There are quite a few Greek dictionaries (or lexica) floating around, but many of them are not particularly useful. Several of the dictionaries still being sold are unreliable. Others are little more than lists of a few common English translations for each Greek word. They do not provide a balanced definition or a sense of the word’s overall use. Volumes with “analytical lexicon” in their title are essentially just aids in parsing a particular inflected Greek form, so these are of little use today given the freely available electronic tools. So what Greek dictionaries are reliable and worth buying?
The Reliable Standards
[BDAG] Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd Edition. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000.**
The standard dictionary of New Testament Greek used by advanced students and scholars. If you buy one dictionary, this should be it. Just make sure you get the 3rd edition (published in 2000). It’s a major leap forward from earlier editions. The key problem with most cheap or free Greek dictionaries is that they were first written before the discovery and analysis of papyrus libraries in the 20th century that transformed our understanding of the non-literary Hellenistic Greek that we find in early Jewish and Christian writings. BDAG has thoroughly digested those insights, and the 3rd edition also draws on some newer insights from linguistics. A must-have if you’re serious. This covers not only the NT but also the writings of the Greek church fathers.
[LSJ] Liddell, H. G., and R. Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Edited by Henry Stuart Jones. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.**
The standard dictionary of ancient Greek in general. This is now quite old (despite the recent publication date for the 9th edition) but hasn’t yet been replaced. It’s often really helpful for putting the NT or LXX use of a word in its wider context, or for getting an accurate sense of how a word was usually used in ordinary life. If you’re reading Greek texts that aren’t covered by BDAG, this will be your main resource. The best part is that LSJ is available free-access on the Perseus Project (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057).
Montanari, Franco. The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek. Edited by Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder. Bilingual edition. Boston, MA: Brill, 2015.
Essentially a reformatting and very light revision of LSJ. It really is much, much easier to read than its older parent. It remains to be seen whether it will become the new standard. It’s not cheap to buy, and most of the content is already freely available in the online LSJ.
Smaller Student Dictionaries
Danker, Frederick William. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
This volume and the other two below are very similar. All are small handbook-sized volumes that provide up-to-date and accurate information about the meaning of every word in the NT. All provide convenient access to irregular forms, and all include cross-references allowing the user to find related words. On the other hand, all are highly abridged and do not include the rich detail provided by BDAG. Of the three I would prefer this one by Danker, in part because he is the editor of BDAG itself and brings that immense expertise to this small dictionary. Danker also offers true definitions for each word, rather than simply listing possible glosses. On the other hand, if one is ready to spend $50 or more to buy this volume, it might be smarter to spend the extra money on BDAG, especially since both Logos and Accordance offer electronic versions of Danker’s full lexicon.
Newman, Barclay M. Jr. A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. Revised. Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2010.
Trenchard, Warren C. A Concise Dictionary of New Testament Greek. Bilingual edition. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Other Useful Dictionaries
Beale, Gregory K., Daniel Joseph Brendsel, and William A. Ross. An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014.
This small book focuses on the connective words that are often neglected in the study of Hellenistic Greek. The authors classify the logical roles played by these words, clarify the roles they play in key NT passages, and provide links to the discussion of the words’ different uses in Wallace’s grammar and Harris’s Prepositions and Theology.
Liddell, H. G., and R. Scott. Intermediate Greek Lexicon. 7th edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1963.
This little volume can be useful if you don’t have ready access to the Perseus version of LSJ, or if you want to read some Greek away from any “screens.” It is an abbreviation of LSJ, which means it has a relatively reliable base. But this volume is small enough to carry around easily and it is often included bundled with Bible software packages. The problem is that it is so radically abbreviated that a lot of useful information from LSJ is lost. The entries are also sometimes so terse that they are difficult to understand. So this is a “back-up” for LSJ, not a replacement.
[L-N] Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988.
Louw and Nida don’t aim to duplicate what BDAG provides. This isn’t the best place to go for the definition and use of a given Greek word. Instead, L-N aims to give a sense of the variety of Greek words available to writers when they wanted to talk about a given subject. L-N isn’t organized alphabetically by word. Instead, it’s organized by “semantic domain,” essentially by subject heading. For each semantic domain, L-N lists together the words used in the NT for that topic. This can be helpful in understanding the significance of an author’s decision to use one word and not another. On the other hand, L-N is hampered by the fact that it only lists words actually used in the NT. So it doesn’t give an accurate sense of the whole range of words available in the first century for a given subject.
Muraoka, T. A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint: Chiefly of the Pentateuch and the Twelve Prophets. Leuven: Peeters, 2002.**
The standard dictionary for the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. It’s possible to read the LXX using just LSJ, but Muraoka is a big help.
[EDNT] Balz, Horst, and Gerhard Schneider. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990.
Unlike the other entries in this category, the EDNT includes every word used in the NT. For more significant terms, though, it also goes beyond a lexicon like BDAG to offer deeper discussion of the word’s use in the NT. On basic issues of word formation and lexical meaning, BDAG and LSJ are more reliable. But EDNT is a very useful supplement. It also includes cross-references allowing the reader to find other words used for related concepts (somewhat like L-N).
Ernest, James D., and Ceslas Spicq. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994.
This isn’t truly a dictionary, and it doesn’t cover every word in the NT. But it provides medium length encyclopedic articles about the use of certain Greek words by NT writers. It doesn’t replace BDAG or LSJ, but it provides some helpful discussions.
[TDNT] Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964.
The articles in TDNT are very long and exhaustive studies of the use of certain words from the NT, the ones judged to be theologically significant. Each article begins with a study of Hebrew or Aramaic words that influenced the Christian use of the Greek term. It then discusses in depth the use of the Greek word in the wider Greek-speaking world, in Jewish texts, and finally in various NT writers. TDNT has been heavily criticized in recent decades. Some of its articles have a heavy anti-Jewish bias and distort ancient Jewish thinking. Many articles also confuse the meaning of a word with the broader theological concepts it might be used to express. So it can encourage the mistake of assuming that a given word always carries all of that theological freight with it. TDNT also makes a problematic distinction between “secular” and “theological” uses of a word. Which are we talking about when, say, λογος is used as a metaphor? Used cautiously, though, TDNT can be a goldmine of insight. Just take what you read with a grain of salt until you’ve checked other sources.
One thought on “Which Greek Dictionary Should I Buy?”
I find the light gray type on white extremely difficult to read.