Reviews of

Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics in the NIDNTTE

In Christoph Heilig, Moisés Silva, New Testament, review article, Zondervan on June 17, 2015 at 2:17 pm


2015.06.15 | Moisés Silva, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Review article by Christoph Heilig, University of Zurich.

Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy.

1. A Complex History

From a German perspective, the publication of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014) is undoubtedly an interesting event. After all, this five volume work, edited by Moisés Silva, is called the “second edition” of the dictionary formerly known as New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown; 4 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975-1978), which is in turn based on the German Theologisches Begriffslexikon zum Neuen Testament (ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard; Wuppertal: Brockhaus, 1967-1971). To make matters even more complex, there is also a revised German edition published by Lothar Coenen and Klaus Haacker in 1997 (vol. 1) and 2000 (vol. 2), which has – yet again – itself been republished (after a study edition in 2005) in one volume in 2010 with an added bibliography and which is already on the market in its second edition (2014; officially the “3. Sonderauflage”). I will refer to the revised German edition as TBLNT2 (quotations come from the 2014 reissue but I checked whether they were identical in the original 1997/2000 revision). Although not without its problems (see below) TBLNT2 deserves to be called a “revision,” for many experts helped in updating it (including e.g. Avemarie, Breytenbach, Caragounis, Deines, Feldmeier, Frey, Haacker, Karrer, Klaiber, Kraus, Kreuzer, Lichtenberger, Niebuhr, Pola, Popkes, Riesner, Sänger, Schaller, Schnelle, Söding, Tilly, Vollenweider, and Wolter). Also, the editors specifically identify some areas of change in biblical studies that required a revision (TBLNT2 III): better textual foundations, new methodological approaches, scepticism towards gnostic influences in the NT and towards a dichotomy between “Jewish” and “Hellenistic” backgrounds, a growing awareness and sensitivity for Jewish writings in general, and the change of the present context. Further, bibliographies were added and updated in the editions that followed. Silva himself has not used the German revision although he mentions it (NIDNTTE 1:5; or rather, he mentions the subsequent edition in one volume from 2010). In personal communication (20.05.2015), he explained to me that he did not deem it appropriate to consult the German editions at all, since his assignment was specifically to revise the English NIDNTT, which had already departed in significant ways from the original German edition, and since NIDNTTE went even further. While the German branch of the project was not relevant for Silva, he states explicitly in the introduction to NIDNTTE that he was influenced by the one-volume abridged version of the English translation published in 2000 as NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words by Cerlyn Verbrugge (NIDNTTE 1:7). The complex pre- and parallel history of NIDNTTE certainly keeps in step with the length of the acronym.

There is no doubt that the export of German exegetical tools and the refinement they experienced in the process of the translation and revision has proven immensely helpful in the past. To give just one example from the area of lexical semantics: BDAG has certainly replaced the German Bauer-Aland with regard to its linguistic quality. So, can similar things be said about the NIDNTTE? The choice of the editor certainly raises hopes that NIDNTTE is more than just another edition, supplemented by some bibliographical entries. After all, his Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics is probably the most widely used full treatment of lexical semantics of New Testament words and – although even the second edition (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) is now more than 20 years old – is still the first choice as an introduction into the field. Also, Silva had identified in a book review (WTJ 43 [1981]:95-99) important weaknesses of the first English edition (and the German original) from a linguistic perspective, and, hence, it is only reasonable that the reader expects a major revision of the work. Silva notes, for example, that in contrast to Kittel’s TDNT and its “many original articles by towering scholars” the TBLNT “was to some extent produced by pastors and merely seeks to synthesize previous research” (p. 95). Further, Silva recognises that the levels of “linguistic and non-linguistic phenomena, the latter including conceptual and cultural aspects” is “unnecessarily muddled” not only in TDNT but also in this work (p. 97-98). He even concludes:

“[A]nyone who expected this Dictionary to incorporate the results of modern linguistics into the study of the New Testament vocabulary will be deeply disappointed. … Whatever the valuable features of the present work, we must be clear that it does not mark any substantial advance over the method of TDNT.” (Silva, “Book Review,” 99.)

With this critical evaluation, Silva demonstrates that he has never regarded the TBLNT/NIDNTT as a real reaction to the weaknesses of TDNT (though using the English abbreviation, I am referring – of course – to the German edition) in light of Barr’s criticism. Still, this seems to have been a common impression from the beginning in the English speaking world as this quote from Silva himself demonstrates (“Book Review,” 96): “As already mentioned, it is generally understood that this work may prove more reliable than TDNT because it avoids the latter’s methodological errors.” He further speaks of this as an “(implied) claim.” It is difficult to see why such an impression arose in the first place. Many might have been misled in assuming that this work had incorporated the insights by James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961) on the basis of (a) the name “Begriffslexikon” (rather than “Wörterbuch”) of the German original and (b) the structuring along German categories rather than the Greek alphabet. However, as the introduction demonstrates, there is no pronounced awareness of the difficulties that had been associated with Kittel’s TDNT. The characteristics just mentioned were not a reaction to Barr’s criticism regarding the confusion of lexical and conceptual level, but rather due to the more popular orientation of the publication and the corresponding aim of accessibility.[1] Silva himself seems to have recognised this with regard to the structure of the dictionary, the second aspect mentioned above, in his book review of NIDNTT:

“It might appear that this new arrangement shows sensitivity to modern semantic theory by dealing with words according to their semantic or lexical fields. Unfortunately, this is merely an appearance. … In short, the new arrangement does not reflect any substantial change in lexical method; the advantage is purely one of convenience … .” (Silva, “Book Review,” 97.)

However, the other aspect – the focus on Begriffe – seems to have remained misunderstood. Apparently, it has not been recognised by its English admirers that the introduction of the TBLNT uses the word “Begriff” not in the sense of ‘concept’ but in the sense of ‘term’ (cf. TBLNT 1:V). Colin Brown refers to Barr’s criticism of Kittel’s Wörterbuch but only says that such dangers (he refers explicitly to the “illegitimate totality transfer”) lurk “[i]n using a work of this kind” (NIDNTT 1:10; italics mine). Apparently, he does not deem it necessary to discuss whether these dangers have been heeded in the production too. I cannot see in what way this statement indicates that this work “seeks to mark an improvement in method by incorporating some of the criticisms raised by James Barr and others” (Silva, “Book Review,” 95). To be sure, the NIDNTT was an improvement over against the German original insofar as it included the scholarly input by many excellent exegetes (e.g. F.F. Bruce, James Dunn etc.). But the overall approach was not to correct the problematic German edition but to reproduce it. Even Silva himself, who was as we have seen quite critical of the original publication, translates the German title – quite misleadingly – as “Theological Concept-Lexicon of the New Testament” (NIDNTTE 1:5; cf. also NIDNTTE 1:6 on “the growing linguistic interest in the study of vocabulary according to semantic fields or domains”).

While Silva seems to attribute more linguistic sophistication to TBLNT/NIDNTT with regard to its explicit orientation towards “concepts” than is realistic, his overall criticism (see above) clearly raises the expectation that he would not be willing to reissue it without major changes. This expectation is confirmed by the statement in the introduction (NIDNTTE 1:6) that the revision was so extensive that “it seemed inappropriate to retain the names of the original authors after each article.” Further, important linguistic insights are mentioned in what follows, emphasising the distinction between “linguistic and conceptual data” (NIDNTTE 1:8) and the prospects and limits of a diachronic approach (NIDNTTE 1:9-10). Also, what is said regarding the database – above all the allegedly “extensive use … of the electronic Thesaurus linguae graecae” (NIDNTTE 1:9) confirms the impression that Silva aims at a thoroughgoing revision that would not leave NIDNTTE subject to the same criticism that he had levelled against NIDNTT.

2. Case Study

In the last section I concluded that the widespread impression in the English speaking world that the TBLNT was a kind of linguistically informed reaction to the TDNT by Kittel in light of Barr’s criticism is misleading. In light of Silva’s awareness of this problem, it is noteworthy that many of the problems associated with TBLNT and, correspondingly, the NIDNTT can still be found in the NIDNTTE. In order to demonstrate this, I will – before broadening the perspective again – analyse one article in more detail and comparatively to the previous editions, namely the one on θριαμβεύω. Since this verb occurs only twice in the NT (2 Cor 2:14; Col 2:15) and is a terminus technicus from the Roman military realm, one would expect that Silva’s approach – especially his use of the TLG corpus – makes this article a good candidate for evaluating the benefits of NIDNTTE. Further, the original article by Dahn and Link is a prime example of the confusion of lexical and conceptual levels on the one hand and of the disregard of lexical data from Greek writings on the other hand. Accordingly, we would expect a correction by Silva in light of his own standards.

Since it reproduces the German article without change, we can use the English translation. After describing the pre-history of the verb, the authors give a first definition of the verb. It “means (a) intrans: to celebrate a triumph, (b) trans: to lead someone in a triumphal procession” (NIDNTT 1:649). Before discussing Col 2:15 and 2 Cor 2:14, Dahn and Link then introduce a kind of second definition for the verb with the following sentence: “In the [Hellenistic] environment of the NT thriambeuō meant the triumphal procession of a ruler which his defeated enemies had to follow” (NIDNTT 1:649). The student who reads this because he or she is looking for clarification on the meaning of the verb θριαμβεύω is confronted with an almost impossible task of understanding this correctly. How can a verb “mean” a rite?[2] And, what does the relative clause which defines the procession by referring to “defeated enemies” imply for this “meaning”? Is this simply a description of the concept of the ‘Roman triumphal procession,’ or should we understand this as referring to the grammatical category of the direct object, i.e. to transitive usage? This problematic definition is followed by an unintroduced quote from Plutarch, Rom. 33.4 and then by the explication: “The prisoners provided a spectacle laid on by the victor. Censers were also carried in the triumphal processions and spread a festive perfume” (NIDNTT 1:649). Without any indication of what they are doing, the authors have simply shifted from the semantics of a word to the conceptual question of the characteristics of a triumphal procession. This is certainly an example of a move to which Barr’s criticism applies. Also, the comment from Silva, “Book Review,” 98 made in another context seems to fit perfectly: “… the ‘meaning’ of the noun has nothing to do with such a description [in that case referring to Gnosticism, here referring to the triumphal procession], but the author does not guard himself against that misunderstanding.”

In TBLNT2 Link and Gebauer keep the confusing second “definition.” However, they modify the article insofar as they change the transitive meaning, following Breytenbach – “Christologie, Nachfolge/Apostolat,” BThZ 8 (1991): 183–198 – into “durch einen Triumphzug einen Sieg über jemanden feiern” (TBLNT2 1106). Linguistically very problematic is the statement: “Alle Bedeutungen von θριαμβεύω gehen auf den Inhalt des lat. Verbums triumphare zurück: öffentliches Herumführen eines Verbrechers = beschämen.” Not only is the statement as a whole problematic (ignoring the inner-Greek development), but it also commits basic fallacies with regard to describing the lexical meaning itself. First, to say that ‘öffentliches Herumführen eines Verbrechers’ is the “Bedeutung” of triumphare confuses co-referentiality with synonymy (cf. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 160-161). Just because the action described by a verb could also be described in other words does not mean that the latter phrase is a definition for the former word. Second, the authors mention a possible metaphorical usage (juxtaposed with “=”) in italics and hence as another “Bedeutung.” Clearly this is not an improvement with respect to the procedure that Barr had criticised. With regard to the state of research reflected in the article (beyond Breytenbach), one has to note that, apparently, the discussion in M. Margareta Gruber, Herrlichkeit in Schwachheit: Eine Auslegung der Apologie des Zweiten Korintherbriefs 2 Kor 2,14-6,13 (FB 89; Würzburg: Echter, 1998) came too late to be considered. Also the authors do not take the next step to test Breytenbach’s hypothesis on the basis of the actual occurrences in the TLG corpus. The updated bibliography (cf. TBLNT2  1115-2118) does not mention any of the relevant literature published after Breytenbach’s article. Scott Hafemann’s study (Suffering and the Spirit: An Exegetical Study of 2 Cor 2:14–3:3 Within the Context of the Corinthian Correspondence [WUNT II 19; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986]) is not mentioned at all, which cannot be justified by the reference to a bias for German literature (TBLNT2 IV) since Hafemann’s work presents the fundamental alternative to Breytenbach’s suggestion. With regard to the Pauline passages, Gebauer applies the sense suggested by Breytenbach to 2 Cor 2:14 but not – very surprisingly – to Col 2:15, where he sees contextual indications that a translation with “jemanden im Triumphzug mitführen” is appropriate (TBLNT2 1107; cf. on the differentiation between lexical sense and translation TBLNT2 1106).

So, how should Silva’s contribution be evaluated against this background? First, we have to note that it is evident that Silva did indeed make use of the electronic TLG corpus. Accordingly, he notes (NIDNTTE 2:467) correctly that the verb is already attested in Ctesius [sic!] of Cnidus (FGH 688 F13 §15 and FGH 688 F16 §64)[3]. He notes that they are used “apparently in the sense ‘to display’” there. He continues with a reference to Polybius, Histor. 6.53.7 (not indicating that the verb is used intransitively there)[4] and states that the more common use in the Greco-Roman period “took on the meaning ‘to celebrate a triumph’ … but also ‘to triumph [over]’” (NIDNTTE 2:467). This reconstruction ignores the difficult history of the text by Ctesias, which we only have as reported by Photius in a work from the 9th century (Bibl. 38a and 43b). Also, FGH 688 F16 §64 might well be intransitive. Accordingly, we have to conclude, first, that the thesis of a later “influence of Lat. triumphare” is not plausibly demonstrated and, unfortunately, Silva’s closer attention to lexical data in fact even leads to a step backwards. Second, we have to note critically, that Silva is very vague with regard to what the transitive meaning of the verb is. In fact, Silva drops this terminology (of transitive and intransitive meaning) completely and only mentions that the verb also “took on the meaning … ‘to triumph [over]’” (NIDNTTE 2:467; cf. above). Based on common English usage, this gloss seems to be entirely devoid of an association to the rite of the Roman triumph and equivalent to ‘to be victorious [over]’ somebody. Silva is very ambiguous and adds: “In the triumphal procession of a victorious general, his defeated enemies had to follow, and the prisoners provided a spectacle laid on by the victor.” While this avoids the extremely problematic combination of the verb with a conceptual description of the rite (see above on the German versions), the placement still makes the reader wonder: Is the transitive meaning quite generally ‘to triumph over somebody’ but somehow also implied that this kind of “being victorious” includes such a celebration and, accordingly, a presentation of the person(s) referred to by the direct object?

In light of these considerations, we have to conclude that the section “General Greek Usage” is disappointing. While avoiding some of the problems of the German versions, Silva does not really advance the discussion although he does take into account more lexical data. With regard to the conceptual level, he, for example, does not even note the important information that the victory celebration referred to by the verb (with very few exceptions) had to take place in Rome and could only be performed by the emperor in the first century. With regard to the lexical level, Silva does not take into account the literature that has been produced in the meantime, most notably the study by Breytenbach (see above and the more detailed English publication “Paul’s Proclamation and God’s ‘Thriambos’: Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:14–16b,” Neot 24 (1990): 257–271). Accordingly, his suggestion for the gloss of the transitive verb is completely unconnected to the state of the discussion (and also to the examples he adduces from Plutarch).

Instead of clarifying the lexical semantics of the transitive usage of the verb in general, Silva shifts the problem to the section on Pauline usage, where he says that “[t]he precise meaning is debated.” With regard to Col 2:15, Silva seems to continue to assume a general transitive meaning of ‘to triumph over sb.’ (although he concludes that “an allusion to the Roman ceremony” might be plausible). Nothing in the bibliography he adduces supports Silva’s views regarding such a transitive usage. (The only article that argues that the triumphal procession is not in view (Egan, “Lexical Evidence on Two Pauline Passages,” NT 19 (1977): 34-62) goes in a completely different direction and argues for a general meaning of ‘to make sb. known.’) With regard to 2 Cor 2:14, Silva shows more awareness of the exegetical options that are discussed and he rightly concludes that “there is much to be said for a negative imagery, as in the NIV 2011, ‘leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession.’” (NIDNTTE 2:467) However, in what follows he does not say “much” but simply refers to Hafemann’s Suffering and the commentary by Thrall (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: Commentary on II Corinthians I–VII (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000). In light of Breytenbach’s influential study this is clearly not enough, especially since Hafemann’s analysis is itself mainly conceptual, i.e. focusses on the role of prisoners in the rite of the triumphus, without adequately discussing the lexical usage itself. While Link and Gebauer in TBLNT2 might be blamed for trusting Breytenbach’s analysis too naively (I do not think that Breytenbach’s conclusions can be maintained in light of the lexical evidence), Silva’s procedure of ignoring it completely, is certainly worse from a methodological perspective, even though it fares better with regard to the conclusion. Again, Silva would have profited from consulting TBLNT2. Beyond the lexical semantics of the verb itself, it is noteworthy that Silva does not specify how the “interpretations” (so his wording with regard to 2 Cor 2:14; NIDNTTE 2:467) relate to the meaning of the verb and what role contextual factors play, such as πάντοτε and ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ in 2 Cor 2:14 and the ἐν αὐτῷ in Col 2:15. They obviously influence the adduced translations/paraphrases but are not discussed specifically although this would have been necessary. This can be compared to an objection made by Silva in his own book review, where he had criticised the editorial decision to change the praxis in NIDNTT over against the TBLNGT insofar as NIDNTT no longer indicated what specifications belonged to the lexical meaning:

“This decision means sloppy lexicography and can be rather misleading. For example, we are told that in the LXX aisthësis has ‘the meaning of true insight’ (II, 391). Is ‘true’ part of the definition or does it only indicate a frequent association of the Greek word? The original has ‘meint eine rechte Einsicht,’ making it clear that the latter alternative is meant. Anyone dealing with words and their meaning faces enough pitfalls as it is; additional obstacles of this sort are not welcome.” (Silva, “Book Review,” 396.)

The same problem of not differentiating enough between lexical and discourse meaning applies to the juxtaposition of designations such as “interpretation[s],” “imagery,” and the “use of the vb.” with translations of the whole verse, without indicating what aspects are contributed by contextual factors (NIDNTTE 2:467-468). In sum, Silva’s analysis of θριαμβεύω clearly disappoints and founders on the very standards he had helped to establish in Biblical Words and Their Meaning.

3. Semantic Domains

With regard to the lexical meaning of transitive θριαμβεύω, Silva seems to have been misled by the Louw-Nida Dictionary (LN in what follows) (‘to triumph over’). This is very unfortunate, since LN is helpful in many regards but due to the lack of mentioning extra-biblical attestations, it cannot simply be relied on with regard to semantic range. In fact, in the introduction (NIDNTTE 1:11) Silva writes that “[w]hen describing NT Greek usage, the present work relies heavily on BDAG.” Not so, apparently, with regard to transitive θριαμβεύω. On the other hand, the emphasis on semantic domains in LN is certainly an aspect that every dictionary would do well to consider. However, even if we do not focus on the fact that Silva’s lexical sense for transitive θριαμβεύω is not argued for sufficiently, another problem of the NIDNTTE becomes apparent in this connection: paradigmatic relations within a semantic domain have not been considered sufficiently.

At first sight, it is noteworthy that Silva has intentionally broken with the tradition of “conceptual grouping” (NIDNTTE 1:6). However, he emphasises that “the reorganization of the material on the basis of the alphabetization of Greek words does not represent an abandonment of the original conception” (NIDNTTE 1:7). Although he convincingly assures that the relationships within a semantic domain are very important to him (NIDNTTE 1:6-7), we have to conclude with regard to his article on θριαμβεύω that this has not been implemented in any way. While at least standing near to νικάω in previous editions, now even this loose connection has been lost. More importantly, there is no new input from Silva on how θριαμβεύω relates to other words of the same semantic domain/concept, namely ‘fight.’ This is all the more surprising in light of the fact that his unusual suggestion for the sense of the transitive verb seems to be synonymous to the sense of νικάω, an implication that would certainly have deserved explication! In this regard, NIDNTTE indeed had better preconditions than TBLNT/TBLNT2. As Silva already noted in his book review of NIDNTT (“Book Review,” 397): “In fact, the very decision to assign different words to different authors automatically precludes the possibility of dealing with word-groups as lexical fields … .” Accordingly, it is a great pity, for example, that Feldmeier (i.e. in TBLNT2), who did the articles on μάχη, πόλεμος, and νικάω (and also on ἀγών), did not write the section on θριαμβεύω. After all, the meaning of this verb can be identified by analysing its precise syntagmatic relations to other words, i.e. the way it is combined with other words and phrases in Greek literature. And it would have been an important observation, for example, to note that θριαμβεύω is often used in combination with νικάω in a way that it is clear that the verbs express different, temporally related concepts.[5] The analysis of occurrences of a word in the TLG corpus is of little help if the specific syntagmatic relations in these cases are not taken into account sufficiently. Without this, it becomes impossible to ascertain paradigmatic relations within a semantic domain.[6] While such a perspective remains an important lacuna in TBLNT2, Silva would have had the chance to improve this – but did not do so.

There is a related criticism that has to be made. Silva mentions that “[t]his word group does not occur at all in the LXX. Josephus uses θρίαμβος a number of times” (NIDNTTE 2:467). While no doubt important for the conceptual understanding of the Roman triumphal procession, there is also much that could be gained for a lexical analysis from Josephus’s specific usage not only of the “word group” (i.e. the reference to θρίαμβος) but also of the “semantic domain” (i.e.: what does Josephus use instead of that verb?). After all, as Silva himself has taught us (Biblical Words, 116-136), it is by paying attention to, among other things, the paradigmatic relations of a word that we can ascertain its meaning. Accordingly, it is exactly by analysing the differences between the use of θριαμβεύω and other, semantically related, words – such as πομπεύω in Josephus – that one can identify the semantics of the verb.[7]

Both aspects – the syntagmatic relations of occurrences of the verb in the TLG corpus (especially with semantically related words such as νικάω) as well as the distinct usage over against paradigmatically related verbs and constructions (in Josephus and other writers) – clearly contradict Silva’s claim regarding the transitive meaning of θριαμβεύω.[8]

Much more importantly than the actual outcome is the observation that Silva does not address these issues, although one would think – based on his previous publications and the introduction to NIDNTTE – that they are really close to his scholarly heart. This is a real pity, especially since this is one of the few concerns of the original editors that really is important from a linguistic perspective.[9] To be sure, in some instances, it is clearly recognisable that Silva aims at implementing a real “conceptual” focus (over against “one of convenience”; Silva, “Book Review,” 97; cf. above). ἐπιούσιος, for example, is no longer found in the category “bread” but “Need; Time” (NIDNTTE 2:257; cf. already Silva, “Book Review,” 397). However, the question remains whether the original TBLNT was not too far removed from a “conceptual dictionary”[10] in order for it to be able to be used as a basis for such a work. In the end, Silva remains more obliged to word families than to semantic domains. To give one example, the word κτίσις is discussed in the entry κτίζω and as its meanings, Silva mentions “creation,” “creature,” and “instituted authority” (the latter occurs in 1 Pet 2:13). While in TBLNT2 1560-1571 the whole article is assigned to the category “Schöpfung,” Silva noticeably improves this by assigning the word family to the concepts “Earth; Make; Might” (NIDNTTE 2:758; my italics). However, would it not make much more sense, given Silva’s focus, to discuss the meaning ‘instituted authority’ of κτίσις in relation to other words from the same semantic domain (cf. NIDNTTE 1:57 on other terms for the concept “Might, Power, Strength, Authority” as well as the LN category 37 “Control, Rule”)? To be sure, in some cases, Silva more consequently orients his discussion towards semantic domains instead of word families. For example, his article on ἀγαπάω (NIDNTTE 1:103-115) includes a very helpful section on “[s]ynonyms and antonyms” (NIDNTTE 1:112-115). Thus, one cannot avoid the impression that Silva can only implement his focus on semantic domains where he does not follow the alphabetic structure strictly. But why then adopt it at all and have another article on φιλέω (NIDNTTE 4:605-608)?[11]

4. Outlook on the Updating in General

Admittedly, the above discussion is extremely selective, focusing mainly on a single article (although one that seems quite fitting for such an analysis). Also, it should be emphasised that NIDNTTE certainly contains many valuable articles that are improved by the inclusion of more lexical data and Silva’s linguistic skills. Certainly, many problematic statements regarding meaning and etymology have been removed (cf. Silva, “Book Review,” 398-399) and I do not doubt that the overall sum of corrected mistakes is enormous. Also, with regard to many “concepts,” the exegetical discussion has moved on over the last few decades so that one might prefer Silva over the German editions simply for its being more up-to-date in some cases. One might refer, for example, to the fact that the whole debate surrounding the genitive construction πίστις [Ἰησοῦ] Χριστοῦ is not even mentioned by Michel/Haacker but discussed on a whole page in NIDNTTE 3:768-769 with reference to the relevant literature. The advantages of NIDNTTE over TBLNT2 are most obvious with regard to articles where the original contributions from TBLNT were kept in the German edition. The discussion (or rather: mention) of πολίτευμα/πολιτεύομαι by Bietenhard (TBLNT2 1822), for example, looks very superficial in comparison to Silva’s discussion (NIDNTTE 4:95-96) which reflects more of the recent discussion of the relevance of Roman politics as a background for understanding Paul (cf. Christoph Heilig, Hidden Criticism? The Methodology and Plausibility of the Search for a Counter-Imperial Subtext in Paul [WUNT II 392; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015]).

However, the overall impression remains that the updating with regard to more recent discussions done by Silva is still often quite slight. One would, for example, expect the discussion of δικαιοσύνη to take into account the debate surrounding the “New Perspective on Paul.” However, reference to Sanders and the volumes by D.A. Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid, eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism (2 vols.; WUNT II 140/181; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001/2004), is only made in the section on rabbinic usage but not with regard to Paul. And although N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (London: SPCK, 2009) is mentioned in the bibliography, his interpretation of δικαιοσύνη as “covenant(al) faithfulness” is not discussed.[12] More engagement, including reference to James Dunn’s work, can be found in the article on ἔργον (NIDNTTE 2:270). This is definitely an advantage over against TBLNT2, which does not mention the NPP at all in this regard.[13] However, even in this respect a clear recommendation in favour of Silva’s English edition is not possible, in the end: There is, surprisingly, no reference to 4QMMT in the NIDNTTE article, and the section on Jewish usage by F. Avemarie in TBLNT2 is clearly superior in that regard (cf. 57-59). Again, one can only wonder why such an improvement by the leading expert in the field was not considered for the revision of the English version.

Even with regard to words that Silva has worked on in the past himself, the incorporation of recent scholarship is sometimes thinner than one would wish. To give one example, with regard to πάσχω (cf. Biblical Words, 153-156), Silva does not cite John A. Dunne, “Suffering in Vain: A Study of the Interpretation of ΠΑΣΧΩ in Galatians 3.4,” JSNT 36 (2013): 3-16 (Cf. NIDNTTE 3:670). Let me add one further example that demonstrates that Silva’s revision has remained quite superficial in many places: In Biblical Words, Silva had included an essay by Karen H. Jobes on “Distinguishing the Meaning of Greek Verbs in the Semantic Domain for Worship,” in which she argued that in light of Paul’s usage of paradigmatic options, “[t]he Christians of Rome could not miss [the] allusion to the imperial cult made by Paul through his lexical choice of the unusual verb σέβομαι” (p. 210). Although this essay was Silva’s prime example of how to do lexical semantics within a semantic domain, nothing of this conclusion surfaces in the discussion of Rom 1:18 in NIDNTTE 4:277.

5. Conclusions

Part of these problems might be due to the fact that, as Silva says in the introduction (NIDNTTE 1:5), “[a]lthough the revising editor assumes responsibility for the final form of this edition, readers should not infer that the views expressed throughout the work necessarily reflect his own opinions.” In combination with the decision to remove the names of the original authors (see above), this demonstrates the tricky nature of the project: It is neither a new edition of the old Begriffslexikon (i.e. the TBLNT/NIDNTT project), nor is it a thoroughgoing revision so that we would now have a real “theological concept-dictionary of the New Testament” with up-to-date lexical semantics.

Many of its weaknesses could have been avoided, if the publisher had allowed for an international team of scholars – which would have reflected the “international” in the title, by the way – to bring the NIDNTTE onto a level with the current state of research. One person, not even an especially qualified one such as Silva, can fulfil such a task. Many of the problems we identified above with regard to Silva’s treatment of θριαμβεύω cannot be avoided on the basis of a strong linguistic background alone. Only someone who knows the respective literature sufficiently well and has indeed analysed the occurrence in the TLG corpus can have the ability to detect where the old Begriffslexikon falls prey to exegetical fallacies and then correct it. A sound methodological background, which Silva certainly has, is not a sufficient help. But maybe such a correction – and the corresponding effort of a large team of authors – was not in the interest of the publisher Zondervan? After all, the books seem to sell well anyway – Silva mentions almost 80.000 sold copies (NIDNTTE 1:5).

Where does this leave us? The NIDNTTE is, of course, an improvement over the original German edition and its original translation – but it is also definitely not as much of an improvement as one might have hoped in light of four decades of scholarship and the expertise of the editor. This is evident especially in light of the German revision (TBLNT2), which Silva did not use. This is especially frustrating since the revised German edition includes articles by very competent exegetes, which would have deserved consideration. It is inexplicable to me why the publisher initiated a new edition without requiring for these changes to be taken into account. To be sure, whether the nature of the revision is appropriate depends on the claims that are associated with the new edition. On the one hand, it is of course unobjectionable for a publisher to produce a “second edition” of a work with only few – or even no – revisions if there is still demand for an outdated publication. Maybe this is the background that makes Silva’s agreement to become the editor of the project understandable. In fact, after this review was already completed, Silva confirmed this impression in personal communication (20.05.2015). He stated that since NIDNTTE was going to be either reprinted or revised, he agreed to take on the revision in the hopes of minimising the existing problems and aiding users in handling the vocabulary more responsibly. On the other hand, it seems rather unethical from the publisher to present NIDNTTE as an important new resource nobody should miss (cf. e.g.; I am surprised to see that scholars like Carson, Bock, Muraoka, Wallace, and Joosten seem to support such claims) in light of Zondervan having accepted that the huge progress of scholarship over the last decades (as reflected, amongst others, in the German revision) would not be taken into account sufficiently.

To sum up, one can say that while pastors and students might profit from the new edition indeed (if they can afford it), scholars (if they are in need of such a tool and only want to consult one version) will be well advised to use the revised German edition. This seems even more advisable in light of the difference in price: 59€ vs. 249.99$! I can, thus, not agree with Gundry who promotes the project by saying: “No serious biblical scholar, seminarian, or expository preacher/teacher should fail to purchase this rich and varied resource …” To be sure, NIDNTTE goes beyond the actualised German work in some regards. The aspects that come to mind first include a more consistent incorporation of literature that reflects the current state of research, a more unified approach, and the presentation of the general Greek usage of a word. However, with regard to these aspects, the dictionary can be replaced quite satisfactorily by good commentaries and a look at the TLG corpus. If Silva had considered the revised German edition, a wholehearted recommendation of his edition might have been easier.

To be sure, the task of producing a dictionary that is an explication of LN –  i.e. that discusses the words of semantic domains in their (paradigmatic) relations – and at the same time combines this with the erudition of Kittel’s TDNT – i.e. explicates the discourse meaning of words in their specific biblical (syntagmatic) contexts  – remains valuable and yet to be fulfilled.  TBLNT2 should not be regarded as having filled this gap. Maybe Silva’s edition – together with TBLNT2 – could function as the basis for a team of scholars to produce such a work? However, as a “standard reference work” (Carson), an “up-to-date lexical tool” (Bock), an “essential and valuable tool of research” for the coming decades (Muraoka), an “exhaustive, dependable, and up-to-date” source for lexical information (Joosten), an “indispensable tool for the next generation” (Campbell), and an “essential resource that will be used with confidence for many decades to come” (Jobes), the NIDNTTE cannot be recommended without reservations.

Christoph Heilig
University of Zurich
christoph.heilig [ at ]


[1] Retrospectively, the structure and orientation of the dictionary was linked indeed to an awareness of linguistic issues in the revised edition – at least by part of the authors of TBLNT2.

[2] Cf. Ernst Leisi, Der Wortinhalt: Seine Struktur im Deutschen und Englischen (4th ed.; UTB 95; Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer, 1971), 46-57.

[3] I could not find this source in the index.

[4] This reference also seems to be missing in the index.

[5] Cf., e.g., Appian, Bell. civ. 4.38: καὶ νικήσαντι ἔδωκε θριαμβεῦσαι.

[6] Cf. also Eugene A. Nida and Johannes P. Louw, Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament: A Supplement to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (SBLRBS 25; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992). They focus on syntagmatic relations for “Analyzing the Different Meanings of the same Lexeme” (Chapter 3) and on paradigmatic relations for “Analyzing the Related Meanings of Different Lexemes” (Chapter 4). Of course, in order to determine how different lexemes relate (paradigmatic relations), it is also important to see how they are combined in the same texts (syntagmatic relations).

[7] It is significant, for example, that in Josephus, B.J. 7.154, where Simon is described as “having marched in the procession” (πεπομπευκὼς), this is modified by the prepositional phrase ἐν τοῖς αἰχμαλώτοις. Something like that never occurs in combination with θριαμβεύω, thus indicating that the latter verb had a more specific sense, already including that the direct object refers to people who were not on the side of victors. (Further, this is, of course, also very significant for deciding what function the local modification ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ can have.)

[8] With regard to other words in the same context, namely the pair of terms ὀσμή and εὐωδία in the same passage, 2 Cor 2:14-16, Silva demonstrates how differences in meaning within the same semantic domain influence our understanding of words. See NIDNTTE 3:560-561.

[9] See TBLNT 1:V: “Wer aber die Texte des NT im einzelnen sachgemäß interpretieren und die besonderen Konzeptionen der Verfasser in den Blick bekommen will, … muß sich Klarheit verschaffen über die besondere Eigenart einer Vokabel verglichen mit anderen des Begriffsfeldes.”

[10] Again, Silva, “Book Review” recognises this problem.

[11] In the German TBLNT2 1318-1327, these words are discussed in the one category ‘Liebe/Haß.’ Unfortunately, this does not lead to a discussion of “synonyms and antonyms.” The problem of John 21:15-17 is not even mentioned. Thus, a conceptual structure certainly is no guarantee for taking paradigmatic relations seriously. But it might have helped Silva’s case significantly.

[12] In discussing Käsemann’s position, Silva notes that in Rom 3:5 “covenant faithfulness” is the “reference.” But the “modern discussion” does not explicitly move beyond Käsemann. See NIDNTTE 1:739-740.

[13] Dunn is mentioned in the updated bibliography, TBLNT2 2107, though.

  1. Thanks, very helpful.

  2. Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Great review.

  3. Christoph, this is Stan Gundry, SVP and Publisher of Zondervan Academic. We at Zondervan took notice of your review of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, edited by Moisés Silva (Revision Editor) and the fact that you have invited a response via Twitter. Of course, every reviewer should be allowed the freedom to assess the quality of a work like NIDNTTE, whether that assessment is positive or negative. But it seems to me that your review focuses on what you wish the Revision Editor and publisher had done, or perhaps what you would have done if you had been the Revision Editor, rather than on what the assigned Revision Editor actually accomplished. Further, your critique is made without any knowledge of what was possible (given the rights to the original English NIDNTT Zondervan purchased from the original German publisher), without taking into account the problems inherent in having a larger group of scholars undertake such a major revision, with no knowledge of what Zondervan asked Dr. Silva to do, with no apparent awareness that Dr. Silva invested nearly eight years of full-time work into this revision, and no knowledge of the financial investment required to produce a work like this. I am not at liberty to give a precise dollar amount of our investment, but I can tell you and everyone reading this response to your review that it was an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars before we even went to press. So if you or any of your readers, are inclined to think that either Silva or Zondervan got by “on the cheap,” that simply is not true. On the other hand, with a project of such magnitude, a publisher has to deal with the reality that there is not an inexhaustible pool of time and resources for a project like this.

    It was clear to Zondervan that while the original NIDNTT made a significant contribution to biblical scholarship and was a valuable resource to scholars and pastors, in some respects it was deeply flawed and out of date by the time it was published. Some thirty years after its original publication, it was clear that a major revision and updating was necessary, and for Zondervan it was a godsend that Moisés Silva was available and willing to take on the task. At the time I felt, and I still feel, that there was no one better qualified than he to undertake the assignment. You suggest a team of revision editors would have achieved better results. However, projects which employ a bevy of revision editors and/or contributors have often resulted in inconsistencies, uneven levels of scholarship, and a totally unrealistic investment of time and money for all involved. Unfortunately, many New Testament scholars are not well-informed in the field of linguistics, and that further limited our options. Silva was the ideal choice to take on this task, and he has produced what we asked him to produce, namely a linguistically informed revision and reorganization of the original NIDNTT, giving his primary attention to those areas most in need of correction, revision, and updating.

    In my thirty-five years of publishing, I have never before felt compelled to respond to a negative review of one of our publications. But I feel compelled to in this instance because of your review. It shows no understanding of the challenges and constraints under which a project like this one is produced. Further, the very fact that your comments call into question the integrity of the publisher, the endorsers (all of whom are seasoned and respected New Testament scholars), and worst of all the Revision Editor (one of pre-eminent scholars in the English language in this field) should serve as a cautionary note to those who read the review. So I am asking the readers of this blog who may have read the review, to consider the review in the light of my comments, and to assess NIDNTTE for themselves.

    Stanley N. Gundry, B.A., B.D., S.T.M., S.T.D.
    SVP and Publisher, Zondervan Academic
    Editor-in-Chief, Zondervan
    Zondervan, a division of HarperCollinsChristianPublishing

  4. Dear Stan,

    thank you very much for sharing with us your perspective on this project. I would like to use this opportunity to respond briefly to some of the points you raise:

    (1) You refer to the fact that I cite endorsements by prominent scholars and do not agree with them. It should go without saying that my disagreement does not in any way indicate a lack of appreciation of either those scholars’ work or their verdict on this publication. Still, I found myself on the basis of my own analysis not to agreeing with the general tone of the recommendation that every scholar should buy this work. I think that it is entirely unproblematic to say that I come to different conclusions. It never crossed my mind that citing the endorsement of NIDNTTE by leading experts in their fields could be understood as in any way belittling and I want to emphasise that this could not have been further from my intention.

    (2) I fully share your admiration for Silva’s work and expertise. If my review did not reflect this high esteem, I would be saddened indeed. In fact, I am quite outspoken in my review that I had high expectations precisely because of the choice of the editor.

    (3) Nevertheless, on the basis of my analysis of NIDNTTE I came to the conclusion that it did not exhibit the quality that I had hoped to find. I argue precisely that this is not because of the editor but despite his qualifications. As it turns out, from my perspective, the challenge is simply too great in order to be satisfactorily met by a single person. I regret that you do not seem to react to any of my observations that seem to support this conclusion. To be sure, one can disagree whether my selection is fair and representative enough to allow for an assessment of such a huge work (though I would guess that my analysis does take into account more aspects than most I have seen so far). But this does not make my observations invalid nor does it obviate the need to take them seriously in evaluating whether my criticism is valid and could have been avoided if not one single editor had to bear the weight of “a project of such magnitude.”

    (4) I am disappointed to see that you are accusing me of being unfair and ignoring the problems associated with an alternative approach (i.e. a large team of scholars). In fact, I believe that it was a very fair move to include a constant comparison with the German revision as a control of my assessment. Further, I am still convinced that I put enough effort into describing not only the advantages of the German TBLNT2 but also where it falls short of being a satisfactory exegetical tool despite its better starting position.

    (5) I am grateful to you for giving us an insight in how seriously Zondervan took this revision. Nevertheless, I find it slightly irritating that you refer to my ignorance of the precise agreement with the German publisher. As far as I know, there is no copyright in the world that would have prohibited consulting the German revision! I do not know – and have not claimed otherwise – whether you were simply unaware of the major changes that the German edition had underwent or whether you deliberately chose to ignore them. In any case, I insist on the conviction that for any publication to be justifiably associated with marketing claims such as “indispensable for any scholar” (I’m paraphrasing), it is a vital prerequisite that it would take into account such improvements in the original language version.

    Best wishes,

  5. Reblogged this on Orchard Keeper and commented:
    Christoph Heilig’s thorough review of the second edition of NIDNTT (now NIDNTTE), ed. Moises Silva. Be sure to read the comment by Stan Gundry and the response by Heilig.

  6. Great to have such a thorough and critical review available on-line, thanks Christoph.

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