My review of The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology from Intervarsity Press (Logos Bible Software Edition)
If the thought of reading from a dictionary sounds like torture to you, let me assure you there is at least one dictionary that all serious Bible students (and especially teachers) should consider for their personal library.
Before I get into why The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture is such a helpful resource, let me first let Barry Rosner define what biblical theology is:
“Biblical theology is principally concerned with the overall theological message of the whole Bible. It seeks to understand the parts in relation to the whole and, to achieve this, it must work with the mutual interaction of the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of various corpora, and with the interrelationships of these within the whole canon of Scripture. Only in this way do we take proper account of the fact that God has spoken to us in Scripture” (3).
Or, to put it more simply, how each part of the Bible fits into the Bible’s overall message of God glorifying Himself in salvation through judgment (to use James Hamilton’s lingo). Or as Peter Adam so clearly states, “Only biblical theology can save us from misusing the Bible, as we read each text in the context of the progressive revelation of God’s saving work in Christ” (108).
If you’ve ever wondered why Christians can disregard Levitical laws about eating shellfish and wearing mixed cloths, but cannot disregard Old Testament laws dealing with sexual ethics, biblical theology will set you straight. Understanding biblical theology is vital to interpreting the Bible and doing any type of theology; it helps us take the Bible on its own terms.
Laying the Foundation, Attention to Each Book of the Bible, and Tracing Specific Themes
This comprehensive volume is divided in three parts:
- Introductory articles on biblical theology including the History of Biblical Theology, Challenges to Biblical Theology, The New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology, and Preaching and Biblical Theology, among others. These articles of about eight pages on average lay the groundwork for the discipline of biblical theology. If you’re a biblical theology geek like me, you will empty your highlighters on these pages (unless you have the Logos version like me…then your finger will get tired from so many highlights? 🙂 ).
- Articles on specific books of the Bible and how they relate to the Bible as a whole. These articles, typically from four to six pages, are a must read for me as I begin to study a book of the Bible deeply; either for a new sermon series, leading training in exposition in Latin America with WordPartners, or personal study.
- Articles on specific biblical themes or people like Abraham, adoption, atonement, church, guilt, the Holy Spirit, Melchizedek, prayer, salvation, and more. Understanding how the Bible’s many themes morph and develop over the course of the whole Bible is essential for true understanding and understanding how it relates to us today in the age of the church. As Peter Adam says, “We can use biblical theology to preach the whole Christ and the whole gospel from the whole Bible.”
The list of contributors is like the ’27 Yankees of the evangelical scholarly world: Peter Adam, T. Desmond Alexander (contributor and editor), Gregory Beale, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson (contributor and editor), Edmund Clowney, Ian Duguid, Graeme Goldsworthy (contributor and editor), Wayne Grudem, Tremper Longman, Scot McKnight, Douglas Moo, Alec Motyer, Ray Ortlund, J.I. Packer, Brian Rosner (contributor and editor), and Kevin Vanhoozer, among others.
This volume served as textbook for my Biblical Theology class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I can say without a doubt it is by far the reference book I use the most. In fact, I probably use it several times over the next runner up. Instead of combing through commentaries trying to piece together bits of information on how a book of the Bible fits within the whole, reading four to six pages of NDBT will faithfully relate a book and its themes to the rest of Scripture.
As you would expect with a dictionary written by scholars, it is scholarly, sometimes sharing technical details and not often applying truth discussed. Really though, that is the work of preachers and teachers. (And besides, the book already is almost 900 pages!) Being a dictionary, it cannot give an in-depth look at material, but does an excellent job in packing so much relevant information into relatively short articles. For deeper study, you might consider The New Studies in Biblical Theology series also from Intervarsity Press.
This book belongs on every the shelf of every serious Bible student and within arm’s reach of every teacher and preacher. It is the most comprehensive biblical theology volume there is, and so valuable that a colleague of mine said it was “worth its weight in gold.” I am inclined to agree, and I actually have a biblical case to back it up.
The Psalmist in Psalm 19:7 describes the words of God as much more desirable than gold. If a book like The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology can unlock God’s Word for me in such a powerful and clear way, then it makes God’s Word more precious to me. And if God’s Word is more precious and desirable than gold, then it would be fair to call it “worth its weight in gold.” 🙂
A Brief Word on the Logos Version
I have been a satisfied user of Logos Bible Software for a few years now even though I feel like I’m just figuring out how to harness its power. (See my review of Logos Bible Software and Logos7.)
Logos was made for volumes like The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. The truth is, Logos Bible Software is only as good as the library you have integrated with it. This resource now coming up in Logos searches is invaluable to me as a student and teacher of Scripture. The Table of Contents on Logos is easier to navigate than flipping through pages of the physical book and clearly organizes articles under the three parts outlined above.
What excites me most about the Logos version is that I always have this book in my pocket with the Logos iPhone app. I have no more need to wish I had more resources with me while on the mission field; everything I need is right in my pocket for easy access.
My only regrets with Logos Bible Software are not getting it while I was a seminary student and also not disciplining myself to learn how to use it more effectively—that is something I am still learning. (You can learn a little about how John Piper uses it for reading and writing on this episode of Ask Pastor John.)
Available at Logos | Amazon | Westminster Books
For a more practical and pastoral approach to biblical theology, I recommend Colin Smith’s Unlocking the Bible Story series that traces biblical themes or Mark Dever’s The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept that are strong collections of book overview sermons.