BMCR 2001.06.01

A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature

, , , , A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000. lxxix, 1108 pages. ISBN 0226039331. $84.00.

This is a book with a history, as the copious information on its title page indicates. It all started, you may say, in 1920 when the Göttingen professor Walter Bauer was entrusted with the task of preparing a new edition of Erwin Preuschen’s Vollständiges griechisch-deutsches Handwörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur, which had appeared in 1910. When this second edition was completed in 1928, the pretentious epithet Vollständiges had disappeared from the title, but Wörterbuch had supplanted the more modest Handwörterbuch, and it is as “Bauer’s Wörterbuch” that this lexicon, in its successive editions, has become known to generations of classicists and New Testament (henceforth: NT) scholars; starting with the third edition (1937), it had only Bauer’s name on the title page.

Already the second edition could claim completeness with more right than Preuschen’s original lexicon. Although, unlike his predecessors, Preuschen had included the vocabulary of the apostolic fathers for comparisons with NT Greek, he did not exploit the papyrus texts and other linguistic material that had become available in the last decades of the nineteenth century,. Bauer introduced such material in the second edition, and still more in the third, but it is with the fourth edition (1952) that a more decisive step forward is taken. For that edition, Bauer had undertaken a systematic search of much of Greek literature, from Homer down to the Byzantine period, for parallels that could explain NT usage and help to define the semantics of the NT vocabulary. This was an immense task, undertaken by one man in an age when no electronic retrieval devices were available and printed word indexes to individual texts were scarce. But more was to come. The fifth edition (1958) represents the crowning point of Bauer’s work, and, in spite of the many accretions in the previous editions, it could be justly described as “verbessert und stark vermehrt”.

After Bauer’s death in 1960, a sixth edition, “völlig neu bearbeitet”, appeared in 1988. This is more teamwork, for the responsible editors, Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, were assisted by scholars of the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung at Münster, especially by Viktor Reichmann.

The fourth German edition formed the basis for William F. Arndt’s and F. Wilbur Gingrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957). This cannot be called simply a translation of the German original for the American scholars made several additions of their own, both lemmata (in particular from Papias) and bibliographic references, especially to works by Americans. A second edition of this lexicon, based on the fifth German edition, appeared in 1979. An improved typography made this edition a considerably more handy tool than the previous one, but the most important improvements were less visible: references to previously unavailable text witnesses, material from Qumran, parallels from extra-biblical texts, etc. The edition was prepared by Gingrich and Danker; Arndt had died in 1957.

Frederick W. Danker became solely responsible for the new, third edition of the Greek-English lexicon (henceforth: BDAG, for Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich) after Gingrich’s death in 1993. Its foundation is not only the previous English editions but also the sixth German edition that appeared in the meantime. The preparation of this new edition has been made possible by support from the Committee for Scholarly Research of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

As its title indicates, the lexicon covers the vocabulary of the “New Testament and other early Christian literature”. By “other early Christian literature” is meant the apostolic fathers and “selected apocrypha”. The apocrypha in question, listed on pp. xxxi-xxxiii, mainly include apocryphal acts and gospels, plus some Gnostic texts, many of them preserved on papyri. The vocabulary of these texts provides the basic material of the lexicon. The editor (p. x) claims completeness only in the sense that the lexicon quotes all occurrences of all words, except the most common ones, that appear in the main text of the 27th edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece of 1993. Danker, like his predecessors, strives to include all words in “other early Christian literature” as well, including textual variants offered by important text witnesses, but he has not reached that goal. It is nowhere stated how far from completeness the lexicon is in these respects, but a scholar working with these texts and not interested in their smallest minutiae may use the lexicon with confidence. It apparently records all words occurring somewhere in the early Christian literature, as defined by the editor, even if not all their occurrences outside NT are listed.

Comparative material is brought in from a great variety of sources: literary texts, papyri, inscriptions, from Homer down to Anna Comnena and Eustathius of Thessalonice; the list of abbreviations for such texts fills 18 pages. In each lemma it is indicated where the word—or one particular meaning of it—is attested for the first time in alphabetical Greek (in contrast to the Revised Supplement of Liddell-Scott-Jones, BDAG does not record attestations in Mycenaean Greek). If a word occurs in the Septuagint or intertestamental literature it is always indicated. The meanings of the words are, if possible, illustrated or explained with parallels from other Greek texts, in the first place from texts contemporary with the NT and the “early Christian” writers and from later Christian texts, but with no prejudices against pagans or, if appropriate, much later authors.

With this scope, BDAG becomes an indispensable tool for the NT scholar. For a classicist with a more general interest in the interpretation of Greek texts or in the history of the language it is an important complement to LSJ and the Diccionario griego-español, on one hand, with their focussing on earlier periods, and, on the other, Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon, which concerns later Christian texts.

BDAG includes all new material that appeared in the sixth German edition. However, BDAG differs in at least two important respects from its German model. First, bibliographical information. The fifth German edition contained a generous amount of references to scholarly treatments of the meanings of NT words. Those references were strongly reduced in the sixth edition, which many scholars deplored. BDAG keeps all the references that were in the fifth edition and adds more of its own. For that reason, BDAG is a more helpful instrument than its model for serious scholarly work in the field of Greek lexicography.

The other peculiarity of BDAG is a novelty introduced by Danker. It concerns the structuring of the lemmata and the way in which the meanings of the Greek words are indicated. In existing Greek-English lexica the meaning of a Greek word is usually rendered with one or more English words that are regarded as synonymous or nearly so with the Greek word. This is an imprecise way of indicating meaning. Two languages that are structurally, chronologically and culturally as far apart as English and ancient Greek are not likely to possess many words that are exactly or even approximately synonymous with words in the other language. Few texts can be rendered word by word between the two languages and, if you follow a lexicon slavishly when translating a text, the result will be unsatisfactory if not outright disastrous. Instead of word-by-word rendering, Danker introduces what he calls extended definitions. Whenever it is felt appropriate, the meaning of a word is first given in the shape of a definition (printed with bold type), followed by one or more approximate English equivalents (with bold italics). E.g., the word πλάσμα is first defined as “that which is formed or molded”, then follow the equivalents ” image, figure” and after that the relevant passages with suggested translations. The gain in clarity may be illustrated by the lemma ἀδελφός. The second English edition, closely following its German model, gave “brother” as the general meaning of the word and then listed five, more specialized meanings or usages, viz., (1) literal, (2) figurative (with the explanation: “Jesus calls everyone who is devoted to him brother“, (3) ” fellow countryman“, (4) “without ref. to common nationality or faith neighbor“, and (5) “Form of address used by a king to persons in very high position”. BDAG gives two basic meanings, defining them as “a male from the same womb as the reference pers[on]” (with the English equivalent ” brother“) and “a pers[on] viewed as a brother in terms of close affinity” (with the equivalents ” brother, fellow member, member, associate” and the remark “fig[urative] ext[ension] of 1”); meanings 3-5 of the second edition are subsumed under meaning 2 in BDAG. This makes things more clear: the word has either literal or figurative meaning, and definition 2 defines the conditions under which the word can be used figuratively. That definition, by using the word “person”, also indicates that ἀδελφός, at least in the plural, can be used about female fellow members of, e.g., a religious community.

The introduction of these extended definitions must have caused the editor a lot of extra work. It has involved a total restructuring of numerous lemmata and the trouble of finding appropriate definitions, whenever such were needed. Methodologically, it is an important improvement and, on the whole, a novelty in Greek lexicography. It is to be hoped that other authors of Greek lexica will follow Danker’s example. Some of his definitions possibly need improvement but many would serve also in a lexicon of non-biblical Greek.

Accuracy and precision are virtues to be expected in lexica. BDAG is satisfactory in those respects but not faultless. If my probes are to be trusted, there is on the average one misprint per page, mostly incorrect or misplaced accents, and some inconsistencies (e.g., ἔγκλημα, τος p. 273 but ἔδεσμα, ατος p. 275; θρησκεία p. 459 but ἐθελοθρησκία p. 276, without mention of orthographic variants). A check of about 100 pages of BDAG against the corresponding portions of LSJ’s Revised Supplement suggests that the following lemmata in BDAG should be supplemented or corrected:

ἀνδρίζομαι : the Rev.Suppl. offers relevant extra-biblical parallels.

ἄχρι as temporal preposition: ἄξρι ἡμερῶν πέντε Acts 20:6 means “by the end of five days” rather than “within five days” (cf. the varia lectio πεμπταῖοι, which means “on the fifth day”, not “in five days”; it denotes a point in time, not duration).

οἰκεῖος : At Galatians 6:10 “familiar with faith” is probably a better understanding of οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως than BDAG’s circumstantial “who belong to the household of faith”.

οὗτος : At Matthew 8:9 and some other passages the meaning “such-and-such” seems certain; cf. ὅδε James 4:13.

περίχωρος : IG 5(2).3.10 (Tegea, iv BC) offers the earliest instance of τὸ περίχωρον.

πολύς : Extra-biblical parallels indicate that a possible meaning of τῶν πλειόνων 2 Corinthians 2:6 is “the full initiates”.

πρόσκαιρος : When applied to persons, as Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17, the meaning could be “concerned only with the moment, lacking staying power”.

One purpose of Bauer’s lexicon was originally to demonstrate the close affinity between NT Greek and the extra-biblical language. With the accretion of relevant papyrologic and epigraphic material, the number of known parallels had increased, especially as regards vocabulary. In the 1920’s, the papyri were thought to represent the everyday language of simple, uneducated people, and theologians tended to think of the early followers of Christ as such simple people. In view of the ever increasing number of parallels between the writings of NT and sub-literary texts, it was a natural conclusion that they all represented the same variety of the language and that future discoveries of new documents would eventually demonstrate the complete linguistic congruity between them. BDAG reproduces the English translation of an article by Bauer, “An Introduction to the Lexicon of the Greek New Testament”, the German original of which he published in 1955, after completing the fourth German edition. In that article Bauer expresses his view “that our literature on the whole represents the late Greek colloquial language”. This is the assumption under which Bauer started—and continued—his work, and Danker seems to embrace the same views as he on the development of the Greek language. However, labeling NT Greek as “colloquial” seems problematic nowadays. The diglossic or polyglossic situation that prevailed in the Greek-speaking world involved more linguistic varieties than “colloquial” and “literary”, and no variety of written Greek would be identical with spoken Greek. Even the concept of “NT Greek” becomes problematic, since the differences between the individual writings of the NT are so conspicuous, and, in spite of all parallels that have been detected, there are certain linguistic features that are attested only in Jewish and Christian texts. Before the next edition of BDAG some rethinking along these lines is advisable; the views that the lexicographer holds on the position of early Christian Greek in the Greek language community will influence, e.g., his selection of parallels to be quoted and his readiness to accept that ordinary Greek words may have developed specialized meanings in the linguistic milieu to which NT belonged. But that remark should not obscure the excellence of BDAG in its present shape. It is without doubt the best tool of its kind that exists in any language, and the present edition is decidedly superior to the earlier ones.