contemplating the Scriptures
The following glossary of terms is available in pop-up windows through hypertext
links in Clippings.
- Acts of Paul and Thecla
This book tells of Thecla, a young woman engaged to be married, who upon hearing Paul preach
becomes a Christian, abandons her husband to be, and leads a chaste life as an evangelist. Demas,
Hermogenes and Onesiphorus appear in this book, as they do in 2 Timothy, and the cities mentioned
are the same: Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. But unlike 2 Timothy and the other Pastoral Epistles
(q. v.), this book demands that Christians refrain from marriage and practice strict asceticism.
While 2 Timothy and Acts of Paul and Thecla probably drew on common traditions, their
understandings of Paul were very different.
- Acts of Pilate
An apocryphal account largely of the trial of Christ under Pilate. It depends
heavily on the accounts in the four Gospels, but supplies some new material.
Probably composed not earlier than the 4th century.
About 2400 BC, King Sargon of Akkad became the first great Semitic ruler to break the power of
Sumer. (Sumer was the first great civilization in the world.) Akkad, a site now south of Baghdad,
was a town in the middle of Mesopotamia. Sargon built an empire that stretched as far as Syria.
After the fall of Sumer and the short-lived empire of Sargon, northern and southern Mesopotamia
gradually developed in different directions. The southern half, Babylonia, remained a cultural
centre; the northern half, Assyria, developed strong trading connections and a more warlike
character. Akkadian was the language of Babylon and Assyria.
doctrine concerning angels.
In the Hebrew Bible, Angels were initially divine beings subordinate to Yahweh. Although
both the Hebrew (mal’ak) and Greek (angelos) terms mean “messenger”
their function was not limited to that of messenger.
Forming a divine council in heaven, angels also performed functions which
became one of mediation between an increasingly transcendant God and humanity. This
also became a role in the New Testament.
Later Christian theologians constructed elaborate schemes of hierarchies of angels.
In the 100s BC, the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to terminate Judaism (see
Maccabees). Jewish thinkers, in this time of persecution, believed that he would be vanquished by
“the holy ones of the Most High” (Daniel 7:18-23). It was then believed that a Messiah
would terminate persecution. Early Christianity continued the depiction of the enemy of the faith as
an individual, the one who will be defeated when Christ returns. This is probably the one whom 1
John and 2 John call the “antichrist”.
Antinomian comes from two Greek words, anti and nomos. Anti, as in English, means opposed to or
against; nomos means law, rule, standard (as in norm), or rule of life or of moral conduct. So to be
antinomian means to have a disregard for, or even a contempt for, law, nomos.
- Antiochus Epiphanes
- Antiquities of the Jews
This book by Josephus (q. v.) traces the history of the Jews from the creation of the world to the
beginning of the Jewish war. Down to 400 BC the book mainly reproduces the biblical narratives. It
refers to Christ in two places, although we probably do not have the words that Josephus actually
wrote about him. They have probably been edited by Christians.
In New Testament Greek, verbs may be in any of six tenses: Present, Future, Imperfect, Aorist,
Perfect and Pluperfect. The Aorist tense is used in various ways; which use is intended affects the
translation, and possibly the interpretation. The uses are:
- the Ingressive or Inceptive use indicates the beginning of an action, as in “they became
silent” (Luke 20:26)
- the Constantive or Summary use describes the successful completion of an action, or looks on an
act that may have continued over a considerable period of time, as in “This temple has
been under construction for forty-six years” (John 2:20)
- the Aorist of the Immediate Past use, where the present tense is the only possible translation,
as in “we remember what that impostor said” (Matthew 27:63)
- the Gnomic use, in which the aorist indicative is used instead of the present indicative to
describe general truths of a proverbial nature, which are timeless, as in “For the sun
rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty
perishes” (James 1:11)
- the Epistolary use, sometimes used in epistles instead of the present tense when the author
considers a present or future act as past, as it will be when the letter is read, as in “I sent
him to you at once” (Acts 23:30)
- the Culminative use views the end of the action or the state-of-being resulting from the action.
It is very like the perfect tense, as in “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23)
- the Dramatic use expresses a state-of-mind just reached, or expresses a present fact as past for
dramatic effect, as in “Now the Son of Man has been glorified” (John 13:31).
These uses are drawn from various scholars, and may overlap.
- Apocalypse of Abraham
An apocalyptic work describing a vision attributed to Abraham.
It dates from the first or second century CE.
- Apocalypse of Peter
For apocalypse, see apocalyptic book. This work narrates a visionary experience in which Jesus
shows Peter the true events surrounding the crucifixion. The immortal, spiritual Saviour laughs at
the futile attempt to kill him, warns Peter of the opposition to the gnostics (q. v.) from church
authorities, and establishes him as the foundation of gnostic revelation. Clearly, it is a gnostic work,
not a Christian one. It was written between 125 and 150 AD.
Literature of a revelatory nature, generally involving such elements as dreams, visions,
angels, and focusing on the destruction of the cosmic forces of evil and the restoration
of the People of God (Israel or the New Israel). This literature is highly symbolic,
and mainly comes from the period of 250 BCE to 200 CE. First developed within
Judaism, the form was also used in Christian writings.
Examples include Daniel, Revelation, 2 Esdras.
- Apocalypse, apocalyptic book
The word apocalypse comes from the Greek and means revelation. Apocalyptic books report
mysterious revelations that are mediated by angels and disclose the supernatural world. They focus
on eschatology (q. v.), which often entails cosmic transformation and always involves the judgement
of the dead. Such books are usually pseudonymous: they are attributed to ancient heroes, not to the
real author. Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic books. While Christians continued to write
apocalypses into the Middle Ages, few Jewish ones were written after 100 AD.
- Apocrypha, apocryphal
Apocrypha refers to books which are not normally included in Protestant Bibles, but which some
mainline churches include in a separate section. Roman Catholic Bibles include these books within
the Old Testament. These works include such writings as the Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon,
Sirach, Baruch and so on. They are found in the Septuagint (q. v.) translation, but not in the
Masoretic text (q. v.). They are not considered canonical within Judaism. Some churches read
apocryphal books for edification but do not use them as a sole basis for doctrine.
The Revised Common Lectionary includes occasional apocryphal readings, but in these cases,
always provides an alternative reading from the Old Testament for those whose scruples will not
permit reading from the apocrypha.
The term apocryphal is sometimes used by scholars to refer to a work of which we no longer have
- Apollinaris of Laodicea
Apollinaris was born in Beirut in about 310 AD. He became bishop of Laodicea (south of Antioch).
After the Roman emperor forbade Christian professors to lecture or comment on the works of poets
and philosophers of ancient Greece, Apollinaris and his father strove to replace the literary
masterpieces of antiquity with new works. He wrote extensively, and was the author of
commentaries on the Old and New Testaments. Most of his writings have been lost.
- Apostolic Constitutions
This is a collection of ecclesiastical law dating from 350-400 AD. It almost certainly comes from
Syria. A part of it is based on the Didache (q. v.) and another is liturgical material, including an
elaborate version of the Liturgy of Antioch. The work gives us a valuable insight into the religious
practices and beliefs of the period although its claim to being the work of the Apostles has never
been accepted as such by the Church.
The Areopagus was a small hill in Athens near the Acropolis. There were stone seats on the hillside
for the council that met there. The council’s power had declined since ancient times but it did rule
on certain local social and moral issues. Acts 17:19, 22, 34 tell us that Paul spoke there and
converted Dionysius, a member of the council, there.
A distinction can be made between the divine (God) and the created. The divine is eternal.
Christians believe that Jesus was and is divine but Arius (c. 250 - c. 336) held that Jesus was
created, not divine: that the Father had created him (as he does humans) and bestowed on him the
title Son of God in recognition of his godliness. Spread of Arius’ beliefs led to the Council of Nicea in
325 AD. The opponents of Arianism defined the faith in the co-eternity and co-equality of the Father
and the Son, that they shared in the same substance. Arianism had a significant following and
continued to be a force in western Christianity for another three centuries. It is a form of
Aristotle held that an idea exists only as expressed in an individual object, that something only
exists if it has both form and matter; only then is the something real. He asked: what caused form
and matter of a thing to come together? He said that there is a causative agent, itself a thing. This
thing, in turn, had been caused to exist by a thing. This led him to the notion of a First Cause, i.e
God. While seen as suspect in the early centuries of the Church, because he seemed to emphasize
materialism, in the Middle Ages theologians rediscovered Aristotle and expressed Christian
theology in his terms, including the soul as the form of the body. Aristotle is the father of Logic and
- Armana Tablets
These tablets, bearing cuneiform script, were excavated at Armana in Egypt. They show that in
1370 BC Pharaoh Amenopis IV Akhenaton (the monotheistic pharaoh) received repeated appeals for
protection by Canaanite city-sates from organized gangsters called Habiru. This name can be
equated with “Hebrews”, but cautiously.
- Ascension of Isaiah
New Testament authors found valuable background for understanding the mystery of Christ in
interpreting the book of Isaiah. In the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah is granted visions of the life of
Jesus and of the Church. These visions concentrate heavily, as does the book of Revelation, on the
struggle between the church and the supernatural prince of evil. The work is composite, with some
parts that are Jewish and others that are Christian.
Asherah was a Canaanite goddess. Ugaritic (q. v.) tradition was that she was the wife of El, but in
Palestine she was the consort of Baal. In the Old Testament, asherah can also mean a cult object or
objects. It is thought that an asherah was a representation of the goddess carved from wood.
Asherah poles are also mentioned. In Israel, there was always the danger of exalting a divine couple:
either El and Asherah or Baal and Asherah. These couples were sexually endowed, but Yahweh (q.
v.) was not to be thought of as a sexual being.
- Assumption of Moses
In scholarly usage, Assumption of Moses may refer to either of two works:
- the Assumption of Moses quoted in writings down to the six century but then lost, or
- the Testament of Moses, a work that reached its present form in the early years of Christianity
and of which most of the text is still available.
From the writings of early church fathers, it appears that the Assumption of Moses dealt with the
death of Moses and his reception into heaven after a struggle between Michael and Satan for his
body. It seems that this is the book to which Jude 9 refers.
The Testament of Moses purports to be Moses farewell exhortation to Joshua. In it, Moses reveals
the future history of Israel from the entrance into Canaan until the blessed era after the General
- Augustine of Hippo
Augustine (350-430) grew up in the Roman province of Africa. His mother was a Christian but
gradually he lost his the faith. He tried a pagan religion, but after some years found it
unsatisfactory. After a time in Rome, he accepted a professorship in Milan, where he heard bishop
Ambrose preach. Over time, he came to accept Christ. He was baptised in 387. Returned to his
birthplace, Thagaste, the following year, he established a monastic-like community there. Initially
he did not wish to be in orders but when the people of the neighbouring town of Hippo convinced
him, he was ordained priest. He became bishop of Hippo. He wrote many books, of which the best
known are Confessions (his journey to faith) and The City of God. Augustine has been called the
greatest theologian since Paul, and the father of the western Church. His thought dominated the
Middle Ages. In the 1500s, both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation were rediscoveries of
- Aural torah
So important was it for Jews not to break Mosaic law that they built up a protective layer of
unwritten commandments round it. This is known as the aural torah. Later, after Jesus’ time on
earth, many of these ordinances were incorporated in the Mishnah (q. v.).
- 2 Baruch
This book is not in the Bible, is sometimes called the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, and is called 2
Baruch to distinguish it from Baruch, which is the Apocrypha (q. v.).This book gives a Jewish
response to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Baruch fasts four times after the fall of the city,
lamenting, issuing warnings, and receiving three visions that explain the tragedy. It is called Syriac
because it was long known only in a Syriac translation.
- 3 Baruch
In Jeremiah 32, 36, 42, and 43, Baruch, a royal official and scribe, is associated with the prophet
Jeremiah. He had experienced the destruction of the first (Solomon’s) Temple. In an age when
literary works were often given authority by being put on the lips of a respected figure from the
past, Baruch was a natural spokesman in works that grapple with the destruction of the first and
second temples. Both 2 Baruch and 3 Baruch are apocalypses (q. v.) written late in the first century
AD. They present Baruch as the recipient of a heavenly revelation meant to instruct and console the
Jewish community. Written in Greek, 3 Baruch is also known as the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch.
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ promises of end-time (q. v.) blessings (or happiness) pronounced in the
Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11) and in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-22). In Matthew
there are eight (or nine) blessings of a spiritual nature, available to all, whereas in Luke there are
four blessings, spoken to the disciples, which are balanced by four woes. The Beatitudes describe the
qualities of Christian perfection.
- Beloved Disciple
At the Last Supper, John 13:23-25 tells us that: “One of his disciples - the one whom Jesus loved -
was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was
speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’”. John 19:26-27 says that
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her [at the foot of the
cross], he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your
mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”. On Easter morning, this
disciple outruns Peter to Jesus’ tomb (20:2-12). Then, in Galilee, he identifies for Peter the figure
standing on the shore as the risen Jesus (21:7). Finally, an exchange between Jesus and Peter is
introduced with “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them” (21:20-23). At
the end of the gospel, we read: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written
them, and we know that his testimony is true” ( 21:24). Many have speculated on who this disciple,
the beloved disciple, is. Perhaps he is the author of John.
A benediction or blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favour. Examples in the
Old Testament is the blessing of Isaac in Genesis 27, liturgical (q. v.) blessings of people in Numbers
6:22-27, and liturgical blessings of things, such as food, in 1 Samuel 9:13. In Christian liturgy (q. v.),
blessing has a place, especially in the blessing of the elements in consecration, as Jesus did at the
Last Supper (see Matthew 26:26). Blessings are given to individuals both in liturgy and less
- Biblical Criticism
See Historical-critical Method.
- Book of Jubilees
Presenting itself as being dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai, this book is really a rewriting of the
stories in Genesis 1 and Exodus 14. Its name comes from the framework in which it places the
history of the world from creation to the time of the Sinai covenant; it divides this time into 49
periods of 49 years, a jubilee being 49 years. In Jubilees, a year, being 364 days, is solar ( as against
the lunar calendar used in Israel after the Exile). The book gives great attention to the priestly tribe
of Levi. It contains the earliest attestation in Palestine of an afterlife; it stresses the immortality of
the soul but not resurrection of the body. Jubilees was written in Hebrew and dates from176-140
BC. It may be the same as the Apocalypse of Moses.
Born in 1509 in northern France, John Calvin was the greatest systematic theologian of the
Reformation. His teaching is the basis of the Reformed churches. After King Francis I launched a
vigorous assault against critics of the Roman Catholic Church, Calvin moved to Switzerland. Much
as he would have liked to spend his time in study, he was persuaded to minister to Protestant
congregations in Strasbourg and Geneva. Among his many literary works are commentaries on
books of the Bible.
- Canon, Canonical
Canon ("rule") may refer to Church Law or rules, but in the context of the Bible,
it refers to the books that are accepted as part of Scripture. One might use the term
"the Canon" to refer to books that are accepted, or "the New Testament Canon", for example.
Properly speaking, the Canon also fixes the sequence of the books.
The Hebrew Canon was fixed c. 200 CE, though Christian Bibles vary in their sequence of books.
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Canons include apocryphal books, while most Protestant
churches do not accept these as canonical. Some Protestant editions of the Bible include
the Aprocrypha / Deutero-canonical books in a separate section.
The Apocrypha are said to have deutero-canonical status - secondary authority. (The
Revised Common Lectionary includes some readings from the Apocrypha, but always
with an alternative text from the Old Testament for those who do not wish to read
from the Apocrypha.)
The New Testament Canon was fixed in a process lasting up to 367 in the East and 405 in the
West. The current canon of 27 books is universal except in Ethiopia, which to this day
has 38 books in its New Testament, including such works as the Shepherd of Hermas
and the two letters of Clement. These and other works were earlier included in the canon,
but later rejected by most churches.
There are a host of other, non-canonical books from the Old and New Testament periods.
- Catechesis, Catechetical
Catechesis is basic instruction in the doctrines of the faith. In the
fourth century, catechetical instruction was given to the newly-baptized.
Most mainline church today associate such instruction with the process
Chiasm is present when a passage has a sandwich-like structure. For
example, Psalm 26 is chiastic. In this psalm, walking in integrity and
fidelity are found in v. 1-3 and v. 11-12, and temple and ungodly appear in vv.
4-5 and vv. 8-10. Vv. 6-7 tell of a different idea.
This psalm might be pictured as a sandwich: bread on the outside,
buttered, with cheese in the centre. The structure can be represented
schematically as A-B-C-B-A. Other structures also occur in the Bible.
- Christology, Christological
Christology is the branch of theology which refers specifically to the Christ - the Second
Person of the Trinity. Traditionally, the work of the Christ is primarily understood to be
salvation / redemption. The Christ is described in three categories, as Prophet, as Priest,
and as King.
A biblical passage may be said to be christological when it particularly
contributes to or fleshes out an aspect of the understanding of Christology.
Educated in law at Antioch, John Chrysostom felt a call to the monastic life, but the need to care for
his mother prevented this for a time. He later became a hermit living under austere conditions. He
became a deacon in 381 AD and a priest five years later. His bishop assigned him to preaching, at
which he excelled; hence his name: Chrysostom means golden-mouthed. He was known for
combining the spiritual meanings of Scripture with immediate practical application. He became
Patriarch of Constantinople in 398; he was a great reformer of court, church, and civil affairs.
- 1 Clement
This letter-treatise was from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth. Although the author is
not mentioned in it, it was attributed to Clement, a key figure in the governance of the church in
Rome. Scholars date it to the 90s AD because it seems to refer to the persecutions of that time and
contains memories of those 30 years earlier. So it may have been written before some of the late
New Testament books. The purpose of the book is to persuade the Corinthians to restore presbyters,
who had been deposed by young upstarts, to authority. It is notable for the idea of a succession of
authority, having its root in the Father’s giving of the gospel to Christ. Jesus gave it to the apostles
who in term appointed bishops and deacons.
- Clement of Alexandria
Clement was born into a pagan Hellenic family about 150 AD. After his conversion, he travelled
widely and studied with various Christian teachers. He became the leader of a Christian
philosophical school in Alexandria in 202 or 203 BC. Challenged by gnosticism (q. v.), Clement
sought to present the true faith in an intellectually viable way. He sought to show that one can
investigate philosophical and intellectual questions without being a heretic. He died before 216 AD.
- Code of Hammurabi
Hammurabi, a great lawgiver, was king of Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BC. Written on a stone pillar,
the Code was found in Susa, an Elamite city, in 1901. (Susa is in modern Iran.) The laws on it may
either be updates to older laws or a sample of good laws. Many of the laws are like those found in
the Pentateuch (q. v.). For example two of Hammurabi’s laws can be compared with Exodus 21:23-24 (“... eye for an eye ...”). Sometimes Israelite law is even more demanding than Babylonian, but
Israelite law is humane compared with Assyrian law of the 1100s BC. Babylon and other ancient
Near Eastern nations share with Israel an ideal of justice for the nation. At the end of the Code,
Hammurabi states that he has written the laws with the purpose of protecting the weak from the
Codices were manuscripts in leaf form, with the leaves sown together, much like books today; as
such they were more durable than scrolls. While synagogue copies of the Old Testament were (and
are) scrolls, early copies of New Testament books are almost always codices. The word codex is also
used as part of the proper name of a manuscript: for example, Codex Siniaticus. Such usage
indicates a codex which contains most of the New Testament. While earlier manuscripts were
written on paper made from papyrus, from about 300 AD they were usually written on parchment.
- Codex Alexandrinus
This codex (q. v.) dates from the mid 400s AD. It appears that it came from Alexandria to
Constantinople. Originally it contained the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament,
together with 1 and 2 Clement and Psalms of Solomon, but most of Matthew is now missing. Now in
the British Museum, it was the first great manuscript made accessible to scholars.
- Codex Sinaiticus
This codex (q. v.) contains the whole of the New Testament plus the Epistle of Barnabas (q. v.) and
the Shepherd of Hermas (q. v.). It was handed to Count von Tischendorf in 1844 by the monks at the
Monastery of St. Catherine’s in the Sinai Peninsula, taken to Russia, and then sold to the British
Museum. It dates from about 350 AD.
a text or passage that is created by fusing together two separate texts. The resulting
text may contain details from both originals, such as two names for the same person.
Cosmology is a coherent interpretation of the universe in its ultimate origin, nature, order and
- Council of Jerusalem
Acts 15:1-29 tells us the reason for this Council, and its decision. Christians from Jerusalem come to
Antioch insisting that all Christians must be circumcised and keep other Mosaic law. Paul and
Barnabas do not agree, and are sent to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the Church leaders
there. When the Council meets, after much discussion, Peter cites his own experience &ndash that
converted Gentiles had already received the Holy Spirit without observing the Law. James supports
his view, citing texts from Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. The Council agrees that Christians not be
bound by Mosaic law except in two small ways. Salvation is solely as a result of God’s love.
- Creed of Nicea-Constantinople
This creed is the most commonly accepted, and used, creed among Christians. Arius, a priest from
Alexandria, believed in a radical monotheism: to him, only the Father is God; the Son was a
creature, as humans are (one who had been created), so he began to exist at some particular time in
history; it was through the Son that the world was created. The Church met at Nicea in 325 AD to
consider the question: what do we believe about Christ? They agreed that Jesus Christ is:
- “begotten of the Father, that is from the substance with the Father”,
- “true God of true God, begotten not made” (created).
The creed formulated at the Council of Nicea ends with specific condemnations of points on which
Arius deviated from the consensus.
In 381 AD, the Church met again to counter heresies at the Council of Constantinople. They
amplified the earlier creed of Nicea. On this occasion:
- While the earlier creed simply said “We believe ... in the Holy Spirit”, the new creed speaks of
the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and states his distinct functions (although he is not
directly called God).
- They added that the Son “was made flesh from the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin and
became man”, thus emphasizing that Christ really did take on being human when he was born.
- They removed some of the anti-Arian polemic.
Much later, it became customary in the western church to add “and the Son” to “We believe .. in the
Holy Spirit ... who proceeds from the Father”. While this addition helped to precipitate the break
between the eastern and western Churches, many western denominations have now reverted to the
form without the filioque (“and the Son”) words. Hence what we call the Nicene Creed.
Cynic philosophers stressed the sense-perceived individual and refuted the idea that there are
universal objects of knowledge. They held the refinements and conventions of polite society in
contempt, and saw virtue as the only good and pleasure as evil. They said that self-control is the
essence of virtue. A wise person despises material needs and the comforts in which worldly people
find happiness. Cynics shared with Stoics (q. v.) the idea that certain truths were, through
preaching, within reach of the common person.
- Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur
In Old Testament times, there were sins which could be forgiven and those that could not. Each year
the Day of Atonement (Hebrew: Yom Kippur) was an opportunity for people to be freed of the sins
which they had committed unintentionally. The high priest made an offering of incense in the Holy
of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple, the only time in the year when he entered this
room. The sins of the people were symbolically placed on a scapegoat. One tradition is that this goat
was driven out into the wilderness. The ordinances for this day are found in Leviticus 23:27-32 and
Numbers 29:7-11. Hebrews 8-9 draws on the Day of Atonement ritual to explain Christ’s sacrifice.
- Deutero-Isaiah, Trito-Isaiah
Most scholars believe that Isaiah was written by at least two, and possibly three, authors or schools
of authors. All ascribe chapters 1-39 to the prophet Isaiah himself. There are two schools of thought
about chapters 40-66:
- some see all of these chapters as written some two centuries later; they call chapters 40-66
Deutero-Isaiah (or Second Isaiah)
- others see chapters 56-66 as written later still (after the Exile); they call these chapters Trito-Isaiah (or Third Isaiah) and chapters 40-55 Deutero-Isaiah.
- Deuteronomic, Deuteronomist
One of four sources identified by scholars in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source is identified primarily (though not exclusively) with
the author of Deuteronomy. It is characterized by an emphasis on the Law and on Moses’ speeches exhorting
the people of Israel to keep it. This source also mandates a centralization of the cult of
Yahweh (q. v.), and the suppression of the Canaanite cults. It probably dates from the seventh
century BC, and is associated with the Deuteronomic reform of c. 621 BCE
under King Josiah. 2 Kings 22:8ff tells of this reform; scholars say that the “book” mentioned there is Deuteronomy.
Commentaries often indicate the Deuteronomic source as D.
Jews who lived outside Israel after the Exile,
especially around the Mediterranean Basin.
They mainly spoke Greek and the Septuagint was their Bible.
The diatribe was a style of argument popular with Greek philosophers. The diatribe features
dialogues with fictional characters, rhetorical questions, and the use of the emphatic negation (e.g.
“may it never be!”) to advance a line of argument. This style is found in Paul’s writings and in
James. For example, Paul uses this style in 1 Corinthians 9:1: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?
Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”.
An early church manual, dating from the first or second century. The Didache
(meaning teaching) is divided in two parts. The first is an account of the “Two Ways”
(“the Way of Life” and “the Way of Death”), a common form of moral teaching at the time
in both Jewish and Christian circles. The second part gives instruction on prayer,
fasting, baptism, eucharist (q. v.) and other practical matters concerning ecclesiastical life.
- Dionysius the Elder
Dionysius the Elder, ca. 430-367 BC, was tyrant of Syracuse. (Tyrants were champions of the poor in
their fight for rights.) As well as being a writer of tragedies and a patron of the arts, he was a
general. He was also an inventor: his catapult (ballista) was a weapon of war for over a thousand
Domitian was Roman emperor from 81-96 AD. He gradually took for himself despotic powers and
demanded that he be worshipped publicly by all as Lord and God. This Christians were unwilling
(and unable) to do. At the end of his reign, he ordered the persecution of Jews and Christians.
Although there had been local and regional persecutions before 96 AD, this was the first empire-wide persecution.
Doubling occurs when a verse is repeated, sometimes using slightly
different words. For example, Exodus 16:12 repeats ideas which have
appeared in Exodus 16:8. Scholars consider this an indication that the
verses are from different traditions: that an editor has merged two versions of
A doxology is an ascription of glory (doxa in Greek) to God,
most commonly to the Persons of the Holy Trinity in a liturgical setting.
In the New Testament, a doxology may be in praise of the Father or of Christ.
In Old Testament times, the land of Edom extended eastwards from a line between western shore of
the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The northwestern part was a fertile valley and contained
copper mines. To the east there was an arable high plateau, and beyond it desert. Caravan routes
ran through the area. Genesis 36:1, 8 considers Edom to be a descendant of Esau. Edom is derived
from a Semitic root meaning red or ruddy. The sandstone in the area has a reddish tiny, and Esau
Genesis 25:25 tells us that, at birth, Esau had a “red” or ruddy complexion.
- Eighteen Benedictions
The Eighteen Benedictions are used at synagogue services. There were three blessings of praise,
twelve petitions, and three concluding ones of thanks. Today there are thirteen petitions. While the
initial and final three at used at all services, selections are made from the petitions, depending on
the occasion. The Benedictions are first prayed silently by the congregation and then repeated by
the reader aloud.
Literally "gods" in Hebrew, Elohim is often used as the name of God in the
Old Testament. The use of the plural form to describe the One God is explained as a
"plural of majesty".
One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source, the second-oldest of the four, normally uses the
Hebrew term Elohim for God. The Elohist source is generally thought to have originated in the Northern Kingdom
in the ninth or eight century BC, and is characterized by a northern setting for
Genesis accounts, communication by God by means of dreams or angels, and an emphasis on
prophecy. Commentaries often indicate the Elohist source as E.
The end-times refer to the period of cosmic history as the world is brought to an end. These are
depicted in apocalyptic (q.v.) literature as times of both disaster and fulfilment of history. The
wicked will be judged while the righteous will be saved and brought into perfect communion with
God. For Christians, this is the time when Christ will come again.
- 1 Enoch
a pseudepigraphical book of apocalyptic writing, written in the name of Enoch,
seventh in the line of Adam and father of Methusaleh. A composite work, it
dates from between the third century BCE and the first century CE.
1 Enoch is quoted in the New Testament by Jude (verses 14-15).
- 2 Enoch
This book is a brilliant apocalypse (q. v.) with penetrating insights into our universe and humanity.
It is only extant in Slavonic; the original Jewish core probably dates from the end of the first century
AD. It was around that time that 1 Peter was written.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 340 to 270 BC. He held that the senses, as the one
and only source of all our ideas, provided the sole criterion for all truth. On this basis he denied
immortality. He did not reject the existence of gods but refused to concede their interference in
human affairs. He sought the goal of human conduct in pleasure, maintaining that prudence was
the chief virtue, seeing it as the surest way of attaining happiness.
- Epistle of Barnabas
Despite being attributed in ancient times to Barnabas, Paul’s companion, and being included in
Codex Sinaiticus (q. v.) as part of the New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas is a treatise of the
early 100s, probably about 130 AD.
- Eschatology, Eschatological
Doctrine focused on the last things, or the end times. Eschatology is generally
concerned with the end of earthly history, the final judgement and salvation, and
the disposition of individual souls, the People of God and of the whole of humanity.
the culmination of history and the end of time, at which Christ has promised to return.
An ascetic sect of Judaism, mentioned by Josephus. The Essenes seem to have originated
in the second century BCE and came to an end in the second century CE. Little is
known of their life, but it is known that they were highly organized and communistic.
In some ways their lifestyle might be compared to later Christian monastic communities.
Some scholars have identified the Essenes with the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The sect never spread beyond Palestine.
Strictly speaking, etiology (or aetiology) is the science or philosophy of causation.
In ancient literature, including biblical literature, an aetiological myth is a story
about the beginning or origin of something. For example, the punishment of the serpent
in Genesis 3:14 is in part an aetiological myth explaining why snakes have no legs.
Similarly, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) in part explains the origin of
different language groups.
The Greek word, eucharistos, means thanksgiving.
The service begins with the celebration of the word of God
(in readings from the Bible). The consecration of the bread and wine, as
the body and blood of Christ follows. Christians then partake of the
consecrated elements in the communion. We believe that Christ is truly
present in them. The centre of the corporate life of the Church, the
Eucharist was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. It represents the
new covenant (or pact) with God, effected by his death and raising to
life again, through which we are reconciled with God and with each other.
It also anticipates Christ's coming again to bring to complete fulfilment
the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist is also known as the Mass, Holy
Communion, and The Lord's Supper. It is a sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving in which Christ is present as sacrifice and victim; it
symbolizes the sacrificing service to others to which we are called.
Eusebius (c. 260 - c. 340) was bishop of Caesarea and a church historian; he is often referred to as the Father of Church History.
His Ecclesiastical History is the principal source for the history of the Church
up to his own day. Though Eusebius wrote several other works, notably a Life of
Constantine and Preparation for the Gospel, he is principally known for his
Ecclesiastical History. He participated in the Council of Nicaea (q. v.) and other great events of the early
Eusebius (Greek for pious, devout, godly) was a very common name in the
early Church. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church lists no less than
six bishops named Eusebius - five of them from the fourth century alone.
The Greek word exegesis means bringing out the sense. Exegesis is interpreting the meaning of
biblical texts. As well as trying to establish what the authors of the Bible intended to say in their
original contexts (i.e. what the text meant then), exegetes also interpret the text for today (i.e. what
the text means now).
The Babylonians deported Jehoiachin, king of Judah, with military leaders, troops and craftsmen in
597 BC. More people were deported from Judea to Babylon in 587 BC, after the destruction of the
Temple built by Solomon. Deportation was practised by conquerors in the ancient Near East. After
about 60 years, deportees began returning to Judah. Return happened gradually, and some never
- Farewell Discourses
In the Gospel of John, a series of discourses and a prayer in the context of the Lord’s Supper are
found in 13:1-17:26. They meditate on the nature, meaning and significance of the passion of Jesus,
and are followed by the passion narrative. John explores the meaning of Christ for the believer and
for the Church. After the opening dramatic scene (13:1-30), the discourses are presented as a
dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (13:31-14:31), a monologue by Jesus (15:1-16:15), a second
dialogue (16:16-33), and Jesus’ prayer for the Church (17:1-26). They prepare Jesus’ followers for his
- Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)
The Hebrew name is sukkoth, meaning huts. This was one of the major pilgrimage feasts of
Judaism. Celebrated for eight days in September-October, it was Israel’s joyous, thanksgiving
autumnal harvest festival. During it, the people lived in booths, simple lean-to structures made of
branches, commemorating God’s protection during the wandering in the wilderness during the
Exodus. The ordinances regarding this feast are found in Leviticus 23:34-36, 39-44; Deuteronomy
16:13-15; 31:10-13. John 7 tells us of Jesus’ activities during this feast. By his time, the feast
included triumphal processions with the people carrying branches and palms.
- Feast of Weeks
The Feast of Weeks was celebrated 50 days after the beginning of the barley harvest, i.e. of the
Feast of Unleavened Bread. Thus it came to be known as Pentecost, from the Greek word for fiftieth.
It marked the end of the harvest, and was celebrated with the offering of leavened bread. Jewish
Pentecost later acquired even deeper significance by being related to the exodus. It was seen to
coincide with the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Sinai and was the occasion on which the giving of the
Law was commemorated.
- General Resurrection
During the last centurires before Christ and for several centuries after
Christ, many Jews believed that at the end of time all the dead would be
raised. There were two lines of thought. One line was that only the ungodly would
be judged by the Messiah; the other line was that both the godly and the ungodly
would be judged. Both lines of thought agreed that the ungodly would be found
guilty and be condemned to annilihation. Whether judged or not, the godly would
enter a blessed estate. The grounds for judgement would be fidelity to God's
- Genesis Apocryphon
This scroll was found in a cave at Qumran (q. v.). It is a midrash (q. v.) on Genesis 1-15. Various
patriarchs recount experiences that are expansions of those in the biblical narrative. It claims that
Noah was born miraculously. Some stories in it are also found in the Book of Jubilees (q. v.). From
the quality of the Aramaic scholars date it to the first century BC.
Genre refers to the type or category of literature of a given passage, whether
historical narrative, myth, hymn, poetry, parable, or other forms. Knowing the genre of a
passage is essential for understanding how to read and interpret the text.
A modern example of genre is the Whodunit.
- Gilgamesh Epic
This is a Babylonian story of an ancient king, Gilgamesh, who sought immortality but failed to find
it. In the process, he hears the story of the great primaeval age from Utnapishtim, who built an ark
and was saved by the gods. There are many parallels between this story and Genesis 6-9, the story
of Noah and his ark.
Until the invention of printing, one person read from a manuscript and others wrote down what they
heard. At times copyists made mistakes when they did not properly distinguish between some
vowels and diphthongs. Occasionally a reader did, at times, miss a line. A gloss is a case where a
scribe tried to improve on the text and wrote comments in the margin; when copies were made from
this copy, a reader might include comments as part of the text, thinking that they were part of the
- Gnostic, Gnosticism
Gnostics are a collection of sects with certain common characteristics. The chief
element in gnostic teaching is a division between the spiritual and the physical
(called dualism). Physical creation is seen as intrinsically flawed. Therefore salvation,
according to gnostic teaching, involves rescue from the physical sphere. This is
accomplished by obtaining gnosis (Greek for knowledge) which comes from Christ
as emissary of God. Gnosis may be seen as stimulating a divine spark within the believer.
It is notoriously difficult to sort out precisely what the various gnostic systems taught
as the chief sources for them are the writings of their orthodox opponents. However, their
teachings seem to be an amalgam of pre-Christian pagan speculative philosophy with some
elements of Christianity incorporated. Without exception, gnostic teachings have been
declared heretical. Some of the later epistles, such as 1 John and the Pastoral Epistles,
denounce false teachings that appear to have gnostic elements.
- Gospel of the Hebrews
This Jewish-Christian work is not in the New Testament. We know it only from quotations in the
writing of several Christian authors in the early centuries of the Church. It treats the descent of the
pre-existent Christ into Mary, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism, a post-resurrection appearance to James at a eucharistic (q. v.) meal, and wisdom sayings of Jesus.
- Gospel of Thomas
An ancient collection of sayings of Jesus, which claims to have been edited by St Thomas.
Although there are points of contact between the Gospel of Thomas and the Q source
(itself a hypothetical source for common elements of Luke and Matthew which are not
found in Mark), Thomas appears to be of gnostic origin. Fragments of a Greek manuscript
exist, but the full text is preserved only in Coptic.
- Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, the others being Basil of Caesarea and
Gregory of Nazianzus. (Cappodocia was un Asia Minor.) Gregory of Nyssa was the most intellectual
of the trio. For almost twenty years he was bishop of Nyssa, except for a period when he was
deposed and replaced by an Arian (q. v.). The Fathers are remembered especially for their opposition
to Arianism and for their trinitarian teaching. They fused together the Nicene belief that Father and
Son are of one substance and Origen’s (q. v.) belief that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three
beings. They would say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three ways of being God.
Hades (pronounced hay-dees) was the Greek god of the underworld, and came to refer
to the place where the souls of the dead were said to dwell. It is in this sense equivalent
to the Hebrew term Sheol. It is usually a neutral term, as opposed to describing a
place of punishment, and thus is not quite equivalent to the English term Hell.
During the second century before Jesus was born, Judea was on the border between the Seleucid
(Hellenic, q. v.) and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) empires. The Hassidim or Hassidians were a group in
Jerusalem who fought actively against being absorbed into Hellenic culture and religion. They are
mentioned in 1 Maccabees 2:42; 7:13 and 2 Maccabees 14:6.
- Hellenistic, Hellenic, Hellenist
These terms refers to the culture in Greece and Asia Minor during the time when the New
Testament was written. Hellenistic or Hellenic, rather than Greek, is used to differentiate this period
from the golden age of Greece in earlier centuries. By the time the Church was emerging, the culture
had changed, due to foreign influences, particularly from the east. A Hellenist was a person of
another culture who had adopted Hellenic culture.
- Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas was tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was also ruler of
Perea, a district east of the Jordan River. He was a son of Herod the Great. For the Herod family
tree, click here.
This term appears in both Mark and Matthew. Scholars suggest that Herodians were supporters of
the rule and policies of Herod Antipas (and perhaps of other members of the Herod family), and thus
of the Roman authorities. Both gospels portray them, with the Pharisees, as putting Jesus in a
difficult position regarding payment of taxes to Caesar.
Hippolytus lived from about 170 to about 236 AD. He was a great theologian in Rome. The earliest
baptismal rite we have is found in his book, Apostolic Tradition; indeed he tells us that candidates
were prepared for several years and that baptism took place during the Easter vigil.
- Historical-critical Method
This is the general term for the modern scholarly approach to understanding the Bible. While in
common parlance to criticize carries with it negative vibes, in biblical studies criticism does not. The
word criticize comes from a Greek word meaning to judge, to discern, or to be discriminating in
making a judgement. There are some 30 approaches (or critical methods) of which the most common
- textual criticism, which seeks to establish the original wording of the scriptures,
- historical criticism, which tries to clarify the date, first context and intention of a biblical book,
- form criticism, which analyses and classifies the styles of biblical speech and writing (e.g.
parables, miracle stories),
- tradition criticism, which investigates the process by which units now in scripture were handed
down orally and in writing, and
- redaction criticism, which studies the motivation and mindset of the authors in editing their
inherited traditions, and the meaning and message they wished to communicate to their
Homiletics is the art of crafting sermons. In the context of
Comments a homiletical statement might refer to an attempt to
flesh out the application of a text for us in our context, rather than
its meaning more narrowly conceived.
- Household Code
Early Christian conversion was communal rather than individual -
entire households converted to Christianty.
These included extended families and slaves all living under the same roof.
Household Codes are guidelines for Christian living within this group
Guidelines may be given for the behaviour of four groups:
slaves, wives, husbands and children.
Examples are found in
1 Timothy 6:1-2;
1 Peter 2:18-3:7.
The Hurrians first appeared in northern Mesopotamia about 1800 BC and inhabited Syria a little
later. There were Hurrian garrisons west of the Jordan River in the early 1600s BC.
A hymnody is a collection of hymns belonging to a religious community.
- Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch. Probably born in Syria about 35 AD, he was
martyred in Rome in about 107 AD. As he travelled from Antioch to Rome under guard, he was
welcomed by members of Christian communities and wrote letters of encouragement to various
churches. Quotations from his letters in the works of fathers of the Church and circulation of letters
written in his name show how highly he was regarded. He was a man passionately devoted to
Christ. He insisted on the reality of both the divinity and humanity of Christ, and that the life of
Christ continues in the Eucharist (q. v.). To him, the bishop is the best safeguard of the unity of the
An inclusio is the repetition, at the end of a section, of a word or phrase used
at the beginning. They are used to indicate the limits of a section and to
emphasize a particular notion.
- Inter-testamental literature
This term refers to works written after the writing of the last book in the Old Testament and before
the first book in the New Testament. Scholars vary as to when this period begins and ends: 165 BC
to 55 AD is an informed guess. Some of the intertestamental literature is in the Apocrypha (q. v.),
some of it is Pseudepigrapha (q. v.).
An interpolation is a word or phrase added to the text by a copyist in the interests of clarification.
Scribes who thought about what they were writing were more likely to make changes than those
who did not!
Irenaeus lived from about 130 AD to about 200 AD. He became Bishop of Lyons (in France) in 177
AD. His main contribution was in refuting heresies; Against Heresies is a detailed attack upon
gnosticism (q. v.). He was one of the first to speak of books now in the New Testament together as
Scripture, alongside the Old Testament. Initially, Scripture meant the Old Testament. The apostolic
writings were granted authority but only gradually were they generally recognized as the New
Jerome (340?-420 AD) translated the Bible into Latin from Hebrew and Greek; his translation is
known as the Vulgate (q. v.). He was born in what is now Croatia, and studied in Rome. After being
baptised in his late teens, he devoted himself to an ascetic and scholarly life. He became a Hebrew
and Greek scholar, and collected a large library of classical literature. He spent several years as a
hermit in the Syrian desert, surrounded by his library. After returning to Rome, finding himself out
of a job, he set off for the East again, and founded a monastery at Bethlehem. It was there that he
translated and wrote, and died.
- Jewish Wars
This work by Josephus (q. v.) surveys the history of the Jews in the Hellenistic-Roman period and of
the first Jewish revolt against Rome. Written in the 70s AD, most of the account is considered
reliable even though its tone is pro-Roman.
The Johannine literature is the name given by modern scholars to the five books of the New
Testament that are attributed to an author named John: the Gospel according to John, 1, 2, and 3
John, and Revelation. Of these books, only Revelation gives the name of its author in the text; the
others are traditionally attributed to him. We do not know who this “John” is, nor even if all five
books share an author, but there are similarities.
- Joseph and Aseneth
This is a tale told by Joseph and his Egyptian wife Aseneth. Genesis 41:45 tells us that the pharaoh
gave her, a daughter of an Egyptian priest, to Joseph in marriage; Genesis 41:50 and 46:20 identify
her as the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph and Aseneth seeks to explain how an
upstanding Israelite could marry a pagan, inferring what later interpreters thought must have
happened. It tells of her conversion from paganism to the worship of God. Scholars dates this work
between 100 BC and 200 AD; it may be Jewish or Christian.
Josephus (c. 37 AD - c. 100 AD) was a Jewish historian who became a Pharisee (q. v.). He took a
leading part in the first Jewish-Roman war and witnessed the siege of Jerusalem in 70. After he
surrendered to the Romans, he was greatly honoured by Emperor Vespasian. He wrote Jewish Wars,
a somewhat biased account of the events from about 160 BC to the outbreak of the war. He writes
from the viewpoint of a Jew trying to gain the sympathy of the Roman public. He brought out his
second great work, Antiquities of the Jews (q. v.) in 94.
A Jubilee year occurred every fifty years (or forty-nine, after the Exile). It occurred after (or in the
last year of) seven cycles of seven years. In this year, all land was returned to its ancestral owners,
all Israelite slaves were freed, and the land was left fallow. It is described in Leviticus 25:8-17, 23-55; 27:16-25 and Numbers 36:4. Jubilee comes from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn; the year was
marked by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn.
The Book of Jubilees is an ancient commentary in the style of a midrash on Genesis
and part of Exodus. It dates from the second century BCE.
A Judaizer was a member of a Christian community of Jewish origin who insisted that to be
Christian one has to keep Mosaic law, particularly the ordinances regarding ritual purity and diet.
Because keeping of various feasts is mandated in Mosaic law, Judaizers expected Christian
communities to celebrate these occasions.
Judges were charismatic leaders who arose within Israel in times of crisis.
As God's representatives they provided the necessary leadership to deal
with the situation at hand. Israel had judges between the settlement of the
Promided Land and the emergence of the monarchy.
- Justin Martyr
Flavius Justinus, known as Justin Martyr, was born in Neapolis (now Nablus, ancient Shechem)
about 100 AD. He sought for ultimate truth in various Greek philosophies (Stoicism,
Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism) but did not find it there. He met an old man near
the sea who pointed him to Christianity. He was not just a Christian seeking to relate Christianity
to Greek philosophy; he was a Hellenist who had come to see Christianity as the fulfilment of all
that was best in philosophy. He died a martyr in Rome.
The term kerygma is a Greek word meaning the act of proclaiming or the message proclaimed. It is
the core message which announces God’s decisive act and offer of salvation in the death and
resurrection of Jesus. It is augmented by detailed instruction about Christ and Christianity. The
gospels are clearly kerygmatic, for they set out to announce the good news.
- Lachish Letters
Lachish was one of Judah’s fortified towns at the eastern edge of the Palestinian coastal
plain. The Lachish Letters date from the early 580s BC, shortly before Jerusalem definitively fell to
the Babylonians. They are messages, written on broken potsherds, from observation posts to the
defenders at Lachish. They give us some snapshots of the Babylonian conquest, including
confirmation of statements made in Jeremiah 34, 37 and 38.
- Lament, lamentation
When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we lament. In the Old
Testament, some laments are individual and others focus on the community or nation as a whole.
Job 3-31 contains an example of an individual lament. Of the Psalms, some 40 are individual
laments and at least twelve are communal or national laments. Their formats include: the
invocation of God’s name, a description of the present need, prayer for help and deliverance, reasons
why God should help the one (or many) praying, vow to offer praise or sacrifice when the petition is
heard, and grateful praise to God.
- Law of talion
This is the law of retribution. (Talion comes from the Latin talis meaning such, the same.) When
Jesus quotes it in Matthew 5:38 as “‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a
tooth’”, he goes on to say “‘Do not resist an evildoer’”. Part of
Mosaic law (in Leviticus 24:19-21 and Deuteronomy 19:21), it is also found in the Code of
Hammurabi (q. v.) and in Roman law. It sounds barbarous today, but its original intention was to
limit revenge, e.g. only one eye for one eye, not two or three. When first introduced, it was genuine
moral progress. By Jesus’ day, the religious authorities considered it to be too harsh, and
began commuting the penalty to fines.
- Levirate marriage
Should a man die before his wife had born him a son, then his brother had an obligation, per
Deuteronomy 25:5-6, to marry her. The first son she bore for her new husband was considered the
dead man’s son; he succeeded to his estate. This was the law of levirate marriage.
Generally, a Levite is a member of the tribe of Levi; however some passages seem to use the term as
a description rather than a tribal name (for example, in Judges 17:7, a Levite is mentioned who is a
member of the tribe of Judah and is a kind of priest). The Hebrew root of the word may show that
Levites were those particularly closely attached (joined) to God.
In Deuteronomy, Levites are priests who sacrifice and transmit and administer divine law
throughout the land. With the centralization of worship in Jerusalem, they were subordinated to the
Temple priesthood, in servant roles. Thus by the time of the Exile, priests and Levites were distinct.
After the return from exile, both Levites and the priests proper were considered to be descended
from Levi, and the levitical order came to include all Temple personnel other than priests. Some
levitical duties were higher than those of priests. For example, only Levites might carry the Ark, the
Temple’s most holy object. They retained their high status through to the end of the Temple in 70
AD, as Luke 10:32 (the story of the good Samaritan) indicates.
The word litany comes from a Greek word meaning petition or religious procession. A litany is a
prayer, or series of prayers, in which a cantor recites a series of petitions to which the congregation
repeats a fixed response, e.g. Lord, have mercy. The cantor, other officiants of the service, and
sometimes the choir, process around the church during the chanting of a litany. The form of
Christian litany is rooted in certain psalms where an acclamation is repeated (e.g. Psalm 118).
The word liturgy is derived from two Greek words, laos and ergon, meaning people and work. It is
the action in which we, the people of God, come together to worship him. We do this in words, music,
corporate prayer and ritual, usually in a way that has a defined shape; thus we do liturgy.
Livy was born in Padua in 59 BC. Living most of his life in Rome, his life work was History of Rome;
it begins with the founding of the city in 753 BC and ends in 9 BC. Livy was far from being a modern
historian: his book reflects his admiration for the civilization of early Rome; while he used as his
sources many previous authors, he did not evaluate these sources critically. He believed that the
importance of history was its applicability to contemporary life.
Logos is the Greek for word; it was associated in Hellenistic (q. v.) Jewish thought with divine
wisdom, as God's creative presence. In Stoic thought, logos
was understood as the ordering principle of the universe. In the
prologue of John's Gospel, the Logos is made incarnate.
In the second century BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Hellenic (Seleucid) king of Syria, ruled Judea as
well as other areas beyond Syria proper. In Judea, he decreed that only Greek deities be worshipped;
he even caused a pagan altar to be erected in the Jerusalem Temple. It was a member of the
Maccabees family, Mattathias, who led the guerilla force that sought to restore Judaism. When he
died, his son Judas Maccabeus led the revolt. This force was successful in restoring the Temple to its
Magnificat is the name given to Mary’s praise of God after she learns that she is to be the
mother of the Lord. It is found in Luke 1:46-55. Magnificat is the first word of the Latin translation.
For many centuries it has been sung as part of the daily offices of the Church.
Marcion, who died about 160 AD, was a heretic who rejected the Old Testament completely on the
grounds that the God there is one of Law while the Christian good news is wholly a gospel of Love.
To him, Paul understood this contrast between law and godly love but the Evangelists did not. So he
claimed that the only canonical (q. v.) scriptures were the ten epistles of Paul and an edited version
of Luke-Acts. The success of his movement forced the Church to consider what scriptures should be
accepted as scripture and what should not.
- Masoretic Text
A definitive Hebrew text of the Old Testament produced by mediaeval Jewish scholars
(Masoretes), and incorporating the Masorah ("tradition") -
a system of vowel signs, accents and marginal notes. The complete Masoretic Text (MT)
is found in St Petersburg, Russia, in a manuscript dating to 1009 CE.
Ancient Hebrew did not include vowels. The standardization of the correct reading of
the biblical texts gave rise to the notes and vowels which were incorporated in the MT.
- Medes and Persians
The Medes were an Indo-European tribe that by the 800s BC inhabited northern Iran/Iraq; they had
probably been there for millennia. They conquered Assyria in 625 BC. Their independence as a
kingdom was short-lived. Once vassals of the Medes, the Persians overthrew their overlords in 558
BC. Rather than treating the Medes as a conquered people, the Persians integrated them into their
administration and society. In the book of Daniel, the Medes and the Persians are treated as one
people. 2 Kings 17:6 tells us that the northern tribes were exiled to “cities of the
Medes”. The Persians were also Indo-European. Under Cyrus, they captured Babylon in 539
BC, and soon expanded their Empire to include territory from northern India to Asia Minor. Darius
the Mede was a king of Persia.
A figure of speech in which a pair of related objects is named, which comprises a
totality including everything between the pair. Examples: God made heaven and earth;
“you know when I sit down and when I rise up” (Psalm 139:2).
The word messiah is from the Hebrew massiah, meaning anyone anointed and sent by God. In early
usage, it referred to kings who would come to continue the line of King David, and to priests. It was
also applied to anyone whom God had appointed to a task that affected the destiny of God’s chosen
people. Kings of David’s linage were rulers chosen by God; so messiah came to be associated with the
expectation of an ideal king whom God would raise up to occupy the throne of Israel.
Christos is anointed in Greek. In the gospels, Jesus is reluctant to accept the designation messiah
without qualification. For example, Peter’s confession in Mark 8:29 is immediately corrected by the
announcement that Jesus is the suffering Son of Man. It seems that Jesus avoids being seen as an
earthly future king of Israel. After his death and resurrection, messiah takes on a specifically
Christian usage as a title that refers only to Jesus: he is the crucified agent of God, who has died for
our sins. He is the one vindicated and exalted by God.
- Messianic age
As foreseen after the return from exile, this would be a time of universal peace. It would be
inaugurated by God’s definitive intervention to save his people.
- Messianic banquet
The idea is that life in the kingdom of God will be a banquet at which the Messiah (Christ) will
preside. The Eucharist (q. v.) anticipates the messianic banquet. Jesus presents such an image in
the parables of the Wedding Feast (in Matthew 22:1-14) and of the Great Banquet (in Luke 14:15-24). In the Old Testament, see Isaiah 25:6-10a.
- Messianic secret
Scholars have recognized that there are in Mark several instances where Jesus commands people to
be silent about his action or identity (see 1:34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9). This is known as
the messianic secret. One possible reason for his is that Mark is accounting for the fact that Jesus in
his public ministry neither claimed to be the Messiah (q. v.) nor was recognized as such. The thrust
in Mark is that the real meaning of Jesus’ messiahship became clear only with his death and
resurrection. Jesus may also be avoiding being seen as having political and military intentions,
which Jews at the time expected of the Messiah.
The Midianites were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (see
Genesis 25:1-2). When Abraham expelled Isaac’s rivals “to the east country” (Genesis 25:6), Midian
was included. The “land of Midian” in Exodus 2:15 probably refers to that part of northwestern
Arabia east of the Gulf of Aqaba. Being nomads, they travelled widely through the ancient Near
East. Moses spent time in Midian, and married the daughter of a Midianite priest.
The Hebrew word means investigation or research. Midrash is a method of Jewish interpretation of
the scriptures developed after the return from exile. It aimed to edify by eliciting from scriptural
text associations and applications which went beyond literal meaning. A midrash begins by asking a
question, for example Why, in making woman, did God choose Adam’s rib (rather than any other
part of him) as a starting point? Rabbis proposed several answers, recognising that more than one
might be correct. In proposing their answers, they freely used verses from elsewhere in the Old
Testament, without considering the original context. Midrashim is the plural of Midrash.
- Midrash Rabba, Midrash Genesis Rabba
Midrash Rabba is a collection of homilies, interpretations and commentaries from ancient Jewish
sages. It includes midrashes (q.v.) on the five books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Number and Deuteronomy), Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. It dates
from the early rabbinic period (roughly the 200s AD). One of the principles of Midrash Rabba is that
various interpretations are possible.
- Minor Prophets
The prophetic books in the Old Testament
which are much shorter (but no less important)
than the longer ones (Isaiah, Jeremiah and
Ezekiel). The minor prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos,
Obadiah. Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah,
Zechariah and Malachi. Sometimes called The Twelve.
A collection of Jewish legal texts, based on study of the Scriptures and the Oral Law.
The definitive version is attributed to Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (c. 135 - c. 220), and its
study is an essential part of Jewish education.
Genesis 19:30-38 tells us that Moab was an illegitimate son of Lot, so the Moabites were descended
from him. Moab was the name of the territory to the east of the southern part of the Dead Sea.
The Hebrew word means dedicated or consecrated. Nazirites were people who entered a consecrated
state upon their own or a parent’s vow. Numbers 6:1-21 states the requirements for being a
- to refrain from wine and other intoxicants
- not to allow a razor to touch one’s hair, and
- not to go near a dead body
One became a Nazirite for a period of time, not necessarily for life. Drinking wine was permitted
after an initial period. Joseph is called a nazir in Genesis 49:26 (NRSV: “set apart”) and
Deuteronomy 33:16 (NRSV: “prince”). Samuel is never explicitly named as a Nazirite but the vow
made by Hannah, his mother, strongly suggests that he is: see 1 Samuel 1:11. Samson is explicitly
named a Nazirite in Judges 13:7 and 16:17. In Matthew 2:23, it is likely that a significance attached
to Jesus being called a “Nazorean” is that he is a Nazirite in that he was consecrated to God’s
purposes from the womb, as were Samuel and Samson.
- Numeric values of Hebrew letters
The first nine letters in the alphabet have the values 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The next nine letters
have the values 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90. The last four letters have the values 100, 200,
300 and 400. Five letters are written differently when they are at the end of a word. They have the
values 500 to 900. For a word or phrase, the values are added together.
- Old Latin versions
By the end of the second century AD, books of the Bible were being translated from Greek into Latin
both in North Africa and Europe. These are known as Old Latin versions. They varied significantly,
were often inaccurate and at times interpreted rather than translated. To our knowledge, no one
translator translated the whole Bible into Latin at that time.
Being of the essence of someone or something
Origen was born about 185 AD to Christian parents in Alexandria. His father was martyred in 202,
and he was later tortured for his faith. He was head of the school which instructed those who were
to be baptised. He was a great scholar and a prolific writer. His writings fall into four groups:
biblical (translations and commentaries), systematic theology, rebuttal of heretical writings, and
practical works. Unfortunately many of his works have been lost.
- Orphic rites
Orphism was a mystic cult of ancient Greece, believed to be drawn from the writings of the
legendary poet and musician Orpheus. In this religion, it was believed that only when out of the
body did the soul reveal its true nature. The physical body was seen as a prison for the immutable,
true essence of a person. Individuals were caught in an endless cycle of reincarnations until
purification was completed, with the soul being released from matter’s deadly grip.
Parts of the P46 papyrus are now in the Chester Beatty Collection in Dublin, Ireland and parts at the
University of Michigan. This papyrus were found in a graveyard in Egypt in 1931. It consists of 86
leaves of New Testament Pauline letters dating from about 200 AD, including Romans, plus
Hebrews but not 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Portions of the letters are missing. Romans 16:25-27
appears at the end of chapter 15.
This codex (q. v.), dating from about 200 AD, contains considerable portions of John. We have two
other partial copies of John but P66 is particularly valuable because it contains almost all of the
book. The P designation indicates that the manuscript contains considerably less than the whole
There is no other generic term which is completely satisfactory to describe the land which was promised
to Abram in every age and generation. The Promised Land has been fought over and occupied by so
many different tribes, kingdoms and empires, and borders have been so fluid over the centuries, that
to use any specific name as though it referred to a politically stable entity would be misleading and
nearly always anachronistic, nor would it ever be completely politically neutral. Roughly speaking, the
territory in question corresponds to the land of the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the
Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. (Deuteronomy 7:1; see also Joshua 12:8, which
omits the Girgashites). For a brief time this was consolidated into a unified Israelite kingdom, then split
into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, both of which were subsequently conquered. Over the
centuries the territory, or part of it, has been part of a variety of foreign empires, including the
Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Seleucid, Roman and Ottoman empires. It has been under the control
of the Egyptians, of Alexander the Great, the Arabs, the British and others. The term Palestine dates
at least to the fifth century BCE, when it was first used in writing by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. (see
The Persian Wars, book 4, chapter 39). Comments follows Herodotus and most other scholars in using
the term Palestine neutrally to refer to this much- contested and blood-soaked land, without making
any claim or comment on political jurisdiction.
Papias lived from about 60 AD to about 130 AD, and was bishop of Hierapolis (in the Nile delta).
Our knowledge of his writings is limited to quotations in the works of Irenaeus (q. v.). One of these
fragments states that he understood from an authority that Mark, as interpreter of Peter, set down
accurately, though not in order, everything that he remembered of the words and actions of the
A literary device common in Hebrew and other Semitic poetry, in which related thoughts or phrases
Parallelism (sometimes called thought rhyme) is a balance not only of form but also of the though
between successive members in a poem. A line of poetry is divided into parts. Parallelism is more
than mere repetition of words or ideas in successive parts. The second part is a specification, often
an intensification, of the first. Where there is a third part, the third complements the thought of the
In synonymous parallelism, the same thought is expressed in successive parts; the second part
simply repeats the sense of the first in slightly different terms.
In antithetic parallelism, the thought expressed in the second part is in contrast to that of the first
In formal parallelism, also called synthetic parallelism, a verse contains neither repetition in
different terms nor contrasted assertions. In it the thought of the first part is carried further and
completed in the second.
In climactic parallelism, the characteristics of synonymous and formal parallelism are combined.
The second part echoes or repeats a phrase in the part and also adds to it an element which carries
forward or completes the sense.
In staircase parallelism, the second part of the verse develops the thought of the first, without
quoting words from the first part.
In internal parallelism, the balance of form and thought is between individual parts of a verse. In
external parallelism, there is balance not only within but also between verses.
In complete parallelism, each term in the first part is matched by a corresponding term in the
Greek for coming, advent, presence as of a deity or emperor.
In Christian usage Parousia developed into a technical term referring to the
coming of Christ as judge at the end of the era. It is equivalent to Second Coming.
Passover commemorates the Israelite’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The name comes
from Exodus 12:13, where God promises that if they sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts
and lintel of their houses “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike
the land of Egypt”. By Jesus’ time, it had been combined with the Feast of Unleavened
Bread. Exodus tells us that the Israelites fled before their bread had risen, so yeast-less bread is
eaten during the week-long festival.
- Pastoral Epistles, Pastoral Letters
The Pastoral Epistles (or Letters) are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. They are called pastoral
because they express a pastoral concern for the addressees, and because they exhibit a concern for
the orderly pastoral care of Christian communities.
- Patristic Age
the period of Church history after the sub-apostolic age, beginning after the middle
of the second century CE, marked by great theological developments and the writings of the
Church Fathers, from which the name comes (from the Latin pater, meaning father).
The writings from, and study of, this period are often referred to as Patristics.
Pausanias was probably born in Lydia (in Asia Minor). He was a Greek geographer who travelled to
many lands around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. He wrote Description of Greece, a sort of
tourist guidebook. In writing about Athens, he discusses the pictures, portraits, and inscriptions
recording the laws of Solon; the great gold and ivory statue of Athena in the Parthenon; and the
monuments to famous men and of Athenians who died in battle. He lived in the 100s AD.
The first five books of the Bible (Greek for five-volumed work), traditionally
attributed to Moses. Also referred to as The Torah (meaning law).
This Hebrew word means literally “to explain”. Pesher is an application of Old Testament scripture
with little concern for context of the passage. The authors assume that the Old Testament authors
were speaking to an audience contemporary with those who wrote peshers. Among the Dead Sea
Scrolls are peshers on Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Malachi and Psalms.
The pesher on Habakkuk simply takes Habakkuk’s references to the Chaldeans and applies them to
the Romans without any effort to justify the application.
The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism, or a religious party,
which arose about a century before Christ in protest against laxity in
keeping the Law and the introduction of foreign customs into Palestine.
Their emphasis on the exact observance of dietary and ritual rules led
to the movement known as rabbinic Judaism. They believed that the
soul survives death and is punished or rewarded in another life. They
were admired by the people. Paul says that he is a Pharisee in
Philippians 4:5 and Acts 23:6. They were distinuguished from the
Sadducees chiefly in their belief in a two-fold Law: written and oral.
Philo (ca. 20 BC - 50 AD) was a Jew who lived in Alexandria; he was a statesman and a philosopher,
and the most prolific author of Hellenistic (q. v.) Judaism (i.e. the non-Palestinian branch of
Judaism influenced by Hellenistic cultures). Philo combines a fierce loyalty to Judaism with a
profound love of Greek philosophy to present a literary defence of Judaism to his racially troubled
city and extensive allegorical interpretation of Scripture that made Jewish law consonant with the
ideas of Stoic, Pythagorean, and especially Platonic thought. The Gospel of John, the Pauline letters,
and the letter to the Hebrews reflect to some extent Philo’s philosophical terminology and milieu.
In explaining the Christian faith, we couch it in the thought patterns of our society. In the early
days of Christianity, these were the patterns of Greek philosophy. Plato was a Greek philosopher
who lived from 427 to 347 BC. He was a native of Athens. Plato distinguishes being from becoming.
In this world, everything is subject to change and decay. Nothing is unchanging &ndash it is always
becoming something else, rather than being what it is. But he also held that there is realm of being
which is eternal and unchanging.
Premillenarianists believe, influenced by apocalyptic writings (q. v.) and based on a literalistic
interpretation of Revelation 20:1-7, that when Christ comes again he will reign on earth for a
thousand years &ndash until the final defeat of Satan and a definitive entry in glory. In the early centuries
of the Church, some mainline Christians use the word millennium in their writings but in the
context of an allegorical interpretation of scripture. Since Augustine of Hippo (q. v.), this belief has
been limited to some fundamentalist groups.
- Priestly Source
One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source is characterized
by concern with matters of ritual and religious observance,
describing in detail the keeping of festivals, vestments, rites of ordination and
sacrifice, the tabernacle and its furnishings. It also deals extensively with
genealogies (“these are the generations....”, e.g. Genesis 2:4) and covenants. Though probably dependent
on earlier sources, it was given its final shape after the end of the exile
(sixth or fifth century BC). The Priestly Source gives The Torah (q. v.) its present shape.
Commentaries often indicate the Priestly source as P.
- Psalms of Solomon
A pseudepigraphical collection of eighteen psalms in a style similar to the biblical
collection of Psalms, probably written near Jerusalem in the second half of the first
century BCE (c. 50-1 BCE).
The term Pseudepigrapha is Greek for writings with false superscriptions, or documents whose
authorship is falsely attributed. The term is now used mainly because of accepted custom, but is not
used literally as a value judgement, although the attributions of authorship are generally accepted
to be incorrect.
The Pseudepigrapha are a collection of some 65 documents, most written between c. 300 BC and 200
AD. Many are attributed to Jewish patriarchs and other Old Testament characters, such as Adam,
Enoch and Abraham. They cover a wide range of literary styles including apocalyptic (q. v.), psalms,
legends, visions of the future and wisdom literature.
- Ptolemy dynasty
Alexander the Great ruled much of the Near East. He captured Jerusalem in 332 BC. When he died
in 323 BC, his empire split up. Ptolemy, one of his generals, captured Jerusalem in 320 BC. While
the Ptolemaic line continued to rule Egypt for centuries, in 198 BC a member of the Seleucid
dynasty, Antiochus III, captured Jerusalem.
From the German Quelle, meaning source.
Q is a hypothetical document which is the source for passages found in the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. This material consists largely of sayings of Jesus.
Whether this source was in oral or written form is not known definitively. Many scholars
believe that such a document must have existed, but to this day no physical evidence of
one has been discovered. Either way, it is a useful way to refer to material common to the
The site at the Northeast corner of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea
Scrolls were found, beginning in 1947. Occupied between the mid-second
century BCE and the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE); some scholars believe
the inhabitants to have been the Essenes, while others disagree.
Qumran literature refers to the scrolls found on the site. This literature
reveals the Qumran community to have been well outside the mainstream
of Jewish teaching at the time. The architecture of the site indicates
a highly communal lifestyle.
- Qumran literature
Near the ruins of Qumran (q. v.) Community building, various scrolls were found in caves. Some of
these scrolls are of Old Testament books; others appear to have been written by the community. The
latter are known as Qumran literature. The best known are the Rule of the Community, the War
Scroll, and the Hymns. The literature also includes commentaries and para-biblical works.
- Redact, Redaction
Redaction is another term for editing. As applied to biblical studies, it refers to a
process of producing a new version of a text, either by incorporating new material,
or by combining two existing texts.
A rubric is a ritual or ceremonial direction printed at the beginning of an order of service or in the
course of the text. The name comes from the Latin word for red; rubrics were (and are) often printed
in red type to distinguish them from the text of the service.
The Sadducees were a Jewish party which took its name from Zadok (see 1 Kings 1:32-34). From
about 200 BC it consisted chiefly of the aristocratic priestly and lay families. They were conservative
theologically, rejecting the oral traditions which had grown up around the Old Testament, as well as
belief in the general resurrection of the deceased &ndash expected by some (including the Pharisees, q. v.).
Politically, they were concerned primarily with maintaining good relations with the Roman
- Salvation history
Salvation history is a technical term for the historical process through which we come to understand
God and his ways, as revealed in the Bible, culminating in Christ.
- Samaria, Samaritan
When the united monarchy of David and Solomon split up, Samaria became the capital of the
northern kingdom, Israel. After the conquest of 721 BC, the Assyrians brought people of other lands
into the north; over the centuries, there was significant inter-marriage. By New Testament times,
the Samaritans worshipped Yahweh (q. v.) in their own distinctive way. Samaria can refer to the
city or to the territory. Samaritans lived not only there but also elsewhere around the
Mediterranean. Jews disliked them for their lack of racial purity and deviant religion.
- Samaritan Pentateuch
The Samaritan scriptures are limited to the first five books of the Bible, Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Written in the Samaritan alphabet, it is an early form of the Old Testament text. While there are
many differences, they are mostly small, being grammatical or spelling. In many of its variants it
agrees with the Septuagint (q. v.).
A sanhedrin was a council of leaders. In the New Testament, this term sometimes refers to local
councils (see Matthew 5:22; 10:17; Mark 13:9; Acts 22:5) and most often to the supreme court of
chief priests and elders in Jerusalem. Sanhedrins served as courts. According to the Passion
narratives (e.g. Matthew 26:59), the Jerusalem Sanhedrin judged Jesus, and examined and
punished the teaching and activity of Jesus’ early followers (see Acts 4-6; 23-24).
The seder service is the highlight of Passover celebration, a family banquet held on the first and
second evenings of Passover. A wine cup beside each place setting is used for the four cups of wine,
each a symbol of joy and gratitude for God’s saving acts in history. The ceremony is a dramatisation
of the story of the Exodus.
This word is probably a liturgical direction,
added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to
indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to
call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing.
After Alexander the Great died, his empire split into three parts, with one of his generals governing
each. Seleucus governed from Asia Minor to the Indus River, and Ptolemy governed Egypt. Initially,
Palestine was under Ptolemaic control but by 200 BC the Seleucids had gained control of this
territory. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (q. v.) was the last of the Seleucid rulers.
Seneca (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman moralist. His brother, Gallio, Proconsul of Achaia, is
mentioned in Acts 18:12. A Stoic (q. v.), he was the tutor of the future emperor Nero and influenced
him greatly in the early part of his reign. He wrote essays and tragedies. His works have been much
studied for the similarities and contrasts between Stoicism and the ethic to which Christians are
- Septuagint (LXX)
The Septuagint was an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament)
into Greek. The translation was probably done in Egypt for Greek-speaking Jews in the
third century BCE. Traditionally it was believed to have been done by seventy-two
scholars, which is the origin of its name. Often referred to as LXX (Roman Numerals for 70).
The Septuagint contains some material not found in the Hebrew text. This material is now
known as the Apocrypha.
The Septuagint was the usual form of the Bible used by the earliest Christians. It is
almost always the source of scriptural quotations in the New Testament.
- Servant Songs
Four poetic sections of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) are designated Servant Songs.
These all describe the person and work of the Servant of the
LORD. The precise identity of the Servant is unknown, though
various scholars identify him variously as Israel, Moses, Isaiah, or one of the kings of Israel.
Christian theology has generally interpreted the Servant as a prophecy of Christ. The last of the
sections speaks of redemption through suffering; hence the term Suffering Servant.
- Servant theology
In the Old and New Testaments, servant is a translation of words which literally mean slave. A
slave belonged to someone else and so had no legal rights, but did share in Israel’s culture
and religion. Thus Israelites (and Jews) recalled their own bondage in Egypt. Psalm 119 calls the
righteous person a servant, and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon
and Job are all called servants of Yahweh (q. v.). The most striking case of servant theology is found
in the Servant Songs (q. v.).
The Shema is the Jewish confession of faith. It is made up of three biblical passages: Deuteronomy
6:4-9, 11; Numbers 15:37-41. Its name is derived from the first word of the first of the verses in
Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the
LORD alone”. It is recited every morning and evening by
observant Jewish men. In Mark 12:28-30, when a scribe asks Jesus “Which commandment is
the first of all?”, he answers “‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our
God, the Lord is one ...’”.
In ancient Jewish cosmology, Sheol was the place of the dead, or the underworld. Often
translated as “the Pit” (e.g. Job 17:13-15) or “the grave” (e.g. Psalm 49:14),
Sheol is not to be confused with the
later concept of Hell as a place of punishment, but was simply the place where all
the dead were supposed to go. Its existence in cosmology indicates an undeveloped idea
of an afterlife, which later became more definite. It is approximately equivalent to
the Greek idea of Hades (q. v.).
- Shepherd of Hermas
This document is from Rome in the early 100s AD. It contains a revelation given to a person called
Hermas in the form of an apocalypse (q. v.) consisting of visions, mandates, and similitudes (which
reveal and instruct through images and parables). The name comes from the person who reveals, a
- Sibylline Oracles
Sibyl was a prophetess mentioned in a Greek work written about 500 BC. Over the centuries, the
concept of women who were filled with divine spirit being channels for prophecies from the gods
spread throughout the Hellenistic (q. v.) world. Jews and Christians composed sibylline oracles of
their own. Some of the Sibylline Oracles date from about 150 BC; others are as late as 650 AD.
Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived between 470-399 BC. Partly through engaging in
debate in the marketplace in Athens, he turned public attention to questions of ethics and virtue. At
the age of 70, he was convicted of atheism, treason and corruption of the young. He was sentenced to
death. His way of questioning to seek answers laid a foundation for today’s scientific method.
Sophists were travelling teachers who were prepared to teach anything – for a hefty fee. Others did
not charge for teaching wisdom. Whether they knew a subject or not, they were prepared to teach it.
They first appeared ca. 450 BC. In ancient Greece the most popular career was politics, so there was
an opportunity to teach young men rhetoric, the art of argumentation. The search for truth was not
a priority; rather they trained their students in how to persuade the multitude of whatever they
wished them to believe, true or not; hence our word sophistry, the use of fallacious arguments
knowing them to be such.
- Soteriology, soteriological
Soteriology, meaning doctrine of salvation, is the systematic interpretation of Christ’s saving
work for human beings and the world. Recognizing how Christ died and rose to save sinful humanity, the New Testament holds together inseparably the saving function and personal identity of
Christ as Son of God. Jesus’ saving work is understood in various ways – above all, as
victorious liberation, atoning for sin, and transforming love.
The name of this Greek philosophical school comes from the place where they met, a stoa
(colonnade) in Athens. While scholars of this school developed theories of physics, cosmology and
logic, they are best known for their emphasis on moral conduct. They held that the entire universe
was a living creature animated by the divine Logos (reason or mind), whom they identified with
Zeus. Every person was a slave of the ruling Logos. Whatever happened in the universe was
governed by this universal law of nature or providence. Enduring hardship was seen as a test of
character. Stoic or stoic-like elements are to be found in several Old and New Testament books.
Strabo was a writer who lived from about 64 BC to about 20 AD. He studied in Rome and
Alexandria and became a geographer and a historian. He wrote a 17-volume work called Geography
in which he described all parts of the known world.
- Suffering Servant
See Servant Songs.
A syllogism is a form of logical reasoning. From two given (or assumed) prepositions which have a
common (or middle) term, a conclusion is reached. The conclusion does not include the middle term.
For example: all philosophers are people; all people are mortal; therefore, all philosophers are
The Synoptic Gospels, or Synoptics for short, are Matthew, Mark and Luke. (Synoptic means view together). These
three contain many similar, and in places identical, passages. It is therefore almost
universally agreed that the three are literarily interdependent. It is generally (but not
universally) held that Mark is the earliest of the three, and that material common to
Matthew and Luke, but not Mark, came from a common lost source, referred to by scholars
as Q (q. v.).
A synopses of the three Gospels may be viewed on-line or purchased; they present the various
related passages in three columns for ease of comparison.
- Syro-Ephraimite War
In the mid 700s BC, Assyria was expanding westwards. Israel (the northern kingdom, Ephraim) and
Syria formed an alliance in the hope of stemming the expansion, and invited Judah to join it. When
Judah (under King Ahaz) refused, Israel (under King Pekah) and Syria decide to co-opt Judah by
force, but failed. Judah appealed to Assyria for help. When Assyrian forces captured Damascus in
733 BC, they deported its people and killed King Rezin of Syria. Judah ended up a vassal of Assyria,
paying a heavy tribute. Assyria made Galilee and Gilead Assyrian provinces. See 2 Kings 16:1-20.
Tacitus was a Roman historian. He was born ca. 55 AD and died a few years after 117 AD. In his
Annals, he mentions the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Nero, who, he says, made
them scapegoats for the fire of Rome (64 AD). He asserts that some were thrown to dogs, some
crucified, and some were burned. This is one of the earliest mentions of the Crucifixion in non-Christian literature.
- Tale of Aqhat
Aqhat was the champion of archery. The goddess of war coveted his bow and offered him
immortality in exchange for it. He refused her offer. This work is from Ugarit (q. v.); it dates from c.
1300 - c. 1450 BC, or perhaps earlier.
The two Talmuds are systematic commentaries on the Mishnah.
The Palestinian Talmud (c. 400 CE) comments on the portions of
the Mishnah devoted to Agriculture, Appointed Times, Women, and Damages,
but not Holy Things. Its structure is derived from the Mishnah.
The Babylonian Talmud (c. 500-600 CE) comments on the portions
of the Mishnah devoted to Appointed Times, Women, Damages and Holy Things,
but not on Agriculture. Its structure is derived from the Mishnah but
also includes extensive passages of Scripture.
In the last centuries BC, because Hebrew was no longer spoken by many Jews both in Babylonia
and Palestine, when Old Testament texts were read in the synagogue liturgy (q. v.), they began to be
rendered orally in Aramaic. Before the time of Christ, these renderings began to be written down,
and were read in synagogues. They are known as targums. While some adhere closely to the written
text, others elaborate and introduce narrative material that goes far beyond the text. Some are of
particular interest to Christians. For example, one on Isaiah 9:6 says that “the child” there is the
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225) was an African Church Father.
Raised as a pagan, educated in literature and rhetoric, Tertullian converted to
Christianty late in the second century.
He wrote many apologetic and theological treatises, and several letters and other
documents concerning controversies of the day.
Tertullian eventually joined the Montanist sect, attracted by its rigourous asceticism.
Nevertheless, his orthodox writings remain foundational for Western theology.
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
The literary form of the testament or farewell discourse was well known in Judaism and the
Hellenistic (q. v.) world. It was a speech given by a famous figure just before his death in which he
leaves a spiritual or material legacy to children or followers; however an author wrote the testament
long after the figure’s death. The patriarchs represented in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
include Levi, Naphtali, Dan, Issachar and Judah. When these works were written is unknown, but a
Christian theologian, Origen (185 &ndash c. 254), quotes from them, so they existed by his time.
a literary subform in which the author combines related quotes
(usually from Scripture in our context) in order to support and develop
- Theodore of Mopsuestia
Educated at a monastery in Antioch, Theodore became bishop of Mopsuestia (on the south coast of
Asia Minor). At a time when most understood the Bible in allegorical terms (i.e. with what is
mentioned standing for something else), he used scientific, critical, philological and historical
methods in his commentaries. He lived from 350 to 428 AD.
A theophany is God showing himself to men and women. In the Old Testament, theophanies are
often associated with particular holy places and with particular events, e.g. the commissioning of
Isaiah in Isaiah 6. In the gospels, theophanies occur at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration.
On the road to Damascus, Christ appears to Paul.
The word Torah literally means teaching. While it is used in this sense, The Torah
(or The Law) refers to the first five books of the Bible.
This Hebrew word means supplement. The Tosefta is a collection of early Jewish traditions dating
from the first century AD. The material in it is earlier. For the most part, it consists of parables,
legends, stories and folklore.
Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD. He saw himself as divine, and required that he be
worshipped. We have correspondence from 111-113 between him and Pliny, the Roman governor in
the area east of Byzantium (Istanbul). Pliny tells him that he has caused the many who have
insisted that they are Christians to be executed, and asks whether this is a proper policy. Trajan
answers that it is, but that rather than having Christians searched for, Pliny should restrict himself
to those who are denounced to him.
- Type, Typology, Antitype
Typology is the practise in the New Testament or early church whereby a series of events or a
person in the Old Testament is interpreted as foreshadowing a person (nearly always Christ) or
element of the Christian faith. The term type comes from the Greek word typos meaning example,
pattern or model. For example, in 1 Peter 3:19-21, the story of Noah’s Ark is seen as a type of
baptism. In Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is understood as a type of the
resurrection of Jesus.
Scholars sometimes speak of an antitype; it works in the opposite direction: looking back from the
later to the older. Thus baptism is the antitype of the story of Noah’s Ark.
Ugarit (modern Ras-Shamra) is in coastal northern Syria. Excavations begun in 1928 have shown
that the site was occupied from the seventh or sixth millennium BC. The period of biblical interest is
from 1500 to 1200 BC. Cuneiform texts have been found, some of which throw light on the Old
Testament. Ugaritic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic. These texts have been
important in understanding the history and literature of ancient Israel and her neighbours, and
have given scholars a better understanding of ancient Hebrew as found in the Bible.
- Vassal treaty
In the ancient Near East, a vassal treaty was a covenant between a great king (suzerain) and a
subject king (vassal). The suzerain asserted absolute sovereignty, demanded total loyalty and
service, and promised to protect the vassal’s realm and dynasty. In return, the vassal pledged
faithfulness and loyalty to this great king alone and agreed to depend only on this suzerain for
protection. The pact (often in written form) called on the gods to witness the agreement and to carry
out specified curses if the covenant was violated.
The first person to publish an English translation of non-biblical Qumran literature (q. v.) was Geza
Vermes. He followed the numbering of the Qumran Hymns commonly thought to be correct at the
time. Since then, other scholars have proposed a different numbering which Garcia Martinez follows
in his translation. Clippings gives both numbers.
Until Jerome’s translation of the Bible in the early 400s AD, the translations of New Testament into
Latin varied and were not particularly accurate, few Western scholars being well versed in Greek.
Jerome not only knew Greek well, but also Hebrew. For the Old Testament, he worked from Hebrew
and Aramaic manuscripts (rather than from the Septuagint (q. v. ) translation), but retained the
order of the Septuagint’s order of the books and the numbering of the psalms. Commissioned by
Pope Damasus, the Vulgate eventually became the official translation of the Roman Catholic
- Western Text
The Western Text is a group of New Testament manuscripts which scholars in the late 1800s
classified as being from, or used in, early western Christianity. This group includes bilingual Greek-Latin manuscripts, Old Latin (q. v.) translations and quotations from works written in Latin in the
early centuries. Modern scholars have found that other manuscripts, from early eastern
Christianity, contain readings which are identical to those in western texts. The Western Text is
very early, being from about 150 AD. Copyists explained as well as writing what they heard; some
explanations have crept into the text.
Wisdom Literature was a common form of writing across several cultures of the
Ancient Near East. It involved such elements as reflection on the meaning of life
and instruction for living well.
The Biblical Wisdom Literature includes Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Sirach, and the
Wisdom of Solomon. Elements of Wisdom are also found elsewhere in the Bible, notably
in some of the Psalms.
In this literature, Wisdom is often personifed as a woman - Lady Wisdom - who may
instruct and guide. To live wisely was to have knowledge of the world,
both natural and social, and to use that knowledge well. Wisdom - as opposed to Folly -
was understood to have an ethical component. The Fool was ethically deficient.
The fruits of Wisdom were often understood to include long life, prosperity, abundant
offspring and favour with God and in society. Wisdom tends to have a human-centred
basis, and is dependent largely on human intelligence to discern the wisdom in creation
and then apply it.
In the New Testament, Wisdom is seen as incarnate in Christ, and the letter of James
exhibits features of Wisdom Literature.
An approximate transliteration of the Hebrew word for the name of God, also variously
transliterated as Jehovah or YHWH. The term is referred to as the
Most English Bibles, such as the NRSV, usually indicate the use of
the tetragrammaton by the convention of printing “LORD” or sometimes “GOD”
This is the worship of God as God of Israel.
One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the
Old Testament). This source normally uses the Hebrew term "YHWH" (the tetragrammaton)
for "God". In English, YHWH may be printed as "Yahweh", "Jehovah" or (in the NRSV)
as "LORD" or sometimes "GOD" in capitals.
The Yahwist source is characterized by emphasis on the promised land, on
descendants, and anthrpomorphic representations of God. Originally dated to c. the
ninth or tenth century BCE, more recent scholarship has suggested the Yahwist source
may be post-exilic.
Often abbreviated as "J", from German spelling "Jahwist". In some sources the German
spelling is used with an anglicised pronunciation.
- Yom Zippur
See Day of Atonement.
When the Promised Land was divided among the tribes, the tribe of Levi did not receive a portion;
instead, the Levites were to be priests. There were several regional temples. A family provided the
priests at each of Shiloh, Jerusalem, and Bethel. Zadok was the priest at Jerusalem under David.
When Josiah abolished the outlying temples, descendants of Zadok became the senior priests in
Jerusalem. The Zadokite priesthood continued down to the Exile, and after the Exile until the
Seleucid (q. v.) takeover of the Temple.
© 1999-2003 Alan T Perry and Chris Haslam