New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis

By Willem A. VanGemeren, ed.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1997). 5 vols. Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
9.1 (Spring 1998) : 120-123

OT students have needed a theological dictionary that would have greater depth than Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), edited by Harris, Archer, and Waltke (Moody, 1980; 2 vols.). They also have needed a resource that is more evangelical than Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT), edited by Botterweck and Ringgren (Eerdmans, 1974- ). Finally that resource is available. The 5-volume New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE) fills the void. It was intended to complement its NT counterpart, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT), edited by Colin Brown.

The associate and consulting editors and the contributors for NIDOTTE represent more than 25 countries and over 100 institutions. They include an impressive array of well-known OT scholars. Included among them are the following: Robert L. Alden, Leslie C. Allen, Hermann J. Austel, Robert P. Gordon, Victor P. Hamilton, Roland K. Harrison, John E. Hartley, Gerhard Hasel, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Tremper Longman III, Elmer A. Martens, J. Gordon McConville, Eugene H. Merrill, Alan Millard, John N. Oswalt, Richard D. Patterson, Allen P. Ross, Elmer B. Smick, Gary V. Smith, Willem VanGemeren, Bruce K. Waltke, John H. Walton, Gordon J. Wenham, D. J. Wiseman, Herbert M. Wolf, Edwin M. Yamauchi, and Ronald F. Youngblood. Among the contributors is TMS's Michael A. Grisanti.

The set has four main divisions: (1) "The Guide" (1:1-218) containing articles specializing in hermeneutics, textual criticism, OT history, literary approaches, narrative criticism, linguistics, principles for word study, OT theology, and instruction in how to use the set; (2) "Lexical Articles" (1:219-4:343) consisting of the main entries arranged by the Hebrew alphabet; (3) "Topical Dictionary" (4:345-1322) including cross-references to the entries in the lexical section and taking up major topics such as names of people and places, words, concepts, and events; (4) "Indexes" (5:1-834) covering semantic fields, Hebrew words, Scripture references, subject, and numbering systems (both Strong's and Goodrick/Kohlenberger 's). The many cross-references keyed to the numbered lexical entries make the set's abundant information easily accessible.

The introductory articles in volume 1 attempt to present the purpose and philosophy of the entire work. At times, however, the claims are a bit extravagant. An example is the claim that a "theological dictionary provides training in how to speak, and act, biblically" (1:44). That claim is followed almost immediately by a similar one: "the ultimate function of a good theological dictionary is not only to provide more information, but also to aid in the formation of faithful and competent disciples" (ibid.). In this reviewer's opinion, such results would be difficult to evaluate. The lexical entries certainly do not always measure up to such high aims. Why should they? Theological dictionaries are not examples of homiletical exercises containing the proclamation of the divine Word together with pertinent applications to personal living. NIDOTTE is not an exception. This work will contribute greatly to the preparation of sermonic material, but it is not a collection of sermonic word studies.

 One of the admirable aims of NIDOTTE is to allow "discussions of words in context" (1:104). The contributors claim to have studied each word "in its multiple literary contexts, taking account of the various genres in which it appeared" (1:123).

"The Guide" provides illustrations on integrating the various introductory articles with the other divisions of NIDOTTE in the performance of OT exegesis (1:206-18). It employs Ruth 1 and Ps 119:1-8 as the primary illustrations. It takes the reader through a series of six illustrated steps. In the illustration based upon Ps 119:1-8 the reader is enjoined to "study the first strophe exegetically and theologically by using the lexical entries in NIDOTTE" (1:217). Such instruction would appear to be a contradiction of an earlier caveat: "Word study is a step in the process of exegesis; it does not comprise the whole of the process" (1:171).

The six illustrated steps for the use of NIDOTTE omit any reference to syntactical analysis. This is the Achilles heel of word study theology. To be fair to the editors and contributors to NIDOTTE, the overall tone of "The Guide" runs contrary to the omission of thorough syntactical analysis. However, it devotes only three very brief paragraphs to this aspect of exegesis (1:165). At one point, it issues a caution against stopping at syntactical analysis without going to the "overall structure" of a passage (1:35). In order for NIDOTTE to deliver on the Exegesis promised in its title, it needs to include a major article on syntactical analysis alongside the introductory articles on textual critical analysis, literary analysis, semantic analysis, and discourse analysis.

NIDOTTE presents the OT student with many excellent lexical entries. Bibliographies for a number of entries are noticeably lengthy providing the reader with plenty of additional material for research (e.g., 1:241-43, 530-31, 593-35, 734- 35; 2:604-5; 3:1033-34, 1171-73, 1180; 4:794-96, 1093-94). The interesting thing about these extended bibliographies is that they often conclude entries by the same contributor. Sometimes an occasional lengthy bibliography appears padded with too many commentaries (e.g., 3:375-77). Some entries are remarkable for the lack of adequate bibliographic entries. ___ (qdš, "holy," 3:887) is a perfect example (cf. also 3:1062; 4:19, 377). A thorough acquaintance with the dictionary results in an awareness of which contributors are dependable in supplying a bulky bibliography and which contributors skimp on bibliography. One index missing from NIDOTTE is an index of contributors that would identify all of the entries written by any one contributor. Such an index would help the reader locate all contributions by a favorite scholar and would enable a comparative study of all materials produced by one contributor.

It would be impossible in a review article to refer to all the outstanding entries. It is much easier to identify the smaller number that illustrate the need for future revision. Entries notable for their contributions to various aspects of OT theology include ___ (drk, "tread, way," 1:989-93), ___ (_hzq, "be strong," 2:63-87), ___ (_h_sd, "loyalty, faithfulness, goodness," 2:211-18), ___ (_hšb, "count, regard, plan," 2:303-10), ℵ__ (_tm’, "unclean," 2:365-76), ___ (kpr, "cover, atone," 2:689- 710), ____ (mizb_a_h, "altar," 2:888-908), and ℵ__ (rp’, "heal," 3:1162-73).

A very helpful list of the different Hebrew terms for various kinds of vessels or containers appears in the entry on ___ (kly, "vessel," 2:654-56). The topical entry for "Offerings and Sacrifices" (4:996-1022) is outstanding both in its discussion and in the summarizing chart (4:1020-21). An otherwise well-written entry about "forgiveness" (___, sl_h, 3:259-64) is marred by an apparent Documentarian stance claiming that the term "occurs almost exclusively in exilic and postexilic literature" (3:263).

One of the advantages of so many entries by so many different contributors is that the reader, with the help of the excellent indexes, can eventually gather information from one entry that was lacking in another related entry. One example would be the failure of the entry on "flesh" (___, b_r) to commit to any interpretation of Job 19:26 (1:778). The entry on ___ (_hzh, "see, perceive, behold"), however, provides a more satisfying discussion of the problem (2:57-58).

Lexical entries, as in all dictionaries of this type, vary in quality, depth, and length. For a dictionary of OT theology, it was disappointing to find such a brief and shallow treatment of the Hebrew word for "God" (____ℵ, ’_l_hîm, 1:405-6). The bibliography for this entry is even more stingy - only one reference (to another dictionary). ____ℵoccurs over 2,500 times in the OT. When its entry is compared, for example, with nearly six pages of entry (including almost a full page of bibliography) for "betroth" (__ℵ, ’r_) with its 11 occurrences (1:526-31), the imbalance is all too obvious. Such entries fail to live up to the high standards established in "The Guide" for providing a significant theological resource.

A few other omissions deserve a brief citation. In the entry for ___ (byn), there is no reference to the significant semantic and theological occurrence of the verb in Ps 19:13, where it is used with reference to discerning error or secret faults (1:652-53). Discussion of "son" (__, b_n) could be improved with a greater discussion of the use of the term in wisdom literature (1:671-77). The entry on "live, life" (___, _hyh, 2:108-13) contains no discussion of the use of the word in Gen 3:20- 22, no reference to or discussion of Ps 133:3’s mention of "eternal life," and an inadequate discussion of the equally significant Dan 12:2. Unfortunately, the entry for ____ (‘ôl_m, "long time," 3:345-51) also ignores Ps 133:3. The brief entry for "highway" (____, m_sillâ, 2:1003-4) ignores Isaiah 40:3 completely.

 ___ (šwb, "repent, turn, return," 4:55-59) should be a major entry, but is disappointingly brief in comparison to larger articles on less significant terms. Perhaps due to its brevity, the entry does not discuss Ps 19:8 ("converting?/ restoring? the soul"). A discussion of the prepositions used with the verb would also be helpful.

For the present day and age, it is astounding that Eve gets such short shrift in NIDOTTE. She receives only eight lines in the "Topical Dictionary" (4:360). Treatment of the lexical aspects of her name is woeful (cf. 2:108 and 4:360).

The shortcomings found in NIDOTTE should not deter anyone from employing its volumes. The benefits far outweigh the occasional annoyances. Every serious student or teacher of the OT should include this work in his/her personal library. Only occasionally do Christians have the joyful opportunity of greeting such a welcome contribution to OT studies. We owe a debt of thanks to all who had a part in its production.