IVP’s Bible Dictionary Series (Review)

I had originally planned to do a series of reviews on the IVP Bible Dictionaries that I own, but then I realized that in doing so I’d just be repeating myself quite a bit.  So I’ve decided to treat the four volumes that I own in a single review.

One thing that I’ve come to appreciate over the last year is the consistency and quality of these various dictionaries.  The four that are in my library were published over an eleven-year period and level of scholarship has remained high throughout.  I’ll treat these in chronological order of when I purchased/received them.


Evans, Craig A. and Stanley Porter, eds.

Dictionary of New Testament Background

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Pp. xxxiv + 1328. Hardcover. $60.00.

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This was the first dictionary of this series that I purchased a little more than a year ago (May 2007).  I was first informed of this volume through a related link on Amazon.com.  I believe I was looking at another book on NT background, and this appeared as a similar item.  After seeing that Craig Evans was an editor I picked it up immediately (at the time for $31.50) and was very pleased upon its arrival.  At the time I had recently gotten the NIV Archaeological Study Bible and this was the perfect volume to dig deeper into the blurbs provided in that study Bible.  The list of contributors was amazing, bringing together some of the best and most erudite scholars of today.  Names to include: Richard Bauckham; Craig Evans; Stanley E. Porter; David Aune; Bruce Chilton; Grant Osborne; David deSilva; et. al.  The articles range from a few paragraphs to a few pages in length, and cover everything from geography to literature to canon formation to law codes.  Major writers contemporary with the NT such as Philo and Josephus are given treatment in separate articles, and I’ve gleaned much with regard to Jewish and Greco-Roman customs from reading through this volume.  If there’s only one book that a student can get on NT background, then this has to be it.  Its breadth and depth is unmatched by anything that I’ve had access to in my studies.


Hawthorne, Gerald, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel Reid, eds.

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Pp. xxix +1038. Hardcover. $60.00.

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After being so impressed with the volume edited by Evans, I purchased this volume (at the time for $31.50) with the money I received for my birthday last July.  Sadly, this one arrived with a slightly damaged dust jacket, but the problem wasn’t significant enough to warrant sending it back and waiting for a replacement.  At the time I acquired this volume I was engaged in a lively debate with a young man over New Testament Christology.  Throughout the course of our exchanges he made many claims with regard to Paul’s epistles in general and his Christology in particular.  This particular book went a long way in helping me to correct some of the misinformation this gentleman was led to believe.  Ben Witherington’s article on “Christology” [p. 100-115] was indispensable in our exchanges, as was Larry Hurtado’s contribution on “pre-existence” [p. 743-746].  And if I thought the list of contributors was great in the later DNTB volume, I was blown away by those who wrote for this earlier dictionary.  Besides the aforementioned Witherington and Hurtado; James Dunn; Gordon Fee; F. F. Bruce; Donald Guthrie; I. H. Marshall; and a whole host of other top notch NT scholars were in the lineup for this one.  Again, I can’t recommend this volume highly enough.


Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, and I. H. Marshall, eds.

Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992. Pp. xxv + 934. Hardcover. $60.00

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I purchased this volume (again, for $31.50) along with DPL after having been hooked by the initial purchase of DNTB.  This one arrived separately as it shipped from a different location, and it had dust jacket problems all its own.  The dust jacket on this particular book was folded wrong so that it was offset and some of what should have covered the back was covering the spine.  It was an easy enough fix, but when purchasing new books you expect them in mint condition.  But like the other two volumes, the marred cover didn’t tarnish the polished contents.  Many of the contributors to this volume also wrote articles for the other two, but some of the names that jump out from this one are: Doug Moo; Scot McKnight; Lincoln Hurst; Dale Allison; Darrell Bock; Craig Blomberg; and more.  This particular book has been super-helpful in sifting through the maze of historical Jesus scholarship that I’ve been exposed to over the last couple of years.  The articles on the Gospels themselves are particularly helpful, offering treatments on the authorship, background, structure, and theology of each book.  Another valuable tool that should be in the library of every motivated layman and scholar alike.


Baker, David W. and T. Desmond Alexander, eds.

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Pp. xxii + 954. Hardcover. $60.00.

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With thanks to Adrianna Wright of InterVarsity Press for this review copy!

I’ve been flipping through this particular volume for close to a week now and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.  Since I’m more of a New Testament guy I’m not really familiar with most of the contributors to this volume, and most of those I do know, I know in name only.  Nevertheless, I’ve already gleaned much from these new found scholars.  John Goldingay’s entry on “Hermeneutics” [p. 387-400] is wonderful.  In it be covers ten types of interpretation that include but are not limited to: Christological, Doctrinal, Devotional, and Midrashic interpretations of the Pentateuch.  Meaty stuff to say the least.  John Walton’s article on the “Flood” [p. 315-326] was evenhanded and extremely well-written.  I especially appreciated his insight that:

Science is not in a position to make demands on the text, nor are interpreters in a position to import scientific concerns and perspectives into the text to satisfy their own worldviews. [. . .] Some feel they are protecting the reputation of the Bible by devising scientific theories that account for the details of the traditional interpretation of the text. Too often, however, these theories prove to be implausible and are easily discredited by the scientific thinkers whom they intend to win over. [p. 320]

Whether global or local (or the other two options that Walton lists, i.e., regional or known world), Christian apologists need to stop forcing science on what Walton rightly identifies as a non-scientific text.  I’m sure that this volume and the three I’ve yet to get will aid my studies immensely in the years to come.

One of the main things that I love about all of these volumes are the bibliographies at the end of each entry.  The size of my library has increased substantially in running down references after reading these articles.  I also appreciate the manner in which the articles are written, i.e., they’re substantial enough for scholars but simple enough for motivated non-scholars.  I’ve spoken to many a seminarian who has sung praises in honor of the IVP Dictionary Series, and I’m just another voice in an already large choir.  Without a doubt I give all of these volumes 5 stars 5-stars.gif because of all the reasons mentioned above.  I suggest that if you don’t have the books in this series that you go out and get them, soon!


3 thoughts on “IVP’s Bible Dictionary Series (Review)

  1. I have the DLNT and DPL – but I really want to get DJG and DOTP. There is also one out on the Historical Books and I am assuming there is one in process on both the Writings and the Prophets.

    In the end, this will be the Evangelical answer to the ABD. These are tremendously helpful for context and background info for preaching or teaching (either SS or a Bible study). But one needs discernment as not all are completely accurate or are controversial. Clinton Arnold did the articles on Ephesians in DPL and he argues Pauline authorship of Ephesians – obviously a debatable topic.

    Another thing to note is they each have articles on specific books of the Bible (respective to their focus) – the DPL has summaries on all Paul’s letters, as well as topics related to them or that come up in them.

  2. Brian: The Dictionary of Later New Testament and Its Developments will probably be the next in the series that I get. And the Dictionary of Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, & Writings is complete. I thought about requesting that volume since it’s the newest, but I figured it would be better to start with the Pentateuch and move on from there. So far I’m not disappointed with my decision.

    And of course you’re right that not everything in these dictionaries is entirely accurate, but I think that goes without saying. I really appreciate the way that various views are presented even if I don’t agree with an author’s ultimate conclusion.

    And I think it’s very fair to compare this to the ABD series. I’d like to get the ABD set, but if I never do I don’t think that I’ll feel slighted.

    TC: Yes!!!

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