Words have always been important for exegesis. The rich history in New Testament studies of focusing on words within the broader disciplines of philology, lexicography, and etymology has had an undeniably positive impact upon our understanding of the Greek text. Current trends in scholarship often seek to move beyond the word, but in many ways we can never get past it. The wisest task at present is to improve our understanding of the ways words work within the larger discourse, across languages, and conceptually across the canon. The word remains the fundamental building block of the sentence and discourse and has an important impact upon theology. So it will always deserve careful attention within the exegetical process.
Enter the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE). This work, with its focus on the theological use and import of Greek words within the New Testament, situates itself as a critical tool for New Testament exegesis. NIDNTTE is the most recent iteration of a line of tools that focus not only on the meaning of words but also on their contribution to biblical theology. The original work with this dual lexical/theological focus, which ultimately led to the publication of the current work, was the Theologisches Begriffslexicon zum Neuen Testament (ed. Lothar Coenen; 2nd ed.; 1970–71), or TBNT. This German work was translated into English, revised, and expanded a few years later to become the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown; 1975–78), or NIDNTT, which became a standard reference work for exegesis. The current work under consideration, NIDNTTE (ed. Moisés Silva; 2014), is a revision of NIDNTT. The name was changed slightly to suggest a relationship to the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (ed. Willem A. Van Gemeren; 1997). Moisés Silva was an excellent choice to be the editor for this new volume, given his work in semantics and linguistics (see his Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics [rev. ed.; 1995] and God, Language, and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics ). NIDNTTE maintains the same dual focus on lexicography and theology as the prior works, advancing the discussion considerably in light of subsequent scholarship.
One difference between TBNT, NIDNTT, and NIDNTTE worth mentioning at this juncture is the responsibility for the work. Silva is the sole revision editor for NIDNTTE. TBNT and NIDNTT each had signed articles, so it was clear which contributor was responsible for which article. The list of contributors for NIDNTT is included in NIDNTTE on page 22, but the articles in NIDNTTE are no longer signed. In Silva’s judgment the extent of the revisions made it inappropriate to retain the names of the original authors (see section 1 of the preface). In my opinion the best practice would be to indicate in some fashion the author of the original NIDNTT article in order to make it easier to trace the development of thought between the editions, but Silva’s decision does not detract from the ample effectiveness and value of this work.
From the outset this text has a broader goal than a lexicon normally would. It seeks ultimately to delve into the theology of the New Testament through the vehicle of the word. In both philosophy and design it allows for a close examination of both word and concept. The reader can begin with concepts that lead to particular Greek words that represent those ideas, or the reader can first examine particular Greek words and then branch out into related concepts. This has the added effect of undermining the common word/concept fallacy in exegesis, that is, that a concept is present in the text only when a particular word is present. NIDNTTE majors on linguistic, historical, and exegetical data throughout, focusing on how these different domains of knowledge relate to the particular words and the broader concepts. In short, NIDNTTE is a lexical and theological Swiss Army knife, and a sharp and useful one at that.
The first volume contains the preface (well worth reading to understand the shape and function of this work) and then Greek words from alpha to delta. Volumes 2–4 cover the remaining letters of the Greek alphabet. The fifth volume includes indexes of Old Testament, New Testament, and extrabiblical literature, and Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words. Each volume but the last begins with the List of Concepts. Although not an article as such, this list is key to the work’s hybrid lexical/theological approach. It is a collection of biblical concepts, arranged alphabetically in English, which then point to the Greek words that signal those concepts. For example, page 67 of volume 1 lists concepts ranging from “Receive” to “Reject, Refuse, Neglect.” On this page under the heading “Recompense, Reward, Gain, Loss, Wages” are eleven Greek words that touch upon this concept. This breadth enables the exegete who wishes to study the idea of “Reward,” for example, to touch upon most every facet of the concept.
The articles covering Greek terms are organized alphabetically, listed together by cognate word group. The criterion for selecting the first word listed in the cognate word group is not clear, as the part of speech for the leading word varies. Fortunately this presents little difficulty for the reader, given that related Greek terms tend to be spelled similarly. After the headwords come cross references to concepts (from the List of Concepts) with which the word group intersects. These cross references maintain a helpful focus on the word/concept linkage and enable further study into the theological idea beyond the simple occurrence of a particular word.
Each article addresses first the use of the word or word group in general (Greek) literature (GL). Then the article addresses Jewish literature (JL), with an obvious focus on the LXX but also with reference to Old Testament antecedents and extrabiblical literature as appropriate. These sections are replete with examples and discussion of word meanings. The goal is to show the meaning and theological use of the word within these broad literary corpora, setting the stage for what is seen in the New Testament.
The third major section of each article addresses the occurrences of the word or word group within the New Testament. These discussions are often quite lengthy with numerous subsections addressing particular passages or theological ideas as necessary. For example, the section on New Testament literature in the article on δικαιοσύνη and its cognates extends for a little over ten pages. It covers the use of the terms within different divisions of the New Testament corpus; the section on Pauline usage itself has six subdivisions, each of which addresses an important facet of Paul’s theological thought or a key passage from his writings. The articles conclude with a helpful bibliography that references standard lexical tools as well as helpful secondary sources, such as articles and monographs.
There is so much to appreciate about this work and its contribution to exegesis. NIDNTTE continues with excellence the prior scholarship begun in TBNT and NIDNTT. Even though this is a thorough revision and expansion, the impress of the earlier works is clear. Yet NIDNTTE has expanded so appreciably that it should be regarded as a new work in its own right. NIDNTTE evidences great breadth, both on the philosophical level, as the work is organized to help the exegete appropriately move from theology to lexeme and vice versa, and on the particular level, as each article roams widely into all types of literature pertinent for understanding the use of a term. At the same time NIDNTTE shows excellent depth. Coverage of Greek and Jewish literature is not cursory but detailed, as references and examples are discussed regularly. The discussion of each word in the New Testament often becomes exegetical discussion proper, as various options for meaning are introduced and weighed. Note as examples the discussion of ἁρπαγμός in Philippians 2:6 in volume 1, pages 403–4, and the discussion of φθόνος in James 4:5 in volume 4, page 604. Each has a concise, helpful examination of the different options for interpreting the word and the resultant exegesis for the passage.
In short, I recommend strongly that all exegetes use NIDNTTE every time they investigate a word or a concept in the biblical text. Silva is to be commended for consistently excellent execution throughout the work. The effort of digging through the articles will be rewarded many times over with a more complete understanding of both the words and the concepts in the New Testament, and the exegesis drawn from that understanding will be more accurate and helpful to those who hear it.
About the Contributors
Before beginning his faculty service Dr. Burer worked for many years with Bible.org as an editor and assistant project director for the NET Bible. He was also instrumental in the completion of the New English Translation-Novum Testamentum Graece diglot, published jointly by Bible.org and the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft of Stuttgart, Germany. An ordained minister, Dr. Burer is active in his local church and has ministered frequently with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in France. He has served as a visiting teacher at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique in Vaux-sur-Seine, France. His research and teaching interests include Greek language and exegesis, the Gospels, and Jesus studies.