What About the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (TLNT)?

Lexicons are some of the most helpful tools in one’s study, particularly when striving to understand how a word or phrase was originally used, and what it might’ve originally meant in a given context.

For Greek lexicons, most folks will say you need BDAG. And you do, it really is the first place you should go when looking deeper into words found in the Greek New Testament. But there are other lexicons too. One that is an excellent supplementary lexicon is Ceslas Spicq’s Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (TLNT), translated (from the original French into English) by James D. Ernest. The TLNT is not exhaustive (it does not treat every word found in the Greek NT), but its entries are helpful and substantive.
In March 2011, Dr. Ernest responded to a question about the TLNT on the online discussion group B-Greek. I asked him if we could reproduce some of his comments here, and thankfully he agreed. If you ever wanted to know some of the background of how the TLNT came about, and the contexts it is useful in, then read on. (Note that Dr. Ernest’s full post is available in the B-Greek Archives).

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, B-Greek, March 8, 2011

Do you have any thoughts or experiences using the TLNT? Tell us about it!

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One Response to “What About the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (TLNT)?”

  1. Will Varner March 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    An overlooked but very useful resource. Much more manageable than Kittel. I have both a hard copy and the Logos version.
    Get it!