Happy Birthday, New Bible Dictionary

This month marks the 50th anniversary of The New Bible Dictionary [Amazon], first published by IVP back in May 1962. Initially edited by James D. Douglas, it featured contributions from a host of evangelical scholars, including Australians like Leon Morris, Donald Robinson, Edwin Judge, Alan Cole, Broughton Knox, and more recently, Peter Jensen and David Peterson.

I was first alerted to the value of the NBD by Phillip Jensen. Year after year, at conferences for uni students and young workers, it was the first book Phillip would recommend from the bookstall, as an essential for any young leader, whether a Sunday School teacher, or a Bible study leader, or just a Christian who wants to know God’s Word better.

Today it’s in third edition, whose consulting editors are I.H. Marshall, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman—respectively a New Testament specialist; an archaeologist, classicist and orientalist; a leading theologian; and an Assyriologist! Three of the four editors have been professors at leading secular universities in Britain. The majority of contributors also have PhDs or other academic doctorates. They are more than qualified.

I understand that in the decades after World War Two, conservative evangelical biblical study was undergoing something of a revival, moving away from a fundamentalist (in the narrow sense) rejection of critical scholarship. The well-informed engagement of men like F.F. Bruce showed that conservative Christian scholarship was capable of proper academic rigour, and restored confidence in the intellectual credibility of evangelicalism.

I imagine that in 1962, the NBD was highly significant in making the fruits of such labours accessible to the much wider Christian audience in the churches.

In the 50 years since, there have been a total of almost 40 reprints of the 3 editions of The New Bible Dictionary! The current edition updated what was already a classic with more recent developments in biblical studies, ancient Near Eastern studies and archaeological finds, with revised and expanded bibliographies.

For the last decade, it has had a new print run almost annually, a remarkable achievement for a reference book, in what I imagine is a relatively small market in a global sense: serious, English-speaking, evangelical Bible readers.

And that’s who should buy a copy of the NBD—serious Bible readers!

From Aaron and Abaddon and Abba (not the Swedish band, but an Aramaic word for ‘father’!) through to Zacchaeus, Ziklag and Zipporah, it contains over 2000, mostly short, articles on the books, characters, places, key words and major doctrines of the Bible. It also provides background info on the history, geography and customs of Israel and the Middle East, and includes maps, family trees, line drawings, diagrams, charts and illustrations. For all that, it still occasionally frustrates me when I search for an entry on a particular topic, but find nothing there. I guess you can’t cover absolutely everything even in over 1200 pages!

In his endorsement of the NBD, the late, esteemed John Stott said, “I doubt if there is any better value for the money today. As a basic book for every thinking Christian’s library, it is indispensable.” Happy Birthday New Bible Dictionary!

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