Book Review: Daniel B. Wallace, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

Wallace, Daniel B. Senior Editor, Brittany C. Burnette and Terri Darby Moore, Editors.  A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers.  Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 250 pp. Hb; $34.99. Link to Kregel

A Reader’s Lexicon is different than a traditional lexicon. Rather than sorting the words alphabetically, a reader’s lexicon glosses words by chapter and verse so that someone trying to read through a particular text can get a quick gloss for a word rather than looking it up in a traditional lexicon. This makes for a faster reading an unfamiliar text. When I was taking Greek in College some students (certainly not me!) cribbed their assignments with Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. While that book is still available through Zondervan, it has been supplanted by Reader’s Editions of the Greek New Testament from the United Bible Society and Zondervan. Words appearing less than 40 times in the Greek New Testament are glossed at the bottom of the page, allowing a person with a year of Greek to read quickly and make sense of the text.

Reader's LexiconThis new book edited by Dan Wallace is a companion to Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2008).  Wallace is clear that the hard work for this Lexicon was done by two former students, Brittany C. Burnette and Terri Darby Moore. In fact, they are listed as editors on the cover the book, Wallace is the Senior Editor of the project.

The Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers offers a running glossary of words thirty times or less in the New Testament. Wallace explains that most students who approach the Apostolic Fathers have already done work in the New Testament and should better grasp of the vocabulary than users of most New Testament Reader’s lexicons.

A Reader’s Lexicon is an important tool for gaining experience as a reader of Greek. A native English speaker can read through a book worrying too much about the definitions of words. When we encounter words we do not know, we infer the meaning from context or by parallels to other words we do know. For a beginning Greek reader, reading a paragraph of Greek can be frustrating since there are so many words that are unknown and sometimes un-guessable from context. A Reader’s Lexicon’s purpose is to facilitate faster reading so that the meaning of the whole document becomes more clear.

The Lexicon uses the Greek text of the Apostolic Fathers found in the popular edition by Michael Holmes (Baker, 2007), but will be useful for any Greek text of the Fathers (Loeb editions, etc.) The editors of this lexicon have used Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG; Third edition, Chicago, 2000), Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961), Liddel and Scott’s Ninth Revised edition (Oxford, 1968), the revised five-volume edition of Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers (Baker, 1981), and Michael Holmes’s translation of the Apostolic Fathers (third edition, Baker, 1999).

A word about glosses: A gloss is not a definition. If someone is studying a text in detail, there is no excuse not to go to the lexicons and do a proper study of the word. A gloss is simply a quick hint at the word’s meaning without any other comment. This is the difference between “what you learn for your vocabulary quiz” and reading an entry in BDAG.  As most second year Greek students learn, there is far more to a word that the brief line from the back of  a vocab card.

The Lexicon format is simple. Under the chapter and verse, the reader will find glossed words in bold, followed by a series of numbers and a brief gloss. The numbers refer to occurrences in the book, in the author and in the Apostolic Fathers collection. For a single author, only the book and total appear. So for the Didache 1:1, the word διαφορά is followed by 1, 3 and the gloss difference. The word appears only once in Didache and three times in the Fathers. For Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians 1:1, ἀνήκω is followed by 1, 3, 11 and the gloss to exult. This means the word appears once in this letter, three times in Ignatius, and eleven times in the collection. All words appear in their lexical form, not the form that appears in the text. In the case of Ignatius’ used of ἀνήκω, the letter has an aorist participle (ἀνήκουσαν). The student ought to be able to connect inflected form to the lexical form in the glossary in most cases.

Conclusion. This Lexicon does exactly what it claims to do, provide enough vocabulary for the intermediate Greek student to read the Apostolic Fathers in Greek. It is not a full lexicon nor does it claim to be. It is an excellent companion to any edition of the Apostolic Fathers. One potential objection to the need for such a book is the proliferation of lexical aids on the computer. Logos and Accordance provide not just glosses for the Apostolic Fathers, but links to BDAG and other lexicons. The computer based texts not only offer glosses but the texts are full tagged with parsing information so that even a beginning Greek student can crib their way through the text of the New Testament or Apostolic Fathers. What need is there a physical book containing this information?

In my opinion, computer programs can cheapen reading Greek (or Hebrew) to decoding a secret message. Certainly anyone can click on a word and see a lexicon or a syntactic description of a word. But that is no guarantee that there is any understanding of what the word means in context or how a syntactical construction ought to be understood.  A generation ago people decoded Greek using Strong’s numbers, but that is not reading Greek and it surely does not yield a good understanding of the text. A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers will help a student really read a text with understanding so that they can begin to make sense of this wide range of literature. If you really want to read the text, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers will help you with that goal.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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