Greek lexicons are indispensable resources for accurate New Testament
interpretation, but they are not infallible. Lexicons are not the final court of
appeal. Sometimes they contain misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate
information. How do lexicographers determine the meanings of words? They
trace words through the various stages of their history, and they seek to ascertain
word meaning by investigating word usage. They work from original sources and
they do comparative research with other lexicons of one or more languages.
Lexicographers also study ancient and modern advanced grammars, technical
commentaries, monographs, and ancient versions in preparation for their work.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature, by Walter Bauer, translated and adapted by William
F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and Frederick Danker is the most up to date and
scholarly lexicon currently available for New Testament research. But it is not
without fault. In the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition, page 899,
the following statement is made about psallo, "In our lit., in accordance w.
O.T. usage, sing (to the accompaniment of a harp)..." In the subsequent 1979
edition the parenthetical statement was removed after protests from several
scholars. No evidence has come to light that proves psallo means to play
on a man-made instrument (such as the harp) in the New Testament. The
third edition of this lexicon takes a middle of the road position regarding
psallo. (page 1096)
Alexander Souter, in his Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament,
page 286 makes the same mistake regarding psallo. He says it means "I play
on the harp (or other stringed instrument)." His lexicon purports to be for the
New Testament, yet he assigns the meaning for the classical period of the Greek
language. Joseph Henry Thayer's translation, revision, and enlargement of
Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti (Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament) gets a high mark for his discussion of psallo. He displays
sensitivity for the word's N.T. usage. He says, "in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to
celebrate the praises of God in song..." (page 675)
Nevertheless, Thayer's lexicon contains some entries that reflect his
Unitarian philosophy. (cf. his discussions of such key terms as theos, page 287,
and prototokos, page 555.) Thayer was the secretary of the New Testament
committee that produced the American Standard Version, and his influence is
especially pronounced in the marginal notes. For instance, Jesus heals the man
who was born blind (John 9) Verse 38 says the man who was born blind "...
said, Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him." Jesus accepts his worship. A
marginal note says, "The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether
paid to a creature (as here) or to the Creator..." Was Christ a creature? No.
He is the one through whom God created all things. (Heb. 1:2-3) A person
must not blindly and unqualifiedly accept every statement in any lexicon,
grammar, or commentary. To some extent they are all influenced by the authors
What are some safeguards that will help us avoid "theological entrapment"
by the scholars?
Comparative study. Always use more than one reference source in your
study of the text. Some authors are agenda oriented. See what other writers
have to say and weigh the evidence.
Always interpret contextually. The single most important factor in research
is to give close attention to the immediate context of a writing. Generally, words
do not stand alone as separate units. They work with other words in a phrase,
clause, sentence, or paragraph. This working together constitutes a context. If
a scholar promotes an idea that ignores contextual usage, his conclusion is
conjectural at best.
Beware of contradictions within a writer's work. If a scholar draws a
conclusion that contradicts a known truth it must be rejected. God's word is
truth (John 17:17), and truth is not self-contradictory in any of its parts.
(Psa. 119:160; 1 Cor. 14:33)
Understand that no grammarian, lexicographer, or commentator is
a depository of all the facts on every technical point. Even they rely on
others who are specialists in their respective disciplines. The human mind has