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
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
one - and it’s bias is very different from mine); I'm saying I want to know what
an author believes before I read what he writes. Philosophy filtered through the
Bible becomes truth or error. It's as simple as that.
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 - a notoriously academic but
liberal German religious university. Nothing conservative comes from Tübingen. It
gets worse: Kittel joined the Nazi party in 1933, and his writings were influential
with Hitler. Kittel’s theological writings were used to support Nazi anti-Semitism.
At the end of WWII, he was tried for war crimes and went to prison. Nice guy.
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....
So - all these guys associated with TDNT are theological liberals. Does that make
their TDNT worthless? Hardly! Their “pitfalls” can become “rich mine shafts” if you
understand and utilize their philosophical liberalism. Here’s how:
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-English Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition” (otherwise abbreviated
lovingly as “BDAG”).
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
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
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
- and proficient usage of Volume X, an index - there is enough low hanging fruit
that most mature Bible students can utilize. For those with no Greek language knowledge,
though, this work is probably a hard pass. Good News, though! The One Volume Abridged
Version is much easier to use, and requires no Greek language skills to do so.
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 - the chase is a difficult one for this reviewer!)
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-brainer!
From a Greek perspective, the TDNT is - hands down - the runaway victor. Kittel,
Friedrich & Bromiley have literally said it all in these 10 volumes. So for the cost
of a BDAG, and 10x the content of TDNTa, yeah, the TDNT is very much the most comprehensive
work on the language of the Greek New Testament.
If you are able to work past the theological liberalism and simply utilize this work
for what it does best -analyze the use and evolution of Greek words throughout ancient
history -this is everyone’s magnus opus.
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
Click here to see TDNT formatted for theWord Bible software.
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.