Words Christians Use Explained: “A” Terms

James Arminius (1560-1609), Pastor, Professor,...
James Arminius (1560-1609), Pastor, Professor, and Theologian.  One of a pair with a portrait of his widow, Lijsbet Reaal, by David Bailly (1620) (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

You guessed it.  This is the first in a series of “Words Christians Use,” or simply, the first section of a Christian dictionary/desktop encyclopedia.  Short phrases may occasionally be included due to an associated controversy.  It seemed appropriate to begin with “A,” so let’s just dive in.

(c) Vicki Priest

Acts, Book of.  The Book of “Acts” doesn’t refer to a play.  “Acts” is the word used instead of “activities” or “doings” that we might more ordinarily use today, in reference to what the earliest Christians did.  That section of the New Testament covers the time from immediately after Christ’s death, probably in AD/CE 30, to  AD/CE 60 or 61.

Adam.  Adam is widely known as the first human made by God, but there’s more to understand about “Adam” than that.  First, God said He made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27), but “man” is the term for “human,” since man includes both “male and female” (see verse 27).  Second, it is very basic and very important to Christianity to understand that Adam was the cause of the Fall of Man, and not Eve.  God had instructed Adam to not do something (eat of the Tree of Life), and he disobeyed God by following Eve’s lead after being deceived by Satan.  Eve had been mistaken and Adam could have corrected her, but instead, he purposely defied God.  Because of Adam’s action, the entirety of humankind fell from God’s grace.  Third, Jesus Christ is referred to as the new Adam in the New Testament.  Jesus came to take away the sins of all those humans who would accept him and his obedient work in God.   Jesus’ complete obedience was, and is, the [only] corrective to Adam’s (and thus humanity’s) disobedience.

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday
English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advent.  A pre-Christmas season of reflection and/or fasting that some churches recognize or celebrate.  The word “advent” means “arrival,” and so the Advent season anticipates Christ’s birth; it is also meant to cause Christians to reflect on Jesus’ second coming.  A common symbolic activity is to keep a table-top wreath that has four non-white candles evenly placed on it.  On each of the four Sundays prior to Christmas, a candle is lit for the day, until on the fourth Sunday all four are lit.  On Christmas Eve, a white candle is placed in the center and lit, signifying the coming of The Light of the World.   Advent Calendars, which reveal a little something on each day in December prior to Christmas, are common in Christian-based cultures.

Agape.  In English, we use the word “love” for all kinds of feelings.  The scriptures in their original languages, however, use various words for different kinds of “love.”   Agape is a Greek word for love that basically means “self-sacrificial” (it is not to be confused with “charity”), but there is more to the meaning than that.  Agape refers to love that is of God.  Christ, who is both God and man, died for us while we were still sinners.  He sacrificed himself for people who were (and are still) antagonistic towards him.  You might die for a relative or a friend, but would you die for your enemy?  Believers are saved through an act of sacrificial agape love, and are in turn called to demonstrate agape love in their lives.

Agnosticism.  “Gnosticism” is based on “gnosis,” which means “knowledge” in Greek.   The “a” prefix means “without,” and specifically, “agnosticism” refers to being without knowledge of God and metaphysical things.  In philosophy, God and the metaphysical are ultimately unknowable because man is subjective.  There are various understandings of agnosticism today, some of which may look an awful lot like atheism.

Amillennialism.  “Millennialism” refers to the 1,000 year reign of Christ on Earth after God’s judgment (the Tribulation) and Christ’s victory (at Armageddon) over Satan’s minions (see Revelation 19-20).  So, what does “amillennialism” mean?  Amillennialism is the stance that Revelation and related texts are symbolic or figurative, therefore making the 1,000 year reign non-literal.  People holding this view believe we are living in this reign now, with no clear time-table for Christ’s actual return, the final judgment, or the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth.

Anabaptists.  Born of the Reformation movement, “Anabaptists” were so-called by their enemies to make them seem like heretics.  “Anabaptist” means “rebaptize,” but that’s not what this group was doing.  In the New Testament, baptism was done after a confession of faith was made, which of course meant that the person was old enough and informed enough to make a decision of confession; the person to be baptized was not an infant nor a child.  The Lutheran churches were still practicing infant baptism when the first “anabaptists,” George Blaurock and Conrad Grebel of Zurich, were baptized as adults.  This was in 1525.  Mennonites are direct descendants of the Anabaptists, with Quakers and Baptists being indirect ones.  Protestants today share the Anabaptist’s then-radical notion that the church and state need to be separate (the early Lutheran churches were not at all separate from state governments).

Angel.  An angel is a created being that has access to God in His own environment; angels were created separately from humans and actively do God’s will.  They are celestial beings.   When consulting Christian-based glossaries, you’ll often read that angels are messengers and that they can be human.  There are some problems with this simple definition.  One, in the original languages of the Bible “angel” was used for messengers that were either human or spiritual, but in English translations, the two are differentiated for easier understanding.  Otherwise, humans who speak for God are usually called prophets.  Two, there are many references to angels in scripture that indicate that being a messenger is either only one type of angel or only one activity of angels.  Three, angels that joined Satan (himself an angel) in his rebellion against God are referred to as demons, but they are still angels.

Anglican.  Of the Church of England.  A member of a church that is of the Anglican Communion, the informal head being the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Perhaps confusingly, in the United States Anglicans are called Episcopalians, and the denomination is The Episcopal Church (the official name is Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America).  The church describes itself as reformed and Protestant, yet also Catholic.

Antichrist.  Although you might have heard mention of “The Antichrist,” antichrist is the term penned by the Apostle John that refers to anyone who is against Christ or poses as Christ Himself in order to defame Him and lead people astray.  Antichrists, then and now, are false prophets and imposters.

Apocalypse.  Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning to reveal or uncover.  The prophetic book of “Revelation” in the New Testament is sometimes called The Apocalypse, but it is frankly difficult to find that term in protestant references.   There are apocalyptic books and passages in the Old Testament as well.  No doubt the book of Revelation is so-named because while apocalyptic literature outside of the Judeo-Christian scriptures is symbolic and nonliteral, the scriptural apocalyptic texts contain plain language and explanations along with symbolism.  Much can be interpreted in these texts by cross referencing as well.  The expression “The Apocalypse” may be heard or read of in our culture; it refers to the final battle (at Armageddon) and the revealing of Christ in the “end times.”

Apocrypha.  In Christianity, the Apocrypha are a group of between 13 and 18 books written primarily between the Old and New Testaments.  These books are deemed non-canonical (not inspired by God) by Jews and Protestants, but are included in the canon of Catholics, Coptics, and the Eastern Orthodox.  Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin (called the Vulgate) in the AD/CE 300s, gave a word of caution over including most of the Apocryphal books in the scriptures.  The books include ideas that are now doctrinal to Catholics, but which do not appear anywhere else in scripture.  They are useful in understanding the period between the two testaments, however.

Apologetics.  The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek apologia, meaning “to give an answer.”  It is used in the New Testament in Peter 3:15, where it tells the believer to be prepared to give a defense of their faith.  While it takes faith to be saved (to have your sins atoned for by Christ’s work), Christianity is also rational and defensible.  Apologetical arguments often involve philosophy or science.

Apostle.  Apostle usually refers to Christ’s inner circle of disciples–excepting Judas Iscariot who betrayed him–and to Paul, whom the glorified Jesus specifically called.  “Apostle” didn’t always only refer to that small group of men, however.  The early church father Origen (AD 185-254) wrote that Phoebe, based on what Paul said about her  in Romans (16:1-2), had apostolic authority.

Ruins atop Tel Megiddo, Israel. The modern hig...
Ruins atop Tel Megiddo, Israel. The modern highway to Haifa is visible in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Armageddon.  The hill or mountain of Megiddo.  An area in northern Israel where antichrist forces will gather in order to destroy her.  Christ will return at this time, defeat the gathered armies, and cast the rebel leaders (the beast and the false prophet) into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:11-21).  The battle of Armageddon is synonymous with The Apocalypse.

Arminianism.  Salvation related doctrines formalized by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) in reaction to the doctrines espoused by Calvinists in the Netherlands.  As with Calvinism, however, the doctrines were altered somewhat later on.  Calvinism focuses on salvation and perseverance of belief based on God’s will alone; Arminianism countered with doctrines relating to a person’s free will in accepting God’s gift and remaining in it.  Both predestination and human free will are scriptural teachings and many believers worshipfully acknowledge our inability to fully understand the seeming paradox.

Atheism.  “Theism” is a belief in a God or gods, so “Atheism” is the opposite, the lack of such belief (the “a” prefix meaning “without” in the original Greek).   Atheism is a noun and not a verb that otherwise means “to attack theists.”  The many “atheists” who have been very active in attacking Christians in recent years are much more properly defined as “anti-theists.”

Atonement.  To atone for something (make “atonement”), an offending party does something to reconcile themselves with another.   In Judaism, sins against God were covered temporarily via offerings and sacrifices to Him.  In Christianity, the sinless Jesus Christ’s obedience led to his execution.  Believers did not sacrifice Jesus nor did they immediately understand what it ultimately meant (some contemporary Jewish leaders strangely equate his death with Christianity’s relishment of a human sacrifice . . . ), but his death was a ransom and sacrifice on a believer’s behalf.  Our sins are forgiven all at once when a person accepts Jesus’ work of atonement, making periodical or yearly atoning offerings unnecessary.  An important concept to remember is that all sin is against God, and God’s wrath is set on those who sin.  Eventually, during the Tribulation, God’s wrath against the unatoned will be let loose upon the Earth.

Avatar.  Just kidding.  Christians don’t use “avatar,” but perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea in relation to its current Western usage.  “Avatar” originally comes from Hinduism, wherein it refers to a deity in incarnate human form.  This is not what Jesus Christ was.   However, the term was appropriated in modern times to mean something much more general:  an image that represents a user (you) in a video game, on internet forums, or sometimes while using wireless communication.  In the modern non-Hindu meaning, we Christians can be viewed as avatars of Jesus Christ.  We are (supposed to be) his representatives in the physical realm here on earth; when people see us, they should be seeing Christ.  Are we one of Jesus’ “avatars”?

Link to “B” Terms


Major Sources

Enns, P. (2008). The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Halley, H. H. (2000). Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Hindson, E., & Caner, E. (Eds.). (2008). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.

Holman Bible Publishers. (1988). Disciple’s Study Bible. Nashville: Cornerstone Bible Publishers.

Question: “In what year did Jesus die?” (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2015, from GotQuestions.org: http://www.gotquestions.org/what-year-did-Jesus-die.html

Question: “What is Advent?” (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2015, from GotQuestions.org: http://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-Advent.html

Question: “What is Agape Love?” (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2015, from GotQuestions.org: http://www.gotquestions.org/agape-love.html

Shelley, B. L. (1995). Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Walvoord, John F. (1999).  Every Prophecy of the Bible.  Colorado Springs:  Chariot Victor Publishing.

Zondervan. (2005). NIV Archaeological Study Bible . Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


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