Who are the Greek Scholars?

By Jerry Parks

Most of us have heard preachers refer to the writings of men like Thayer, Arndt and Gingrich, Liddell and Scott, Westcott and Hort, Vine, etc. for many years. If you were asked about these men you would probably reply by saying these men were Greek scholars, and that is right. But what else do you know about these men and their writings? When did they live and why are their reference works so often quoted?. What are , the credentials of these men?

There are, of course, different areas of scholarship that we might investigate, such as lexicographers, grammarians, historians and commentators; but in this study we will confine our investigation to Lexicographers and Grammerians.

Lexicons, Grammars and Word Studies

A lexicon is defined as being “an alphabetically arranged book setting forth the meaning and etymology of the words of a language; a dictionary; specifically applied to dictionaries of Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.” The word “grammar” is defined as “the science that treats the principles that explain the correct use of language in either oral or written form; a book or treatise on such usage.” Certainly we realize the importance of a textbook on the usage of the English language. Grammars are likewise very important to the study of the Greek language.

I remember hearing Brother Franklin Puckett say, “Words are signs of ideas, they are the vehicle of thought.” God has chosen words to be the means of communicating his thoughts to man. Unless we know the meaning of the words employed and their usage, we will never be able to understand the idea that the authors were trying to communicate. Since the New Testament was written primarily in the Greek language, we can see what a useful tool the lexicons and grammars are in helping us to ascertain the correct meaning of any particular word or phrase.

Rather than being so quick as to say, “If you have to know Greek to understand the Bible, forget it, let us appreciate the work these men have done in this field. Many of them have spent their whole life in the study of this subject. No, you do not have to know Greek to understand the Bible but, remember, the New Testament was written in Greek and we are indebted to such men as we now have under consideration for the fact that we can, with relative ease, understand the meaning of these Greek words. Let us not make a preacher feel ashamed of the fact that he is familiar with the Greek language by chiding him every time he mentions the Greek. At the same time we should also warn preachers not to flaunt their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew and go around with an air of superiority and act insulted if anyone should question their understanding of a passage. Let me introduce you to some of these familiar people and their contributions to aid us in our studies of the Bible.

Joseph Henry Thayer (1828-1901)

Thayer was born in Boston, Mass. and educated at Harvard and Andover Universities. He was professor of the New Testament Criticism and Interpretation of the Divinity School of Harvard University from 1884-1901. Described as the “Prince of the Lexicographers, Thayer was one of the most respected of all authorities on New Testament Greek. He served as secretary of the American Committee of Revision for the New Testament which was responsible for the American Standard Version. Without a doubt, his most celebrated work was his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, first published in 1885. He spent twenty-two years in preparing this work for publication. His reference work is still one of the most widely used quoted of all Greek authorities.

Liddell and Scott

Henry George Liddell (1811-1898), a Biblical scholar, was born at Binchester in Durham. He was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford. In 1845 he was appointed White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy. From 1846 to 1855 he was headmaster of Westminister and thereafter was dean of Oxford for 36 years. He is remembered best as the compiler, along with Robert Scott, of the Greek Lexicon which bears their names. He also wrote the History of Rome (1855). It was for Liddell’s daughter Alice that Lewis Carroll wrote his famous Alice in Wonderland.

Robert Scott (1811-1887), a Biblical scholar born in Devonshire, England, was Master of Balliol College. Later he was Dean of Rochester (1870). Liddell and Scott worked together to produce their Greek-English Lexicon which was published in 1843 after nine years of work. It is still considered a standard reference work in its field. Their lexicon is more useful for classical Greek than koine Greeks the language of the New Testament.

Westcott and Hort

These men have become somewhat famous because of their being associated with the Revision Committee of 1881, which was the forerunner of the American Standard Version of 1901. Brooke Foss Westcott (18251901) was Professor at Cambridge University, Westcott along with F.J. A. Hort worked some twenty years on a modern Greek Text of the New Testament. This text was based, almost exclusively, on the Vaticanus and Sinaitic Manuscripts. Westcott published a considerable number of books but is best known for his work with Hort on their Greek text which has set the pattern for most of the current editions of the Greek text.

F.J.A. Hort (1828-1892) was a New Testament critic and Biblical scholar as well as Professor at Cambridge University. Hort edited the Greek text which formed the basis for the English Revised Version. The fifty-seven page introduction by Hort sets out the basic elements of the science of textual criticism. He was closely associated, not only with Westcott, but also with J. B. Lightfoot, the famous commentator. Due to his tendency to perfectionism, he was able to publish very little.

While one cannot deny the scholarship and genius of these men, both Westcott and Hort were somewhat liberal in their theology which was evidenced in a number of ways. I refer the reader to an article written by Luther W. Martin entitled “The Genuineness of Mark 16:9-20” in Truth Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 52, for a further discussion of this matter.

Arndt and Gingrich

When reference is made to A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, it is usually attributed to William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. However, when reading the title page of this Lexicon along with the forward and introduction, it becomes clear that in this reference work we have the combined Greek scholarship of a long list of men. Primarily, the labors of Walter Bauer must be recognized. The title page of this Lexicon indicates that the work of Arndt and Gingrich involved translating Bauer’s work from the German to the English and adapting it for our use.

Walter Bauer (1877-1960) of Gottingen, Germany began his work on this Lexicon in 1920. He was Professor at Gottingen from 1916 to 1945. Bauer undertook a systematic search in Greek literature down to Byzantine times for parallels to the language of the New Testament. In a review of Bauer’s work, published in the Foreword of Arndt and Gingrich’s Lexicon, they said, “Not only was there a gigantic amount of material to be mastered, involving the most minute acquaintance with the whole body of Christian literature, but this task required at the same time the gift of combining and relating facts and of preserving an adequate scholarly alertness which is granted to but few people.” It is also pointed out in this Foreword that “. . .Bauer’s analysis and arrangement of the small words so frequently used is a great improvement over anything of its kind previously done.”

F. W. Gingrich, of Albright College, Reading, Pa., was granted in 1949 a leave of absence from his duties at the college to give his full-time to the task of translating Bauer’s Work. This was under the direction of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. W.F. Arndt, American Lutheran scholar of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., was .appointed to be the director of the venture. The Manuscript was finished in 1955. Acknowledgment is given in the foreword to men serving on an advisory committee. This committee included such well known scholars as: E. J. Goodspeed, B. M. Metzger, E. C. Colwell, etc. Acknowledgment was also given to the works of such men as Moulton and Milligan, Nestle, and Robertson. With the value of the most up-to-date archaeological findings and the benefit of the learning of past scholars, this Lexicon is rapidly becoming one of, if not the most, widely used of all Lexicons.

James Strong

Strong was born in 1822 in New York City and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1844. He was Professor of Exegetical Theology in Drew Theological Seminary from 1868-1893. He spent $10,000.00 and thirty five years of his life in methodical work on his concordance of the Bible. This concordance lists every word of the Revised Version of 1881 which differs from the K.J.V. It includes an appendix for the A.S.V. This concordance has served as a standard reference work since 1894.

A. T. Robertson

A. T. Robertson was professor of Interpretation of the Greek New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for nearly a half century and was one of the most brilliant and popular Bible scholars of llis day. A world famous authority on the Greek New Testament, Dr. Robertson was a powerful preacher and lecturer and a prolific writer with forty-five volumes on both popular and profound subjects to his credit. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research was his greatest contribution to the serious Bible student, but his many more concise New Testament interpretations have been equally helpful to the average Christian. Among his most popular works are Word Pictures of the New Testament (6 Vol., pub. 1930) and A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

Gerhard Kittel, a German Biblical Scholar, was born is 1888 and died in 1948. Kittel was professor of the New Testament both at Greifswalh and at Tubingen Universities in East Germany. Kittel was the author of many scholarly works but is without doubt best remembered for his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Since the publication of the first volume of the German edition, this work has secured for itself a solid and lasting place in biblical scholarship throughout the world.

The purpose of this reference work is not only to serve as a lexicon of New Testament words but also to give a more extensive exposition. Many single articles are the length of a small book. The usual procedure is to present the word in its secular Greek background, then to assess its role in the Old Testament, both in the Hebrew and the Septuagent texts, next to discover its usage in such sources as Philo, Josephus, etc, and then to see its varied usages in the New Testament.

Kittel worked on this from 1928 till the time of his death in 1948. The work was completed by Gerhard Friedrich who has been professor of New Testament at the University of Eralanger since 1954. G. W. Bromiley was then called on for the monumental task of translating this reference work into English. Bromiley is professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

William E. Vine

W. E. Vine, a Biblical scholar of the highest regard, received his education at the University College of Wales and the University of Wales. He is considered an authority on the ancient classics. He is the author of a number of familiar commentaries, but best known for his reference work entitled An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

The work of a scholar’s whole life, it is intended for the non-specialist with little or no knowledge of the Greek, and for the scholar as well. It is different from such lexicons as Thayers, etc. in that it is based on the English text rather than the Greek. The book serves as a dictionary, concordance, and commentary in one volume. Dr. F. F. Bruce noted in the Foreward: “The book is full of careful exegesis, and the student or teacher who makes it his constant companion in the study of the scriptures will find that he can afford to dispense with a large number of lesser aids.”

Vine’s work makes available to the ordinary reader the expert knowledge contained in the more advanced works. In fact, as Dr. Bruce also noted, “This Expository Dictionary comes as near as possible to doing for the non-specialist what is being done for the specialist by Kittel’s Theological Dictionary to the New Testament.”

Let me close by referring the reader to a portion of the Foreward of Vine’s Dictionary:

“Anyone who makes a serious and substantial contribution to the understanding of the New Testament, renders a public service, for if religion is the foundation of morality, by the knowledge of God is the welfare of the people. As a book the New Testament stands alone and supreme, simple in its profoundness, and profound in its simplicity. It is the record in twenty-seven Writings, of the origin, nature and progress of Christianity, and in the quality of its influence it has done more for the world than all other books together …. But the fact remains that they that are entirely dependent upon a Version must miss much of the glory and richness of these Writings. Provided there is spiritual appreciation, he who can read the New Testament in the language in which it was written stands to get the most out of it. But, of course, all can not do this; Yet the average reader is not wholly cut off from the treasures which lie in the Greek of the New Testament, for these have been put within our reach by means of Grammars and Lexicons, the special purpose of which has been to aid the English reader.”

Truth Magazine XXII: 4, pp. 73-75
January 26, 1978