(and a few Philosophical ones)

It’s possible to define a word in numerous ways which are equally precise and equally correct.
Below, we’ve provided definitions according to the way you are likely to hear us use such words
in our courses here at Emmaus.
In that light, this represents what we hope will be a handy resource for you when
you don’t especially feel like raising your hand to ask, “Uh, would you mind…?”

This will remain a work in progress which we will refine from time to time,
sharpening definitions here and there and adding new ones we (or you) deem useful.
On that note, please feel free to drop us a line to alert us to words or concepts
whose meanings you would find helpful to have clarified.


allegory – in biblical interpretation, one of the three spiritual senses of a text in which what is said is understood to refer beyond its immediate historical sense to Christ or Christ’s work (e.g., the crossing of the Red Sea as an ‘allegory’ of Christian baptism)

annotation; annotated Bible – a study note that accompanies a biblical book or passage; a Bible with such notes

antisupernaturalism – disbelief in the existence of any being or power outside the natural order

Apocrypha – “hidden” or “secret” books; refers to books not considered canonical by Jews and Christians; sometimes applied pejoratively by Protestants to seven “deuterocanonical” books included in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, but excluded from Jewish and many Protestant Bibles

apologetic(s); apologist – study of the defense of the faith; one who gives a reasoned defense of the Christian message

apostle – an authorized representative sent forth to carry on and complete the mission of the sender; a founder of the Church upon the word of Christ

a priori – proceeding from assumption to conclusion ‘prior’ to observation and examination

archetype – an original or standard pattern; prototype

biblical criticism – an approach to biblical study which seeks to arrange and understand various aspects of biblical texts according to their historical origins, rather than to their canonical presentation

biblical theology – a specialized discipline which builds upon the exegetical process with a view to articulating the message set forth by the biblical text in its own theological categories (i.e., letting the writers/writings set their own theological agenda)

bulverism – a logical fallacy coined by C. S. Lewis in which a person assumes the unsoundness or falsity of another person’s position without showing how it is unsound/false, and proceeds instead to explain why the second person holds the position he/she does [this fallacy actually combines two other fallacies: begging the question (presupposing without demonstrating the truth of one’s own conclusion about a contested matter) and ad hominem (directing attention to the person and/or the person’s motives rather than to the argument itself)]; bulverism is psychoanalysis masquerading as philosophical argument

c. – abbreviation for Latin circa, meaning “about,” “around,” “approximately”

canon – the collection of books recognized by the Church as the sacred and authoritative writings of God’s people

codex (pl. codices) – an ancient manuscript in book form (as opposed to scroll)

compose; composition – the process that leads to the production of a book; the book that results from such a process

confession; confessional (as pertaining to biblical study) – the acknowledgment (sometimes in creed or formal statement) of Scripture’s theological claim as divine revelation and the admission of faith as a requisite to biblical understanding; aligning with such a disposition, as opposed, say, to so-called scientific, neutral, or theologically disinterested approaches to Scripture

consolidate; consolidation – in the context of biblical studies, the process of fitting individual books together into a larger volume

consubstantial – sharing one substance or essence; the Trinity is three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) but only one substance

context – the setting or environment (the literary “ecology”) that affects the meaning of a text or book

covenant – an agreement between two or more parties which binds the members of the covenant to uphold certain responsibilities [though not necessarily the same ones]

creed – the concise statement of faith of a believing community

Dead Sea Scrolls – ancient biblical and nonbiblical texts dating from c. 200 B.C. to c. A.D. 60, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves along the northwestern coast of the Dead Sea in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran

deity – divine nature or status, divinity, God or god(dess)

deuterocanon(ical) – “second [part of the] canon”—refers to seven Old Testament books included in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, but excluded from Jewish and Protestant Bibles

disciple – a student/apprentice selected by a teacher/master to be the teacher’s/master’s understudy

ecumenical – a neutral term meaning general, universal, including other churches, traditions, denominations

e.g. – abbreviation for Latin exempli gratia, “for example”

epistemology – theory of/concerning knowledge; the study of the nature of human knowledge; contemplates questions like, What is ‘knowledge’ (i.e., what are the components of ‘knowledge’)? and What does it mean to ‘know’ something (i.e., what are the conditions for a case of knowledge)?

eschatology – the branch of systematic theology (see below) which considers especially doctrines in regard to the last things

Eucharist – from the Greek (eucharizo) for thanksgiving; in Catholic theology, a sacrament (see below) in which Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity are made present in the form of bread and wine

evangelical – corresponding to the basic tenets of the Christian faith (i.e., the gospel); a person or movement committed to the message of the gospel and its propagation; sometimes used in a sectarian sense to differentiate one denomination from others deemed less committed to the essentials of the gospel

exegesis – the technical analysis of an original-language text with a view to ascertaining what the text says, and how, and why

extant – surviving, not lost or destroyed

genre – French word meaning a particular type, sort, kind, especially a category of literature identifiable by its characteristic form, style, or subject matter

Gnosticism – heretical movement of uncertain origin (but attested among the 2nd-century Church Fathers) which espoused what early Christians considered false, esoteric, or privileged knowledge (gnosis) about God and salvation

Hellenism – the spreading and assimilating of Greek culture and influence

hermeneutics – the guiding theory and principles by which interpreters understand and explain the meaning of texts

homoiousios – Latin for ‘multiple substances’

homoousios – Latin for ‘one substance’

ideological criticism – an approach to biblical interpretation especially concerned with the ideas, values, and attitudes at work in authors, texts, and readers, with particular sensitivities to how the Bible influences social and political agendas (e.g., gender, race, sexual orientation, liberation)

i.e. – abbreviation for Latin id est, “that is”

inspiration – the action by which God enables certain persons, chosen by him, to transmit his revelation faithfully in writing; the self-claimed quality of Scripture as “God-breath(ed)” (2 Tim 3:16), which assures that what Scripture says God says

Johannine – of/from/concerning St. John (the apostle), as in “the Johannine Gospel”

Judaism – that which pertains to the religious beliefs and practices of Jews

Ketubim – Hebrew word meaning “Writings”; the name of the third division of the Hebrew OT

linguistics – the scientific study of human language systems, with special attention to their inner structures (e.g., sounds, meanings, grammar)

literal (interpretation) – the plain sense of a word or text usually conceived apart from its typological or figural significance

literary – pertaining to or characteristic of literature or written texts

liturgy – a prescribed form for the public or corporate service of worship; worship ritual

Magisterium – the authoritative teaching office of those who are commissioned to speak in the name of Christ to and on behalf of the Church, clarifying the faith that the community professes

manuscript – a written book or document, especially in an original language; abbreviated ms. (pl. mss.)

marginal notation – an informative note in the side, top, or bottom margin of the biblical text

Masoretes – scribal preservers of scriptural tradition who, from about A.D. 500 to 1000, preserved the received Hebrew text and its traditional pronunciation, including a system of “vowel points,” accent marks, and marginal footnote-like notations called the masora

modernist-critical – another name for historical-critical, an approach to biblical study based on certain Enlightenment presuppositions of the 18th and 19th centuries which stressed the “historical” nature of Scripture and the hope for “objective” interpretation based on “scientific” inquiry

ms./mss. – abbreviation for “manuscript”/“manuscripts”

naturalism – belief that all phenomena are derived from natural causes and can be explained by scientific laws without reference to divine plan or revelation

Nebi’im – Hebrew word meaning “Prophets”; the name of the second division of the Hebrew OT

NT – abbreviation for New Testament

obscurantism – opposition to the learning process of critical inquiry

orthodox – holding or pertaining to the commonly accepted or established faith, especially as measured by sound biblical doctrine and its confession in the early Christian councils and creeds

OT – abbreviation for Old Testament

Pauline – of/from/concerning St. Paul (the apostle), as in “the Pauline Epistles”

Pentateuch – “the fivefold book” of Genesis-Deuteronomy

Petrine – of/from/concerning St. Peter (the apostle), as in “the Petrine Epistles”

Pharisees – members of an ancient Jewish separatist sect who considered themselves the heirs of the oral and written law at Sinai and who were known for their strict observance of especially its ritual purity regulations, tithes, and Sabbath

pluralism – the intermingling of disparate positions, even ones that are contradictory and mutually exclusive

positivism – a philosophical system which emphasizes certitude of knowledge, verified by what it considers to be the objective criteria of scientific, logical, or historical inquiry

postmodernism – a form of reasoning in which explanatory frameworks of existence are held in suspicion as entailing ulterior motives—specifically, bids for power; insistent that textual meaning (especially where biblical texts are involved) should not and cannot be determined; suspicious of boundaries and perspectives, especially those considered traditional or authoritative

preliterary – lacking or predating the existence of written language

proposition; propositional – the affirmation of a truth to be believed and acted upon; a truth claim

purgatory – the state of preparation for God’s kingdom in which any lasting effects of sin not resolved prior to death are ‘purged’ from the soul, since “nothing unclean will ever enter [the new city]” (Rev 21:27)

Qumran – vicinity where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered (see “Dead Sea Scrolls”)

RCIA – acronym for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults—a program which emphasizes formation in doctrine, liturgy, Church life, and service for those who wish to explore Catholicism, and is the normal pathway for reception into the Catholic Church

rabbinic – of/from/concerning the ancient and medieval Jewish rabbis

reductionism – style of thinking bent on reducing, lessening, minimizing; intellectual minimalism, or a less-is-better approach to knowledge

referent – that to which reference is made in a word or statement or text; the object or concept to which a word, statement, or text points

revelation – the act of God by which he communicates who he is and the mystery of his will; the process of divine unveilings or self-disclosure by which God may be known

sacrament – a physical sign by which divine grace accrues to the participant; from the summary at New Advent:

[T]aking the word “sacrament” in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is “mystery”), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity. “The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands” (Psalm 18:2). “The invisible things of him [i.e. God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity” (Romans 1:20).

sacramental – signs related to sacraments (e.g., holy water) which do not of themselves confer sanctifying grace, but which dispose people toward holiness and good deeds

saints – those individuals bound together in spiritual solidarity with the creator of heaven and earth, whether on earth (the saints militant), in purgatory (the saints suffering), or in heaven (the saints victorious)

salvation – liberation from bondage to sin, death, and their effects; names a translation from death to life, imprisonment to freedom, victimhood to victory

Samaritans – religious sect of uncertain origin, centered around Mount Gerizim, who claim to be the direct descendants and faithful remnant of ancient Israel’s northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh and to be the sole possessors of the real Mosaic Pentateuch

scroll – a roll of parchment, papyrus, paper, or the like, especially one intended for or containing written text

soteriology – subdiscipline of theological study which focuses on God’s acts of salvation

spiritual interpretation – interpretation which understands the text to be a divine artefact capable of delivering a divine message not bound by the temporal or cultural consciousness of its human author(s), and which seeks to behold this message and the divine voice of the one presenting it in and through the literal sense of the text

supernaturalism – belief that the existence of a power or being above the natural realm is necessary to explain the phenomena of the universe, that natural causes and scientific laws are inadequate without reference to divine plan or revelation

Synoptic(s) – the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), so-named because their obvious high degree of similar material invites them to be read side by side (“syn-optically”)

Talmud – a large body of Jewish rabbinic rules, interpretations, and other traditions, consisting in the Mishnah (compiled c. A.D. 220) and its accompanying commentary, the Gemara (compiled c. A.D. 400-500)

theology – the study of and discourse about God

torah, Torah – Hebrew word meaning “instruction” or “law”; upper case refers to the first division of the Hebrew OT

Tradition – Literally “something handed down” (Grk. Paradosis), Sacred Tradition (as opposed to human traditions) denotes the word of God as lived revelation which Jesus and the Holy Spirit “handed down” to the apostles, which they handed on to their successors, whether written or oral.

translation – the process that attempts to transfer as faithfully as possible what is said in one language (in the case of the Bible, what is said in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) into Latin, English, German, French, Spanish, and other languages; the product that results from such a process

transliteration – the process of writing the characters (letters) of one language in the characters of another; the product that results from such a process

transmission – the process of preserving and passing along original-language manuscripts so that we have access to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Bibles today

version – another word for a Bible translation (see above at “translation”)

YHWH, Yahweh – the proper name of God, usually rendered ‘LORD’ in English Bibles