Brief glossary of terms: Islamic, Christian and academic


A belief, widely held within the earliest Christian movement, and still active in the 2nd and 3rd century CE, that Jesus was a normal human being, a prophet, and is not a deity. God later gave him supernatural powers at his baptism (see Mark 1) when God chose Jesus as his “adopted” son. Adoptionism was later declared a heresy by a number of early church councils.


The Arabic name of God. Used by Arabic speaking Christians, Jews and Muslims.


The Islamic creed, or the six article of faith, which consists of the belief in God, Angels, Messengers and Prophets, Scriptures, the Day of Judgment, and Destiny


Semitic language, similar to Hebrew. Became the common language of the Persian empire (including Palestine) from about the 6th century B.C. Everyday language of Judaism, Hebrew surviving only in scholarship and liturgy. It was the language of Jesus.


“submission to God”. The Arabic root word for Islam means submission, obedience, peace, and purity.


The English term for the Greek word Χριστός (Christós), which literally means “The Anointed One.” The Hebrew word for Christ is מָשִׁיחַ (Mašíaḥ, usually transliterated Messiah). The word may be misunderstood by some as being the surname of Jesus due to the frequent juxtaposition of Jesus and Christ in the Christian Bible and other Christian writings. Often used as a more formal-sounding synonym for Jesus, the word is in fact a title, hence its common reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning The Anointed One, Jesus.


The academic study of Jesus of Nazareth especially his status, significance and role vis a vis God. Scholars have long noticed that the four gospel writers each articulate a distinctive Christology with a major difference between the Christologies of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the ‘synoptic gospels’) on the one hand and John on the other. Professor James Dunn of Durham University, a leading New Testament scholar, writes ‘there was no real evidence in the earliest Jesus tradition of what could fairly be called a consciousness of divinity’ (Christology in the Making, 1980, p. 60).


“Protected person”; Jews and Christians (and sometimes others, such as Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, and Zoroastrians), living in an Islamic state whose right to practice their religion is tolerated under Islamic law.


Also known as The Teaching of The Twelve Apostles, The Didache was probably written between c. AD 50 and the end of the first century. This means it is the very earliest witness to the Christian understanding of Jesus outside of the New Testament and predates NT books such as II Peter (written as late as 150 AD). Jesus scholar Professor Geza Vermes comments, ‘The work transmits anonymously a primitive form of Christian message attributed to the twelve apostles of Jesus and most of the material implies that the audience or readership was of Jewish rather than Gentile background’ (Geza Vermes p136. Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325). Reading the Didache one gets the clear impression of a very early Judaeo-Christian church, free from the influence of the exalted Christologies of Paul and John.


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 (or their predecessors) formed the original Christian movement. This included 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. The members were scattered during uprisings circa 70 and 134 CE, and died out by the 5th century.


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! Some current hermeneutical theories would argue that some kind of eisegesis is a necessary part of the exegetical process.


i) the author of a Gospel; ii) someone who preaches the gospel (Christian message).


Analyzing passages from the Bible to understand what it meant to its author and others in the author’s culture (see ‘Historical criticism’ below).


“Philosophy” The methods and content of Greek philosophy which were brought into Islam. A person who tries to interpret Islam through rationalist philosophy was called a faylasuf, “philosopher”.


Islamic jurisprudence. Fiqh is an expansion of the code of conduct (Sharia) expounded in the Qur’an, often supplemented by the Sunnah and implemented by the rulings and interpretations of Islamic jurists. Fiqh deals with the observance of rituals, morals and social legislation in Islam. There are four prominent schools (madh’hab) of fiqh within Sunni practice and two within Shi’a practice.

Historical criticism

An approach to Bible interpretation which seeks to interpret the Bible in the light of what the biblical authors intended to say in their own historical circumstances, rather than as timeless statements of religious truth. This approach to the Bible gained acceptance in Western academic circles during the 19th century and is dominant in universities today.

Fundamentalist evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on scriptural inerrancy mirrors Islamic beliefs about the Qur’an. Therefore a certain symmetry exists between the two faiths. This superficial similarity is attractive to debaters. However, in fact the two scriptures are quite dissimilar in composition and authorship, a factor which is sometimes overlooked. The English Muslim writer Gai Eaton was once asked why there is no historical criticism of the Qur’an as there is of the Bible. His answer from the Islamic perspective is illuminating:

‘There is a misunderstanding: the Bible is made up of many different parts, compiled over many centuries and it is possible to cast doubt upon one part without impugning the rest; whereas the Qur’an is a single revelation, received by just one man, either you accept it for what it claims to be, in which case you are a Muslim or you reject this claim, and so place yourself outside the fold of Islam.’


Literally, “words” or “speech,” and referring to oration. The name applied to the discipline of philosophy and theology concerned specifically with the nature of faith, determinism and freedom, and the nature of the divine attributes.

Lā ilāha ill-Allāh

“There is none worthy of worship other than God.” The most important expression in Islam. It is part of the first pillar of Islam. Also is the message of all the Prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.


(Q = first letter of the German Quelle = ‘source’): a source hypothesized by Synoptic scholars to explain the material common to Matthew and Luke but not derived from Mark. Considered to be a collection of Jesus’ words made in the 50s, either written or oral.


The word Qur’an means recitation. Muslims believe the Qur’an (Koran) to be the literal word of God and the culmination of God’s revelation to mankind, revealed to prophet Muhammad in the year AD 610 in the cave Hira by the angel Jibril.


(or “LXX”, or “Greek Old Testament”) is a translation of the Hebrew Bible, begun in the late 3rd century BCE. The Septuagint is quoted by the New Testament (particularly by St. Paul), and by the Apostolic Fathers.

The traditional story is that Ptolemy II sponsored the translation for use by the many Alexandrian Jews who were fluent in Koine Greek (the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, until the development of Byzantine Greek around 600 CE), but not in Hebrew. The Septuagint is not a straight translation of the original but reflects the exegetical traditions and theological viewpoints of the translators. Some churches consider the translation to be inspired by God.


“the path to a watering hole”; the eternal ethical code and moral code based on the Qur’an and Sunnah; basis of fiqh (see above).

Synoptic problem

The problem of the literary relationship between the three ‘Synoptic gospels’ (Matthew, Mark and Luke), posed by the amount of subject-matter they share and the many similarities in wording and order. Common dependence on oral traditions (including Aramaic ones) may account for some of the phenomena, but there are such close parallels in the Greek that a direct literary connection is generally accepted. Mark is held by most scholars to be the earliest of the three synoptic gospels and that it was used as a source by Matthew and Luke, and for the considerable non-Markan material common to Matthew and Luke their authors drew independently on a now lost common source known to critics as Q.

‘Ulamā’ or ulema

the leaders of Islamic society, including teachers, Imams and judges. Singular alim.


(literally ‘nation’) the global community of all Muslim believers.


revelation or inspiration of God to His prophets for all humankind


often rendered Jehovah or the LORD (in small capitals), is a modern scholarly vocalization of the name YHWH as it appears in Biblical Hebrew, where it is written without vowels as יהוה†. YHWH is one of the names of the God of Israel in the Jewish Bible.


Glossary compiled with reference to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the Wikipedia entry ‘Glossary on Islam’, and my own entries.





Categories: Bible, Christianity, Islam, Jesus

1 reply

  1. Very pertinent. Thank you so much for sharing

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