Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament

     Joseph  Henry  Thayer,  born  1828  and  died  1901, was professor of New
Testament criticism and interpretation at Harvard Divinity School from 1884-1901.
His main interest was in the Greek language of the New Testament. His most widely
known work was A  Greek-English  Lexicon  of  the  New Testament. He was a
member of the  revision  committee, and appointed Secretary of the New Testament
committee that  issued the American Standard Version in 1901. A person, therefore,
should not be amazed to discover that the vocabulary of the ASV, generally concurs
with  the  definitions  assigned   to  the  words  in  the  Wescott-Hort  Greek  New

     What  is  commonly  known  as  Thayer's  Lexicon  is  not  Thayer's  lexicon.
It is Grimm's Wilke's Clovis Novi Testamenti.  Thayer translated, revised, and
enlarged the work. Grimm's work was completed in 1879. Thayer acknowledges in
the preface of the lexicon that "Both Professor Grimm and the publisher courteously
gave me permission to make such changes in his work as might in my judgment the
better adapt it to the needs of English speaking students." (Preface, page 6) So, it
should be kept in mind that by referring to this work as Thayer's Lexicon, it is his
role  in  translating,  revising,  and  enlarging  Grimm's  lexicon  that   is  primarily
in view.

     Even though Thayer's Lexicon is dated, it is still a valuable resource if it is used
with discretion, and if the user distinguishes Thayer's definitions from his comments.
There are instances when the definitions he assigns to words are unsubstantiated.

     For example, on  page  94  the  first  definition  given  to the word baptizo by
the lexicon in the classic period of the language is, "prop. to dip repeatedly..." No
literature is cited to support this definition, and the reason is the evidence does not
exist. In  classic  Greek  when  a  ship  sank  it  was  immersed. (Polybius 1,51,6;
8,8,4)  Did the ship sink repeatedly? On page 555 the word prototokos is defined
as "firstborn." Then he says "Christ is called prototokos pases ktiseos...who came
into being through God prior to the entire universe of created things..." This comment
reflects his Unitarian theology.

     On page 618 of the lexicon teleios is correctly defined as "brought to its end,
finished;  wanting   nothing  necessary  to  completeness; teleion,
substantively, that which is perfect...the perfect state of all things, to be ushered in
by the return of Christ from heaven, 1 Cor. xiii. 10." The latter reflects a misuse of the
context of 1 Cor. 13:10. To teleion refers to the state preceding the second coming
of the Messiah. It refers to the completion of God's revelation through those men who
were God's agents in revealing his written will.

     Thayer's Lexicon retains its usefulness, but  it  like all  other  religious  works of
human origin must be used with caution. Study the definitions, evaluate the comments.
Use such works like you eat fish; eat the meat and throw the bones away. It is wise
not to make the older pre-papyri lexicons your first court of appeal. A lot has been
learned about koine Greek grammar and lexicography since the 18th and 19th
centuries. If you are going to use the older lexicons, use them in conjunction with the
more modern scholarly lexicons.
                                                                                                           R. Daly

Copyright 2014




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