You Are Smarter Than a Lexicon

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos Bible Software.

Lexicons are commonly used for studying biblical languages. It may shock you, then, that I’m an advocate for discouraging their use by beginning Hebrew and Greek students. I’m not kidding. I’d be happy if beginning students never used them.

I don’t diminish lexicons because they are so frequently abused. It also isn’t because I want people to spend hundreds of hours memorizing Hebrew and Greek vocabulary. For those newly initiated to Hebrew and Greek, lexicons just don’t give you any useful information—and yet professors seem bent on convincing their students that they are indispensable for biblical interpretation.

What’s a Lexicon Anyway?

To be fair, there was a time when lexicons approached that level of importance. Think about what a lexicon is: a book that lists each word in a given body of literature of a foreign language, while assigning an English equivalent to each foreign word. The better lexicons went beyond that service to listing several English equivalents and cataloguing specific instances in the foreign literature where that word occurred. This informed the user that the given foreign word could be used on many contexts and provided examples. All of that collecting and collating had to be done by hand, and very few people were so expertly trained that they could manage the task. But if we’re honest, all of that work only enabled translation and reading—not interpretation.

Why Not Just Use an English Thesaurus?

In other words, the only thing lexicons really did for the user was put data in front of them and suggest a one-to-one correspondence of each word with an English word. If you think about it, that’s basically what an English thesaurus does for English. You start with one word and then are given a list of other words that you might want to swap in for the word you started with. To be blunt, we use a thesaurus the way beginning students use lexicons. If I wanted to know what the word “beginning” might really mean in that last sentence, I could go to a thesaurus and discover that “beginning” might “mean” the following: birth, commencement, onset, opening, inception, source, emergence, rising, dawning, simplest, initiatory, or introductory. You could argue for a couple of those as to what Dr. Heiser intended, and then you’d pick one. Never mind that each of those synonyms has its own range of nuances. Never mind that this method makes the user the point of origin for “meaning”—as opposed to context. The latter requires time spent reading through the spectrum of a word’s usages and then—most importantly—thinking carefully about how the context allows or rules out certain meanings. In the latter you’re tracing the thought of the text and its author in an effort to describe what his point is in as many words as it takes. In the former you’re looking for one word substitutes. That’s what standard lexicons do for you—provide lists of English substitutes. That isn’t word study.

Reading is not Exegesis

Why do we think that the enterprise of looking up a Greek or Hebrew word to get an English equivalent is a useful thing to do? Professors would answer: “So you can do translation.” We now have hundreds of English translations, so why would we need to do our own? The truth is that knowing thousands of English word equivalents for Hebrew and Greek never made anyone a more careful interpreter. Being able to sight read Greek or Hebrew doesn’t guarantee exegetical accuracy any more than being able to read your English Bible does. Reading and exegesis are two very different things. My eight-year-old daughter can read me any passage in the Bible, but I’m not using her in place of a commentary. Reading is not exegesis.

Illustrating the Problem

You might think I’m exaggerating a bit. Let me demonstrate. Below is the entry from The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament for the Hebrew word baraʾ, the word translated “create” in Genesis 1:1.

Bara Strongs

So what did we learn? That the Hebrew word baraʾ means “create” in many instances, and that God is its subject. We’d already know the former if we were using an interlinear. The fact that God is the only subject of that verb is interesting, but it tells us nothing about what baraʾ means. Are you more able to interpret the passage? Did your congregation learn anything when you told them that behind the English word “create” was a Hebrew word that meant “create”? What kind of creating are we talking about? Does the word ever refer to creation using materials? Does it always mean creation from nothing? Does it have synonyms that describe the use of materials? How do I find them? What are the verb’s objects, the things created? Why would an author use this verb and not another one? Does an author ever use this verb along with another one in parallel? The lexicon doesn’t tell us. More importantly, the lexicon never suggests that we should even ask those questions. It just gives us an English equivalent and becomes mute.

Maybe the problem is that I used The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament. Perhaps if I used a scholarly lexicon the floodgates of insight would open. Nope. The entry below is from the leading scholarly lexicon for biblical Hebrew, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT):

Bara Halot

What did we learn this time? That baraʾ means “create”—just like our English translation tells us. We learned that some other Semitic languages have a verb for “create” as well (really, does any language not have such a word?). The rest of the HALOT entry divides the occurrences of the Hebrew verb baraʾ into something in Hebrew grammar known as stems. Depending on the verb, that can be very important, since translation of a word can depend on the stem. But beginners aren’t going to know about stems, and in the case of baraʾ, even if they did it wouldn’t be useful. The Hebrew verb baraʾ occurs in two stems. In the “Qal” stem the verb means “to create”; in the “Niphal” stem, which is passive, the verb means “be created.” Wow. That’ll preach.

An Antidote

So how can you do better in word study if you’re not a specialist in Hebrew or Greek? There are three truly indispensable things you need for developing skill in handling the Word of God.

First, you need a means to get at all the data of the text. Logos Bible Software is the premier tool for that. Through reverse interlinears, you can begin with English and mine the Bible for all occurrences of a Greek or Hebrew word. Logos 4 then takes that data and renders it in a variety of visual displays and reports so you can begin to look at the material and think about it from different angles—such as the Bible Word Study report, where you see how your word relates grammatically to other words in the sentence. Second, you need someone who is experienced in interpretation to guide you in how to process the data in front of you. You need training in what questions to ask and why you’d ask them. There is simply no substitute in word study for thinking about the occurrences of a word on your own. Lexicons will give you lists of English choices, but cherry-picking a list isn’t the same thing as asking critical, reflective, interpretive questions about the word in its context. Third, you need practice, practice, and more practice.

Logos Bible Software has been helping you do the first of these steps for years. Moving your Bible study beyond perusing a list of English words is precisely why Logos has made a commitment to the second item—by producing nearly twenty hours of guided advice in our Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew video tools. These video tools are our first step toward helping you understand how to think about words and grammatical concepts so you can begin to discern the interpretive nuances Greek and Hebrew can provide. It’s time to learn how to handle the biblical text, not just read English words in a lexicon. You’re smarter than that.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Logos Lexicons

If you’ve ever visited the Pacific Northwest it is quite possible you’ve heard the saying, "If it’s not raining, just wait 10 minutes." As such, living here makes it hard not to want to be outside the moment you see a sun beam or a sliver of blue sky peeking through the clouds.

Wanting to take advantage of extended summer daylight hours and of interim good weather, John Barry, Editor of Bible Study Magazine, and Johnny Cisneros, Product Manager for Systematic Theology and co-instructor of Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software, have taken up co-managing the Logos Lexicons, Logos’ first ever co-ed softball team.

The Logos Lexicons’ unofficial team motto is: From Software to Softball, We’re Redefining the Game

Games are played every Friday and Sunday evening at the Frank Geri Fields in the Civic Fields Athletic Complex, so if you live in the area or are visiting Bellingham this summer and want to catch a Lexicons game, come join us, we’d love to meet you! Those who are planning on attending the free Greek Discourse Workshop, National Camp Logos, or Camp Logos: Alaskan Cruise 2010, come out and join us Friday evening, June 11th. Game time is at 7:20 PM on Field #1.

Here’s what you can expect to see:

Photos courtesy of Sarah Knepper in our graphic design and marketing department.

If softball is not your thing, then consider showing your support for what John and Johnny are doing off the field. Pre-order John Barry’s first book, The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, or Johnny’s Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software.

And to support both of them at once, consider subscribing or re-subscribing to Bible Study Magazine. Then, give them a "good game coach," or a quasi-high-five by leaving a comment below.

Logos 4: Display Bible Text in List Form

mp|seminars Tips

Today’s post is from Morris Proctor, certified and authorized trainer for Logos Bible Software. Morris has trained thousands of Logos users at his two-day Camp Logos training seminars.

You’ve probably noticed that most Bibles are printed in paragraph form. This is great for reading, but when you’re studying the Bible verse-by-verse, those little verse numbers are sometimes hard to find. No worries. Logos allows us to display a Bible in list form with each verse starting on a separate line.

  • Open a Bible to a desired location
  • Click the Visual Filters icon (three circles) on the Bible’s toolbar
  • Select Bible Text Only

Instantly the Bible transitions to list form! This makes verse by verse study much easier.

Please take note, though, that in Bible Text Only mode, the cross references also disappear. In Bible Text Only mode, the emphasis is on verses only!

Free Update to The John Piper Sermon Manuscript Library

John Piper

Today we’re announcing the release of an update to The John Piper Sermon Manuscript Library. This update contains 41 sermons preached between May 25, 2008 and June 28, 2009—all of which nicely complement more than 1,125 sermons already in The John Piper Sermon Manuscript Library.

Best of all, this update is free. If you already own The John Piper Sermon Manuscript Library, you don’t need to pay a dime to get the 41 additional sermons. This ensures that Piper’s new sermons will reach the widest audience possible.

If you’re a Logos 4 user, you don’t need to do anything to get the additional sermons. Your resources will update automatically next time you start the software. (If you can’t wait, simply type Update Now in the Command Bar.) After the update is downloaded, you’ll be asked to restart Logos 4. When you do, you’ll be able to access all the new content.

Libronix users will need to run a Libronix update to get the new resources. Go to Tools | Libronix Update to get the free update. You can also run the resource update script.

If you haven’t yet purchased The John Piper Sermon Manuscript Library, now is the perfect time to add it to your library. With all the new content, you get a total of 1,166 sermons that you can search and study. This massive collection of sermons essentially functions as a comprehensive commentary on the Bible—straight from the pen of John Piper himself.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out the dozens of books by John Piper available from Logos!

Last Chance to Pre-Order the Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive

Mark Driscoll is one of the most popular and provocative preachers in the church today. The Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive contains nearly ten years of his preaching and teaching. In this massive archive, the transcriptions of his audio sermons preached at Mars Hill Church—which work through fifteen books of the Bible and cover scores of topical issues—are made available for reading, searching, and study.

Logos users have been asking for his sermons for years. Last year we put them on Pre-Pub, and the response was phenomenal. Now, we’re pleased to announce that we’re only a few days away from shipping. After it ships, the price will jump to $129.95. For a few more days, you can still get the entire archive for only $99.95. Don’t pass up this deal!

Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive

Each week, more than 8,000 people gather at Mars Hill Church in Seattle to hear Mark Driscoll’s preaching. Driscoll is unafraid to talk about sin or confront the most difficult cultural issues. Drawing from the rich insights of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, and others, he never hesitates to explain the raw and confrontational truth of the Gospel. Driscoll’s goal, in his own words, is to “study the Bible all week, pray to the Lord, and then . . . speak from my heart.”

Driscoll’s passion for the Gospel and his deep honesty in explaining its truths has placed him at the center of a resurging interest in Reformed theology. It has also helped foster Mars Hill’s explosive growth in recent years, and drawn the attention of supporters and skeptics alike. With the Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive, you can go deep into his sermons, or simply read the text. Either way, you get access to an amazing wealth of preaching material.

Remember, the Pre-Pub price expires in just a few days. Don’t miss out!

What About the Early Church?

Church Origins Collection (10 Vols.)
One of the areas of study that I’m most interested in, personally, is how the early church developed. That is, from the time of the apostles through around 300 AD, what happened? Who did what? And how did it affect the growth and development of the church? How did the Gospel disseminate?
There are a lot of books that fit into this space—it’s a popular place to be. But a useful collection you might not be aware of is the Church Origins Collection (10 Vols.) This is a set of 10 books that fit into the area of “Church Origins”. These books include:

  • Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, A History of the First Christians
  • Alan Kreider, ed., The Origins of Christendom in the West
  • Judith Lieu, Neither Jew Nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity
  • Judith Lieu, Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century
  • Gerd Lüdemann, Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals
  • Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition
  • Michael Brown, The Lord’s Prayer through North African Eyes: A Window into Early Christianity
  • Alastair Campbell, The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity
  • Todd Penner, In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography
  • Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, eds., The Theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation

I am deeply familiar with one of the books in this collection, Alastair Campbell’s The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity. I picked this one up at the national SBL meeting one year and devoured it quickly. It is an excellent study of the concept of “Elder” as a title of honor, which morphed into an office in the early church. It surveys the Hebrew Bible, the LXX, the New Testament, and the letters of Ignatius to trace history and development of “Elders”. You might not agree with Campbell (I certainly don’t in all places) but it is an excellent look at this topic, across history. While you can purchase this book individually, it is spendy at $90, which is fully half of the collection price.
The other books I’ve not read in depth, but I am familiar with many of the authors. For example, Judith Lieu is responsible for two of the books in the Church Origins Collection: Neither Jew nor Greek?: Constructing Early Christianity and Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century. Lieu is well-known and well-regarded in the realm of study of earliest Christianity, particularly the not-so-clear area between Christianity and Judaism. Her work in this area is, from all I’ve understood, top-notch.
There are other familiar names, some you may know (Todd Penner, Alexander Wedderburn, Alan Kreider), some you may not (Michael Brown, Robert Murray) and some you may be predipsosed against (e.g. Gerd Lüdemann). Whatever your predisposition (now you know mine), each of these books provides a stimulating examination of their topic, and one’s understanding of the origin and development of the early church will likely be sharper for having read them.
If any of these sound interesting, chances are you’ll like most of the books in the collection. Check it out!

The Gnomon of the New Testament on Pre-Pub . . . Again!?

John Albrecht Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament is a great example of a Pre-Pub featured on Logos.com that has already had a pre-pub run in its lifetime!

While we were preparing Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament, we discovered documents that laid out a pre-publication proposal for the Gnomon from 1855.(screenshot a,screenshot b).

The five-volume, 1855 translation of Bengel’s work—originally published in 1742—could not begin production until 1500 subscribers had pledged 28 shillings a piece, making up about half the total production costs. For the publication costs to be fully covered, it would require twice that amount! This is pretty incredible when one considers that one shilling in 1850 had the purchasing power of over £3 ($4 USD) today.

One interesting portion of the proposal suggested that “wealthy laity” might consider pre-purchasing numerous copies to give out to friends in ministry or to students of theology.

Once again, Logos is proud to offer this important collection on Pre-Pub. The Gnomon is a result of twenty years’ work and it was Bengel’s desire that the content of his books would reawaken a desire to study the Word of God. Messrs Clark’s publication proposal called the Gnomon invaluable to all students of the New Testament, and that is just as true in the 21st century as it was in the 17th century.

“It is a work which manifests the most intimate and profoundest knowledge of Scripture, and which, if we examine it with care, will often be found to condense more matter into a line than can be extracted from many pages of other writers.” —Archdeacon Hare

Don’t miss out on getting the Gnomon of the New Testament at its low Pre-Pub price!

Logos 4: Project Logos on the Big Screen

mp|seminars Tips

Today’s post is from Morris Proctor, certified and authorized trainer for Logos Bible Software. Morris has trained thousands of Logos users at his two-day Camp Logos training seminars.

As an owner of Logos Bible Software 4, I’m sure you’re continuing to improve your mastery of this incredible tool for your personal Bible study. I hope also, if you’re a teacher or pastor, that you find ways to utilize the program in public teaching situations. With a laptop and projector you can utilize your electronic library right in the classroom. Here’s a little trick to help your students better see Logos when it’s projected:

  • Choose Tools | Program Settings
  • Under Accessibility increase the percentage of Program Scaling

Now everything in the program including icons, menus, guides, tools, and more, are enlarged for easier viewing. Your students will thank you for this little tweak in the program. This tip also comes in handy for those late nights of study when your eyes are tired!

An Interview with John Bolt about Herman Bavinck, Part 2

John Bolt

Last week, we featured the first part of an interview with John Bolt, the editor of the new translation of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. Dr. Bolt is Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor for several years. He is a member of the Dutch Translation Society, which produced the new translation. Part two of the interview with John Bolt is below.

Herman Bavinck’s theology is closely associated with Abraham Kuyper’s theology. How does Bavinck relate to Kuyper and other prominent contemporaries? What makes him distinct from Kuyper?

Kuyper was the movement leader in the renaissance of Calvinism that helped reform the church and also led the orthodox Reformed people of the Netherlands to become a cultural, social, and political force in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Bavinck’s writing, speaking, and practice fully supported this movement but his major contribution was that of a scholar whose theological and church work became the font of most of the developments in the Dutch Reformed churches of the 20th century. Kuyper was a dynamic, sometimes overbearing, and never-in-doubt commander of an army; Bavinck was a modest, even shy retiring man who strove to find the positive in an opponent’s point of view in order to incorporate it into his own.

Reformed Dogmatics

The publication of the new translation of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics has received favorable reviews from prominent Reformed theologians and historians around the world. The electronic edition Logos Bible Software is currently working on has attracted lots of attention. We get questions every week from anxious customers who are anticipating the completion of this project. Why have we seen such a renewed interest in Bavinck in the past few years?

Because he’s good! Seriously.

The last few years have also seen a renewed interest in Reformed theology more broadly. What are your thoughts on this movement? What is the future of the Reformed Resurgence?

I love reading these guys because they are edgy, funny, and straightforward. Calvin will always be relevant because even secular people can’t ignore his importance. Nonetheless, the Reformed (Calvinist) faith is a confessional faith (tied to an ecclesiastical tradition) and in spite of the occasional flashes of interest that we see right now, the fact remains that confessional Christianity has a terrible time in America’s overwhelmingly voluntarist religious ethos.

In addition to the two decades you’ve spent as a professor of systematic theology, you have also served as a pastor in two churches, and you continue to preach and teach regularly. Why is it important for pastors to read Bavinck? What is the significance of Reformed Dogmatics for pastoral ministry today?

As a scholar Bavinck has of course become the hub of the wheel around which I work—my scholarly work has been Bavinck and more Bavinck. But that’s only the formal part. More importantly, the content of Bavinck’s thought and the method of his theology have also deeply shaped me. Bavinck had an deeply sensitive eye for the revelation of God in the created world and in the providential guidance of human history and cultures. He sees deeply how the human quest for forgiveness, for meaning, for reconciliation, and for truth are part of our being created in God’s image and therefore perennially present in all the religious quests of human beings.

Remember, you still have a little more time to get Reformed Dogmatics while it’s on Pre-Pub. The print set normally retails for $179.95, but right now you can pre-order it for $99.95. This set ships in just a couple weeks, so you still have a little more time left to get this deal when you pre-order. Lock in your order now!

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian ChurchOne of the great benefits of the Logos 4 libraries is serendipity. Here specifically I’m thinking of finding books in your library that you didn’t really know you had, but once you find them you’re so glad you’ve got ‘em you don’t know how you studied without them.
For me, one of these wow-I’m-glad-I-found-it books is the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC). It comes in the Scholar’s LE, Silver LE, Gold LE, Platinum LE and Portfolio LE libraries for Logos Bible Software.
And the ODCC is a gem. Clearly written. Top-notch scholarship. Recent. Relevant. Almost 2000 pages of excellent reference material that covers a wide array of topics and ideas. The ODCC is simply stunning.
One of my newfound roles here at Logos is that of columnist, where I’m responsible for the Thoughts from the Church Fathers column for Bible Study Magazine. As I work on each new column, the patristic entries in ODCC have been very helpful. They provide a great introductory sketch both of familiar figures (e.g. Augustine) and figures you might never have heard of (e.g. Cyril of Jerusalem). They lay out the contour and timeline while highlighting major issues, typically with links to entries describing these issues or debates. It’s like a one-stop shopping trip, and it is awesome.
But the patristic entries (while my favorite) are only one aspect of the ODCC. There is all sorts of stuff in it: Theology, Patristic scholarship, Churches and denominations, Church calendar and organization, Biographical entries, and more.
If you’ve got ODCC (just fire up Logos 4 and type ‘ODCC’ in the command box or in the Library to see if you have it already), then you owe it to yourself to check it out and look at some articles the next time you’re working on something (especially if you see any reference to particular church fathers).
If you don’t have ODCC, then you should check it out and, if the time is right, add it to your library. Or compare the cost of buying ODCC outright ($150 retail) with the cost to upgrade to at least Scholar’s LE. If your upgrade cost is close to (or under) $150, and you don’t have ODCC, then you could really end up getting a great deal on the upgrade — ODCC plus whatever else is in Scholar’s LE that you don’t already have.
Update: In the comments, it is noted that the 3rd edition of ODCC (from 1997) has been republished in paperback by another publisher. The edition in Logos Bible Software is the 2005 revision of the 3rd edition, which has some significant differences from the third edition. Below is an excerpt from the Note on the Revision of the Third Edition in the front matter of the 2005 edition:

The revision of the third edition was planned as a modest exercise, designed to incorporate changes which would not fit into successive reprintings and to include some updating wanted for a projected online version. The original pagination was to be preserved, and a limited number of short new articles were to come at the end. Until after production had been put in hand, I expected the pagination to be generally retained and I worked within this constraint. Nevertheless, the scope of the revision widened and I made a large number of small changes to reflect events and shifts in scholarly opinion over the last eight years or so, juggling with the text to fit in the new material. In some cases I commissioned completely new articles, impressing on their authors that they must be of the same length as the material they replaced. Inevitably, however, the main changes are in the bibliographies.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), ix.