Ralph Martin & Peter Davids (Editors)
The preface to this volume introduces it as a complementary reference to two earlier dictionaries, dedicated to the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. The remaining books of the New Testament, write the editors, are even more likely to be unfamiliar territory to the reader, and therefore, if anything, more likely to need the sort of elucidation that short articles from leading scholars can bring. In fact, the scope of the volume extends out beyond the biblical texts and into the realm of the later writings and events, up until about AD 150. Thus, as well as articles on the General Epistles and Revelation, one also finds introductions to such writings as Ignatius, Polycarp, and the Didache. Nor are we limited to Christian orthodoxy: there are articles on the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus, and even the gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the so-called Secret Gospel of Peter.
In theory, the editors are right in thinking that this material is in need of some illumination. One doubts, however, that this is the appropriate format for doing so. Both the earlier volumes, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, form coherent wholes within which one might want to know more information about known topics. To take an example, when thinking about 'Hell', usually one wants to know what the Bible as a whole says on the topic, but it is easy to imagine someone wondering what Jesus in particular taught about Hell, or what Paul in particular taught about Hell. It is a lot more difficult to imagine some hypothetical readers thinking to themselves 'I wonder what the authors of James, Hebrews, etc. thought about Hell' in that kind of a package. The collection seems too arbitrary and random to be of wide practical use.
The selection of articles is also unusual. The article on 'Blessing' which treats that subject across documents is followed by an article on 'Bowls', which only has reference to Revelation (there are also separate articles on Trumpets and Scrolls/Seals). Similarly, the articles on 'Commandments' and 'Conscience' are followed by one on 'Cornelius' who features, albeit pivotally, in a small portion of Acts. The reader will be somewhat surprised to find an article on 'Matthean Community', when there is no corresponding entry on 'Johannine Community', despite the fact that as sources the text of Matthew is not within the bounds of the volume while several Johannine writings are.
For these reasons, I do not expect that the Dictionary of the Later New Testament will appeal as widely as the previous volumes. The essays and the bibliographies attached are of the highest quality — short enough to read at a sitting, but packed with cutting-edge scholarship. Every theological college library ought to have one, and every teacher of the New Testament ought to consult it for individual articles to recommend their students read in the library. The articles are excellent. But students, pastors and lay teachers, for whom the earlier volumes were essential purchases, may wisely decide to resist completing the set.
Conrad Gempf, February 1998
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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