Unfamiliar vocabulary proves to be an enduring challenge for students of New Testament Greek. Even students who understand the rules of the language get bogged down having to look up uncommon words while translating. Nevertheless the correct interpretation of many passages of Scripture hinges on the meaning of its rare words.
–Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller, Preface
Vocabulary acquisition is key to being able to read any language, but so is just reading a text straight through. A “reader’s lexicon” or “reader’s Bible” seeks to bridge the gap so students can both improve their vocabulary and engage in a continuous reading of the text. To that end, Kregel Academic and Professional has published A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller.
But why a new reader’s lexicon when the old one (by Kubo) has been useful to students of the Greek New Testament for so long? That’s been the primary question before me as I’ve reviewed the New Reader’s Lexicon (NRL). Daniel B. Wallace in the preface gives the reasons for this new lexicon:
But as helpful as Kubo was, there were weaknesses. First, it was not updated to the glosses found in the third edition of the Bauer Lexicon (BDAG). Second, there were numerous errors (involving word frequency numbers, omissions of words, inappropriate glosses, etc.) that went uncorrected. Third, the special vocabulary section at the beginning of each book, involving all the words that occurred more than five times in that book but less than fifty times in the New Testament, created its own problems: designed for efficiency of space, it did not prove helpful for efficiency in learning.
While I think Wallace has it right on the first two points, I (sort of) disagree with the third–that list that Kubo offers at the beginning has actually been helpful to me for learning a given book’s vocabulary, since it groups some of that book’s common words together. However, it does mean that words in that beginning list don’t then appear in Kubo’s lexicon throughout the rest of the book. To overcome this, I would make a copy of the list and use it as a bookmark, referring to it often so I didn’t have to keep flipping pages.
Herein lies one area of strength for the New Reader’s Lexicon. There is no common vocabulary list at the beginning of each book (users now can generate those easily enough through Bible software), but it means that every word that occurs less than 50 times in the New Testament is in this lexicon… in the verse in which it appears. So as I’m beginning my way through Mark 6, I can look in the NRL to quickly see that ἐκεῖθεν in verse 1 means “from there.”
To Wallace’s first two points, that the NRL uses the updated BDAG is a great relief–readers now don’t have to guess whether recent advances in lexicography or discoveries of new papyri mean that the word in front of them actually has a slightly different nuance. The NRL updates Kubo here well.
In addition to “concisely defin[ing] in context” each word, the NRL gives statistics for how many times that word appears. (Names and proper nouns are included.) There are up to three numbers listed:
- How many times the word appears in that given book of the New Testament
- How many times that word appears “in all canonical works by the traditional author of the book at hand”
- How many times the word appears in the whole NT
Kubo had the first and third numbers. This second statistic now allows me to see not only how many times ἀνάθεμα appears in 1 Corinthians (twice) and in the NT (six times), but it tells me that five of the six uses of this word in the NT are with Paul.
And here’s where the lexicon is unique and really stands out–in the instance of such a rarely occurring word, it lists cross references, so I can quickly see that the other use of ἀνάθεμα in I Corinthians is at 16:22, and that Paul also uses the word in Romans 9:3, Galatians 1:8,9, and that the only non-Pauline NT occurrence of the word is at Acts 23:14.
The NRL truly does improve upon Kubo’s lexicon. It accomplishes its mission quite well.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ve found that what original language resources to own and invest in is often a matter of personal preference and what works best for an individual. If you’re still on the fence about this resource, download a free sample of the lexicon for Colossians here (pdf). Read through Colossians with it in hand and see how it goes. Personally I’ve found this to be an indispensable resource for making my way through the Greek New Testament.
One huge bonus: the book is designed well. The pages are smooth and thick and bright. The font is clear and easy to read. And the binding is sewn! This means it will stand the test of time well, which you’d hope a reference work like this would.