[B-Greek] Theological Lexicon of the New Testament

James Ernest j.d.ernest at bc.edu
Tue Mar 8 22:44:56 EST 2011

OK, Spinti said I should comment, so I will. I always do what Spinti tells

I think the comments already posted are fair if bare.

I do know that Spicq's TLNT has fans who tell me they much prefer it to
Colin Brown--am just back from an SBL regional meeting where once again
someone was telling me that--but that's probably an individual thing. The
following may tell you why.

TLNT has its origins in Spicq's long career of writing articles and
commentaries. After a certain point, he decided, or was asked, to pull
together his word studies into an alphabetical collection and did so,
producing a two-volume opus. A bit later he surprised everyone with a third
volume. The English version combines all the entries from those volumes plus
one other that we dredged out of a Festschrift. David Townsley at
Hendrickson Publishers asked me to translate the opus and bought me a
computer (with a 286 processor!) and Nota Bene 3 with SLS to do it with. In
addition to translating into English, we added the bells and whistles that
users of English-language Bible reference works are used to--tables of
abbreviations, indexes, cross-references, etc.--the original French was
horribly deficient in those regards. Some of this extra material was my own
work; some of it was done by Patrick Alexander or others. I suspect Patrick
probably put far more time into improving and correcting my work on the
translation than he ever told me.

Since TLNT is for the most part pulled together from commentaries, etc.,
it's a bit potluck: some words you'd never expect to see treated in a
selective theological dictionary are there, and some words you'd certainly
expect to find in such a work are not. On the negative side also, at least
potentially: Spicq was an excellent old-time philologist--he knew Greek, and
he knew Greek texts, and he conducted massive mining operations throughout
the classical and koine corpora, including especially the nonliterary
papyri, but also literary texts--Plutarch, etc; but he was not a linguist,
and I don't think he had read James Barr or would have worried much about
what Barr said if he had. Furthermore, NT scholar though he was, he was at
heart a priest, preacher, retreat leader, and theologian. So you get
deliberately edifying conclusions to many of the articles--which Christian
folk studying the Bible for theological and spiritual reasons tend to
appreciate more than some biblical scholars who aren't looking for that sort
of thing when they look in a lexicographic reference. He'll even
occasionally--not often--throw in some juicy bits from Thomas Aquinas or
elsewhere in the Catholic tradition just for good measure. So TLNT has more
of a distinctive personality than some of the more rigorously disciplined
scientific works out there.

So I'd say that no one trying to do serious or somewhat exhaustive lexical
research on NT words can ignore Spicq. But as to how near to the top of the
list it should rise for someone trying to allocate limited funds--I don't
know. Depends on what you want and what you like. Maybe you should spend an
hour in a library sometime reading here and there in TLNT. You might find
that you love it; or you might not.

James Ernest

P.S. I translated Spicq on a work-for-hire basis for Hendrickson Publishers
a number of years ago--before I did my doctoral work and went to work
full-time for Hendrickson. I receive no royalties, and Spicq is not one of
the academic titles recently sold by Hendrickson Publishers to my current
employer, Baker Publishing Group. So I have no economic interest in sales of
Spicq. I do have a definite fondness both for the opus--it represents many
hours of dedicated toil! I think I still have lying around here somewhere
the progress thermometer that I slowly filled in, day by day, as I slogged
through the many hundreds of pages. I'm also rather fond of old Pere Spicq
himself, whom I never met. Don McKim invited me to write an article on Spicq
for the revised and expanded version of his IVP Dictionary of Major Biblical
Interpreters, which was published several years ago. If anyone is interested
in learning a bit about Spicq, that article could be a place to start. To
learn more about TLNT itself, you could dredge out some of the many reviews
that were published--reviews of the original French edition or of the
English translation or perhaps of the Italian version. I think I have a
paper file of these somewhere. I suppose you could find some of them using
ATLA Religion Index or other such tools. My favorite review was written by
Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and published in Revue biblique--my favorite because
the great man not only reviewed the content but also spared some kind words
for the lowly translator.

P.P.S. Now that I've written this post, I see that an earlier post is
available here:

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