9 Religious Words That Might Not Mean What You Think

About seven years ago, I started reading the Bible for myself… without all of the biased, denominational commentary. This has been quite an adventure for me. I’m constantly amazed at how interpretation and context can completely change my previous understanding of a verse. I enjoy digging into the Greek and Hebrew languages to better understand my Bible’s translation. Some of the things I’ve learned have left me flabbergasted, and wondering why no one had already informed me. One of the most interesting parts of my independent Bible study has been learning the terminology of scripture and various religions. I’d like to share some of my findings with you. I hope you find this enlightening!

Church: From the Greek word “Ekklesia” (transliteration), church literally means “assembly.” When the word “church” is used in the New Testament, it is referring to a unified body of believers, not a building. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). For many Christians, church is just a place to go once or twice a week to hear a sermon and sing some songs. These Christians fail to recognize their crucial role as a building block in Christ’s church. If you are a follower of Christ, you take his church with you wherever you go as a representative of his assembly. Christ and the apostles made it clear on more than one occasion that there was only to be ONE church: Christ’s church.

Denomination: I grew up in a denominational church. I vilified non-denominational churches. I assumed that since there was no hierarchal, business-like, governing body to oversee their actions, that non-denominational churches just ran wild, chasing every whim and desire. It didn’t even occur to me that denominations might not be Biblical. A denomination is a name or designation given to a like-minded group of people to label them. Denominations are divisions in those who call themselves followers of Christ. Divisions such as this contradict the Biblical design for the church as seen in 1 Corinthians 1:10.

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.” -1 Corinthians 1:10

Reverend: Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the adjective “Reverend” as being worthy of reverence. The word reverence refers to “honor or respect that is felt or shown.” “Reverend” only appears once in the King James Version of the Bible. In Psalm 111:9, it is in the form of an adjective which is used to describe our holy, almighty God. The Hebrew word that it is derived from is “yare.” In other versions of the Bible it is translated as “awesome.” The use of “reverend” as a noun began in the 17th century to refer to ordained ministers. This word was never intended to be used as a title for mere man. In fact, the Bible discourages the use of any titles within the church, including “teacher,” but I digress (Matthew 23:8-10).

He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name. – Psalm 111:9 King James Version (KJV)

Baptism: The word “baptism” is a transliteration. This means that when the Bible was first translated by the Catholic Church, instead of providing us with a literal translation for the Greek word “baptizo,” the translator chose to rearrange the letters to create a new word. Hence, the origin of the English word, “baptism.” Why didn’t the Catholic Church just give us the literal translation? You’re smart enough to figure that out, but I’ll give you a hint. “Baptizo,” literally translated, means “immersion.”

Yoke: A yoke is a device used to fasten two animals together by the neck. This method of coupling the animals was meant to make it easier for them to share the load of pulling a plow or other heavy load. The pair of animals, once united, could accomplish a task as one team. While in some Biblical contexts, the word yoke implies bondage and slavery, we see it used in the New Testament as a reference to humility and servitude.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-29

There are many various, yet similar, interpretations of Matthew 11:28-29. In this verse, Jesus is offering a better way of life, one which requires servitude to God through a union with Christ. What a beautiful and comforting passage: Take an easy yoke, a light burden, and in the end, find rest for your weary soul.

Liturgical: Liturgy, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a fixed set of ceremonies, words, etc., that are used during public worship in a religion. Therefore, groups which worship in this ceremonial, repetitious, and often traditional, way are considered to be liturgical churches. Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches are prone to strict adherence to liturgy. These church services require high participation from the congregation and typically include chanted prayers, responsive scripture readings, and copious amounts of standing up and sitting down and standing up and sitting down and standing up… you get the idea. The Bible neither condemns, nor condones liturgy, as this word never appears in scripture. However, there is danger in the redundancy of liturgical worship, as church goers may find themselves just going through the motions and missing out on a true worship experience. Many individuals I’ve spoken with who have attended liturgical churches their whole lives feel lost in non-liturgical churches. They find themselves unable to embrace the lesson and fellowship without the superficial format and repetition. On the other hand, liturgical churches can be incredibly frustrating for those who aren’t familiar with the routine. My husband, when visiting with a liturgical church with me for the first time, said he found it hard to keep up with all of the bulletin and hymnal page turning and felt exhausted by the end of the service!

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” – Matthew 6:7

Legalism: Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines legalism as a strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code. This term is never used in the Bible. Many “Christian” denominations and groups label those who adhere to the Bible as “legalistic” and attempt to ostracize and slander Christians who are simply trying to obey God. Once, while discussing baptism with some church-goers, I brought up Mark 16:16, which states that Christians must believe and be baptized to be saved. No sooner had I finished reading the verse, then someone retorted, “Well, that’s a little legalistic, don’t you think?” It caught me off guard. I had never been accused of legalism before and I didn’t quite understand the concept. In my head, I thought, “Um… I’m sorry… Are these not the words of God?” If there is a moral code or spiritual guideline worth taking literally, it’s that which is taught by the Bible. If there are laws worth conforming to, they are the guidelines for New Testament Christians. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” I’m going to read my Bible and follow its guidelines as closely as possible. This is not to say that one can work his way into heaven, for it is by grace through faith that we are saved. But, when it comes to the guidelines for my salvation, I would certainly rather be too “excessive” or “strict” than too slack. I suppose I’d rather be called a legalist than lukewarm (Revelations 3:16).

Saint: How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’m definitely no saint!” Was it a Christian who said it? According to the Bible, ALL Christians are saints. When Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, he addresses those followers of Christ as saints.

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 1:2-3

Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians in the same way: “To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus…” The books of Philippians, Colossians, and Romans also begin like this.

In all of these instances, followers of Christ (who have also sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, by the way) are being referred to as saints. It’s quite clear from the context that these individuals are still living, and therefore are not in heaven. If you have obeyed the gospel of Christ Jesus, you are a saint. And, no… You don’t have to have the Pope’s approval.

Peter (rock): Most Christians have heard that the Apostle Peter’s name can be literally translated into “rock.” Because of this, Matthew 16:18 is commonly misunderstood.

“Now I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” – The words of Jesus

Ah, Jesus… You’re so punny! Because of this translation, I went much of my life believing that Peter founded the Christian church because, clearly, Jesus chose to build his church upon Peter. This, of course, is why the Catholic Church believes that Peter was the first pope. It wasn’t until I looked into the Greek language that I was able to understand what the church is really built upon.

Peter, or Petros (transliteration) in Greek, refers to a small, shifting, insecure, stone. When Jesus says “on this rock I will build my church,” he uses the Greek word petras (transliteration). Petras describes a huge, immovable rock, cliff, or boulder. Would you rather your church be built on petros or petras?

So if Jesus didn’t build the church on Peter, who was a man… a fallible man… then on what/who was his church constructed? To understand this, we must look at the context.

Prior to all of this rock discussion, Jesus had asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” This is when Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In context, we see that Christ planned to build his church on the confession that Jesus is the Son of God.


I realize that for many who diligently study their Bible, these terms may not be anything new. But, in my recent experiences of discussing scripture with individuals from various denominations, I’ve found that there is much confusion due to the re-purposing of certain words to fit a religious group’s needs. This is a dangerous practice, and one which caused me frustration in the past. My hope is that someone will be enlightened by this article and come to understand the scriptures even better through continued study.

“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” – Jude 1:24

*All Greek and Hebrew translations from Strong’s Concordance.*



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