Welcome to this detailed DDT Product Review of the Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament 10 Volumes edited by Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard
Friedrich, and translated into English by Geoffrey Bromiley (henceforth
in this article to be referred to simply as “TDNT” -
abbreviation of this work). No matter what “version” of this work that you
Are interested in, you’ll find out what’s most important about it in this review:
I want to give you enough information to make sure that you are an informed
buyer. I also want you to know right up front my theological perspective so
you’ll be able to understand what I write (I think that’s important, and I’m
quite sure you’ll agree!).
Finally, I know that you’ve already looked at the DDT Rating, so you already know the conclusion: when it comes to NT Greek historical word studies, this is not only “Best of Class,” it is in a class all by itself. Now, on to the review!
The original Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (if you don’t read German, that’s “Theological Wordbook of the New Testament”) goes way back into the early part of the Twentieth Century. It was originally published in Germany (in German, of course) in 9 volumes, from 1933 to 1973. (More on that under “Theological Bias.”) Originally published as a 9 volume set, when translated into English from 1964 through 1973 a tenth index volume was added in 1977. So sometimes you may see this abbreviated as “TDNT10.” For consistency sake, I’ll simply use “TNDT” in this review.
The set explores word meaning based on historical usage; not just in the Bible, but in the historical culture around NT times. Descriptives for this set include words like “monumental,” “massive,” “exhaustive,” (technically not exhaustive, but still) etc. When I tell you no stones were left unturned in the historical research into the background usage of these words, believe me, I’m not kidding.
The set quickly became the accepted academic standard for Greek word study. It still is.
Everybody has a bias. It's not possible to not have one. I, your reviewer, have one.
(The difference with me from most other reviewers is that I make it easy for you
to know what mine is.) The question "What is it's theological bias?" should be asked
when approaching any biblical work. It becomes absolutely essential when considering
a theological work. And remember: the first “T” in “TDNT” stands for “theological.”
I'm not saying I wouldn't use a work that I disagree with (after all, I like this
There is a decided bias throughout this work: German liberal rationalism. (If that just frightened you, make sure you keep reading.)
The man most responsible for this work is Gerhard Kittel. He was a German liberal
rationalist. He was educated and taught at Tübingen -
Kittel alone was not responsible for TDNT. Not only did he utilize dozens of contributors (nearly all of the same liberal persuasion), he himself died with only the first 4 volumes complete. He convinced a young intellectual, Gerhard Friedrich, to take over and finish the job. He reluctantly agree. By the end of the work, there were over 100 contributors to the project; and again, liberalism is pervasive throughout.
Geoffrey Bromiley was the man brought in to translate from German into English. . While not from Tübingen, he did teach at Fuller Theological Seminary (also not known as a hotbed of conservatism). Bromiley was one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century; not so much for his original contributions, but because he translated so many German liberal rationalistic works into English. Reading the titles of what he translated is like reading a “Who’s Who” of German rationalistic liberals. Can he be different? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree....
German Rationalism denied the inspiration of Scriptures. Instead, they were maniacal (think German engineering) in their pursuit of “original source material.”Their word studies are ultimately performed in an attempt to find original source material. Of course that original source material doesn’t exist (shh! don’t tell them! they’ll cry!); however, what they’ve left in their pursuit is a tremendous amount of background material to understanding the words in God’s verbally inspired Bible. Those words were not written in a vacuum; they were written by people that (the words, not the men) were inspired by God, and used by a culture with personal and cultural meanings. Understanding the background simply allows us to have a greater understanding of what God said.
TDNT stands for Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It’s important to understand that the theology of TDNT is liberal; but the word studies in TDNT are solid gold. If you’ll get your theology elsewhere, and use TDNT for word studies only, your Bible study will be enriched! By the way: even the editor recognizes this truth! Check out this quote from the editor’s First Preface:
It need hardly be said that the translation and publication of Kittel is no necessary endorsement of everything contained in it. Written by many scholars over a long period, Kittel naturally contains articles of unequal value and varying outlook. Indeed, there are internal disagreements as regards basic presuppositions, historical assumptions and specific interpretations.
The original size, scope, and cost of TDNT placed it as a title for the professional
academician. However, in today’s world, if you are using a digital version, the size
is immaterial, and the cost has come down significantly compared to what the set
cost in 1980 (when indexed and compared to inflation). From a financial perspective,
this entire set is comparable to the one volume “A Greek-
But then there is the scope. And wow! What a scope! 9,200+ pages, with 2,300 entries, spread out over 10 volumes. On average that is four pages per entry. And just about every word in your Greek New Testament is treated. While technically not exhaustive, comprehensive doesn’t do it justice.
To Kittel’s credit, he thought his work pastoral. Check out this quote from his first preface:
If... it should not only advance research but also help the pastor in his study of Holy Scripture and pulpit ministry, this would be the finest reward that could be given us.
Why is that? Because it was written not just theologically, but with exposition in mind. Here’s another quote from the first editor’s preface:
While it is not a simple lexicon, it obviously cannot replace either the full commentary or the biblical theology. Its task is to mediate between ordinary lexicography and the specific task of exposition....
As an expositor, that is music to my ears! However, having been intimately familiar with pastoral ministry and ministers for three decades, I can tell you that not all of us would appreciate the scope of a work like this. Therefore I’ve placed it squarely in between Pastoral & Theologian, knowing full well that there are pastors who would profit from it, but never open it.
Language Skills Needed
TDNT utilizes Greek language for the Greek words. The result will make this cumbersome
for those unfamiliar with the Greek language. However, with a little bit of effort
Again, there are 2,300+ unique Greek word entries in this work. My highly scientific method (I randomly sampled 5 articles) gave me an average of 22,000 words per entry. One article was nearly 56,000 words (!!); another wasn’t 6,000. It would be hard to imagine longer entries for any word treated in this work.
TDNT is not perfect. First, there is no numbering system utilized. (Why not use Strong’s? I don’t get it. It had existed for more than 30 years at that point. Was it because it was keyed to the TR and the KJV?) Second, while finding root words isn’t too difficult, finding the derivatives can be difficult for those with little/no knowledge of the Greek language. Fortunately Bromiley included Volume X as an index. While not making up for other issues, the index does help mitigate formatting problems.
Good News! Many/most/all software versions of TDNT make TDNT a cinch to use. Simply click on the Greek word from the NT text, and the TDNT entry will immediately appear. The computer version will be much easier to use than the hardcover. (Do I even need to say that?) For those with little Greek knowledge, a digital version will make all the difference for study usage.
Two Important Comparisons
I feel it necessary to compare TDNT with two other popular & important Greek works: TDNTa, & BDAG.
As much as I want to, I’m going to ignore the historical , cultural, and theological
similarities between TDNT, TDNTa, and BDAG. Here is the question I want to explore:
if you only purchase one, which should it be? That answer could be another blog post
as long as this one! But let me cut to the chase, for those interested in, well,
chasing the answer! (By the way -
From a pastoral perspective, if I only had one, it would be BDAG. Its exhaustive use defines every word in it’s biblical context, and it does so in just one volume. Short & sweet, yet it still allows me to grapple with the text.
From a cost perspective, the TDNTa is the clear winner. 85% less $$$ than BDAG and
TDNT, and the result to each are close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades?!
Really? Financially that’s a no-
From a Greek perspective, the TDNT is -
If you are able to work past the theological liberalism and simply utilize this work
for what it does best -
Amazon currently (January, 2023) has 51 reviews, and they can be read here. The average Amazon rating was 4.5/5 stars.
Conservative Lutheran writer Frederic E. Blume gives us an interesting review. You can read it here.
Purchase TDNT Here
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This comprehensive review is by Dr. David S. Thomason. Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.
REVIEW: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Vols)
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While liberal in theology, what makes this work “Best of Class” is its massive size; it truly is in a class all by itself! There is simply nothing else comparable to it on the market. Cumbersome; but that was the entire point of the project: exhaustive coverage of every significant New Testament word.
“Best of Class” Award
No Greek Necessary
Language Skills Needed