Holman Bible Dictoinary

By Trent C. Butler, ge. ed.
Nashville : Holman (1991). xxix + 1450 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 97-98

"You can understand every word of the dictionary. The editors have fashioned it for you to read, not for scholars to be impressed" (ix). These words convey the purpose of this new Bible dictionary. The reader is immediately struck as he peruses the articles how well the purpose has been met. Each article is simply written and easy for the average Christian to grasp. Further, the volume has many pictures, charts, reconstructions, and maps that help the reader visualize what is being communicated by word. The dictionary styles itself as "userfriendly" (dust cover) and it lives up to its claim.

The strength of this dictionary is in the articles and helps dealing with the Bible backgrounds. A list of these appears on pages vi and vii in the table of contents. The articles on Bible history are generally trustworthy, except for the dating of the Patriarchs, Exodus, Conquest, and Judges. A chart on page 256 lists both the traditional dates (2000-1025 B.C.) and critical dates (1700-1025 B.C.) for these periods. The traditional dates assume a 1450 B.C. date for the Exodus, the critical dates using a 1290 B.C. date for the same event. Even though the chart gives both viewpoints, the written article supports the latter date (255-56). Other articles also presuppose the critical dating. The articles on Bible culture are very well done and very profitable for the beginning student. Twenty-two artist reconstructions picture things from the Tabernacle to a first-century winepress. These visuals, some of them full-page, are excellent learning tools for Bible readers. The internal maps and accompanying articles are valuable introductions to Bible geography.

However, the biblical and theological articles are uneven and some are misleading, particularly for the beginning Bible student. In the theological area, for example, there is an accurate discussion on the topic of revelation, but the corresponding article on inspiration concludes, "The Bible itself . . . has no theory of inspiration. Nevertheless, it emphatically declares itself to be the authoritative record of God's revelation" (704). Thus, the verbal inspiration position is labelled as only one theory among a number of theories, one that cannot claim biblical support. Also, the articles on the Bible contain many suspect statements such as, "We do not know who wrote the completed Pentateuch" and "There is no reason why conservatives cannot use such symbols as P and H as a convenient shorthand to refer to certain blocks of material" (1091). Also, the dictionary has no clear statement of Isaiah's role in writing Isaiah 40-66 (717-18). Further, an elder in the Johannine community, not the apostle John, wrote the Johannine letters (807). These examples show that although the dictionary was not written for scholars to be impressed, it presents the conclusions of liberal scholarship in some of the biblical and theological articles.

The new work has many commendable features, but it cannot be recommended to the reader for whom it has been especially designed, the beginning Bible student. Although this dictionary is certainly "user-friendly," the caveat "buyer-beware" should also be applied.