People, groups, and ideas in early Christianity: a partial Glossary
(with help from Bart D. Ehrman and Elaine Pagels).

Terminology

Glossary: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

A

Acts of John.
Apocryphal stories about the experiences of the apostle John, son of Zebedee, in Asia minor.

Acts of Paul and Thecla.
A tale of St. Paul and his female convert, Thecla, who renounced her marriage, was condemned to death by the state, and was saved by God.

Acts of Thomas.
Apocryphal stories about the experiences and preaching of the Thomas (alleged to be the twin brother of Jesus) in Asia minor.

adoptionism.
The philosophy that Jesus was a physical, non-divine human, adopted to be the son of God at his baptism.

apocalypse.
Apocalypse = 'revelation'. A Gnostic texts.

Apocalypse of Peter.
A text describing the saved and the damned in their respective afterlives, as experienced in a tour led by Jesus. Falsely said to be written by the apostle Simon Peter.

apocalypticism.
A worldview that the present is controlled by evil forces that will be destroyed by God's intervention at the end of time and the arrival of God's kingdom.

apocrypha.
Hidden or secret things. Books similar in content and claims of authority to those in the New Testament Canon, but excluded from it.

apostle.
'One who is sent' (from Greek). In early Christianity, those advocates who were special representatives of Jesus.

apostolic fathers.
Early proto-orthodox writers (including Barnabas, Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp) who composed soon after the books of the New Testament were written.

B

Barnabas.
A Hellenic Jew. Became a traveling missionary and a traveling companion of Paul. The Epistle of Barnabas probably appeared 60 years after the likely death of the historical Barnabas.

C

Carpocracians.
A group of second-century Gnostics texts.

Canon.
A collection of authorized books. From the Greek for 'ruler' ('straight edge'). A recognized collection of texts promoted by those in power as 'authoritative.'

Clement.
Probably born around A.D. 150. Wrote Apology for Christianity.

Coptic.
An extinct Hamitic language of northeast Africa.

Coptic Apocalypse of Peter.
Apocalypse = 'revelation'. An attack on those who did not follow the teachings of this and other Gnostic texts. A forgery in that it was not actually written by the Apostle Peter.

Coptic Gospel of Thomas.
See the Gospel of Thomas.

Council of Nicaea (or Nicea).
See Nicaea: Council of Nicaea.

D

Diatesseron.
"Through the four". A harmonious arrangement of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to make one continuous narrative. Created by the second-century Tatian.

Didymus Judas Thomas.
Traditionally, the twin brother of Jesus and the author of Coptic Gospel of Thomas. The Acts of Thomas were written about him.

doceticism.
The philosophy that Jesus was not physically human, but only appeared so.

E

Ebionites.
[from the Latin for Thanksgiving, from the Greek for showing favor well.]
Also called Ebyonites, Jewish Christians, or Christian Adoptionists.
Represented one of the earliest (second-century) forms of Christianity. Believed: Jesus and his disciples were, of course, fully Jewish and probably the most similar to the Ebonites of all the Christian sects. Their sacred books Opposed the proto-orthodox Christians.

Epistle of Barnabas.
Attributed to the historical Barnabas, though probably written about A.D. 130 or 135 (about 60 years after his likely death).

Eucharist.
[from the Latin for Thanksgiving, from the Greek for showing favor well.]
Holy Communion. Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are consecrated, distributed, and consumed in memory of Jesus and his death.

F

G

Gnostics.
Gnosticism is a group of religions closely related to Christianity. Unknown whether Gnosticism began before or after Christianity. Believed: Their sacred books: Opposed the proto-orthodox Christians.

Gospel of the Ebionites.
A gospel used by the Ebionites. Believed to have been composed in Greek originally and to include stories from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Gospel of the Nazareans.
A gospel used by the Ebionites. Probably similar to Gospel of Matthew, minus the first two chapters. Written in Hebrew probably (or Aramaic).

Gospel of Peter.
A Gnostic gospel. All that survives is a fragment with an alternative story of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus; anti-Jewish slant. Eusebius mentioned it had a docetic Christology.

Gospel of Thomas.
A Gnostic gospel. 114 sayings of Jesus. Originally written in Greek, then translated to Coptic.

Gospel of Truth.
A Gnostic gospel. Discusses the creation of the world by a conflict in the divine realm, and the nature of Christ and the salvation he brought.

H

Heresy.
'Choice.' Used of those who have chosen to disbelieve the Orthodoxy. 'False' belief.

Heterodoxy.
'Another belief.' A less inflammatory term than Heresy for the beliefs of the non-Orthodox.

I

Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
Early second-century (probably) narration of the miraculous and sometime mischievous, exploits of Jesus from age 5 to 12.

Infancy Gospels.
Gospels narrating event in the birth and early life of Jesus.

Ignatius.
Early second-century Christian; bishop of major church in Antioch. Wrote seven surviving letters.

J

K

L

M

Marcionites.
Founded by second-century philosopher and theologian, Marcion, who insisted that 'true' Christianity had no connection with Judaism. Went further than Paul, by insisting that there were two different gods: Believed: Their sacred books: From these books, Marcion deleted any positive reference to the O.T. God, including passages that referred to fulfillment of O.T. prophesies. Opposed the proto-orthodox Christians.

N

Nag Hamadi.
Village in south (upper) Egypt. In 1945, a collection of gnostic writings (including the Gospel of Thomas) found nearby.

Nicaea: Council of Nicaea.
Meeting of some early Christian leaders in A.D. 325 in Nicaea (Asia Minor). Adopted the Nicene Creed.

Nicene Creed.
A Christian confession of faith adopted in 325 A.D. by the Council of Nicaea, against the Arian (Aryan) heresy. [A modification was (in A.D. 589) adopted by the Council of Toledo and accepted by the Roman Catholic and later by various Protestant churches.]

N.T. (New Testament)
The 27 books made into the N.T. canon by followers of Jesus in the second half of the first century. Includes:

O

Orthodoxy.
'Right' belief. The belief held by the majority of those in power.

P

Paul.
One of the first Gentiles to become Christian. As a Gentile, he promoted the view that Christians were not saved by doing the prescriptions of Jewish law, but alone by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paenitentia.
"Having changed his or her mind." [Latin; from p.14 of Pagel's Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.]

Pleroma.
'Fullness'. In gnostic writings, refers to the divine.

Polycarp.
~69-155. Bishop of Smyrna. Christian martyr.

Proto-orthodox Christians.
Christian who were forerunners of the orthodox. Endorsed by the apostolic fathers and some other Christians in the second and third centuries. The gospels that they promoted were declared orthodox by victorious fourth-century Christians, at the expense of the Ebionites, Gnostics, and Marcionites.

Pseudepigraphica.
Pseudographical book: a falsely ascribed book.

Pseudonymity.
Writing under a false name.

Q

'Q' (Quelle or source) document.
This is a hypothetical document that was written (if at all) two decades after Jesus' death.

R

Regula Fidei.
The rule of faith. Refers to proto-orthodox doctrines placed at the center of Christian theology.

S

Secret Gospel of Mark.
Appears to be a forgery. 'Discovered' by Professor Morton Smith in 1958 in the Mar Saba library near Jerusalem.

Separationist Christology.
Understanding (typical among Gnostics) of Christ, wherein the divine Christ was different from the physical Jesus.

Synoptic Gospels.
Literally, "seen together" Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which tell so many of the same stories in similar ways that they can be placed side-by-side.

T

Theodicies.
Literally, "the righteousness of God". Any explanation of how evil and suffering can exist in the world if God is both all-powerful and loving.

U

V

W

X

Y

Z

Sources