Evangelical literature is moving through a remarkable day: the unending appearance of new Bible translations or paraphrases and of various compilations of these; the issuance of costly and competent reference works for permanent use; readiness by some theological professors in our time of deep doctrinal crisis to spend their efforts on lucrative potboilers; the notable success, and notable demise, of publishing ventures geared only to high-turnover religious fluff.
Now complete in English translation from the German is the monumental Kittel-Friedrich Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (reviewed in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, September 27, 1974, page 24). Anglo-Saxon scholarship owes a high debt to Geoffrey W. Bromiley, the gifted translator of this nine-volume work (he earlier translated Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics), and to the Eerdmans Publishing Company. With impressive facility Bromiley translated essays of divergent styles, range, and vocabulary into uniformly idiomatic English. As a companion project, Eerdmans has already begun issuing John Willis’s translation of Botterweck and Ringgren’s Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.
Once known simply as Kittel, and incorporating the research and reflection of numerous prestigious scholars, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) was many times near disaster. In 1928, when Gerhard Kittel projected two volumes to be produced in three years by fifteen contributors, he never envisioned nine volumes involving more than a hundred contributors and forty-five years.
World War II interrupted the community of participating scholars, and when Kittel died in 1948 the project might have ended. But as he lay dying Kittel entrusted to a younger scholar, Gerhard Friedrich, the burden of completion—which proved to be a quarter-century task. Although bankers hesitated to provide financial backing for the vast effort, the publishers displayed singular vision and commitment; Kittel’s widow gave generous support, and thousands of subscribers paid ongoing installments to assure publication.
Kittel introduced a new era in philological lexicography, for he recognized that we can best grasp the meaning of the New Testament by analyzing the use of words in the broad vocabulary context of linguistic families, while at the same time stressing that words gain their meaning in logical relationships and not as atomistic units.
By the time his great project was completed, almost half of the participating contributors had died. Each successive volume reflected new discoveries, research, and trends, among them the post-War debate in theology, waning confidence in the unity of the New Testament, the disruptive impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on some of the earlier essays, and growing deference by some scholars to Gnosticism as a context for New Testament teaching.
Seen only as an incomparable source of New Testament word studies, TDNT is a greatly rewarding effort that can help bring new biblical power to preaching and strike new depths for theological study. The work reflects divergent assumptions and perspectives and must be used critically, as must every work about the Bible; but in a time of theological shallowness TDNT incorporates abundant and profound evangelical values.
Another gifted evangelical scholar, intrepid Scottish church historian J. D. Douglas, has edited as his latest venture the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (Zondervan, 1,074 pages, $24.95). A million-word effort by 180 contributors of 4,800 articles, it spans the life of the Christian Church through the centuries. This volume doesn’t simply update or rework previous dictionaries; it reflects a fresh perspective that incorporates many valuable topics including artists, musicians, and poets heretofore overlooked or omitted. The overall range of subjects is impressive: the famous names, movements, and concerns of church history are all here, as are lesser yet enriching ones. A reliable work by qualified participating evangelical scholars, it is clear, precise and highly readable. It says something about the project (and about British radio) that BBC was aware of the book’s appearance and dispatched a staffer to interview Douglas at his St. Andrews home.
The fortunes and misfortunes of the Christian witness in many lands are discussed at helpful length, in some cases by continents (e.g., Latin America), in others by individual essays (e.g., China, India, Korea, Japan); some nations, however, are omitted. Some readers may wish that more space had been allocated to certain topics like “New Testament Canon” and “New Testament Criticism.” No major articles appear in “Culture” (or “Counter-Culture”), although personality or issue-oriented essays related to such subjects are included. There is an essay on “Philosophy of Religion” but none on “Philosophy,” on “Evolution” but not on “Science.” What to include and what to exclude are always baffling decisions in a work of this kind.
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church is an excellent “college-course at home,” and considerably better fare and more profitable than most television and other reading alternatives.
A footnote to my Footnotes is a rare phenomenon. But the retirement of Miss Irma Peterson from the staff of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, where she was executive secretary to the editor from the magazine’s very beginnings in 1956, affords an opportunity not only to recognize a life of unusually efficient and dedicated service but also to underscore the importance of competent secretarial help. Some of evangelical Christianity’s ablest scholars in their most productive years have realized only half their possible contribution to the Christian cause because they have had to dissipate their energies and time in typing and in handling voluminous correspondence. J. D. Douglas, Frank Gaebelein, Elton Trueblood, and many others could easily verify experiences in this matter.
Some far-sighted evangelical foundation could by providing grants for just such secretarial aid, liberate productive scholars to give their full time to the cause of valid and respectable Christian literature.
These matters apart, I.E.P.—as she humbly abridged herself in interoffice memos—is one of that vanishing species of executive secretaries who when necessary work late or on Saturdays without grumbling and who take full pride in their work because they work “as unto the Lord.” In 1956 I.E.P. traveled 3,000 miles to Washington to join the founding and launching corps of a new magazine. She is the veteran and only remaining office member of that initial circle. I shall always cherish her as a person and as a superior coworker. For the Lord’s sake—and ours—one might wish that the geneticists could clone many another I.E.P.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more