Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible

By Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2005). 896 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 139-141

For the last two decades, one of the helpful trends in theological publishing has been to produce useful reference materials for the scholar, pastor, and student. Prior to this trend, many of the most important and useful reference works were 30 to 50 years out of date. The expansion of theological categories, the increased specialization, and new avenues and methodologies of exegetical investigation have also increased the need for clear and concise definitions and explanations.

The editor of the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, the Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has led the effort in this work to produce one of the most useful and well-conceived new reference works for biblical studies.

The general layout and formatting of the work are typical of a standard reference work. It has an excellent Scripture index and a list of articles by category and a very helpful “Topical Index” (869–77). The articles are generally longer and more detailed than in most reference works and the bibliography for each article is extensive. The generous uses of “See” and “See Also” notations are a great aid.

The articles reflect some helpful work on more recent topics of controversy, such as the “New Perspective on Paul” located in the article on “Justification by Faith” (417–19). Oddly though, some important articles that might have been included were ignored, such as the New Covenant. Each book of the Bible has an individual article with a discussion of the theological import of the book and the “theological interpretation” of the book as a whole or in significant sections.

This work has many excellent articles, to which a review such as this cannot do justice. However, several are particularly noteworthy. John H. Walton’s article on “Etymology” (200-202) is excellent. The discussion of the theological and interpretative import of “Geography” by John A. Beck (253-56) is an important and often neglected or misused aspect in the hermeneutical process. Craig Bartholomew’s article on “Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation” (600-606) is quite helpful in sorting out a mass of information and the directions of this movement.

The direction for the entire work though begins with the editor’s Introduction, “What Is Theological Interpretation of the Bible” (19-25). He explains what the process is and, more important, is not. He notes, “Theological interpretation is not an imposition of a theological system or confessional grid onto the text of the biblical text. . . . Theological interpretation is not simply what dogmatic theologians do when they use the Bible to support their respective doctrinal positions” (19). He states the work’s main purpose:

The dictionary editors believe that the principal interest of the Bible’s authors, of the text itself, and of the original community of readers was theological: reading the Scriptures therefore meant coming to hear God’s word and to know God better. DTIB therefore aims not to impose yet another agenda or ideology onto the Bible, but rather to recover the Bible’s original governing interest (22).

This work is a welcome addition to the world of biblical and theological reference. In a realm where biblical study and theological study are often done in isolation from each other or in simplistic proof-texting, this work will prove to be a valuable resource. This reviewer recommends it highly.