Book Review - Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary

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Image of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Premier Reference Series)
by J. D. Douglas, Merrill C. Tenney
Zondervan 2011
Hardcover 1584
The Bible is a big book, and since the nineteenth century, many big Bible dictionaries have been published to assist readers and students of the Bible to understand important words, concepts and background information. The most recent effort in the field of Bible dictionaries is the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (ZIBD). This dictionary is Moisés Silva’s substantial revision and expansion of Zondervan’s previous Bible dictionaries, the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (ed. Merrill C. Tenney) and the New International Bible Dictionary (ed. J. D. Douglas).

ZIBD is, in all technical aspects, quite well done. The full color photographs, maps, and charts are helpful without being overdone so as to dominate the text. The introduction is entirely correct when it says that “the new artistic design and use of fonts greatly enhance the attractiveness and clarity of the work” (v). In the articles I compared with the original Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, the changes in wording improved the clarity. One other commendable point is that the publisher has kept the price affordable for such a large volume, as well as making a Kindle version available for those who prefer an ebook.

The introduction notes that ZIBD “may be regarded to some extent as an abbreviated version of its multivolume cousin,” the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, and the reader is referred to the larger work for more argumentation, documentation, and bibliographic information. Nevertheless, I found the articles to be adequate in depth, and the 7,200 entries were superbly comprehensive in breadth. One can find information on any person or place in the Bible. Many, many doctrinal topics are introduced. One can even find an occasional foray into church history (s.v. “Apostolic Fathers,” although I wonder about the relevance of a full entry on Valentinus to a Bible dictionary).

Sample entry

The following is an example of a brief entry, which will give readers a feel for what to expect in ZIBD.

As the sample above shows, each entry includes a suggested pronunciation for common English. Also, the Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbers are included for each Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word, providing an easy means of finding more detailed information in other Zondervan publications, such as The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament or the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. This would be most helpful for those who would like to do lexical study but have limited experience in the languages of Scripture. The dictionary does not reference Strong’s numbers, however. Additionally, ZIBD gives references of usage in the Bible, and it also includes a helpful system of cross-reference to other dictionary entries by placing words in small caps (in the example above, see ABYSS).

As would be expected for a Zondervan publication, the dictionary relies upon the NIV/TNIV for biblical quotations. However, many words which are unique to the KJV are retained and explained (e.g. “stomacher”), making this dictionary useful for those whose primary translation is the KJV. The dictionary even includes words which do not occur in the Bible but are popularly associated with it, such as “helpmeet.”

Theological assessment

As a pastor, I am concerned that books I recommend to new believers be doctrinally acceptable, so I checked this dictionary’s theological bent. As would be expected, it can be classified as theologically evangelical in orientation, as opposed to theologically liberal. This becomes particularly apparent when compared to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (revised and updated), also published this year. A couple examples of ZIBD’s theological statements may suffice. Under “Inspiration” ZIBD has “in summary, biblical inspiration…may be defined as the work of the Holy Spirit by which, through the instrumentality of the personality and literary talents of its human authors, he constituted the words of the Bible in all of its several parts as his written word to the human race and, therefore, of divine authority and without error.” Regarding “Justification,” we read “that judicial act of God by which, on the basis of the meritorious work of Christ, imputed to the sinner and received through faith, God declares the sinner absolved from sin, released from its penalty, and restored as righteous. Expressed simply, it is being placed in a right relationship with himself.”

However, there are times when ZIBD could have been stronger and clearer on issues related to the Bible, such as historicity and authorship of various books. The last few years have demonstrated once again that the doctrine of the Bible requires constant vigilance, and a resource such as ZIBD is a perfect place to educate novices with clear and explicit affirmations of the integrity of the biblical record. But in a few instances the articles left muddy puddles in my mind. For example, the article “Chronology (OT)” explains the difficulty of determining precise dates and sequences for much of the biblical historical record. This is as it should be, for these historical reconstructions are complex business. The article gives a good introduction to the issues involved. Nevertheless, the article fails to mention that some historical reconstructions are driven by assumptions which are incompatible with biblical inerrancy. The article leaves the impression that no particular chronology is significantly superior to any other. Was the sojourn in Egypt 215 years or 430 years? The article leans toward the latter but refuses to take a position. Was the Exodus around 1445 BC or in the thirteenth century BC (cf. the discussion under “Exodus”)? Does it matter for our understanding of inerrancy? One would not know by reading this article. Quality conservative work has been done on this issue for many years (witness even the recent work by Andrew E. Steinmann), but the article gives no hint of this.

In a similar vein, the article “Pastoral Epistles” discusses the all-too-common rejection of Pauline authorship by mainstream scholarship. The author of the article rightly rejects this view and strongly concludes, “The acceptance of Paul’s authorship for the entire contents is the only theory that fits the facts.” Yet the breakout boxes which provide an overview of 1 and 2 Timothy include the strange parenthesis on authorship, “The apostle Paul (though many scholars consider the work pseudonymous).” If the pseudonymous authorship of the Pastorals is a completely untenable position (and it is), then what is the point of mentioning that many scholars hold to a false position? It appears that the editor momentarily forgot who this volume is for. Scholars already know that other scholars question Pauline authorship, and to the vast majority of Bible-believing people who just want a brief overview of 1 and 2 Timothy it is irrelevant information. They can treat it with the horse laugh that it deserves.

Conclusion

ZIBD will serve any student of Scripture well who wants a convenient reference for Bible-related information, whether biblical newcomer or seasoned pastor. I found it to be particularly useful when reading large portions of Scripture and needing a quick refresher on the identity of persons or places. It can be a great asset to a personal devotional time. Like all references of this sort, it should be used as an entry-point to the discussion. Used wisely, it will surely serve well for many years to come.

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Revised and Expanded

Good question, Dan.

In the revision category, I noticed that many entries were virtually identical to ZPBD. Occasionally, however, I found that quite substantial changes had been made to the original articles.

In the expansion category, the intro states that 1,800 new entries have been added. I didn't bother counting!


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