[K:NWTS 2/2 (Sep 1987) 41-45]

From the Librarian's Shelf.

Xavier Leon-Dufour, ed. Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Second edition, Revised and Enlarged). New York: Seabury Press (now distributed by Harper & Row), 1973, xxxii+712pp., $29.95 cloth.

The value of this dictionary cannot be underestimated. Pastors and laypersons alike will be rewarded with thematic insights into numerous key ideas and images of Scripture: all traced through the corpus of biblical revelation. There are fresh insights to be discovered here as well as the reinforcement of familiar biblical truths. Whatever reservations and cautions we may have–and there are several–should not detract from the overall concept of this work and from the actual realization of that concept in many areas. Unfortunately, the volume is currently unavailable. Harper & Row hopes to have a paperback version on the market next summer. Still our readers may find cloth copies on the secondhand market (as this writer did recently) and many library religion collections will hold the volume.

The dictionary is a by-product of the post-World War II neo-orthodox biblical theology movement. The inadequacies of this approach to revelation are well known (its obituary having been penned by Brevard S. Childs in 1970). But it did generate interest in the thematic study of the entire Scripture. The liberal dichotomy between Old Testament and New Testament was dismissed. Neo-orthodox biblical theology regarded the entire Bible as Word of God (albeit distinguished as historisch and geschichtlich). Hence the new 'theology of revelation' (as crisis theology was called) emphasized the unity of Scripture and reflected on the unfolding pattern of promise-fulfillment.

Xavier Leon-Dufour has been a central figure in this movement from within the Roman Catholic church. Beginning in 1958, he assembled a team of 70 (largely French) Catholic biblical theologians (including such notables as Ceslas Spicq, M. E. Boismard, Pierre Benoit, Henri Cazelles and others) and assigned the various articles. Their goal was to produce a work more thorough than von Allmen (A Companion to the Bible [1958]) and Richardson (Theological Wordbook of the Bible [1950]), while not as extensive as Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [German ed. 1932-1973; English trans. 1964-76]). The present English translation (undertaken by the Bellarmine School of Theology of Loyola University in Chicago) was made from the second French edition of 1968 (the original edition was published in 1962 as Vocabulaire de theologie biblique). Forty new articles were added to the revised edition and virtually every original article was completely revised. Arrangement is alphabetical; articles are devoted to themes (e.g., Exodus, Messiah, Pentecost), images (e.g., cloud, fire, glory, mountain), motifs (e.g., life, pilgrimage, rest); a few articles deal with personal names [e.g., Adam, David, Jesus Christ, Peter (sic!), but not Paul]; treatment is synthetic (as opposed to diachronic) and generally follows the major development of the canon (e.g., Law à Prophets à Gospels/NT). Each article is signed (initials of the English translator are also included) and references to related articles in the dictionary are indicated by an asterisk (*). The whole is introduced by a 16-page section on the nature and function of biblical theology, followed by a 9-page literary history of the Bible. The latter is heavily dependent on increasingly outmoded critical assumptions, i.e., the so-called Documentary Hypothesis. Nevertheless the discriminating and critical reader will be able to discard these unnecessary presuppositions while following the path of the biblical themes.

Besides the questionable neo-orthodox presuppositions, the most frustrating aspect of the dictionary is its pitiful indexing. Unlike Bauer's Sacramentum Verbi (1970 English translation of the 3rd edition of Bibeltheologisches Worterbuch [1967]), there is no cumulative Scripture index, nor is there an index to Hebrew and Greek terms. In addition, unlike Bauer, no bibliographies are appended to the articles. The Analytic Table at the back is inadequate for a thorough searching of related themes. In order to make the fullest use of the information contained, a complete Scripture index is essential.

While noting these deficiencies in method and format, the dictionary still deserves high praise for what it contains. Each article is a model of succinctness: theological aspects of each theme are identified and traced. If biblical theological method is at least an organic unfolding of redemptive themes, this tool is a boon to the enterprise. The article on the Exodus begins with Israel's bondage in Egypt–the reflection of impotence. God's saving act of emancipation is not only liberation, it is omnipotence in action. The instrument of redemption is a lamb by which death passes over. The result of exodus is new life–life in obedience. When Israel forsakes her exodus and is turned back to bondage (cf. the prophetic threats of exile), prophetic expectation projects a new exodus in the eschatological future. Prophetic eschatology contains the image of a release from bondage, passing through the sea, sojourn in the wilderness, assembly at the hill of the Lord. Gospel fulfillment is expressed in exodus imagery. The New Testament is replete with identifications of Christ as the bringer of a better exodus–not Egypt, but sin; not Pharoah, but the prince of darkness; not the paschal victim, but the Lamb of God. The church finds herself heir of the prophetic eschatology–participants through Christ in the release from slavery; joint heirs of the heavenly Canaan.

The entry on Adam avoids questions of historicity (as one might expect) while laying out the theological dimensions of first and second Adam. In genuinely Pauline fashion (cf. Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15), the reader is treated to a contrast between the man of the earth and the man from heaven. Interwoven is the imagery of paradise and the garden of God–lost in the first man; reclaimed and restored in the last man.

In the more strictly doctrinal articles, we find more Catholicism than we would like–a testimony that despite ecumenical claims to the contrary, biblical theology has not hurdled the barriers of conciliar dogma at all points. For example, the article on justification is introduced with a typically Roman evasion of forensic categories. It is suggested that "to justify" means to treat as is deserved. Surely this is a counsel of despair. What guilty sinner could ever stand before God hoping for justification if he were to be treated as he deserved? The article continues by confusing justification with regeneration and internal moral renovation. This is simply more of the old Tridentine approach in 20th century dress! We read nothing of the imputed righteousness of Christ; nor do we discover any of the glories of the eschatological character of justification as acquittal. While there is allusion to the justification of Jesus (redemptive-historically), there is no exploration of that definitive justification for those who are in Christ Jesus via mystical/covenantal union.

Still, there are many suggestive comments which will stimulate the preacher, teacher or student to appropriate the full-orbed character of divine revelation. On clothing: fallen men and women "are perpetually surprised by their nakedness, like a mirror which does not reflect God's image." God's provision of skins (Gen. 3:21) "does not suppress their nakedness but is more a sign of their permanent call to the dignity they lost." On night: "the time when the history of salvation is achieved in unique fashion" [cf. the night before the Exodus, the night at Gethsemane, the (coming) night of the thief, the day when night disappears]. On people: all the titles of the old Israel are applied to the new people in Christ Jesus–special race, holy nation, flock of God, bride of the Lord. On scandal: "Jesus in fulfilling God's covenant has consecrated the human power of scandal on Himself; it is then His disciples who must not be scandalized." On trial: the trials of those in Christ are the trials of Christ in them. On witness: the New Testament concept of witness to Christ is patterned after "the traits of the prophets of old."

Used with care and discrimination, this volume can aid the orthodox pastor and student in ranging over the history of redemption. In so doing, it is hoped orthodox students of Scripture will improve upon the biblical theology of this Dictionary: more organic, more synthetic, more panoramic, more Christocentric. In a word, may this book enable us to be even more biblical as we pursue biblical theology.