Bible Dictionaries

What is a Bible Dictionary and why should I have one?

There is such a wide range of Bible dictionaries on the shelves of Christian bookshops that it is a daunting task to try and select one.How do you start to make a decision, especially when the potential outlay can be anything from £7 to over £30? Like any book, the reason for having a Bible dictionary is a matter of personal opinion and method of study. However, there are some simple reasons that we might suggest:

  • when you come across a person or place in the narrative of scripture and want to see where they may appear before or later than the passage in question;
  • the spiritual significance of that place or person. This might start with an explanation of the meaning of the name in English and develop into an explanation of how different passages might add to that explanation;
  • an outline of a book and the general thrust of its teaching.

While a concordance might supply a list of places where things occur it does not provide the alternatives listed above.

In such a short article, it is impossible to offer comprehensive guidance on such a broad range so we have had to be selective. At the cheaper end of the market is the Zondervan’s Compact Bible Dictionary, first published in 1967 and re-issued in 1993. Although it is unclear who has contributed to its compilation, the content is valuable and not necessarily as brief as the title may suggest. Some entries are particularly well-balanced and helpful although the entry on the resurrection ends rather disappointingly. However, for a relatively moderate outlay this could be a worthwhile acquisition. At the cheaper end of the hardback range there is the World’s Bible Dictionary, compiled by Don Fleming. It was first published in 1990 by World Bible Publishers, Iowa, USA. Comparing the entries on creation indicates this dictionary as giving a more detailed and biblical account of this truth. However, Fleming’s explanation of the role of women bows to the cultural and time-limited view and is less helpful as a consequence.

Two better known versions, which appear in both written as well as electronic format, are Fausset’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionaries. Originally written in the nineteenth century Smith’s has now been updated and is published by Thomas Nelson. Fausset’s, contemporary with Smith’s, is still available in the 1949 Zondervan Publishing hardback format. Although Smith’s is a widely respected volume it is somewhat surprising in what it omits, both in terms of topics and explanation of terms. Similarly, it can be a rather lengthy and, at times, technical read. Other electronic versions which might be mentioned are the Concise Bible Dictionary and Easton’s Bible Dictionary. All four are available in the On-line Bible and the latter is also available in e-sword. Fausset’s and Easton’s, being contemporary with Smith’s, are similar in style to Smith’s. They can all provide helpful background information although there are areas of weakness and they are a little dated.

In the last issue’s article, which dealt with onevolume commentaries, mention was made of the New Bible Commentary. The companion volume, The New Bible Dictionary, is also published by IVP. In a similar way, it has contributions from a broad range of evangelical writers. This may be seen as a strength, giving breadth and scholarship, but it also has its weaknesses evident in certain denominational traditions and views. More modern dictionaries include the New Illustrated Bible Dictionary edited by Ronald Youngblood and published by Thomas Nelson. In its original edition (without the ‘New’!), it was edited by Herbert Lockyer with F. F. Bruce and R. K. Harrison as consulting editors. Therefore, it does not lack scholarship or reliability. It is probably in the midprice range of dictionaries and, as a hardback,would be a worthwhile investment.


Zondervan Bible Dictionay ★★★★

New Illustrated Bible Dictionary ★★★★

New Bible Dictionary ★★★

Smith’s Bible Dictionary ★★★

World’s Bible Dictionary ★★★

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary ★★

Easton’s Bible Dictionary ★★

Concise Bible Dictionary ★★