Bible Dictionary

We had a good question this week.  “What is a Bible Dictionary?”  FRESH READ, always ready, will try to answer.  And we will start a new category of posts called  Tools.   In these articles we will discuss over time such tools as concordances, dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, commentaries, introductions and so forth.

 A Bible Dictionary is usually a one volume resource.  It is arranged alphabetically.  Short and long articles can be found by simply looking up a word.  The articles range from definitions of terms, identities of people, outlines of biblical books, locations of places and significance of ideas.

FRESH READ has used “The New Bible Dictionary” for a number of years.  It is helpful and quick to get an answer to a question or to get some background.

The term “Zion” came in in a recent text.  when I looked up “Zion” in the NBD, it referred me to an article on Jerusalem.  This six page article has three maps of the city under different time periods.  I was able to find that Zion refers to Jerusalem, sometimes as the historic city, sometimes is a larger and more spiritual context.  The article is arranged under these headings

  • Introduction and General Description
  • Name
  • History
  • Growth and Extent

Another passage referred to a unit of money, called denarius.  Under the article called “Money”, the denarius is defined a unit of money in the Roman system, which in New Testament times was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a laborer.  There are charts indicating the relative value of different coins and there are pictures of some coins.

Psalm 87 refers to Rahab.  There are two articles, one refers to a woman who figures in the book of Joshua.  However, the second article indicates that this name has another meaning, based on it’s meaning in Hebrew (“pride”).  This name came to be attached to Egypt as a nick-name.  So in Psalm 87, “Rahab” refers to the nation Egypt.  The significance in Psalm 87 is that salvation can also come to some of the enemies of Israel – Babylonia, Philisitia and Egypt were all enemies at one time, but out of them are those who are “born in Zion.”

You can find several dictionaries of various sizes.  There are specialized volumes such as “The Dictionary of NT Background“, “The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” and “The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery“.  Check the publisher and the introduction to see the background and biases of the particular dictionary.  “The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” will, for example, present an “Evangelical” perspective.

Fresh Read recommends the New Bible Dictionary and the multi-volume editions produced by IVP such as “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” etc.  (see Christian Book Distributors ( and Amazon as well as your local book stores will have these available.

Several sites offer on-line use of dictionaries.  Be aware that these free resources are dated, and may not have the most recent results of biblical scholarship.



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