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New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis edited by Moisés Silva

Stephen M. Baugh

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, Second Edition, edited by Moisés Silva. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 3,535 pages in five volumes, $249.99.

This large reference work is a complete revision of the earlier New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) edited by Colin Brown in 1975–78, which was itself a translation and reworking of an earlier German Theologisches Begriffslexikon (“Theological Concept-Lexicon”). This version is yet another complete reorganization and expansion of NIDNTT by Moisés Silva and is now abbreviated with the even more unwieldy “NIDNTTE.”

Although I had looked at the earlier work edited by Brown in the past, it was a seriously flawed work, and I never really consulted or recommended it to students or pastors. It discussed an incomplete collection of Greek terms under English “topic” words. For example, under “Blood” one finds various Greek words referring to “blood,” “sprinkle,” and “strangle.” Why not “atonement,” “body,” or “sacrifice” also? One never knew if the topic was covered with any sort of depth or with sound linguistic method, as Silva himself admits in the introduction to this version when he says that it had “considerable variation and inconsistencies” (1.5).

If anyone has the ability to display depth and sound linguistic method for studying the Greek New Testament (NT), it is Moisés Silva. The question before us then is whether Silva has accomplished the herculean task of turning an essentially flawed reference tool into something which is worthy to add alongside an indispensable Greek lexicon or two, a Bible dictionary, and a sound systematic theology. This question is heightened when Silva admits that “theological dictionaries of biblical words are odd creatures and, as such, susceptible to being misused” (1.7). They are indeed odd ducks, but “being misused” implies the problem is with the reader. Is there not also a flaw in the whole concept and design of theological dictionaries which contributes to this misuse?

One obvious problem with a dictionary approach to theology is that it is not established by an examination of individual scriptural words across their range of meanings but by a careful, exegetical reading of biblical statements in their various contexts. As just one example, we read in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [τοῦτο, touto] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is helpful to study “grace,” “saved,” and “faith” here, but how Paul combines these words together is the foundation for his theological conception. And a key word here is the neuter demonstrative pronoun “this,” which refers not only to “faith” but to the whole statement as God’s gift: grace, salvation, and faith (cf. Phil. 1:29; WLC 71). Yet demonstrative pronouns are not “theological words” and don’t appear in theological dictionaries, including NIDNTTE.

So the question again is whether Moisés Silva has fixed the shortcomings of this theological dictionary to make it worth the investment. First, this is a very well-produced publication. There are four large volumes to the dictionary proper, consisting of about 750 pages each; they are surprisingly lightweight, and seem to be well bound. The fifth volume of nearly 400 pages is a complete index volume which primarily indexes Scripture and the other literature referenced from the Greek and Jewish worlds. It ends with a curious “Strong to Goodrick-Kohlenberger Number Conversion Chart” (see below). All five volumes fit into an attractive cardboard box.

Volume one begins with Silva’s brief, 10-page introduction and description of the work, accenting the changes in this version. There follows abbreviations, a list of contributors (which are no longer given at the end of each entry), and a topical List of Concepts arranged alphabetically: “Abolish, Nullify” to “Madness (cf. Astonishment; Think),” to “Zeal.” Very helpfully, this topical list is included at the beginning of each of the four volumes (not the fifth index volume) and is marked out with a gray stripe at the edge to make it very easy to find. This List of Concepts is needed because Silva has completely re-arranged this dictionary around Greek words presented alphabetically rather than around English topical words.

Each volume contains entries of lead Greek words and sometimes many others subordinated to it. For example, under δύο (duo, “two”), one finds seven other Greek words included in that entry such as δίστομος (distomos, “double-edged”) and δωδέκατος (dôdekatos, “twelfth”). This means that to find δίστομος (distomos) you would need to look it up in the index volume (volume 5); you will not find the entry alphabetically. This is not a terrible problem, and an electronic version of the work will probably make use of this work more efficient. The entry for δύο (duo) “two” does have a nice, brief discussion of the connotations of “two-edged” in a place like Revelation 19:13 where Christ wields a “sharp, two-edged sword” (1.784). However, one wants a bit more on military technology and swords to understand the “feel” this weapon gave to the original audience. For example, we are told in NIDNTTE that “two-edged” connotes the sword is effective for stabbing (the Roman army’s specialty), but it can also be used with either a forehand or backhand swing and is therefore a supremely efficient, dangerous, and terrifying weapon in the hands of a hard-charging horseman. The treatment in NIDNTTE is helpful for being so brief, but more could be said.

Each entry in NIDNTTE contains at least a paragraph each for the lead Greek word’s use in earlier Greek and Jewish literature before surveying its use in the NT and then briefly discussing the other words included under this head. For example, ἀκούω (akouô “I hear”) includes seven other words from the same root (ἀκοή, διακούω, εἰσακούω, ἐπακούω, παρακούω, παρακοή, and προακούω). This is a like an English dictionary which has one entry for “author” that also includes discussion of “authority,” “unauthorized,” “reauthorize,” and “authoritarian.” Sometimes the words under one entry have little to do with one another in meaning except a shared origin. Despite Silva’s best efforts, NIDNTTE is still susceptible to “being misused” by those who want to define terms around their root or to illegitimately inject meaning into one term from a different word that has a common origin.

What should be clear is that one does not use NIDNTTE as a Greek lexicon to replace those of Danker (BDAG) or Liddell-Scott (LSJ). It does not include all the NT Greek words, and it is not arranged for this purpose. Instead, because of the topical index, NIDNTTE can provide an interesting session of study of biblical words and concepts. For example, the entry “Height/Depth” lists four Greek words but cross references to “Above/Below” (with five Greek words), Heaven (another five Greek words), and Hell (six Greek words and further reference to concepts Death, Judge, Fire, Punishment, and Satan). Or take the concept “Possessions.” This topic alone lists twenty-eight Greek words spanning seventy-three pages and connects to other concepts such as “Avarice,” “Desire,” “Need,” “Poor,” and “Tax” with their own Greek terms and more cross references. One could spend a profitable day just browsing around here.

In the end, this reference tool will appeal to those who want a relatively quick and accessible alternative to the classic Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT; “Kittel’s”).[1] I should also note that there are many references to Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words in NIDNTTE which are not transliterated but instead have reference to a number in Zondervan’s equivalent of the old Strong’s concordance numbers giving original words behind the NIV. This means that the reader who is weak in biblical languages will have to buy other Zondervan titles to do thorough research; though I wonder how much profit would be derived from it by readers without at least a fair grasp of these languages. Furthermore, there are many references to scholarly books and articles in the body and select bibliographies for each entry in German, French, and Spanish, as well as in English.

I have enormous respect for Moisés Silva and the NIDNTTE represents a huge investment of work on his part. It is certainly a significant improvement on the earlier incarnation. I must admit, though, that I myself will probably not use it. TDNT still seems a much better resource despite its well-documented methodological problems simply because of the sheer volume of extra-biblical material it provides.

I also long for one resource that is still needed despite some passing attempts in NIDNTTE: a really sound and complete reference work for Greek synonyms and antonyms which includes words not found in the NT but which the NT authors would have been likely to have known. Access to these words are easily recovered from literary sources and even more directly from over one million extant Greek inscriptions that have hardly been touched by lexicographers for study of Greek words. Until such a truly significant and needed resource for Greek students and Bible interpreters comes along, NIDNTTE will serve as a fairly helpful starting point for those launching into their study of Greek and the theology of the NT.

Endnotes

[1] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., trans. and edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–78).

Stephen M. Baugh is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California.

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