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Apocolypse to Zealots

Selected theological expressions and basic terms related to the Bible

Apocalypse   Apocrypha   Apostles   Canon   Church   Contemplation   Deacon   Denomination   Diaspora   Disciples   Dogma   Early Christian Community   Exegesis   Feminist Theology   Glossolalia   Hebrews   High Priest   Historical-Critical Exegesis   History of Salvation   Holy Spirit   Israel   Jews   Judeo-Christians Judgment Day   Kingdom of God   Martyrs   Mercy   Messiah   Monolatry   Monotheism   Pagan-Christians Panentheism   Pantheism   Parable   Pharisees   Polytheism   Prophet   Qur'an   Rabbi   Rapture   Seder Evening   Septuagint   Seraphim   Setting in Life   Sin   Synagogue   Synoptic Gospels   Talmud   Theodicy   Theophany   Torah   Trinity   Vulgata   Zealots

Apocalypse   (Greek: "revelation") A genre of literature that describes the end of the world as we know it - which is often viewed negatively - and awakens hope for a new world.

Apocrypha   (Greek: "hidden") Texts that have not been accepted into the biblical Canon. In a narrower sense, the Apocrypha are the 14 books that are not included in today's Jewish and Protestant Bibles, but formed part of the Septuagint the Greek translation of the Old Testament - These books are included in the Old Testament canon for the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles.

Apostles   (Greek: "envoys") In contrast to the general term ''disciples," the Apostles are considered to be the 12 successors directly called on by Jesus to spread his message. However, Paul, who was not in Jesus' circle of disciples, is also considered an Apostle.

Canon   (Greek: "standard") Term for a guideline: standard or norm of belief. Later, the term was primarily used for the list of biblical texts formally recognized by the Church. Each of the various religions and denominations has its own canon.

Noli me tangere
by Titian (1477?-1576)
(National Gallery, London)


Church   (Greek: "kyriaké" "belonging to the Lord") Term for the community of believers established after the time of Jesus. The term is also used for regional religious communities, such as the "Syrian Church." The English word "church" also refers to a building in which religious services are held.

Contemplation   (Latin: "observation") Thinking about and immersing oneself into spiritual questions; similarly meditation but is more related to the sphere of religion.

Deacon   (Greek "servant") A church official who carries out specific liturgical and pastoral abilities. Deacons were first seceded in the early Christian community in Jerusalem as helpers for the Apostles. While the deacons in the Catholic Church play an official role in worship services, they are mainly involved in social ministries within the Protestant churches.

Denomination / Religious Denomination   A subgroup of a religion, such as Catholic or Lutheran as subgroups of the Christian faith.

Diaspora   (Greek: "dispersal") Communities of belief which have left their homelands and now live elsewhere as religious minorities.

Disciples   People who join a religious master as Students and followers. In the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist both have disciples.

Dogma   (Greek: "theorem") A collection of the basic beliefs of a church. In Protestant thought, dogma is known as systematic theology, because it attempts to systematize the content of belief.

Early Christian Community   The first Christian community, based in Jerusalem, which arose directly after Jesus' Crucifixion under the leadership of the Apostles.

Exegesis   (Greek "explanation") The interpretation and explanation of holy scriptures. In all religions, the aim of exegesis is to help make religious texts more comprehensible for believers.

Feminist Theology   A recent field of research based on feminism, represented by Christian and Jewish theologians since the 1960s. Feminist theology interprets religion within a female perspective.

Glossolalia   Speaking in a manner incomprehensible to others while in an ecstatic state. Also called speaking in tongues. The ability to speak in tongues is considered a gift from the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews   A term for the Israelites and the Aramaic speaking Jews in Palestine.

High Priest   Title of the leading priest of the temple in Jerusalem. The high priest had authority over all affairs of the Temple, worship services, and the priesthood. The position was generally hereditary. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the office of the high priest was abolished.

Historical-Critical Exegesis   A special direction of research within the practice of exegesis, using a clearly defined methodology. This type of exegesis is historical because it views the Bible's existing textual form as having developed overtime, and it attempts to reconstruct this historical development process. It is critical because it uses general criteria to examine texts in a scientific manner, regardless of their faith-based content.

History of Salvation   God's actions that result in positive effects for humanity. The idea of the History of Salvation is linked to the Old Testament's understanding of history. History is not viewed as a series of random events, but a setting in which people experience the positive works of God. These works include the creation, God's covenant with humankind, and the Resurrection of Jesus. The History of Salvation aims toward a goal set by God.

Holy Spirit   In most Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit is viewed as a form of being within the Trinitarian God. It includes God's positive, life- affirming power and can provide people with gifts such as a deeper understanding of biblical texts.

Israel   According to the biblical account, the ancestry of the people of Israel trace back to the 12 sons of Jacob. After wrestling with an angel, Jacob received the name Israel (Hebrew "God's warrior") from God. The people of Israel are also called the Hebrews.

Jews   The word "Jew" derives from the term for members of the tribe of Judah (Hebrew: "jehudi.") After the Israelites' return from Babylonian exile, inhabitants of the earlier northern empire of Israel were also referred to as Jews. Today, all those who are born to a Jewish mother or who have converted Judaism are considered Jews.

Judeo-Christians   In biblical time, Jews who converted to Christianity were known as Judeo-Christians in contrast to "Pagan Christians."

Judgment Day   The Idea of Judgment Day goes back to the Jewish apocalyptic texts. The concept was further developed in Christianity and Islam to a great court in the hereafter presided over by God. Human lives are evaluated, and the decision is made to save or condemn the person. According to the New Testament account, Jesus will be the ultimate Judge, dividing the righteous from the unrighteous.

Kingdom of God   The Kingdom of God does not refer to a specific place, but God's reign of justice during the Last Days. In the New Testament, the Kingdom of God represents the new life offered through God's promise of salvation. The Kingdom of God is said to come with Jesus, and it will culminate on Judgment Day.

Martyrs   (Greek "witnesses") Individuals who are persecuted, suffering die for their religion. According to early Christian thought, martyrs enter directly into heaven.

Mercy   God's unconditional love for people in spite of their behavior.

Messiah   (Hebrew "anointed one") A title of honor for a person chosen by God to fulfill a specific mission to benefit humanly, for instance, as a prophet or king. The Greek term is "christos," which became part of the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Monolatry   The worship of a single god, without denying the existence of other gods.

Monotheism   The worship of, and belief in the existence of, only one God. Contemporary examples of monotheistic religions include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Pagan-Christians   In biblical times, those who were not Jews or Christians were referred to as pagans or heathens. Early Christians of non-Jewish lineage were known as "Pagan Christians" in contrast to "Judeo-Christians."

Panentheism   The view that God is a personal being, present in every manifestation of the universe but also transcending it.

Pantheism   In pantheism, God is viewed as being present within everything in the universe. He is considered equivalent to the idea of the universe itself and can be found everywhere in nature.

Parable   A form of storytelling in which a religious or moral principle is illustrated using metaphoric language. Jesus often uses this narrative form to clarify his teachings.

Pharisees   (Hebrew: "those who are set apart") A group within ancient Judaism which followed a specific theological direction. The Pharisees were mostly laypeople who highly valued the knowledge of biblical texts. Although they interpreted the Torah in a relatively pragmatic and liberal manner, they were accused in some New Testament accounts of combining superficial strictness with internal laxity.

Polytheism   The worship of multiple gods.

Prophet   (Greek: "speaker") Prophets, who can be men or women, have a special relationship with God, who gives them assignments and messages to convey to the people.

Qur'am   The holy scripture of Islam. According to Islamic tradition, the Qur'an was received word for word by the Prophet Muhammad from the archangel Gabriel. The Qur'am is divided into 114 sections, known as Surahs.

Rabbi   (Hebrew: "master" or "teacher") The position of religious teacher within the Jewish community. Rabbis are primarily concerned with the duties of preaching, teaching, pastoral counseling, and providing answers on issues of religious law.

Rapture   Without experiencing death, a person is taken up to God in heaven with both body and Soul, as with the prophet Elijah or Enoch in Genesis 5:24.

Sacrament   (Latin: "religious secret") Acts within the church which allow people to partake of God's mercy. The acts considered Sacraments vary among different religious denominations. The establishment of the Sacraments can be traced back to Jesus. By participating in a sacrament, an individual can directly experience God's love.

Seder Evening   The first evening and initiation of the Feast of Passover. A clearly regulated sequence of events is established for this evening - thus the term ''seder,'' Hebrew for ''order.'' They include a shared meal with symbolic foods commemorating the Israelites' flight out of Egypt. In addition, religious texts are read and songs are sung.

Septuagint   Greek translation of the Old Testament. The name (Latin for the number 70) refers to the 72 scholars who are said to have translated the Old Testament texts in 72 days.

Seraphim   Angels with six wings. In Isaiah 6:2, they are described as covering their faces with two wings and their feet with another two, while flying with a third pair.

Setting in Life   A theological term that refers to the sociological background and other contextual aspects of a particular writing. Most important to researchers is revealing the text's original function.

Sin   Human behaviour which harms and disturbs the relationship between the person and God. In Judaism and Christianity, sin traces back to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden: Humans damaged their relationship with God by attempting to be like God themselves. In contrast to Protestant thought, Catholic teachings differentiate the nature and degree of sins. Protestant theology emphasizes the redemption of sinners through God's mercy.

Synagogue   (Greek: "gather together") The term for the Jewish place of worship, religious teaching and social gatherings.

Synoptic Gospels   (Greek: "next to each other") The first three books of the New Testament - Matthew, Mark and Luke - are known as the Synoptic Gospels. These texts show significant areas of agreement in content and construction. The fourth Gospel, the Book of John, clearly deviates from the Synoptic Gospels in both of these aspects.

Talmud   (Hebrew: "teaching") After the Jewish Bible (Tanach), the Talmud is the most important text of Judaism. There are two versions of the Talmud, named after the places in which they arose: the Palestinian and the Babylonian Talmuds. The Babylonian Talmud is longer and more significant; it became the most important foundation for decisions in matters of religious law.


Theodicy   (French: "théodicée" from Greek "theós," "God," and "díke," "justice") The question of God's justice: how can a good and all-powerful God permit suffering in the world? This problem is addressed, for example, in the Old Testament's Book of Job.

Theophany   A theophany (Greek: "appearance of God") occurs when God shows himself visible to a human being, such as with Moses.

Tongues, Speaking in   see Glossolalia.

Torah   (Hebrew: "teaching," "law") The first five books of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) are known as the Torah. In a broader sense, the term refers to the entire body of Jewish religious teachings and religious law.

Trinity   The unity of God in three different persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Vulgata   (Latin: "widespread") The Latin translation of the Bible, initiated by the religious teacher Jerome in the late fourth century.

Zealots   (Greek: "enthusiasts'') The Zealots were a radical Jewish resistance movement against the Roman occupation of Judah in Jesus' time. Motivated by religion, they viewed themselves as defenders of God's sovereignty in Israel.

The Raising of Lazaras
by Sebastiano del Piombo
(National Gallery, London)

Also see   Resurrection of Lazarus
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