Encyclopedia of Christianity Online

Get access Subject: Religious Studies
Editors: Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milič Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan and Lukas Vischer

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The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online describes modern-day Christian beliefs and communities in the context of 2000 years of apostolic tradition and Christian history. Based on the third, revised edition of the critically acclaimed German work Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon. The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online includes all 5 volumes of the print edition of 1999-2008 which has become a standard reference work for the study of Christianity past and present. Comprehensive, reflecting the highest standards in scholarship yet intended for a wide range of readers, the The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online also looks outward beyond Christianity, considering other world religions and philosophies as it paints the overall religious and socio-cultural picture in which the Christianity finds itself.

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Bhagavad Gita

(328 words)

Author(s): von Hinüber, Oskar
The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of the Blessed One [i.e., Krishna],” is a Sanskrit religiophilosophical didactic ¶ poem in 18 songs, constituting part of the sixth book of the Mahābhārata. Krishna, an avatar (Incarnation 1) of the god Vishnu, presents the Bhagavad Gita to the hero Prince Arjuna, for whom he acts as charioteer, when the latter hesitates to fight his own relatives. According to the teaching of Krishna, Arjuna has the task of acting according to the duties of his caste; as a Kshatriya (ruler or warrior), he is t…

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

(404 words)

Author(s): Colpe, Carsten
“Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh” is the guru name of Rajneesh Chandra Mohan (1931–81). It combines with the given name “Rajneesh” the appellative “Bhagwan,” commonly used in India for gods, demigods, and holy men (from Skt. bhag(a)van, meaning “reverend” or “divine”), and the title “Shree.” Rajneesh was born in Kuchwada (Madhya Pradesh), India, on December 11, 1931. On March 21, 1953, he experienced the “other reality,” which his philosophy enabled him to interpret as God, truth, dharma, tao, and so forth. He deepened the experience by techniqu…


(418 words)

Author(s): von Hinüber, Oskar
“Bhakti,” a Sanskrit word originally meaning “distribution” (from the verb bhaj, “allot; revere [God]”), has come to mean also “dedication” or “love [of ¶ God].” It denotes a devotional movement in Hinduism that arose in the sphere of Vaishnavism. Its roots go back to the pre-Christian era, but as a way of salvation it is found only from the eighth and ninth centuries a.d. in the teachings of the holy men called the Alvars in southern India. With the Bhagavad Gita, its most important basic text is the Sanskrit Bhāgavata-Purāṇa. According to the way of Bhakti (bhakti-mārga), love of God…


(277 words)

Author(s): Luchesi, Brigitte
Bhutan (Tibet; Druk-Yul, “Dragon Kingdom”) is an independent kingdom in the eastern Himalayas. The primary ethnic groups are the Bhote (50 percent) and the Nepalese (35 percent), with smaller percentages of many others (including Assamese, Loba, and Lepcha). About two-thirds belong to the “red cap” sect of Lamaistic Buddhism (the Drukpa group of the Karyud school), which is the state religion. Most of the rest are Hindus, primarily Nepali settlers in the south and southwest of Bhutan. Immigratio…

Bible Exegesis

(6 words)

See Exegesis, Biblical

Bible Manuscripts and Editions

(2,035 words)

Author(s): Smend, Rudolf | Rhodes, with Erroll F. | Metzger, Bruce M. | Rhodes, Erroll F. | Köster, Beate
1. OT MSS 1.1. Background In antiquity the materials used for Bible MSS were leather, parchment, and papyrus. The parchment was prepared from the skins of sheep, goats, antelopes, and other animals. Papyrus, which was made from the pith of the papyrus plant that grows in the marshes of the Nile, was imported from Egypt but usually did not last long in damp climates. The usual form for a literary document was the scroll (see, for example, Jeremiah 36; Ep. Arist.  177), especially for Jewish Scriptures used in worship services. In Christian circles scrolls were supplanted by …

Bible Societies

(1,397 words)

Author(s): Schneider, Hans | Rhodes, Erroll F.
1. Bible societies are organizations for the distribution of the Bible. The foundations of the Bible society movement may be traced to the Reformation understanding of the Bible as the sole authority in matters of faith and to the concept of the priesthood of all believers. This understanding led to Luther’s translation of the Bible into German and to similar undertakings for other languages. The demand of Pietism for the wider circulation of the Word of God (P. Spener) spurred increased distrib…

Bible Study

(767 words)

Author(s): Vogt, Theophil
1. Concept Bible study in the churches is the group study of individual texts or whole books of the Bible by church members. The goal is the people’s participation in biblical exposition, the promotion of their theological maturity (adulthood), and the grassroots building up of the congregation (Church Growth 1.1). Bible study usually takes the form of discussion. 2. History The beginnings of Bible study may be found in the Bible hours of the Dutch Reformed tradition (from 1550) and later in Pietist gatherings. In Germany in 1883, Bible circles began in …

Bible Versions

(5,184 words)

Author(s): Aland, Barbara | Rhodes, Erroll F.
1. General Bible versions are subject to the same rules of translation as other texts, but with some qualification because of their special character. For the modern translator, it must first be determined which form of the text should serve as the basis for translation: the earliest attested form, or the form established by Masoretic scholars in the 9th/10th century for the Hebrew Bible and the standard text of 16th-century Renaissance scholarship for the Greek NT. Then it must be decided whether…

Biblical Theology

(6,752 words)

Author(s): Barr, James | Fahlbusch, Erwin | Mbiti, John | Yagi, Seiichi | Schoenborn, Ulrich | Et al.
1. Concept and History 1.1. Concept “Biblical theology” is not one single and simple concept, for it may be understood variously, depending on what is set in contrast with it: 1.1.1. Biblical theology may be contrasted with dogmatic theology. It lies on the level, and uses the methods, of biblical scholarship (Exegesis, Biblical), rather than the level and the methods of dogmatics. The difference has been stated thus: biblical theology, which is descriptive and historical, seeks to state the theology implied by the biblical b…


(523 words)

Author(s): Ritschl, Dietrich
The imprecise term “biblicism” is commonly used disparagingly (cf. “historicism”) to denote a particular way of dealing with the Bible, especially the expectation that it can be transposed directly into modern thought forms or lifestyles. European theologians who attempt to classify types of biblicism—for example, into broader and narrower forms (W. Wiesner), or into a theoretical and doctrinaire form, a practical and programmatic form, and a salvation-history form (G. Gloege)—have failed to make the t…

Biography, Biographical Research

(969 words)

Author(s): Hoerning, Erika M.
1. General The scholarly handling of biographical material has a century-old tradition in sociology (Paul). Biographical materials serve as valuable sources for research in ethnology and psychology. They are aids in documenting and interpreting the processes of modern social history and in researching everyday life in various cultures and spheres of life. As distinct from quantitative, empirical social science, which uses questionnaires, graphs, and a variety of investigative techniques in proving…

Birth Control

(3,459 words)

Author(s): Stanford M.D., Joseph B. | Larimore M.D., Walter L.
1. Historical Overview of Fertility and Family Planning Prior to the development of modern methods of family planning, key determinants of fertility rates in most societies included age at marriage and breast-feeding. Historical evidence suggests, however, that in at least some societies, fertility was less than would have been expected from these two factors alone (A. Omran, 275; S. Szreter, 704). Potential mechanisms for explaining this phenomenon are not fully clear but seem to have included both coi…

Bishop, Episcopate

(2,580 words)

Author(s): Hein, Martin | Jung, Hans-Gernot | VanElderen, Marlin
1. Rise In distinction from Jewish Christianity, whose leaders were the 12 apostles and local elders (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 22–23, etc.), the Pauline churches gradually developed a constant leadership consisting of bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). In secular Greek the term for bishop ( episkopos) denoted the work of supervision or administration. Bishops, then, exercised administrative oversight over congregational life. A later stage finds reflection in Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9, which shows that the Jewish-Christian eldership had merged …

Black Churches

(7,039 words)

Author(s): Jelks, Randal M. | Gerloff, Roswith I. H.
1. In the United States 1.1. Introduction Black churches in the United States represent a group of diverse congregations and historic denominations that have been fostered by, and are representative of, American Christians of African descent. African American denominations, like the majority of churches in the United States, are overwhelmingly Protestant, falling into three broad categories of Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal. Although African Americans have enduring historic relations within Roman …

Black Theology

(1,771 words)

Author(s): Cone, James H.
1. Theological Discipline and Historical Roots 1.1. The term “black theology” first appeared as a description of a theological movement in the United States with the publication of James H. Cone’s Black Theology and Black Power in 1969 (North American Theology 8). Its meaning was derived from a community of African American clergy and laypersons (Black Churches 1) who were struggling to understand the meaning of their identity as black and Christian in the white racist society of America, which also claimed to be Christian and the leader of the free world. If the Ch…


(1,736 words)

Author(s): Heinrich, Klausjürgen | Schnitker, Thaddeus A.
1. Term In contrast to cursing, the concept of blessing denotes a reason for success in life, either immediately or continuously. It promises power that will enhance the good and give mastery over life by the averting of what is harmful. The action of blessing consists of the word of blessing and related gestures such as the laying on of hands, the lifting up of hands, or making the sign of the cross. 2. OT The OT relates the fulfilling of promises of blessing and the actual force of any pronouncing of blessing to the power of Yahweh (Gen. 12:1–3; Numbers 22–24). Only occasionally in stories of…

Blind, Missions to the

(8 words)

See Medical Missions