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Glossary of Religious Terms

Judaism

GEMARA

Is one of the early records of the oral tradition of the Torah.  The Mishnah and the Gemara form the Talmud (Learning), which is the basis for legal, philosophical, and ethical thinking in Judaism.

KETHUVIM

Is the Writings, thirteen books of of various literary genre in the Tanakh.

MISHNA

Written around the third century C.E., is the first codified version of the oral tradition of the Torah. It contains ethical and ritual teachings.

MIDRASH

Is the interpretation of and commentary on the written scriptures.

NAVI'IM

Is the writings of the Prophets, twenty-one prophetic books in the Tanakh.

RABBI

Is the person who heads a synagogue or a temple and leads its worship and study. The Jewish faith has no priesthood.

SYNAGOGUE

Is the house of worship of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Jews.

TALMUD

Is a sacred book of the Jewish faith. It contains the traditional interpretations of the Jewish laws, which are found in the Hebrew Bible.

TANAKH

Are the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Bible.  The consonants in the Tanakh stand for both the names of the three parts of the scripture: Torah, Navi’im, and the Kethuvim.  Tanakh is also known as the Written Torah, and its Hebrew texts are treated with great respect

TORAH

Are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  The Torah teaches about the covenant and contains the fundamental principles of the faith: hope, justice, love, purity, thanksgiving, and virtue.  It is believed to have been revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai.


Christianity

APOCRYPHA

Means hidden, or Deuterocanon, which means second law, is a collection of writings that date from about 300 B.C. to about 200 C.E., the intertestamental period.

ASSUMPTION

Is a Roman Catholic and Orthodox belief.  When Mary, the mother of Jesus, died, she was not buried but taken to a bodily heaven.

BAPTISM

Is a sacrament, a sign of God’s grace.  The person baptized is recognized as a member of the church of Christ.  Many Christians believe that the person baptized receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.

C.E.

Means Common Era, the period of time after the birth of Jesus. B.C.E., Before Common Era, refers to the time before the birth of Christ.

CHARISMATIC

Refers to a person who has had an experience of God’s grace and has been given gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues.

EPIPHANY

Means manifestation, especially the manifestation of God In Jesus Christ.

EPISCOPAL

Refers to the leadership of bishops of a form of government in which bishops lead the church in particular geographic areas.

EUCHARIST

Means thanksgiving.  It is one of the sacraments celebrated in Christian churches and uses bread and wine as symbols of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  The Eucharist is also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

GLOSSOLALIA

Means speaking in tongues, a spiritual gift given during prayer or personal experience of God.  Glossolalia is part of the Pentecostal worship.

GRACE

Is the undeserved favor and blessing of God, freely given and received

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

Is a Roman Catholic belief that states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also conceived and born without bearing the original sin of human beings.

INSPIRATION AND INERRANCY OF SCRIPTURE

Means that God guided the writers of the Bible and that therefore the text is the inspired word of God.  Because God inspired it, it is also inerrant, without error, and is completely trustworthy and authoritative for the faith community.

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

Is the title Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians use to refer to Mary, Jesus’ mother.  Since Jesus is the Son of God and equal to God, Mary is therefore the Mother of God and deserves special veneration.

ORDINANCES

Are a part of the ritual and worship of religious groups but are not considered sacraments.  Ordinances means command.

PERPETUAL VIRGINITY

Is a Roman Catholic and Orthodox doctrine that states that Mary remained a virgin throughout her whole life.

SACRAMENTS

Are signs or means of grace that Jesus commanded his disciples to continue.  Almost all Christians observe Holy Communion and Baptism.  Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox include five other sacraments.  Penance is an act of confession and pardon; Anointing the Sick, an act of confession, pardon and blessing for the sick, was previously called last rites.  In Confirmation, the individual publicly announces his or her faith and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.  Ordination sets apart the clergy and identifies them as representatives of Christ in ministry.

SAINTS

In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, are regarded as holy people who have the power to intercede with God on our behalf.  Most other Christians think of the saints as the faithful members of the church.

SOLA SCRIPTURA

Is a Latin phrase that means Scripture alone.  Martin Luther and other reformers taught that Scripture, and only Scripture, was the final authority in matters of faith.

TRINITY

Refers to the idea that God is one in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Generally, the Father is identified as the Creator, the Son is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of God in and for the Christian community.  The Holy Spirit guides us and calls to our minds the teachings of Jesus.


Islam

IKHWAN

Means Brothers and refers to the Puritan movement in Islam.

JIHAD

Is Holy War. In the first few centuries of Islam’s history, Jihad was understood as the war against heretics and infidels.  Today, the word has a spiritual meaning: the war against sin and evil. Some regard Jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam.

MOSQUE

Means kneeling place and refers to the house of prayer for Muslims.

MUHAMMED

Was a human being chosen by God to be the last and greatest prophet or apostle.

MUSLIM

Means submitter, a person who submits to the will of Allah and an adherent of Islam.

PILLARS OF ISLAM

Are the five major practices of the faithful Muslim: Confession the Allah is the only God and that Mohammed is his messenger; Prayer according to a particular ritual; Fasting; Giving, especially almsgiving; and the pilgrimage to Mecca if health and circumstances permit.

QUR'AN

Or Koran, means recitation.  It is the holy book of Islam, which is true only if printed and read in Arabic.  To translate the Koran into another language is an affront to Islam.

SHI'A

Means partisans of Ali.  It is the largest minority sect of Islam and the state religion of Iran. Shi’ites believe that all leaders of Islam should be descendants of Muhammed.  Ismailis, who are members of a branch of Shi’a , are considered extremists.  Baha’i, another offshoot of Shi’a, is now a religion in its own right.  Baha’i teaches that all religions have the same source, that there is truth in all religions, and that religions must work with science to make a better world.  Baha’i also emphasizes the importance of education and free thought.

SUFI

Is the mystical and devotional side of Islam that teaches the possibility of union with God.

SUNNI

Is the branch of Islam that accepts the Sunna, the tradition and the way of life that is normative for Muslims.


Hindusim

BRAHMA

Is Brahman revealed as God the Creator.

BRAHMAN

Is the one, true, All Reality, the impersonal All Soul.  Brahman is known to us in the form of Gods and Goddesses.

KARMA

Is both the evil and the good a person does.  Karma determines destiny.  If a person has done too much evil, he or she cannot escape the wheel of life or the transmigration of souls.  If a person’s karma is good, he or she will attain moksha or Nirvana.  Both Hindus and Buddhista believe in karma.

SHIVA

Is Brahman revealed as God the Destroyer.  Shiva is associated with both death and birth or rebirth.  He is second only to Vishnu in popularity.

TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS

Refers to the cycle of the soul through birth, suffering, death, and rebirth.  It is caused by the inability of the soul to become one with Brahman.  It is often incorrectly called reincarnation.

UPANISHADS

Are the Hindu writings in which the doctrines of maya and Brahman are explained.

VEDAS

Are the hymns and poems of the Hindu scriptures.

VISHNU

Is Brahman revealed as God the Preserver. Vishnu, the most popular of all the Hindu Gods, often appears on earth as Krishna.

YOGA

Is the practice of a religious discipline for the purpose of achieving union with Brahman.  The most popular is bhakti yoga.  One who practices yoga is a yogi.


Buddhist

BODHISATTVA

Is a Mahayana saint who postponed entry into Nirvana in order to help mortals in their search for salvation.

BUDDHA

Is the title of Siddhartha Gautama in Theravada.  In Mahayana, Buddha is the title to any enlightened deity.

EIGHTFOLD PATH

Is a way of believing, being, and behaving that provides the answer to alleviating the suffering of all humankind and leads to sainthood and Nirvana.

ENLIGHTENMENT

Is sudden insight into true understanding of the Four Noble Truths

FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

Were discovered by the Buddha through enlightenment.  These truths form the basis for a Buddhist worldview: All people suffer from unfulfilled and inappropriate desires, but suffering can be overcome by following the Eightfold Path.

MAHAYANA

Means great vehicle and refers to the majority of people following Buddha.  In Mahayana, the community includes not only monks but laity; and the laity can also achieve Nirvana.

NIRVANA

Is a state of peace and enlightenment that involves being unaware of one’s self.  It is a freedom from desire and the sufferings desire causes. Nirvana can be attained by following the eightfold path.

THERAVADA

Refers to the minority of the followers of the Buddha, who are also the closest to his teachings.

TIPITAKA

Is the name given to the Theravadan scriptures, which, along with the two others, are also accepted by Mahayana.

VAJRAYANA

Is a name for Buddhism in Tibet.