Expositiory Dictionary of Bible Words, edited by Stephen D. Renn

EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF BIBLE WORDS. Edited by Stephen D. Renn. Peabody, MO: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005. Xii–1171 pages plus CD. Cloth. $29.95.

Reviewed by Henry Rowold

Renn (Sydney Missionary and Bible College) put this book together to serve a unique niche of biblical students 1) who know enough Hebrew and Greek to want to utilize those languages for their enrichment of personal study, preaching, Bible instruction, but 2) who may not be quite at the level of being able to read the original freely and to use TWOT/TWNT or other top-tier resources. In its own words, this is a “non-technical reference book…(which) offers a comprehensive (though not exhaustive) analysis and discussion of both Old Testament Hebrew (and Aramaic) and New Testament Greek terms.”

The organizing structure of this dictionary follows the lead of a Strong’s Classic Exhaustive Concordance (with revised numbering system), which also used English to get at Hebrew and Greek, but used Hebrew and Greek to caution the reader from simplistically equating one English word with one Hebrew or Greek word. Of 8,674 Hebrew words and 5,624 Greek words cited in Strong’s, this dictionary touches on some 3000 of each. This obviously involves choices, which may leave readers expecting to find words in Strong’s that were not chosen for this volume, e.g. אֱלוֹהּ or לִוְיָתָן, but the book is already over eleven hundred pages long!

The layout of the book centers on English word families. For purposes of illustration, we will choose the word family of “life/live/living.”  This dictionary gives Hebrew and Greek words that were translated into that word family with their corresponding numbers in Strong’s Concordance ( היא ,היה ,נֶפֶשׁ ,הַי [Aramaic], and ψυχή, ζωή, βίος, ἄψυχος, ζάω, ζωογονέω, πολιτεύμαι, συζάω, εἰρηνεύω, μακροχρόνιος, ἀναζάω, τρυφάω). An overview of each of the Hebrew and Greek words is given (full column to ζάω, half-column to the first three Hebrew words and to ζωή, and shorter entries to the other words). The overview generally gives the number of occurrences, the range of meaning, usages (often highlighting human and divine spheres), and supporting or illustrative Scripture references. Moreover, “Additional Notes” are appended to more consequential entries to highlight points of conceptual continuity between Old and New Testaments, with emphasis on Messianic/Christological significance. Where pertinent, cross references are given to alert the reader to other English words used to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word.

A major 90-page index is given to list each Hebrew and Greek word (in transliterated and original form, together with corresponding English translations) treated in the dictionary so that a user can begin with the original language and track usage in English. This allows a bi-directional approach that greatly enriches usage of the dictionary. Further, use of the index reminds the biblical student that sometimes it takes multiple English words to convey the various nuances of one Hebrew or Greek word.

There are a few methodological quirks that hamper the usefulness of this massive work. One is the transliteration, which is more problematic in the Hebrew section than in the Greek. Though the dictionary uses most of the standard (JBL) transliteration signs, strangely and unfortunately, for a few sets of Hebrew letters, this book uses identical English letters to transliterate different Hebrew letters:  ט and ת are both represented by t, א and ע are both represented by ’, and ס and שׂ are both represented by s. Similarly, the short and half-form of the a and e vowels are conflated into one transliterated form. These overlaps wreak havoc in the otherwise helpful index. Although the listing of the words in the index follows the Hebrew, the words are given first in transliterated form, which may leave an unsuspecting reader looking frustratedly for ’āsāh (עשׂה) in the א list, unaware that it comes only in the ע section thirty pages back. Another quirk is listing YHWH under the translation “God.”  Less a quirk than a “wish it had” is the feeling that attempts to highlight continuity between OT and NT (Hebrew and Greek) would be strengthened if the Greek words by which the Septuagint translates the Hebrew were given.

On a more substantive level, this reviewer feels the dictionary tends to smooth over or downplay variants and anomalies and moves more facilely into theological (expository) application than full word study warrants. At times, the Old Testament is robbed of its “old” for the sake of tightening the relationship between the testaments. On the other hand, some topics that seemed worthy of discussion (to this reviewer) were curiously not treated:  1) no mention of Proverbs 8:22-31 under “wisdom,” 2) no “Additional Note” for “spirit.”   Renn also does not indicate the source he uses for determining the English words that drive this book. If the choice of words is driven by a specific translation of Scripture, for instance, that would enrich the use of that translation.

One bonus of this book is an attached CD, which includes a PDF version of this book hyperlinked with the KJV and with Strong’s Concordance (also included). The book refers to hyperlinks, via ScriptureLink Bible study software, with other Scripture versions, a couple of commentaries, a dictionary and encyclopedia, topical books, two histories and a Bible atlas. If a person uses the BibleWorks or Logos system, this feature is of lesser value, though it may be of interest to one who does not use those Bible study systems.

It should be noted that this book joins at least two other similar resources, one by Vine (updated in 1996) and one by Mounce (2006), both titled Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. As similar as these three efforts are, Renn’s books does have unique features:  formatting which is easy on the eyes, the bridging of the differing languages of Old and New Testaments, and an electronic usage option.

This book, CD included, provides a significant amount of helpful Biblical study resources for under $30 (and this reviewer found it available online for half that). For biblical students whose ability with the languages is still active and exercised regularly, this may seem thin fare, and indeed they will be better served by more substantive resources (TDOT, TDNT, Harris or BibleWorks, Logos, GramCord). For those whose ability is less fine-tuned but who would still like to include study of the original languages in their sermon and class preparation, this is a helpful resource—perhaps one indeed that can build confidence and practice enough to move back into the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and into major resources that work with those languages.






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