Distorted and Contrived Religious Terms
By Jon Gary Williams

The religious world of “Christendom” is filled with a variety of groups entertaining false beliefs. Most of these beliefs can be identified by specific terms, some of which are found in the scriptures and some which are from outside the scriptures.

Over the centuries a number of Biblical terms have been given distorted meanings, in many instances, meanings that conform to man-made teachings. Likewise, many religious terms have been contrived, terms describing false religious ideas.

Following are lists of these two categories, one, of terms found in the scriptures but which are given distorted meanings; the other, of contrived terms nowhere found in the scriptures, but given erroneous religious connotations.

Terms Found In The Bible - But Given Distorted Meanings


This is a word which is widely misapplied to preachers. However, to the contrary, it actually refers to elders of a local church. It is from the Greek word, poimen, and is translated “pastor” only one time (Eph. 4:11). Elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated “shepherd,” sometimes referring to Christ as the “good” or “chief” shepherd (Heb. 3:20; 1 Pet. 5:4). It definitely does not mean a preacher.


This is another title commonly given to preachers or priests. It is used to identify those who are perceived to have special religious attribute, worthy of adoration and reverence. However, this is a term that applies only to God. “Holy and reverend His name” (Pss. 111:9). No man is to be revered, for such is blasphemy.


Since the early days of Catholicism, leaders of local Catholic churches have been called “priests.” However, this term is a carryover from the priests of the Old Testament law of Moses. In the New Testament church no special people are so designated. The scriptures teach that God considers all Christians as priests, being called a “holy” and “royal” priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9). All Christians are spoken of as “kings and priests” (Rev. 1:6).


This is a title given to elevated heads of the Catholic Church who control dioceses. The Greek term is episckopos and means one who “oversees,” and is so translated elsewhere (Acts 20:28; cf. with v. 17). It is simply another way of describing the elders who oversee a local church. Notice that in his letter to the Philippians Paul spoke of the “bishops” - plural, not singular (Phil. 1:1).


Often the word “church” is used to refer to a physical, religious structure, similar to the word “sanctuary.” This word is from the Greek term ekklesia and simply means “the called out,” referring to those who make up the church, the body of believers (Matt. 16:18). It is never used of an edifice.


For many years people have heard preachers speak of a coming spiritual kingdom on earth over which Jesus will reign for 1000 years. Such a future kingdom is pure fantasy nowhere taught in the scriptures. The only kingdom found in the scriptures is the church of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16:18, 19, Jesus spoke of establishing His church and then referred to it as “the kingdom.” The kingdom existed in apostolic days (Col. 1:13) and the apostle John said that he was in that kingdom (Rev. 1:9). There is no future kingdom.


In the Catholic Church priests are commonly called “father.” This is another of the corrupted titles found in Catholicism. Jesus plainly taught that the word “father” was not to be used as a religious title (Matt. 23:9).


People are sometimes heard to speak of being a “witness” for Christ. What they mean is that they want to tell someone about Jesus. However, this is a misuse of the term. No one today can be a witness for Christ. Why? Because to be a witness one must be able to give first-hand evidence. The apostles were witnesses for Jesus and his resurrection, therefore, they could be actual witnesses (Acts 1:8, 22). No one today can “witness” for Jesus.


Holiness and pentecostal churches are known for emphasizing the word “sanctify.” They believe that in addition to being saved there is another level to reach in which one is truly “sanctified,” and is usually associated with being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Such a belief is nowhere found in the scriptures. The word “sanctify” (or “sanctification”) simply means to be separated - that is, to be separated from sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 the Bible clearly shows that being “washed,” that being “sanctified,” and that being “justified” all refer to the same thing. Of itself the word “sanctify” has no special meaning.


Some holiness and pentecostal churches claim that people today can speak in what they call “heavenly tongues.” However, the scriptures clearly show that the age of miracles (including speaking in tongues) ceased long ago (1 Cor. 13:8-10). In the first century those speaking in “tongues” were not speaking in some kind of mysterious, heavenly tongues. They simply spoke in human languages, languages in which they had not been educated. This is clearly shown to be the case in Acts 2:6, 8, 11.

Holy Ghost Baptism

Some pentecostal type churches claim that people today can receive a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In the early church there was a baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit, however, this was limited to the apostles of Christ (Acts 1:2-8). All miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit ceased by the close of the first century (1 Cor. 13:8-10). It is false to claim that people today can receive such a miraculous measure of the Spirit.


The claim is made by some preachers that they have been “called” by God. By this they mean that God called them by some unusual, special experience. Indeed, the scriptures teach that Christians are called, but not by some mysterious happening. Rather, God calls all Christians in the same way - through His “word” (2 Thess. 2:14). There is no other way to be called.


Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for teaching that “hell” is not a real place and that no one will go there. They believe when the lost die they merely cease to exist, which means that, for them, hell is nothing more than death. However, Jesus taught that the souls of the lost continue to exist (Matt. 10:28). Also, the apostle Paul taught that all will appear before his judgment seat (2 Cor. 5:10).


This is the belief that God predestinates those who will be saved and is based on Romans 8:28, 29. However, this idea is false and contradicts clear Biblical teaching. God does not predetermine specific people to be saved, rather, He predetermines a group to be saved - that group is made up of those who choose to obey Him. The scriptures clearly teach that God wants all to be saved (2 Tim. 3:9). The water of life is for “whosoever” (Rev. 22:17).


In the Catholic Church some deceased people are elevated to what is called “Sainthood” and hold a special place in Catholic veneration. Such people are said to be “Saints.” However, such a doctrine is nowhere found in the scriptures. The fact is, all Christians are called “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1). No one is to be elevated above others or given special veneration.


This expression is falsely applied to a yet extremely wicked, future person. It is claimed that at some point this special person will arise to wage a so-called “Armageddon” war against Christ. This teaching is completely false. The scriptures clearly teach that there were many anti-Christs and they existed in the first century (1 Jn. 2:18; 2 Jn. 7).


A part of the doctrine of premillennialism is the belief that before a so-called millennial reign of Christ on earth there will be a “tribulation” period of seven years, corresponding with a seven-year “rapture” of the saved above the earth. Such a teaching is nowhere found in the scriptures. In Matthew 24:21 Jesus spoke of a “tribulation,” but this tribulation was to take place before that generation would pass, and was referring to the great fall of Jerusalem which took place in 70 A.D.


Some, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, teach that man has no immortal soul, but that the soul is only man’s breath, and when man dies there is nothing which lives on. The scriptures, however, teach that there is something (the soul) which lives after death (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:8, 9). At death the soul departs from the body (Gen. 35:18).


The Catholic Church teaches that sins are to be confessed to a priest. This practice is commonly referred to as “confessional,” when a person confesses sins to a priest in a “confession booth.” This doctrine is blasphemy, for no man can absolve another man of his sins. This is solely the prerogative of God (Matt. 10:32; 1 Jn. 1:9).


Among most churches is the practice of “ordaining” certain people to preach. After meeting the requirements of a particular denomination they are then officially “licensed” to preach for that group. But the scriptures teach no such thing. No man has the authority to “ordain” another man to preach. This is foolishness. In the New Testament the word “ordain” is used, not with reference to preachers, but to elders (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5), and in these instances it simply means to “appoint.” In the Lord’s church, some make preaching their life’s work, not because of being “ordained” by man, but because of their passion to teach others.


When referring to Sunday it is very common for people to use the word “Sabbath.” However, the word Sabbath means “rest” and was the day on which the Jews, under the law of Moses, were to rest. The scriptures never use the word “Sabbath” to refer to the first day of the week (or Sunday), which is the day on which Christians assemble to worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

Baptism, Modes of

It is commonly believed that there are different “modes” of baptism, for example, “sprinkling,” “pouring” and “immersion.” However, there are no different “modes” of baptism - baptism is the mode. The word baptism is from the Greek word baptisma, which literally means “immersion.” In Romans 6:3, 4 this meaning is illustrated as a burial. Also, in Acts 8:38, 39, a perfect example of such an immersion is found.


The word “Armageddon” is another part of the premillennial doctrine. It is claimed to be a place where a great battle between Jesus and the “anti-Christ” will occur. However, this is just fanciful imagination. There is no such place as Armageddon. This is merely a symbolic name which appears only one time - in the highly figurative book of Revelation (Rev. 16:16). It does not refer to a great, physical battle. Rather, the apostle John was symbolically addressing the great spiritual conflict between Christ and Satan. Remember - whenever a doctrine appeals to the book of Revelation for support, be watchful.

Contrived Religious Terms - Unknown To The Bible


This is a word widely used to describe divided religious groups. However, this is contrary to the teachings of the scriptures. The apostle Paul clearly taught that all Christians should speak the same thing and that there should be no divisions (1 Cor. 1:10).


Beginning during the reformation movement, this word is used to describe non-Catholic churches. They were protesting the flaws of Roman Catholicism. Though the Lord’s church should protest all that is wrong, the term “Protestant” should not be used to describe the church.

Join (the church)

Joining the church” is a common expression describing someone becoming associated with a particular church. However, no one can “join” the Lord’s church. Rather, lost people are added to it when they obey the gospel (Acts 2:42, 47).

Sinner’s Prayer

Most denominations teach that an alien sinner is saved from sins by merely believing in Christ and saying what is called “the sinner’s prayer.” Yet, the scriptures teach nothing of the kind. Rather, prayer is meant for the Christian who sins (1 Jn. 1:9). To be forgiven of sins an alien sinner must not only believe in Christ, but must repent of sins (Acts 17:30), confess faith in Christ (Matt. 10:32), and be baptized (Acts 22:16).

Millennial Reign

This refers to a future, so-called, one thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Yet, the scriptures nowhere teach such a thing. At His return, the closest Jesus will come to earth is His appearance in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17).


This word refers the so-called rapturing up of the saved to be with Christ for seven years before living with Christ on earth for one thousand years. Such a teaching is not found in the word of God. Rather, when Jesus returns, the world will come to an end (2 Pet. 3:7,10,12).

Once Saved, Always Saved

It is widely taught by many churches that once people are saved they can never be lost. However, the Bible clearly teaches that saved people can be lost (Gal. 5:4; 1 Tim. 1:19; 4:1; Heb. 3:12; Rev. 3:16). Even the apostle Paul said he could be lost (1 Cor. 9:27).

Infant Baptism

This is the practice of many churches wherein water is either sprinkled or poured on infants. However, since infants cannot commit sin they are not subject to baptism. They have no knowledge of good or evil (Deut. 1:39). Also, subjects for baptism must be capable of believing in Christ, repenting of sins, and confessing faith in Christ. Infants can do none of these.

Eucharist (Transubstantiation)

In the Catholic Church it is taught that the communion emblems become Christ’s literal body and blood. Such a doctrine is foolishness. The Lord’s supper was composed of “bread” and “fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:26-28). When Jesus said, “this is my body...this is my blood,” He was not speaking literally. Rather He was saying that these were emblematic of His body and blood. When Jesus spoke these words His blood was still flowing through his veins.

Christmas - Easter

These terms, which celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ, are of purely human origin. The scriptures say nothing about celebrating either. Note: In the standard KJV the word “Easter” was incorrectly inserted (Acts 12:4). More recent versions have corrected this, giving the proper word, “Passover.”

Church Headquarters

Many denominations regard a specific location as their headquarters, for example: Catholicism (Rome), Mormonism (Salt Lake City), Southern Baptist (Augusta, GA). However, this is not true of the Lord’s New Testament church. Local congregations do not have a “headquarters” and are completely autonomous or self-governing.


This word describes a geographical area overseen by a so-called “bishop” of the Catholic Church. The church of the New Testament knew no such thing.


These were the official church symposiums in which decisions were made for the Catholic Church.


In both the protestant and Catholic worlds this word is generally used for those who are preachers or priests, or others who hold high religious status.


People in churches who are not considered a part of the Clergy.

Holy Orders

These are the ordained positions in the Catholic Church: Priest (the highest order), Deacon (minister of the altar), Subdeacon (assistant to the Deacon), Lector (reader), Acolyte (worship assistant), Exorcist (expeller of oppressions), Ostiarius (door keeper). All such “holy orders” are totally foreign to the scriptures.

Extreme Unction

This refers to the giving of an urgent, salvation blessing by a Catholic priest to someone who has just died or is at the point of death. It is sometimes called the giving of “last rites.” The scriptures do not teach such a doctrine, for it is nothing more than “deathbed salvation.”


The Catholic Church teaches that at death the souls of saved people go to this place to be temporarily punished for their venial (temporal, lesser) sins. The length of time spent in “Purgatory” depends on the volume of such sins. This doctrine is the invention of man and is nowhere found in the scriptures.


This is a pardon granted by a priest for a person’s future temporal punishment in Purgatory.

Baptism for the dead (baptism by proxy)

This is the Mormon doctrine of a living person being baptized for dead people. This is falsely based on 1 Corinthians 15:29. The baptism in this passage is not for dead people. Paul is responding to those who said there is no resurrection of dead, i.e., dead bodies (v.12). He argues that if their bodies will not be raised, why, then, do they baptize their bodies? Note: The only thing that can be raised is that which dies - the physical body. Hence, he is not speaking of people who have died. The resurrection spoken of in this chapter is that of physical bodies (vv. 35, 36, 37, 38, 40, 44).


In the Catholic Church this is the “sacrifice” of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist (communion). (See above - Eucharist)

Contrived Terms Peculiar To Calvinism

Total Inherited Depravity

This is the doctrine that all people are born guilty of Adam’s sin (sometimes called “Original” or “Adamic” sin). However, the scriptures clearly teach that sin is not inherited (Ezek. 18:20) and man is accountable for his own sins (Rom. 14:12).

Unconditional Special Election

This is the belief that God unconditionally selects those who will be saved. It is sometimes called the doctrine of “Predestination.” (See above - Predestination)

Limited Atonement

This the belief that the atoning blood of Christ is limited for only those whom God has selected. However, the scriptures teach that Christ shed his blood for all men (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:6, 8) and that God desires for “all men” to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

Irresistible Grace

This is the belief that the grace of God is so certain, it is impossible for those whom God has elected to be saved to refuse it. Hence, this doctrine advocates the false idea that God overrules the decision making of man. Hence, man has no role whatsoever to play in his salvation. However, the scriptures teach that salvation is for all who “obey” Him (Heb. 5:9).

Perseverance of the Saints

Being unable to resist God’s the grace, those elected to be saved cannot lose their redemption (often called the “once saved, always saved” doctrine). (see above - Once Saved, Always Saved)