Friday, November 6, 2009

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Abridged in One Volume, Geoffrey W. Bromily

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Abridged in One Volume, Geoffrey W. Bromily

This an abridgment of the highly regarded ten-volume set edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard
Friedrich which was originally in German as a nine volume set with Kittle overseeing volumes 1-4 and Freidrich volumes 5-9. Geoffrey Bromily translated the work into English, but he also prepared a single volume abridged. People often refer to the full volume set as “Kittel” and the abridged volume as “Little Kittel”. According to the dust jacket, this volume contains 1,400 rather than 8,420 pages of the full set. One should look at both the price and size of these volumes before determining which option suits their situation best. If space and money are a factor, then one may decide the abridged volume is the better option. Either choice, one would do well to include the work of Kittel in their library.

This work provides information regarding how a Greek word was used both by secular writers such as Homer, Aristotle, Plato, et al. and how the term is used within the New Testament. The abridged work focus’ is more on NT usage. If one is interested learning more about the details surrounding a term’s etymology and linguistic use, then consulting the entry in the full set may be of value. (The volume and page number from the unabridged set is included at the end of each entry.) There is a Table of Greek Keywords which contains a listing of all the Greek terms in the transliterated English format the editor deemed theologically significant and the corresponding page number. There is also a Table of English Keywords as well so one can locate the terms rather easily. Please note, this is not an exhaustive treatment; i.e., it does not cover all the words in the Greek New Testament.

An additional value of this abridgment is the work was completed by the one who translated the original work. Ideally it would be nice to have the original editor do this work, but having the one who translated each word from German to English complete the abridgment is a significant benefit when switching from one volume to another. There will be those who will cite weaknesses of this set as to technical matters relating to Greek language or indexing to Strong’s Numbering System. Some of their arguments may have merit; however, I have not found any of these to keep me from profiting from the work.

Also, one may want to be aware that Gerhard Kittel was arrested after WW2 for his support of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party. One critic stated that they hoped the original dictionary would be revised by a team including Jewish scholars. With all sincere respect to all those who suffered much under Hitler, the validity of the work should not be measured by the ethnicity of the contributors but how the work stands from a scholarship perspective. Geoffrey Bromily, born in England, saw enough value in this research to translate it so others could profit from it as well. This set is treasured by many who appreciate the insights it provides while abhorring the political views that Kittel himself held. One wonders how the product could be improved simply by having those from Jewish descent contribute to its revision? Of course, some are never satisfied, and I have even seen claims that the NIV version is the “Nazis Inspired Version” simply because Kittel’s work was listed as a reference source. While the NIV is not my first choice for a Bible translation, I certainly would not argue the NIV is a product of Nazism! It seems to me that this line of thinking does more to impugn the work of the linguistic expert Geoffrey Bromily, who translated the work into English, rather than protest one of the more evil regimes to rise upon the earth.

As with other works, a good rule of thumb is to use comparative works as much as possible. The study of words of the New Testament and their occurrence by writers outside the NT is an enriching experience, but one must be careful not to overly rely on arguments from linguistics alone. For example, those who rightfully argue that baptizo [to baptize], including this writer, must be translated “to immerse” (or some synonym) should be able to support this argument with other supporting facts such as immersion being congruent with a burial which baptism depicts plus NT examples in Acts which clearly implies full immersion. Basing an argument on linguistics alone has led some into doctrines contrary to the Bible because words of differing meanings in their respective contexts. This work will assist one in a full discussion of a word’s etymology and theology in the New Testament and is an extremely valuable resource.


Frank Bellizzi said...

A nice review. Great observations. Twenty years ago, a college friend of mine gave me a copy of Little Kittel as a graduation present. I've used it many times since then.

As you know, James Barr pointed out the many problems with writing theology under word headings. Kittel's 10-volume set was a main target of that criticism and I think a lot of what he said was right.

And, I do think that worldview, especially anti-Semitism, would have the effect of skewing interpretation. How could hatred of Jews not inhibit a correct interpretation of Jesus and the New Testament? How could it not lead to Marcionite tendencies? It's no accident that the so-called New Perspective on Paul came in the wake of post-Holocaust guilt. In it we have a prime example of how politics and culture have a huge impact on interpretation. That being the case, I'm not so likely to downplay Kittel's allegiance to Hitler, nor the anti-Semitism of many biblical scholars of the early 20th century.

drkenney said...

Thanks for the feedback. I certainly would NOT want to exempt Gerard Kittel for his reprehensible involvement with Hitler. I trust my review does bit give any excuse for Kittel's actions. I did mention the connection in case others do see something that makes them give reason to pause. I was not aware of the connection until I had the draft nearly complete and was looking for some background material. I was repulsed by Kittel's involvement, but then reminded myself he was an editor of half the volume and there were other writers on the project. It is a shame that other's works are cast into shadow because of the warped views of Gerhard Kittel.

I would imagine Geoffrey Bromily would have also been diligent to be on the lookout for that as well which is why I proceeded with the review.

I don't know that the other editor of the volume, Gerhard Friedrich, shared the same views as Kittel. One critic implied the dictionary was produced under the auspices of the Nazis. But I also saw where Martin Buber was later stunned to learn of Kittel's views. Makes me think that perhaps this hatred was not manifest in the work. Do you know anymore of the background in the creation of the German Dictionary? If so, I would be interested in reading it.

I also appreciated your comment on "writing theology under word headings" which is why I included the last paragraph as well.

It is great to hear from you, Frank. Probably don't recall having me in "Life of Christ" when you filled in for Roy Sharp back in 1987-88, do you?

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