A Guide to Religious Terms
This guide to "Christianese" is designed to dispel the mystery for those who may be perplexed. Some of these words are very important concepts in Christianity. Others are unhelpful confusions (dare I use the word "obfuscations"?). My little guide here isn't intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list. Rather, this is like if you ask me, "how do I get to the park?" And I draw you a rough sketch on a napkin. I'll put down a few major roads and landmarks that I can think of, but not every side street. If you want more of a full atlas, then check out the sources I've referenced below, and our links page, which can help you get deeper into these topics. This is a work in progress and I am adding words as I think of them. You can contribute as well by emailing me any suggestions you have for terms and phrases that might belong here.
- This is a season of penitence and fasting that precedes Christmas. This word comes to English from the latin word "adventus" meaning "to arrive". See here for more information.
- This is a Hebrew word, later transported into the Greek of the New Testament, and thence into the Latin of the church centered at Rome. It is a term of affirmation, that means "truly" or "so let it be". In modern usage it is mainly consigned to a kind of concluding punctuation for prayers and hymns. It is a bit like those commercials that feature a political candidate saying, "I'm Brother James and I agree with this message." Occasionally, in charismatic or Baptist circles it might be used as a shouted acclamation of agreement with a leader or speaker: "Amen, Brother James. You tell it!"
- Ancient of Days
- This is a title for God, which comes from a vision granted to the Old Testament prophet Daniel:
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. "
(Daniel 7:9-10, English Standard Version)
- Literally "messenger" in the ancient tongues. See here for more information.
- The word "apostle" means "sent one". Typically this term is used of the twelve closest disciples of Jesus, minus Judas (who had committed suicide after betraying Jesus), plus Paul, who was added later when he encountered the risen Jesus in a blinding light while traveling to Damascus. Matthew 10 is one of the places that gives us a roll call of the original 12:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4).
There was also Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas. Apostles assumed a role similar to that of prophets in the Old Testament. They led the Jerusalem church until persecution scattered them. Most were eventually martyred (killed).
- Armor of God
- This comes straight out of the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:10-20)
- Anyone who has climbed is familiar with this as a term for going up. In a Christian context this was about Jesus "going up", to heaven. Following the post Resurrection appearances, Jesus took his leave of his disciples in the following manner:
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
Later, as the first Christian martyr, Steven, was about to be stoned to death, he cried out, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:57). There is a Christian feast celebrating the Ascension, 40 days after Easter.
- The word is an old English contraction of "at one", meaning to bring together or reconcile. One of the central ideas of Christianity is that our bad deeds have separated us from God, and somehow or another we need to make amends. In Old Testament Judaism (and for modern Jews as well) the holiest of days was Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement". During Yom Kippur the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a goat on the altar. In addition he would lay hands on a "scapegoat" which would ceremonially bear away the sins of the people, as it was driven from the community. The punishment for sin would then be rolled forward a year.
In Christianity, Jesus is believed to be the Sacrifice to end all other sacrifices. Somehow, his death on the cross satisfied the demands of perfect Justice, and made amends for the sins of humanity. The possibility of reconciliation with God--becoming "at one"--is now possible. Much more could be said about this topic, which is mysterious and confusing even for Christians who have had a religious upbringing. There are many theories about what exactly God was doing with this cross business. For a nice overview of the traditional Protestant take, I commend a little book by R.C. Sproul: The Truth of the Cross, Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007. For a better and more detailed description of Yom Kippur, You might check out this site.
- A rite of entry into the Christian church. Many churches, including Baptists and Anglicans, would define it as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." (39 Articles of Religion, reprinted in the Book of Common Prayer) Jesus modeled Baptism, by being immersed at the hands of his cousin John the Baptist. The sermon recorded in Acts 2 by the apostle Peter ended with this question and answer session: Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:37-38)
- Baptism by Immersion
- This reflects the literal meaning of the Greek word "baptizo", which is "to dip or submerge". There is nearly universal consensus that this was the practice of John the Baptist, Jesus' disciples, and the early church in the generations that followed after those disciples. Baptism by immersion is practiced today by the Eastern Orthodox, as well as some Protestant churches, including Baptists, Brethren, Pentecostalists, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the churches of Christ. This is now the "minority report" within Christianity. Other forms of baptism include pouring (less common), and sprinkling (done by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, most reformed churches, and the Methodists; in other words, the majority).
- Beatific Vision
- In Jewish and Christian thought, this is the ultimate blessing. Right now, In our mortal human state, we have been warned that looking upon God would mean death. Even Moses was prevented from this, his heart's desire, but instead had to be satisfied with an oblique glimpse of God's glory from the cleft of a rock. God told Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Christians believe that in a future glorified state, we shall behold God. For example, John wrote, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
The apostle Paul wrote in his famous "love chapter", "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) Saint Cyprian (c. 210-258) summed it up well when he wrote, "How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God... to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of Heaven with the righteous and God's friends!" (St. Cyprian, reproduced in The Catechism of the Catholic Church).
- A portion of a sermon given by Jesus, in which he pronounces a series of blessings:
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
A popular poster hanging on Sunday School walls refers to them the "BE attitudes", but the word derives from Latin "beatitudine", for "blessings", and carries over into English because that is how this portion was titled in the old latin Bible, the Vulgate.
- See also "beatific vision." The ultimate blessing for ancient Israel, and therefore for the earliest Christians as well, is for God to look upon them with favor. This is the opposite of "curse".
Many will recognize the famous "Aaronic blessing":
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
- Blood of the Lamb / Blood of Christ
- See also "atonement" and "washed in the blood." Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, whose spilled blood brings reconciliation between God and us. It isn't something magic about blood itself. Rather, as the madman Renfield shrieks in Bram Stoker's Dracula: "the blood is the life!"
The reformed theologian and speaker R. C. Sproul quotes John Guest and asks: "Had Jesus come to this earth and scratched His finger on a nail so that a drop or two of blood was spilled, would that have been sufficient to redeem us?" The answer, of course is "no": "Jesus had to die to accomplish the atonement. When the blood is shed and the life is poured out, the penalty is paid. Nothing short of that penalty will do." (From Sproul (1996) "What is the significance of the shedding of blood in the atonement?" Retrieved from the Ligonier Ministries website).
- Born Again
This is a term you will hear mainly in evangelical Protestant churches. In religious jargon, being "born again" is roughly synonymous with becoming a Christian. The concept comes from a discussion between Jesus and a teacher named Nicodemus:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, English Standard Version)
In a certain sense, all Christians are born again, as they have undergone a "spiritual rebirth" at some point. Again, this term mainly has currency within the Evangelical Christian community, and is often used of them in particular as a kind of shorthand label.
- This comes from Greek "katolikos" and means "universal"; and this is the meaning inserted into the early Christian statement of belief that we call "creeds". Hence the Creeds could be translated as saying "I believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church..."
- The word is pasted next to that of Jesus so often that it is tempting to think of it as his last name, but this would be false. It is a title, meaning "the anointed one." This word comes straight out of the Greek "Christos" and is equivalent to "messiah" in Hebrew.
- In a nutshell: It's the people, not buildings. The word we translate as "church" is "ekklesia" in Greek (from "ek" or "out", plus a form of "kaleo" meaning "to call"), and this generally referred to an assembly of citizens called to meet. (R. Scott, and H. G. Liddell, Greek-English Lexicon, seventh edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1883; reprinted in 1992.) Words such as "assembly" or "congregation" would better convey this.
- Comforter / Holy Comforter
- We aren't talking about a blanket or quilt. The English comes out of Latin "confortare" or "strengthen". In theological terms, "Holy Comforter" is a term for the Holy Spirit (see "Holy Spirit"). When Jesus was getting ready to leave his disciples, he said to them,
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.(John 14:16-17). In newer translations, comforter is rendered "helper" and sometimes "advocate". The Greek word in this passage is "parakleton" (from "para" or "alongside" plus "kleton", from "kalein" or "to call"). Interestingly the Church in Greek is "ekklesia" which means "the called", so Christians are "the called", and the Spirit is the "called alongside."
One theologian explains how the Holy Spirit is like our defense attorney: In the first century, a paraclete was like a modern-day attorney, one who would come alongside people to help them in times of trouble...The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, Comforter, or "Paraclete" before the world, who comes alongside us to give us strength and courage when we must stand for Jesus amid hostility and persecution. (R.C. Sproul, accessed at Ligonier Ministries website).
- Communion / Holy Communion / Holy Eucharist / Mass / Lord's Supper / Last Supper / Sacrament of the Altar
- The night before his death, Jesus shared a passover meal with his closest disciples. Recorded in the gospels, this event was also later recounted by the apostle Paul:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.(1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Within Christianity, many disputes have arisen about the meaning of this rite. I won't take sides here but will agree with John Calvin, “It is a mystery too sublime for me to be able to express, or even to comprehend; and, to be still more explicit, I rather experience it than understand it.” (Calvin, translated by John Allen, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 2. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841, available as a free eBook here.) I also like this passage from C. S. Lewis: Yet I find no difficulty in believing that the veil between the worlds, nowhere else (for me) so opaque to the intellect, is nowhere else so thin and permeable to divine operation. Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul but my body. Here the prig, the don, the modern in me have no privilege over the savage or the child. Here is big medicine and strong magic. ...the command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand. (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1963)
- A theory about the ceremony of Holy Communion, which holds that the body and blood of Jesus are present alongside the bread and wine (in contrast to "Transubstantiation" held by Roman Catholics, who believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood, and appearance to the contrary is only an illusion).
- Just as in modern legal language, a covenant is a binding agreement. In theological terms, it represents an agreement between God and humans. Several covenants are found in the Bible, including the agreements made with Adam, with Abraham, and with Moses. Covenants are a big deal, and much more could be said here, but for the sake of brevity I must leave you hanging.
For Christians, the big one is the "New Covenant": A new arrangement superseding what came before, and inaugurated with Jesus' sacrificial death. Jeremiah predicted in 620's B.C. (Or BCE if you prefer): "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah." Jesus later invoked this idea as he shared passover with his disciples: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:19)
- This has nothing to do with the criminal justice system, but is rather a phrase that preachers sometimes use in this way: "I became convicted of my guilt and need for salvation" or "I became convicted that Jesus is Lord". You can probably mentally substitute the word "convinced" when you hear this word.
- Crucifixion / crucified
- This is a form of execution employed by the ancient Romans (and others since then), in which the condemned is tied or staked to a wooden structure and left to die a slow and agonizing death. Part of the cruelty of this death is the humiliation of being elevated, naked, in front of jeering or sobbing onlookers. This is how Jesus of Nazareth was executed.
The ultimate curse to the ancient Hebrews would be for God to turn His back on them. It is the opposite of the ultimate blessing (see "blessing"). Jesus bore this curse for us during his passion and death. Paul looks back to Deuteronomy when he states, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'." (Galatians 3:13)
- This comes to us from Greek "diabolos", meaning "divider". It is a term used of Satan.
- This comes from Latin "discipulus" which is in turn a translation of the Greek "mathetes", meaning pupil of a teacher. The sense goes deeper and might be thought to be a bit more like an apprenticeship, or medical residency training in our day. Jesus was regarded as a "rabbi" or "teacher", and his immediate entourage was a kind of traveling school. They followed him around where he went and learned his teachings. There some resources listed on the links page that can help you get deeper into the culture and practices of first century jewish people. Sometimes the term is used to refer to a certain subset of Jesus' followers. These are referred to as "The Twelve Disciples" or "The Twelve". See "apostles".
- Modern day Christians feel themselves to be disciples of Jesus (There is even a denomination called "Disciples of Christ"). Discipleship is about devoting oneself to Jesus by studying his teachings and modeling one's behavior accordingly.
- Easter is the great feast celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, his coming back from the dead. He had been killed and buried, of which there can be little doubt. The Romans were sure he was dead and they were experts in dealing death; Jesus had been both crucified and afterwards his body had been impaled in the chest with a spear, to make sure. He lay in a tomb sealed with a great stone. Later that tomb was found empty, and Jesus made numerous appearances. The disciples of Jesus made an amazing transformation of their own, from a dispirited band cowering behind closed doors, to bold proclaimers of the "good news", willing to die their own gruesome deaths in defense of their belief.
- Elect, the
- This is a term for believers. It refers to the idea that even as people have chosen God, God has also chosen (elected) his followers, as expressed by Paul in this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Some of the more vehement fights between Christians that you will come across are over the issue of how much "say" (free will) anyone has in the process of conversion to Christianity. Even as we draw closer to God, we find that his Spirit has been at work in the process from the beginning.
My father tells a story about the theologian Karl Barth, which I may be mangling here. Apparently he described the mystery like this: Christianity is like a door with a sign that says "behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me." When the door is opened the wording on the other side says, "I have chosen you."
- Emerging Church
- The left wing of the Evangelical movement. Basically, you have less certainty and more "contemplative spirituality".
- In the churches of the West, the Feast of The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, and commemorates the visit and adoration of Christ by the Magi from the east. The full story is here:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Commemoration of this event launches the season of Epiphany, which lasts until Lent.
The word "epiphany" comes straight from Greek, and is a contraction of "epi" (or "upon") plus "phaneia" ("to shine"), and means "a revealing" or "manifestation". In Christianity "epiphany" refers to manifestations of Christ's glory.
- Another word for "Holy Communion". The term comes from Greek "eucharistia" or "thanksgiving".
- Christian churches that are particularly focused on sharing the "Good News" to the lost. As a label this has tended to apply to a distinctive movement born in the 20th century, that can you can read more about at the site for the National Association of Evangelicals. (Click it; Go ahead, you know you want to). I might paint you a (hopefully loving) caricature:
The alarm has gone off, and you drag yourself to the bathroom. You stare at your sunken eyes and dread hearing one more pro-communist sermon at "St Leftist in the Square," but you know that you would feel too guilty about things later if you just went jogging. So you remember that Perky Brandi at work invited you to her church. You grab your Prius keys and drive to what appears to be a gigantic warehouse, with a sign blinking "Seekers Paradise Church." The lot is packed full of SUVs and minivans that are refreshingly devoid of bumper stickers, other than some curvy fish and the occasional "my son is an honor student." (You admit to yourself that you were expecting the worst; You have heard on the news about a "vast right wing conspiracy", and at your own church all cars proudly proclaim the latest Democrat candidates along with things like "coexist" and "God wants you to love Her"). You follow a horde of people all toting giant Bibles, and nearly trip over the mass of strollers jammed into the back entrance. Inside, a refreshingly earnest sermon about your need to be saved is accompanied by dizzying dancing images on large screen monitors, a talented Christian metal band, and youth skits. You are surprised that the communion wine was replaced with grape juice, and served in little cups. You are even more surprised to find yourself signing up to support a Christian school in Haiti and a Ugandan missionary hospital. Later that evening you wonder if you should get on your knees and pray the "sinner's prayer" that's on your free "Seekers Paradise Church" coffee mug.
- This means spreading the "good news" (the literal meaning of the Greek "euangelion"). Also see the word "gospel". A person who does this is an evangelist. One might recall Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
It would be tempting to dismiss evangelism as something that is outdated or unnecessary, but it is actually a command by Jesus in the "Great Commission": And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)
- From Latin: Ex("out of") + piare ("appease"). Removing our guilt through payment or punishment, accomplished by Jesus. See also "propitiation."
- The English word "faith" comes to us from French feid, which in turn is from Latin fide, meaning "trust" (think "fidelity", "bona fide", the Marine Corps motto "semper fideles", and the dog name "Fido"). The Greek word in the original New Testament writings is pistis, meaning "persuasion" or "guaranty" (as in a legal warranty).
One definition of faith is found in the book of Hebrews: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1).
- One word that we translate "glory" is from the Hebrew k-b-d, meaning "heft" or "weightiness"; We might use "gravitas". Next to the weightier matter, other things are inconsequential by comparison. (There are other words that get translated as "glory", including a word meaning "to shine"; and I ran across an interesting article that lists them).
- The "good spell" or "good news," namely that Jesus is the awaited "messiah", who has borne our affliction, and thereby made available a new life in God. This has ramifications both for how to live here and now, as well as whether and how one experiences an afterlife.
- From Latin "gratia". If you have ever received anything "gratis" you know it was free, a "grace or kindness". Paul says, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9). When I was a kid in Bible school I was taught that "GRACE" means "God's Riches At Christ's Expense".
- Great Commission
- See entry for "evangelism".
- Heaven (see also "pearly gates")
- On his last day prior to crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, gathered in an upper room, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."(John 14:1-3). The Bible uses several metaphors for heaven, including a beautiful city, a place of rest, a garden, eternal day, and a banquet. I'll expand a bit on the garden.
I have heard it said that we live between two gardens, those of the garden lost (Eden), and the garden restored (heaven). Jonathan Edwards, the gifted 18th century Puritan thinker who is ironically remembered mainly for a hellfire and brimstone sermon, in fact taught much about heaven; He spoke of that garden:
And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this! Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory - joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection! Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love. This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean! All shall stand about the God of glory, who is the great fountain of love, opening, as it were, their very souls to be filled with those effusions of love that are poured forth from his fullness, just as the flowers on the earth, in the bright and joyous days of spring, open their bosoms to the sun, to be filled with his light and warmth, and to flourish in beauty and fragrancy under his cheering rays. Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory. And thus they will love, and reign in love, and in that godlike joy that is its blessed fruit, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath ever entered into the heart of man in this world to conceive; and thus in the full sunlight of the throne, enraptured with joys that are forever increasing, and yet forever full, they shall live and reign with God and Christ forever and ever!
(Excerpted from Heaven, a World of Love, by Jonathan Edwards).
- See also "curse". This is a controversial doctrine, but one taught by Jesus, and therefore not easy to dismiss. For example, in Matthew 10:28, "
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.. He speaks of "Gehenna", which is the valley of Hinnom, and a burning garbage dump near Jerusalem, into which dead corpses and other refuse might be cast; and it was also a place where in prior centuries the idolatrous had performed gruesome and detestable deeds--human sacrifices of children to the false god Molech. (See here for details).
Jesus also references the "outer darkness", for example "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness ["skotos to exoteron", or "darkness the external"] In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:11-12). If one turns a back to God, then God will allow that person to remain in the absence of His presence. It is the opposite of "blessing" and the very definition of "curse"--that of being an "outsider" to God, obscure, unknown. Instead of the "Light of His countenance" in the Aaronic blessing we have the darkness from His countenance being turned away. It is being told by the host of the Eternal cocktail party, "I'm sorry, who are you again?" It a curse we choose. As J Vernon McGee said it here, God doesn't consign people to Hell, it is the only place people can go--we consign ourselves. Unless we allow God to remake us, we can't be in the presence of the Holy.
- Holy / Holiness
- The word we translate as "holy" from Hebrew, k-d-sh, means "set apart for a special purpose". In the other ancient languages these are the words "hagios" (Greek) and "Sanctus" (Latin). Having china dishes set aside for guests at Sunday dinner, might illustrate this in a generic sense. This word implies being set apart in a symbolic way (as in washed, dedicated, etc) as well as to an inherent quality of apartness--read on. In theological terms being holy means to be set apart from the mundane, profane, and common. God is the ultimate in "set apart", or "wholly other" in the words of German theologian Rudolph Otto (from his book The Idea of the Holy). One of the names for God is "Holy One", (Isaiah 1:4, 5:16). The people of Israel after their exodus from Egypt were called to be a set apart people: "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine." (Leviticus 20:26). This statement was echoed later in the New Testament, for example by Peter: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:16). Perhaps holiness can be thought of as a line of distance away from the mundane and toward "the Holy One", toward righteousness and the special purposes of God. We are made holy by the activity of the indwelling Spirit of God (see "sanctification").
- Holy Comforter (a title for the Holy Spirit)
- See "Comforter".
- Holy One / Holy One of Israel
- One of the names for God is "Holy One", (Isaiah 1:4 and elsewhere). Later this was also applied to Jesus of Nazareth: Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68-69).
- Holy Spirit
- See also "Comforter". In addition to the parakleton, another common word that is used in the Greek New Testament to describe the Spirit is pneuma meaning "wind" or "breath" (think of "pneumonia", or "pneumatic tube"). In the Hebrew Old Testament, a few references to the Spirit of God use ruach ha-kodesh, where ruach means "breath". As the wind stirs the waters of a still lake, so the Wind of God hovered over the waters of Chaos in the very first verses of Genesis, and stirs the souls of men and women to this very day. The famous evangelist Billy Graham stated, "The Holy Spirit illuminates the minds of people, makes us yearn for God, and takes spiritual truth and makes it understandable to us." (See here for more). The Holy Spirit is part of the "Trinity" of God-Son-Spirit (see also the entry for "Trinity"). In the nicene creed the ancient church proclaimed the Spirit as "the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father." The Great Litany invokes "O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful".
- Incarnation / incarnate
- If you think of some words that are derived from the same latin root, like "carnivore" or "chili con carne", or "carnal" then you will be thinking of "meat" or "flesh". When we speak of the doctrine of the incarnation we mean the en-flesh-ment of God, or God taking on our meat and bones and stepping into our world as a human. The opening portions of the Gospel of John speak of the Logos, or Word: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Paul speaks thus of the incarnation of Jesus:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phillippians 2:6-8).
The feast celebrating the Incarnation exists on the calendar, and of course we all know it as "Christmas". An old Christmas Hymn echoes Paul's words:
1. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.
2. Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.
3. Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
(By Frank Houghton (1894-1972)
- Lamb of God
- There are a couple of strands of thought that come together in this title for Jesus of Nazareth. As a title for Jesus this is introduced early in John's gospel, from the lips of a different John, known to history as John the Baptist:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
In Isaiah, we read a prediction regarding a future "suffering servant" who is punished for the sins of others: 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
Jews of the first century would also be familiar with the lamb of Passover. In Exodus 12, the Hebrews living in Egypt were told to slaughter a "lamb without blemish" and wipe the blood on the door posts as a sign: For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
It is interesting to note that Jesus' last meal before his crucifixion was a celebration of the Jewish feast of Passover, which he repurposed as a memorial of his own sacrifice (see "communion") Christians very early in the years after the resurrection of Jesus made the passover connection. For example, the apostle Paul proclaimed, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). The apostle John sees a vision of the Lamb of God, slain but risen from death, in his apocalyptic visions:
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
(Revelation 5:11-13English Standard Version)
- A period of penitence and fasting prior to Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with "Holy Week", the week prior to Easter when the church focuses its attention on the drama of Jesus' last few days and his crucifixion.
- This comes into English straight from Greek, where it means "witness". It has obtained the meaning of one who suffers death on behalf of his or her faith.
- Literally, the "anointed". (See "Christ").
- This refers to the following prediction of St. John in his apocalyptic vision: Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.(Revelation 20:1-3). Much angst and ink has been generated trying to figure out what this means. For a summary of various interpretations, see blueletterbible.com").
- There has been a recent trend toward organizing churches around the idea of mission. For now I will spare you my attempt to encapsulate the full meaning of this term, and refer you to this article in Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/16.56.html#bmb=1 As an aside, one blog I ran across while researching this item had a rather cranky (and humorous) take on this kind of jargon: "There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional. Try it at home. Go ahead. Type that shit and see." (The Sarcastic Lutheran.)
- Original Sin
- See "sin".
- Paraclete: This is not a misspelling of your soccer shoes, but rather a name for the "Holy Spirit". For More on this, see "Comforter."
- Pearly gates
- This comes straight from the end section of Revelation, in which the apostle John is shown glimpses of heaven. One image is that of the "New Jerusalem": And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates...(Revelation 21:10-12). John describes in detail the fine features of this city which is made of pure gold and jewels--the most valuable and precious things imaginable: ...And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.. (Revelation 21:21).
- Prayer Warrier
- This is a term that seems to have circulation mainly in Evangelical circles, meaning one who prays, and particularly does so in the context of spiritual battle. In one of his letters, the apostle Paul states, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12). For this verse in full context see the entry for "armor of God".
- Propitiation (see also "expiation" and "atonement")
- Propitiation is the act of appeasing or making well disposed (from Latin propitiāre, "to appease"; from propitius, "gracious"). One of the earliest English uses is "propitiatorium" for "mercy seat"
"Propitiation" is one of the words used to translate the the Greek hilasterion, which in turn is the Greek translation of the Hebrew kapporeth. This meant a "covering", and in ancient Israel this specifically referred to the "Mercy Seat" which covered the Ark of The Covenant, upon which the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the goat sacrificed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the New Testament the word is used to mean a covering of our sin. (See Bible Study Tools site, and R. C. Sproul's reflections at Ligonier.org). The apostle John writes the following in one of his letters: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
- Ransomed / Redeemed
- This is another reference to atonement (see "atonement" and "saved").
- Repent / Repentance
- This has nothing to do with sorrow or regret. The original New Testament word was metanoia (meta "after" or "among/with" + noien "to think"), which is generally defined as meaning "to change one's thinking", though I have also seen it described as a military term for "turn around". (Despite the fact that sermon after sermon asserts it, I offer the second meaning loosely: the more academic sources don't mention this military usage; still, it isn't a bad metaphor). C. S Lewis stated, "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive." (Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. New York: Mamillan, 1952).
- Christians through the centuries have taught that the dead will be raised. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Moments later he said, "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:25, 28-29)
The most important holy day in the Christian church is Easter, recalling the resurrection of Jesus (see here for more). The entire chapter 15 of First Corinthians contains a lot of what Paul has to say about resurrection.
- The word is derived from Latin sacrare, "to consecrate/ to make or declare something sacred", (see entry for "sacred), and this was in turn used to translate Greek musterion or "mystery". Sacraments are seen as moments when the curtain is parted and God interacts directly in the hearts and souls of his people--they are "means of grace". A common definition of a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace". (For example see the catechism from the Book of Common Prayer, online here). Most Christians recognize as sacraments "baptism" and "communion." The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches further recognize additional sacraments: confirmation, penance, holy orders, holy matrimony, and final unction.
- This is from Latin sacer, which in pre-Christian times would have referred to a place walled off for religious purposes (akin to an altar in a church, or to the Hebrew "holy of Holies" in the Temple). This can be contrasted with "profane" (from pro + fanum, or an area "in front of the temple precinct"). In Christian usage "sacred" is a synonym for "holy" or "set apart." (Credit to Encyclopedia.com where you can access a deeper discussion about the "sacred and the profane").
- See "saved".
- One who has been "sanctified", and set apart for God. Paul greets fellow Christians in many of his letters as "the saints in [name of town]". Biblically speaking, all who are in Christ are saints. In some flavors of Christianity, like Roman Catholicism, the word is attached as a title to certain people, like the apostles ("Saint" Peter, "Saint" Thomas), Christian leaders, thinkers, martyrs, and heroes who are held up as examples to honor and emulate. I love this little quote I ran across on Wikipedia, attributed to Kenneth Woodward, from his book Making Saints: "A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like—and of what we are called to be. "
- From Latin sanctus, or "holy". See entry on "holy". Sanctification is a term used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of the believer--making one "holy" or "set apart for God".
- The word rendered "satan" in our Bibles is "The accuser" or "adversary" in the ancient tongue of Hebrew. Christianity traditionally has taught that there lives in this world an evil intelligence, that tries to thwart God's designs and to tempt and corrupt humans. This being is mentioned in various ways throughout the Bible, from the serpent in the Book of Genesis to the dragon of the book of Revelation. We come face to face with this entity even in the "Lord's prayer", where the sense of the original Greek is "deliver us from the Evil One." In Revelation, John tells us: "And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." (Revelation 12:9).
Now to bust some myths. Although sometimes portrayed in art as an ugly goaty beast with horns and pitchfork, he is described in 2 Corinthians 11:14 as appearing like an "angel of light", and his minions masquerade as "servants of righteousness." But this is a malignant angel about whom Peter warns, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) Another myth is that Satan is equal and opposite to God; in fact Judaism and Christianity teach one God, not two. Dualism (like "yin and yang" of eastern philosophy) may be feature of some religions but not of Christianity.
- Saved / salvation
- Perhaps you have experienced that awkward moment when someone who is Christian has turned to you and asked, "are you saved?" (Or a variation, "do you know Jesus as your savior?"). Unless you are familiar with evangelical lingo, you might wonder what is meant here. Well, this might be considered roughly shorthand for "are you an evangelical Christian?"
The term is biblical. For example, Paul says "it is by grace that you are saved..." (Ephesians 2:8). We have this in the book of Acts: "And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31). The term "saved" implies a rescuing or "deliverance", but from what? Hell? The Devil? A coming storm? Our own inner torments? As the famed theologian R. C. Sproul said it, When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. (R. C. Sproul, Blog Post "What do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?", online at Ligonier.org).
- Sins are acts (or omissions of action), either intentional or deliberate, that separate us from God. I recall the deliciously archaic Anglican prayer of confession: "ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us...." (Book of Common Prayer, 1662 edition)
Apparently this word "sin" comes from an old Norse word "synne", (derived from an earlier German "suende"), which means "guilty". (One etymology source is here). Interestingly, the ancient Hebrew term rendered "sin" is an action, whereas the English term carries a connotation of a state of being guilty. The New Testament word most commonly translated as "sin" is "hamartia" which is an archery term that carries the idea of missing the target and therefore losing the contest.
Lest one get too comfortable, it should be noted that in Christian thought it is not just major crimes that we have to worry about, but also the little "peccadilloes" (or petty misdeeds), and even our "sins of omission" when we fail to perform those acts of kindness or goodness that we know we ought to have performed. Furthermore we even have to worry even about our wayward thoughts. For example, from Jesus words in the "sermon on the Mount": “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Not a few breaths later he said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Later Jesus said something even more frightening, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36).
To darken the picture further, it has been proposed that we have a fallen nature from day one. At least since the time of St. Augustine of Hippo, Christianity has mostly embraced the doctrine of "Original Sin", which means that humans don't even start life with a blank state, but are from conception fallen and sinful.
This might all seem calculated to produce despair and hopelessness, and a life of writhing in guilt, but Christianity has much more to say on the subject of dealing with our sins, becoming free of guilt, and becoming right with God. I invite you to look into this further. Hint: God Himself had to do something to repair the breach.
- Son of God
- This is a title used of Jesus of Nazareth. See the "Good Confession" in our page on the creeds and confessions of faith.
- Son of Man
- This is a title used of Jesus of Nazareth, and it was his favorite self designation. Although it may be partly a way of emphasizing his oneness with fellow humans, this term was also loaded with messianic expectations. In the Old Testament Book of Daniel, the author recounts his vision of a future messiah being crowned with glory:
"I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."
(Daniel 7:13-14, English Standard Version)
Those first century Jews in Galilee, who were the main audience of Jesus' teachings, would undoubtedly have thought of this passage when Jesus referred to himself as "son of man".
- In addition to Christians, fans of Harry Potter will recognize this term. The word comes into English from Latin and means to "change form or appearance". The Greek equivalent for this is "metamorphosis". The New Testament testimonies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention a time when Jesus took four of the disciples for a mountaintop experience they would never forget: he allowed them a brief peek of his true glory. For some reason this is omitted from the book of John, though he may be alluding to this when he states in the prologue, "and we beheld his glory" (John 1:14)
Here is one account:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-8, English Standard Version)
- Transubstantiation (see also "consubstantiation")
- A doctrine regarding the sacrament of Holy Communion, which is held by the Roman Catholic Church. During every "mass" (communion service) a miracle occurs, whereby the bread and wine are changed into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus, and his sacrifice is mystically relived by the church.
Let me explain this with a bit of drama. Put yourself in a medieval village, during the time of knights and quests for mystical objects. Candles are flickering in the gloomy cathedral as people and animals mill about. The mysterious ceremony suddenly reaches a crucial moment. A bell tolls as everyone snaps to attention and a hush descends upon the previously restless crowd. "Hoc est corpus meum" intones the priest. The smoke filled air almost seems to brighten around him. Suddenly the bread in his elevated hands has ceased to be bread, but has magically become the very flesh of Jesus. It still looks like bread, but this is merely an illusion. You file forward to touch and sip the most precious things you will ever experience this side of heaven.
(By the way, ever wonder where the magicians' "hocus pocus" originated? It is a corruption of the latin phrase above. Now you know.)
- "Trinity" isn't just a science fiction film. This is an important and puzzling concept of God, which is unique to Christianity. God is affirmed to be one in being or essence (a single God) but three in person (Father, Son, and Spirit). As far as we can tell, for ordinary humans--you and I--the ratio of person to essence is always 1:1 (unless you count people with dissociative disorder). The idea of Trinity is hard to grasp. People often resort to analogies; for example, some will say that Trinity is sort of like how water (H2O) can be ice, liquid, or gas--one in essence with three different manifestations. That the doctrine of the Trinity was something that the early church fretted over can be seen in how much ink the early Christian creeds devoted to clarifying the concept of Trinity. See the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.
One interesting implication of the concept of Trinity, is that from all time God has existed not as a lonely being, but as a being which is eternally in a relationship of divine love, and that therefore relationship is something foundational for us. C.S. Lewis wrote: "All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that 'God is love.' But they seem not to notice that the words 'God is love' have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. "
..."in Christianity God is not a static thing - not even a person - but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 36)
- Washed in the Blood
- The "Lamb" is a term for Jesus of Nazareth (see "Lamb of God"). Here we have a euphemism for being "saved" or "redeemed". The idea is that Jesus' sacrificial death has made amends for your sins, which are now "washed away" by his blood. There is a passage from the apocalyptic vision of John that comes to mind:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (John 7:13-14)
Anyone growing up in Sunday School in certain Christian communities may remember this song:
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
(Words and music: Elisha A Hoffman, Spiritual Songs for Gospel Meetings and the Sunday School, Cleveland, Ohio: Barker & Smellie, 1878)
Other Helpful Sources:
- Holy Bible--despite my personal preference for the beauty of older translations like the King James or Coverdale Bibles, I have chosen the more easily understood English Standard Version, which is a modern text that also is basically a word for word rendering of the ancient languages.
- R. Scott, and H. G. Liddell, Greek-English Lexicon, seventh edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1883; reprinted in 1992.
- Strong, James.The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order; together with A comparative concordance of the authorized and revised versions, including the American variations; also brief dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek words of the original, with references to English words. New York: Eaton and Mains, 1890. The old version is public domain, and available as a free eBook from Archive.org