Friday, January 18, 2008

Ephesus Project: Dictionaries Part 1

In a previous article, I mentioned that many of the words and phrases in the Bible meant something different when they were written than they would mean today, or would at least have a different shade of meaning. A good Bible dictionary will help bridge the cultural differences surrounding words and descriptions in the Bible.

I break Bible Dictionaries into four catagories:

First is scholarly dictionaries. The pastor who taught me to study the Bible recommends Vines. I don't: for beginners it is far too advanced. These dictionaries are too detailed for the average Christian, and often require looking up a word in more than one section to fully understand the definitions.

As the goal of this project is for first year students to gain understanding the need is for something with lots of pictures, drawings, diagrams, tables, and maps. Many "Study Bibles" will have some of this already in them, but usually only a few pages.

The second catagory are those that are great for beginners: These dictionaries - at least 500 pages in length, have many picture and charts. They are also detailed enough the average Christian beginning serious study will not "grow out of" them for several years. The definitions also should refer back to the Scriptures.

I recommend Zondervan's Pictorial Dictionary. There are others (and I will review them in time), but this is the one I use extensively. It is available in four or five varieties: compact, pocket, paperback, and full. If you are serious about studying, I recommend the full one. It is about 875 pages, and has over 5000 entries, over 700 picture, and many charts and maps. I give the others for gifts, which leads me to the ...

Third category - those that are great as a gift: Same as above, but less than 500 pages so as to not overwhelm the recipient. These still must be theologically accurate (see below). If the recipient gets serious about studying, they may outgrow these quickly.

In addition to the Zondervan Compact Bible Dictionary (see above), I have found "The Student Dictionary" (about 250 pages by Karen Dockery, Johnnie Godwin, and Phyllis Godwin). This one meets my basic criteria as a good beginners book - but is a little one the light side. On the plus side, it has wonderful pictures, graphs, charts and explanations. In this, it attempts to cover some territory of a Bible Handbook. Great as gift, especially for younger people.

A good price on these at the end of 2007 was $20 for the serious ones (for beginners) and about $9 for the ones I give as gifts.

The forth category are the ones I have found that are not very useful: These either don't have enough pictures and charts, or provide definitions that don't refer back to the Scripture, or the definitions are either theologically shallow or simply inaccurate.

Nelson's Pocket Reference Series Bible Dictionary is one that I would not recommend buying. This is a 3.5 inch by 5 inch book of 314 pages. It sells for about $6 at several grocers and supermarkets in my area. While it does give easy to understand definitions, it is actually aimed "too low" to be of any real use. The pictures are too few in number, and not of good enough quality, and several of the words I looked up are not in it. It states it has "over 1500 entries" and I guess that is proof that 1500 is not enough. In addition, the copyright is too restrictive if you would ever try to quote it (actually, if you take it literally, you can't even "use" it), and it is printed in China. While I would not throw this dictionary away, if you already have it, it is in no way worth the $6 price. I wouldn't even pay $1 for it, but if you already have it, there is a series of articles in the back of it that are worth reading.

Two that I "thumbed through" in the book store are "Unger's Bible Dictionary" and the "Layman's Bible Dictionary" I haven't really looked at the definitions in these dictionaries, since they don't have enough pictures to suit me.

This got a bit longer and more involved than I expected, and there are a few more dictionaries that I want to review, so I will pick up the topic again in a few weeks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Little time for puter lately, back as soon as possible. dw