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Glossary of religious terms
(Starting with "E")

By B.A. Robinson,
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance,

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Note: Conservative Christian faith groups often define terms very differently than other faith groups and secular movements. The former are shown in italics in the below lists of words.

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Easter: This is the most important holy day of the Christian calendar. Easter Sunday commemorates the day in the springtime when the resurrection of Jesus is believed to have occurred. The date is calculated by one formula by most Eastern Orthodox churches, and by another formula elsewhere in Christianity. Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after MAR-20, the nominal date of the Spring Equinox. It can be on any Sunday from March 22 to April 25th. Eastern Orthodox churches sometimes celebrate Easter on the same day as the rest of Christianity. However if that date does not follow Passover, then the Orthodox churches delay their Easter - sometimes by over a month.
Ebionites: (From the Hebrew root "Ebion" which means poor, oppressed or humble.) A group of Jewish Christians. Some theologians believe that before Paul came on the scene, the Ebionites formed the original Christian movement, including the people who knew Jesus best: his disciples and family. They were led by Peter and James. They rejected Paul's writings, believing him to be an apostate from the Mosaic Law. They denied the deity of Jesus, viewing him as a the final and greatest prophet. Most rejected the virgin birth, and believed that Joseph and Mary were Jesus' parents. The members were scattered during uprisings circa 70 and 134 CE, and died out by the 5th century.
Ecclesiology: A field of study related to a faith group or groups own function, organization, structure, practices, and nature.
Eclectic tradition:  A set of beliefs and/or practices which has been selected as the best from the full diversity of those available. Eclectic Wicca, for example, involves selecting portions from a number of established Wiccan traditions in order to create a faith tradition that an individual Wiccan feels most comfortable with. 
Ecumenical: From a Greek word meaning worldwide. Any movement which attempts to bring together various denominations or traditions within a single religion. The term is used most commonly to refer to Christian intra-denominational efforts.
Eid ul-Adha: Muslims celebrate this Feast of Sacrifice at the conclusion of the Hajj. It recalls Abraham's willingness to ritually murder his son in response to a command of God.
Eight adversities: A term used in Buddhism to refer to rebirth: in Hell, as a hungry ghost, as an animal, in Uttarakuru (a very pleasant place where there is little motivation to practice the Dharma), in a long-life heaven, also where one is not motivated), with a disability, as an intelligent but skeptical person, or in the period - like today - between a Buddha and his successor.
Eightfold Path: A Buddhist list of the path which one must follow to escape suffering. They include:
- Panna (Wisdom): Right view and right thought.
- Sila (Morality): Right speech, action and livelihood.
- Samadhi (Meditation): Right effort, mindfulness and contemplation.
Eisegesis: The process of taking a preconceived belief and interpreting a biblical passage in a way that supports that belief. This is a very common phenomenon, although the interpreter is not generally conscious of the process.
Election, unconditional: The second of Calvin's five points of theology. The doctrine states that God has decided, totally on the basis of his own, unknown criteria, to select a small minority of humans and lead them to a saving knowledge of the gospel. The majority of humans are not elected. Without God's help, the gospel is incomprehensible to them; they will never be saved; they will spend eternity in Hell without hope of mercy or an end to their torture. Some Christians believe that God elects that minority of humans for salvation that he knew would eventually choose Him.
Emerging church: This is another of those predominately Christian religious phrases which mean different things to different people. In general, it refers to a response by devout individuals to engage a rapidly changing culture in positive ways. Some are searchers who feel that they have outgrown the denomination and the religious beliefs of their youth. Others are searchers who are not affiliated with any denomination, and who are seeking for themselves a more spiritual, meaningful, and purposeful life.
Endless punishment: The belief that the unsaved will be punished by severe tortures (worms, unbearable heat, horrendous thirst, whips, etc) for all eternity without any hope of mercy of cessation. The book of Revelation describes Jesus as being present in Hell; whether he is there to supervise or merely observe the torture is unclear.
- A Buddhist term which means to have grasped the ultimate reality and escaped the endless repetition of birth, life, death and rebirth.
- A name given to the Age of Reason in the Americas and Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was marked by great advances in science, democracy, industry, human rights and religious tolerance.
Eparchy: a geographical area under the jurisdiction of a bishop in an Orthodox church.
Epiclesis (aka Epiklesis): A Greek word for invocation, in the sense of calling upon, or making an appeal to, or addressing someone. In Christian worship,  epiclesis refers to the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
Epiphany: Christians recall the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus on JAN-6. (aka: 12th day of Christmas, Twelfth Night & Three Kings’ Day). Eastern orthodox churches celebrate Theophany on this day in commemoration of Jesus' baptism. "Epiphany" means "to make known" or "to reveal." Christians believe that the Magi made the divinity of Jesus known to the world.
- Part of the name of the Espicopal Church, USA - the national church in the U.S. which is affiliated with the Anglican Communion.
- Any religious denomination governed by bishops.
Epistemology: The study of the nature of knowledge.
Equinox: The date and time when the sun crosses the equator. On that day, the daytime and nightime are both very close to 12 hours. This happens about March 21 and September 21. Many religious holy days are synchronized to the equinoxes, including the Jewish Passover, and Christian Easter. Wiccans, other Neopagans, Native Americans and followers of many aboriginal religions worldwide celebrate the equinoxes.
Eschatology, eschatological: The study of the eventual outcome of the world, from a religious perspective. In the case of conservative Christians, this typically involves discussion of the rapture, the Anti-Christ, Jesus' second coming, the war of Armageddon, etc. Eschatology plays a minor role in liberal Christianity.
Esoteric: A type of hidden knowledge that is generally known only by a few individuals and not by the general public.
ESP: An acronym for Extrasensory Perception.
Essentialism: Defining a group of people by one - or a small set of - fixed properties. Gender, religion, race or sexual orientation are the most common properties. It assumes that there is no possibility of variation within the targeted group, or potential for change. See racism, sexism, religism and homophobia.
Eternal generation, Eternal Sonship: A belief that Jesus Christ has been the Son of God continuously, from before the creation of the world to the present time. Some Christians have alternative beliefs, stating that Jesus became the Son of God at the time of his ascension, or resurrection, or baptism, or birth.
Ethical Culture: A movement founded in the U.S. by Felix Adler (1851 - 1933). He advocated replacing religious beliefs and codes with a secular ethic.
Ethics: The study of human values and moral conduct. See also Normative Ethics and Metaethics.
Eucharist: See Communion
Eugenics: Programs by which humans are carefully selected for breeding in order to maximize certain qualities. The German Nazi government instituted a Mutterkreuz (mother's cross) program which encouraged women to have many "Aryan" children, for which they could receive crosses.
Euthanasia: (Greek for "good death.") An ambiguous term with meanings ranging from "physician assisted suicide" for terminally elderly persons in intractible pain, to the German Nazi programs of murdering old and handicapped persons. We recommend that the term never be used, and that a specific term be used in its place.
Evangelical: "Evangelical" is not a well-defined term with a universally accepted meaning. It normally refers to a major portion of the conservative "wing" of Protestant Christianity. In a study comparing Evangelical and mainline denominations, a Princeton University study included the following as Evangelical denominations: Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, Independent Baptists, black Protestants, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion; Church of Christ, Churches of God in Christ, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, National Baptist Church, National Progressive Baptist Church, Nondenominational, Pentecostal denominations, and the Presbyterian Church in America. 1

Fundamentalists comprise the most conservative wing of Evangelicalism. Most Evangelicals tend to be less anti-scientific and less literal in their interpretation of Biblical passages than are Fundamentalists. Evangelicals generally believe in the historical doctrines of the Christian church:

  1. The original writings of the Bible, were inerrant (without error).
  2. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin.
  3. Atonement: that through Jesus' death, the relationship between God and Man (which had been damaged by Adam and Eve's sin) has been restored.
  4. Resurrection: that after Jesus' death and burial, he arose again.
  5. Second coming: that Jesus return to earth is imminent.
  6. Incarnation: that God appeared on earth in human form, as Jesus.
  7. Justification: an act of God in which any person who accepts that they have sinned and who believes in the atonement of Christ is forgiven of their sins and brought into a close relationship with God.
  8. Regeneration of the spirit: that a new believer undergoes a spiritual rebirth.
  9. Inspiration: that the authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
  10. God exists as a Trinity, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  11. Satan is a created being, was once an angel but is now an all-evil tormentor of humanity.
  12. Salvation is attained by repentance of one's sins and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
  13. Heaven and Hell exist; the former is a place of eternal reward; the latter is a place of never-ending torture without mercy or any hope of cessation.

There are many additional beliefs regarded as important by various Evangelical organizations. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention requires its employees to sign a loyalty oath which includes the belief that the authors of the Gospels were in fact named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some Evangelical institutions refuse to hire faculty who believe that women should be eligible for ordination.

The name "evangelical" was originally used to refer to those faith groups which followed traditional Christian beliefs, in contrast with two other movements: philosophical rationalism and legalistic Christianity. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod total about 6 million members and are not part of the present-day Evangelical movement. More information on the definition of Evangelical

Evangelize: To explain ones beliefs to another in the hope that they might wish to adopt them. The word is sometimes used as a synonym for "Proselytize" - to actively attempt to convert another person to your beliefs.
Evil one: A Christian synonym for Satan: a fallen angel.
Evolution, Naturalistic: (From the Greek "evolutio" meaning unrolling or turning out). The term has multiple meanings. It is often necessary to examine an essay, speech or article carefully in order to determine which meaning is being used.
- Strictly speaking, it is deals only with life forms on earth; the term refers to gradual change over long periods of time of plant and animal species due to natural processes and forces, including the appearance and extinction of many species.
- In a popular sense, it is one of many cosmogonies (models of origins) commonly accepted in North America. It states that the earth, including its life forms, and the rest of the universe formed over the past approximately 14 billion years due to natural processes and forces. People often discuss the evolution of: the universe, of individual stars, solar systems, earth formation, species of life on earth, etc.
- Also in a popular sense, the term is used to refer to anything that changes over time, such as the evolution of religious beliefs, political concepts, economic models, child discipline methods, etc.
Evolution, Theistic: One of three main cosmogonies (models of origins) commonly accepted in North America. It accepts the observations of naturalistic evolution but states that God guided and used evolution as a method of forming the multiplicity of species of life, the rest of the Earth and the rest of the universe.
Evolutionist: A term used by Evangelical Christians to refer to over 99% of earth and biological scientists who use and support the theory of evolution in their professional work. The term is not used by scientists themselves.
Exclusivism: The belief that one's truth (or faith group or religion) is the only truly valid truth (or faith group or religion). This is a very common belief among monotheistic faiths, and among other religions as well. It has historically been a foundation of religiously motivated oppression, mass murder, mass crimes against humanity and genocide. Alternative beliefs towards other religions are inclusivism and pluralismMore details.
Excommunication: The enforced separation of a Christian from her or his denomination, done for the good of the individual and the faith group, with the intent of changing the individual's behavior so that they can be welcomed back. Unfortunately, in many high-intensity/high commitment religious groups, where a member's entire support network consists of fellow members, excommunication can lead to depression and occasional suicide.
Exegesis: Analyzing passages from a document - often the Bible - to understand what it meant to its author and others in the author's culture.
Exaltation of Christ: This consists of Christ's resurrection, ascension to heaven, sitting at the right hand of God, and second coming.
Existentialism: This is both a philosophical and literary movement which teaches that:
- Individual existence takes precedence over abstract concepts;
- humans are totally free and responsible for their own actions;
- no absolute values exist that are not grounded in human experience.
Exodus: A mass movement of people from an area or country. It often refers to the alleged departure of Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, variously dated as 1440 to 1290 BCE. "Exodus" is the name of the second book in the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Exorcism: The act of driving one or more evil spirits from the body of a person.
Externalist: A Buddhist term for an individual who follows a non-Buddhist religion.
Extraction evangelism: A technique of drawing non-Christians individuals out of their culture of origin and converting them to conservative Protestantism. This has been criticized for its destructive effect on those families in which only some members convert to Christianity.
Extrasensory Perception: (acronym ESP) The ability of a person to sense the world using powers beyond the five senses. This often takes the form of reading cards being dealt in another room, viewing events in a remote location, sensing auras, predicting the future, etc. A prize of over one million dollars awaits anyone who can prove that they have some form of ESP.
Extreme Unction: A sacrament of the Roman Catholic church in which a dying person is anointed with oil that has been consecrated by a bishop. It's purpose is to obtain the remission of sins and to restore the person to health. To our knowledge, the efficacy of extreme unction to make a person healthy has never been scientifically evaluated.


  1. Robert Wuthnow, "Study on Religion and Politics Finds Widespread Interest in Progressive Issues: Survey Suggests Political Potential of Mainline Protestants," at:

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