BMCR 2004.07.36

A Concise Dictionary of New Testament Greek

, A concise dictionary of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvii, 177 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 052181815X. $15.00 (pb).

The lexicography of the Greek New Testament is a special field within the area of Greek lexicography, and one which requires special attention. It was long thought that the Greek of the New Testament represented an epichoric variety of Greek spoken by Hellenized Hebrews, a mixture of foreigners’ Greek, Hebrew syntax, and Biblical reminiscences. The great nineteenth- and twentieth-century papyrological discoveries revealed that the language of the New Testament was in fact very close to the vernacular Greek of the papyri. The documentary evidence in favour of the vernacular element of the NT was collected by J.H. Moulton-G. Milligan Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and other non-Literary Sources (London, 1930), a greatly enlarged and updated version of which is to be published by the Australian scholars Greg H. Horsley and John A.L. Lee.

Warren Trenchard’s A Concise Dictionary of New Testament Greek (henceforward: CDNTG), as stated in the author’s preface, is the result of several years’ close engagement on the project for a new comprehensive vocabulary guide to the Greek New Testament. The book is aimed at students, pastors, and other readers, and is intended to “provide them with a convenient and useful source of word meanings and other information concerning the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament”. The author acknowledges his debt to his predecessors in the field, most notably Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart, 1993), comparable in scale and intended readership, and F.W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 20003, hereafter referred to by the standard acronym BDAG). The founding father of NT and early Christian lexicography was however Walter Bauer, the first edition of whose Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, on which even BDAG is based, came out in 1928. The latest edition of Bauer, the sixth, edited by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, with Viktor Reichmann, was published in 1988.

BDAG, CDNTG‘s richest source, is a 1108-page-long quarto, and the author deserves praise for succeeding to produce such an informative Concise Dictionary, only 177 pages long. The entries of CDNTG include proper nouns, non-Greek words, and textual variants, as found in the apparatus critici of the two editions of the Greek NT on which CDNTG draws, Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine (27th edition, Stuttgart, 1993), and The Greek New Testament. United Bible Society (4th edition, New York, 1993).

The presentation of the entries and the system of sigla in CDNTG is very straightforward and mostly self-explanatory: the headword, in bold type, is followed by a description of the part of speech, by information about cognate words, by the principal forms of the lexeme present in the NT, and by English glosses. The various English glosses are separated by commas and by semicolons, the latter being used to separate what CDNTG identifies as distinct subsenses, or different semantic nuances. For these subdivisions of the entries, the author acknowledges his debt to BDAG. Finally, information is given about the frequency of a specific lemma in the NT. When the word occurs only once, the relevant NT passage is quoted.

When a word does not actually occur in the form represented by the lemma (typically first person present indicative active for verbal entries), the meaning of the actual form present in the NT is also provided, in addition to that of the headword. For example the entry for μαραίνω (to destroy) reads:

* μαραίνω v. (*) aor. pass. ἐμαράνθην to destroy; die out, fade, disappear, wither (pass. in NT)*.

The asterisk in parenthesis informs that the lemma is itself the key word to which other words are related. Special meanings associated with specific grammatical forms of the same words are also noted, such as plural πολλά, with the distinct adverbial meanings often, and severely, earnestly as opposed to singular πολύς.

The presence of a great variety of idioms peculiar to NT, mostly Hebraisms, Biblical allusions, Latinisms, as well as of a great number of controversial and contentious expressions poses considerable problems for lexicographers: entries in BDAG are crammed with references to scholarly contributions and philological notes. CDNTG admirably succeeds in registering and explaining the most significant idiomatic phrases, in which the meaning of individual words may acquire very different nuances. On several of these idioms cf. C.F.D. Moule An idiom-book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge, 19632), esp. 171-88.

For example, under πρόσωπον the gloss face is naturally given, but CDNTG duly notes the phrase πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν, to show partiality e.g. in Lk. 20:21, a phrase clearly influenced by Biblical Hebrew.

Similarly, the entry for πλησμονή reads:

* πλησμονή, ῆς, η( n. ( πίμπλημι) satiety, satisfaction, gratification, πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός self-indulgence (1) Col. 2:23* (the quotation means exactly “against self-indulgence towards the flesh”).

Among the few idiomatic expressions for which I could find no information in CDNTG I mention the possible Hebraism εἰς μνημόσυνον (in Acts 10.4, αἱ προσευχαί σου ἀνέβησαν εἰς μνημόσυνον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ, your prayers rose up to God as memorial offerings, i.e. so as to be memorial offerings before God).

The only aspect of CDNTG which in my view raises concerns is that of the organization of complex polysemic entries, such as common verbs (e.g. τίθημι, κρατέω, δοκέω, ἔχω, θέλω, ποιέω), prepositions (e.g. ἐν, εἰς), conjunctions and other particles (e.g. ἐάν, ει)). This is an area where less advanced students need most help, and at the same time it is here that the constraints and limitations of format make themselves felt most acutely.

The organization and arrangement of entries is one of the central problems of lexicography. Different models of arrangement depend on the nature of the lexica: the main competing models, often combined, are historical (the senses are ranged from the earliest to the last known occurrence of the word) and logical (from the core or central sense of the word, to the various evolved meanings by way of extension, restriction, metaphoric or metonymic substitution, etc.).

A lexicon of the NT cannot adopt a purely historical arrangement, because the linguistic data span too short a period of time, and because of its specialized nature; entries are normally structured adopting logical patterns.1

BDAG, Trenchard’s acknowledged model, follows the Passowian tradition (after the German scholar Franz Passow) of linking subsenses by means of the so-called semantic bridges, i.e. extended definitions given at the beginning of each new sub-entry, and accounting for the evolution from the core or oldest sense to the various extensional or transferred meanings of the word. This organization is intended to show direct logical relationships between the uses of a word, helping users to build up an understanding of the way in which different meanings of a word relate to each other.

In CDNTG, however, only English glosses are given, and no definitions. This has the disadvantage of lending to polysemic entries, in some cases at least, the appearance of incoherent strings of glosses, in which the same word is associated with contradictory or surprising meanings.

For example, the entry for ἔχω, reads as follows, after the standard information about part of speech, cognate words, forms present in NT:

* to have, own, possess, hold, ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχω be pregnant; have (in close relationship), have as, take; hold (to), grip, keep safe, seize; have on, wear; be able; consider, look upon, think; be possessed by, to have been granted, be under, one must; bring about, cause; meet ἔχω ὁδόν be situated (a certain distance) away; it is, the situation is (impers.); be (in a certain way); next (to), belonging to, immediately following, τῇ ἐχομένῃ on the next day (mid. ptc.)*.

What comes to mind first is that the typographical presentation chosen does not help the cause of clarity: semicolons do not stand out enough to separate off subsequent subsenses, and perhaps bold arabic numerals or letters should have been used.

In addition, more information about syntactical constructions and the specific meanings associated with some of them would have helped to rationalize the structure of the entries. To give a quick example, the sense consider, look upon, think is strictly limited to some predicative constructions with a double accusative: a brief grammatical note would immediately help the user to decide which is the meaning s/he needs.

Immediately after this, the gloss be possessed by is an appropriate rendering only of the idiomatic phrase δαιμόνιον ἔχειν (literally to have a spirit): as it is, the unwary user is confused by the equation of active ( ἔχω) with passive ( be possessed by). The meanings immediately following, i.e. to have been granted, be under, one must add to the confusion. To have been granted is a gloss valid only for a specific context, the phrase ἔχομεν τὰ αἰτήματα in 1J 5:15 ( we have, i.e. have been granted our requests), and should not have been identified as a specific subsense of the verb. Likewise, be under is a rendering of the NT common phraseological expressions χρείαν, ἀνάγκην ἔχειν only. In BDAG all these senses are appropriately subsumed under sense 7. *to experience something, have * a definition which helps to explain all the nuances the verb acquires in the specific contexts: a reader can work them out for him- or herself.

Next to all these, one must refers to the construction of ἔχω with the infinitive for to have to, must, which should have been assigned a separate sub-entry.

This is how the entry for ποιέω reads:

* to make, manufacture, produce, create, appoint; do, cause, bring, accomplish, prepare, perform, make, establish, provide, bring, wage (of war), give (of a meal), celebrate, send out, produce, bear, yield, force, claim, pretend, send; keep, carry out, practice, commit, live, show, be guilty of, act, proceed; do to, do with, do for, treat, deal with; get, gain, assume, suppose, take as an example, spend (of time), stay; work, be active; make or do for oneself, make or do of oneself (mid.).*

The problems of this entry are very similar to those highlighted about ἔχω; there is an impression of incoherent development, and the student would be justified in feeling at a loss: how can the Greek verb meaning make, do acquire the sense of live, get, stay ?2 Again, these glosses relate to the idiomatic or traditional English rendering of specific passages (e.g. J 3:21 ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, lit. he who does (or: lives) the truth comes to the light): in this particular case, live, although current in some English translations, is an overinterpretation of the passage: the Greek really does not convey this nuance.

As I have said, the flaw is inherent in the preference assigned to translational glosses over meanings, in terms of definitions of the semantic components of a word. The glosses offered in CDNTG are in fact often renderings of specific idioms, or even specific passages: their validity is purely contextual, and they should not be assigned such a prominence in the definition of the lexical meaning of the word.3

εἰ is assigned the following meanings:

* if; that; since; if only; certainly not; whether *

Without an explanation, the coexistence of the meanings if and certainly not is absurd. Certainly not is indeed a peculiar and difficult Hebraism, restricted to very few passages in NT: cf. Blass-Debrunner-Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1961), sect. 372 (4). The use of εἰ as a direct speech introductor should have been mentioned.

Although it is clear to me that the purpose of CDNTG in giving so many English glosses for a Greek headword was that of helping inexperienced users with the task of translating, spoonfeeding them to the right, i.e. idiomatic translation even of specific single passages, it is dubious if this objective is very much assisted by the confusing lists of glosses assigned to long entries, and I am worried that Greek beginners, and generally students with little experience of translation from ancient to modern languages, may receive an impression of haphazard distribution of the meanings in the lexicon, and almost be encouraged to pick out meanings at random. More in the way of explanation of the evolution of the meaning, and less in the way of glosses would have been, in my view, more helpful and didactically more desirable.

In spite of this stricture, I do not wish to detract from a book whose merits are obviously very great. CDNTG is accurate, well-researched, and informative, and, especially in light of its affordable price, it is sure to become an invaluable help for start-up courses in the study of the NT, and even a practical quick reference tool for more advanced readers.


1. For a general discussion of the competing models of entry structure in dictionaries cf. R. Werner, Probleme der Anordnung der Definitionen im allgemeinen einsprachigen Wörterbuch in Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 5.1 (Berlin-New York, 1989), 917-30.

2. The medial sense of ποιοῦμαι to consider, reckon, esteem, occurring in Acts 20.24, should have been included.

3. For the theoretical distinction between definitions in terms of lexical components and glosses, as well as between lexical meaning and contextual usage, and its relevance in the lexicography of NT cf. J.P. Louw, “The analysis of meaning in lexicography,” FNT 6 (1993), 139-48, esp. 141.