Book Reviews

A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

Daniel B. Wallace, editor Grand Rapids 2013-11-14

After decades of suspicion, misunderstanding, and sometimes even laziness and ignorance, evangelical theologians, pastors, teachers, and lay people are finally warming up to the writings traditionally called “the apostolic fathers.” This should, of course, be a reason for celebration. After all, because of their overlap with and close proximity (from c. AD 50 to c. AD 150) to the New Testament writings, the apostolic fathers as a collection (“corpus” might be a stretch) provide a vital historical-theological context within which the New Testament can be better interpreted. These writings also provide a cache of lexical, grammatical, and syntactical examples that can aid the exegete in understanding biblical Greek. In short, evangelicals today are realizing (or rediscovering) what should have been obvious, that those who value a historical-grammatical hermeneutic neglect at their hermeneutical peril the actual historical-grammatical background found in the apostolic fathers. A careful and skilled use of these earliest noncanonical writings helps fill out the context of the New Testament’s own theology and thought.

As a sort of sequel to Burer’s and Miller’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Kregel Academic, 2008), this volume covers the apostolic fathers efficiently and sufficiently, defining vocabulary and idioms as well as periodically parsing problematic grammatical forms. Alphabetized lexical entries are conveniently subdivided not only by chapter but also by section or verse.

The definitions themselves are selective enough to not overwhelm and also broad enough to not limit the reader’s exegetical options. They appear to be well thought-out for the most part, sensitive to each author’s general usage as well as the particular literary context. For example, Clement, Ignatius, Barnabas, and Hermas do not always use pneumatikov" the same way, and the editors of this Reader’s Lexicon are sensitive to the elasticity of such terms. In short, this is a powerful tool, not a pedantic tutor.

The volume is flexible enough to be used in two different ways: as a means of learning unfamiliar vocabulary prior to reading the apostolic fathers or as a tool for looking up vocabulary while reading. Either way, it’s an invaluable resource for readers of every level of Greek proficiency to begin studying this collection of writings in earnest. The end result will be both an increased mastery of Greek and an increased mastery of the historical-theological-literary context of the New Testament itself.

One suggestion that could easily be implemented in a revised edition would be to add lexical help for the sections of Polycarp’s Philippians (chapters 10–12) and other parts of the apostolic fathers that are not extant in Greek—at least for those sections that are extant in Latin. This is, after all, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers, not A Greek Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers. However, these lacunae are rather insignificant when compared with the value of the work as a whole. Adding these lexical aids would simply increase the quality of this volume from excellent to exceptional.

With regard to its practical use, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers is ideal for students who have completed two years of Koine Greek. Also, both New Testament and Patristic scholars will find this to be a helpful resource both personally and in conjunction with their course instruction.

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Michael J. Svigel
Department Chair and Professor of Theology and Church History, patristic scholar, writer, husband and father, accordion player. Passionate about the church and her Lord.
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