obvious from the context which definition an author or speaker is using. This makes dialog on pluralism rather difficult.  More details.

bulletPlurality: In a religious sense:
bullet A situation in which many different religions or world views exist in a country.

bullet Pneumatology: The study of spiritual beings and phenomena. Within Christianity, the theological study of the Holy Spirit -- one person within the Christian Trinity.

bullet Pogrom: From the Russian word for "devastation." Christian attacks on Jews, generally in Europe and Russia. Unlike the Holocaust, they were sporadic not systematic. They lasted for centuries.

bullet Polemics: A systematic defense of a religious belief system from attacks from within the same religion. See Apologetics.

bullet Politically correct: Treating other people's religion, culture, etc. with sensitivity. Normally used as a term of denigration.

bullet Polyamory: Consensual relationships in which participants have emotionally intimate, sexual relationships within groups of three or more people, where at least one person in the group has more than one emotionally intimate, sexual relationship at a time and where all members of the group formally or informally adopt the principles that: men and women have equal rights in establishing the configurations of the groups; no gender has privileges with respect to intimate relationships that the other gender lacks; and no sexual orientation is regarded as superior to any other. 4 Unlike most forms of polygamy, polyamory is consensula and egalitarian: "No arranged marriages. No social isolation. No indoctrination. No threats. No dependence. No child marriage. No particular religion." 5

bullet Polyandry: The extremely rare practice in which a woman is married to more than one husband.

bullet Polydiabolism: A belief that multiple devils exist.

bullet Polygamy: An umbrella term encompassing both polyandry and polygyny.

bullet Polygyny: The practice whereby a man has more than one wife. This was seen in many places in the Bible. It is still practiced in predominately Muslim countries where a man can generally be married to up to four wives -- but only if he can treat them equally. This is seen in many Western U.S. states among some fundamentalist Mormon denominations. It is legal -- sort of -- in British Columbia, Canada.

bullet Polytheist: one who believes in the existence of more than one deity. A polytheist often believes in both Gods and Goddesses. Often confused with "henotheist."

bullet Porajmos (a.k.a. Porrajmos): Romani word for "the Devouring." The systematic extermination of about 400,000 Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies) during World War II by the Nazi German regime. The total Nazi extermination program, totaled ten to fourteen million humans, included Jews, Roma, Russians, Poles, other Slavs, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnessesetc. .  

bullet Positive Confession: (a.k.a. Word of Faith movement, Health & Wealth Gospel, Name it and Claim it, and Faith-formula). A group of conservative Protestant para-church ministries which focus on "anointed" ministers and the health, wealth, and success of their viewers and donors. MinistryWatch estimates that their total income is in excess of a half billion dollars annually. 1

bullet Positive Discrimination: Giving special privileges to a historically disadvantaged group -- often defined by race. Preferential access to education offered to African Americans in the U.S., and reservation of a minimum quota of civil service jobs for Dalits (the untouchable caste) in India are two examples. Sometimes, legislation that guarantees equal treatment of persons of all sexual orientations is incorrectly described as giving special privileges to homosexuals.

bullet Positivism: The philosophical system created by August Comte (1798'1857) in France. The only truths are those that can conclude by direct observation or by experimentation. It lowers theology, religious revelation and metaphysics to the level of mere speculation.

bullet Post Conservatism: Within Evangelical Christianity, this is a loosely defined reform movement that may include such topics as an open concept of God, major changes to the doctrines of revelation and the authority of the Bible, an end to strict roles for men and women, and an inclusive belief of salvation that includes people who have no knowledge of Christ.

bullet Postmillennialism: (aka Post-millennialism): The belief that we are now living in the Millennium period. After this is over, Jesus will return to earth and conduct the final judgment. This was the near universal belief system of Protestants during the 17th and 18th century. It has since been replaced by Pre-millennialism among conservative Christians.

bullet Post Modernism: (a.k.a. Postmodernism): The term means different things to different people. Some use it as a general purpose "snarl" word to attack all religiously liberal thought. Others define it as a belief that there are no absolute social/religious/cultural truths. Relative truths exist, but they are only valid for a given culture at a given time. Other traditions, religions, eras, races, genders, cultures, and groups believe/believed in other, often conflicting, truths. All of these alternative "truths" are valid, at least to the group that follows them. Postmodernism has been adopted by some liberal Christians, but is regarded as a serious error by all or essentially all conservative Christians who firmly believe that absolute truths exist.

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See elsewhere for terms starting with the letters "PA" or "PR to PY"

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References and comments:

  1. "A critical look at the 'Word of Faith' ministries," Ministry Watch Reflections, 2003-OCT, at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  2. Wayne Sutton, "Frequently Asked Questions," Church of the Brethren, at:
  3. Adapted from the Wikipedia definition of "Pilgrimate" at:
  4. Adapted from the Polyamory Advocacy Association, a Canadian group. See:
  5. "The Poly Majority, "Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association," at:
  6. David G. Bromley, "The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements (Religion in the Age of Transformation

Copyright 1996 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on: 1996-MAR-11
Last update: 2017-JUN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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