Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Categorizing Biblical Languages' Lexicons

     The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with small sections of
Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. It is called koine Greek.
Koine  was  the  common  dialect  as  it  was  spoken  when  the Mediterranean
world was Hellenized.

     Most mature students  of  the  sacred  writings  know  the value of biblical
languages' lexicons. They are indispensable tools for an in-depth study of God's
word. But  not  all  Hebrew  and  Greek  lexicons  are  of  equal  value in their
approach   to   word   usage   and   meaning.  Which  factors  are  worthy  of
consideration in determining the most useful lexicons?

     There  are  three  main   kinds  of    lexicons;   elementary,   intermediate,
and advanced. The elementary lexicons generally list the Hebrew, Aramaic, or
Greek words in alphabetical order with brief meanings or more often "glosses."
A gloss is a word that requires explanation. Elementary lexicons are generally
limited in usefulness and can lead to misleading interpretation. Examples of
elementary Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons are: The Analytical Hebrew and 
Chaldee Lexicon by Benjamin Davidson, and the Hebrew and Aramaic 
Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by George Fohrer. Examples of
intermediate Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons are: Theological Wordbook 
of the Old Testament, edited  by  Harris,  Archer,  and  Waltke;  Student's  
Hebrew Lexicon    by   Davies-Mitchell;  Theological Lexicon of the Old
Testament by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann; and  Student's  Hebrew  
and  Chaldee Dictionary by Alexander Harkavy.  Examples  of  advanced
Hebrew  and Aramaic  lexicons  are:   Hebrew-English Lexicon  by  William
Gesenuis;  Hebrew   and   English   Lexicon   of   the   Old   Testament,
by Brown-Driver and Briggs; The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the 
Old Testament by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner; The Dictionary 
of Classical Hebrew edited by David J. A. Clines; and the Theological 
Dictionary of The Old Testament, edited by Botterweck, Ringgren, and Fabry.

     Examples of elementary Greek-English lexicons  or   wordbooks   are:  Vine's   
Expository  Dictionary  of   New Testament Words; A Pocket Lexicon to 
the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter; A Greek-English Lexicon 
to the New Testament by Thomas Sheldon Green; and A Concise Dictionary 
of New Testament Greek by Warren C. Trenchard. Examples of intermediate
lexicons are: An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon based on the seventh
edition  of  Liddell  and  Scott's  work;  Manual  Greek Lexicon of the New
Testament  by  G. Abbott-Smith;  Greek-English  Lexicon   of   the   New
Testament by  J.H.  Thayer;  Theological Lexicon of the New Testament,
by     Ceslas    Spicq;    and    most   of    the    Analytical    Greek-English 
Lexicons of the New Testament. Examples of advanced Greek-English lexicons
are: Greek-Lexicon, ninth edition with revised supplement, by Liddell-Scott,
Jones and McKenzie; A Patristic Greek Lexicon by G.W.H. Lampe; Greek
Lexicon   of   the   Roman   and   Byzantine   Periods  by   E. A. Sophocles;  
and A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian
Literature, by Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich.  

     What qualities should a person look for in lexicons of the biblical languages?
(1) Objectivity. The purpose of a lexicon is to cite the facts without an axe to 
grind or a heretical theological slant to promote. (2) Thoroughness. A lexicon
should cite the full range of meanings for its entries. Conjecture should be avoided.
(3) Voluminous original source material. A lexicon should cite as many of
the original sources as possible to illustrate word usage within ancient literature.
(4) Modernity. Some of the older lexicons are still useful, but they must be studied
with caution. A lot has been learned about the biblical languages within the last
200 years. The Dead Sea Scrolls, comparative literature, and languages (such as
Ugaritic, Hittite, Akkadian, Sanskrit, and Sumerian) have added immensely to our
understanding of linguistics and the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew. The discovery
of ancient  Greek  papyri   has   increased   our   knowledge  of   biblical   Greek.
(5) Accurate scholarship. The mere fact that a lexicon cites source material and
appears to be objective, thorough, and  modern  should   not   necessarily   lead
one to conclude that it accurately accesses the data, and thereby posits unflawed
information. We   appreciate  the  massive  amount  of   research   that undergirds
lexicographical work, but  we  must  remember  that  the  scholars  who compile
lexicons are human beings. They  are  not  guided  into all the truth by  the  Holy
Spirit of God, as the apostles were (John 16:13), therefore though we admire their
toil, we want to be sure the things said are true (Acts 17:11). It is incumbent on us
to think through the text. Safeguards must be in place to ensure accuracy.
                                                                                                           R. Daly
Copyright 2013   


  1. Thank you for sharing Cousin! Help me out a bit:
    (1) Are then all 'shorter' and 'concise' Greek lexicons (such as Danker's) considered primary? And is it the brevity then that categorizes them as such?
    (2) Do intermediate/advanced lexicons tend to do much more citing of verses as well?
    (3) I'm almost certain since the TDOT is an advanced, but for clarity, the TDNT would also be advanced correct?

  2. Thanks, Cousin Daniel, for your questions. I will attempt

    (1) The shorter Greek-English lexicon edited by Danker,
    Second Edition, published 1983, would be a primary
    lexicon due to its brevity and ease of use. It is a
    condensation of the larger and magisterial 1979 BGAD.

    (2) The intermediate and advanced biblical lexicons
    cite more ancient sources, include more of the biblical
    context, and sometimes contain grammatical analyses
    that assist with exegesis.

    (3) Yes, both TDOT and TDNT are advanced. They cite
    numerous extra biblical sources, including the Samaritan
    Pentateuch, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, and languages
    that were contemporary with biblical Hebrew and Greek.
    I meant to include TDNT among the advanced lexicons
    of New Testament Greek. I will revise the article and
    include it along with a couple other resources.