Greek-English Lexion of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains

Above this article is the title of a Greek lexicon that I use quite a bit.  The title is shortened by Greek Geeks to the names of the two primary editors:  Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida (Louw-Nida).  The lexicon’s primary use is for translators.  It provides the translator with the meanings of related Greek words and a methodology for the translator.  The methodology of the authors is outlined in their preface:

  1. The classification of meanings of NT Greek words into domains and subdomains (based on the UBS dictionary edited by Barclay Newman).
  2. The authors verified the meanings and used other concordances and dictionaries to refine the work.
  3. The authors prepared definitions and notes for translators, linguists, and lexicographers.
  4. Their work underwent final editing, cross referencing (very useful), indexing, and proofreading

What sets this work apart from other lexicons is the concept of semantic domains.  The lexicon divides into 93 domains as follows:

  • Domains 1-12:  Objects and Entities
  • Domains 13-57:  Events
  • Domains 58-91:  Abstracts
  • Domain 92:  Discourse Referentials (personal pronouns and referential indicating reflexive, reciprocal, interrogative, relative, and demonstrative relations)
  • Domain 93:  Unique Referentials (proper names of persons and places)

The authors examined three major classes of semantic features to assign a particular word to it:

  1. Shared – lexical items which have shared meanings with one another
  2. Distinctive – lexical items which have separate meanings from one another
  3. Supplementary – lexical items which may be relevant in certain contexts or may play primarily a connotative or associative role

Domain 19.7-19.9 consists of three Greek verbs.  All three verbs involved share the features of hitting or striking.  However they have distinctive meaning as well.  The first means to strike or beat with the fist; the second means to strike or beat with a rod; the third means to beat with a whip.  Also, Domain 19.9 differs from 19.7-8 in that the latter two domains normally refer to officially sanctioned punishment.

Each distinct meaning of a term within this lexicon is marked by a superscript letter of the alphabet.  The authors list the most common meaning first (a).  The meanings of each term are defined using the distinctive semantic features in the definition.  A dictionary provides the gloss.  Louw-Nida goes beyond the gloss to semantic features (e.g., ἐρημόομαι; ἐρήμωσις, εως or 20.41 is defined as “to suffer destruction, with the implication of being deserted and abandoned” as opposed to a gloss which states, “to be destroyed”).

The definitions in Louw-Nida provide a more exact understanding of the term within a given context.  Domain 17.3 (παρίσταμαι) may be glossed as “to stand near”.  But the term means to stand near with a friendly intent in John 19.26 and with a hostile intent in Acts 4.26.

The standard lexicon for Greek students is the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Walter Bauer and translated and revised by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and most recently by F. W. Danker (known as BDAG).  I used this lexicon while taking Greek courses.  It provides a standard meaning for the Greek term with primary glosses.  As you read the entry for a given word in BDAG, additional translational glosses occur.  However, all these glosses are easily confused.  Many of the lexicons also lack a systematic treatment for idioms.  Louw-Nida provides a clear and systematic treatment for each.

Louw-Nida brings together meanings which are most closely related in semantic space.  The ranges of the meaning overlap.  For instance, the Greek term pneuma (transliteration of the Greek word πνεῦμα) refers to:

  1. Holy Spirit
  2. Non-material being (spirit)
  3. Evil, non-material being
  4. Ghost or apparition
  5. Inner being of a man
  6. Way of thinking; attitude
  7. Wind (air movement)
  8. Breath (air coming from the lungs)

Domain 26 lists psychological faculties (I’ve provided the transliteration):

  • Nous (26.14) – understanding, reasoning, thinking, and deciding
  • Kardia (26.3) – causative source of a person’s psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts
  • Psuche (26.4) – essence of life in terms of thinking, willing, and feeling
  • Suneideisis (26.13) – distinguishing right from wrong (discernment)
  • Phrein (26.15) – thoughtful planning; implying wisdom and foresight
  • Pneuma (26.9) – nonmaterial, psychological faculty which is potentially sensitive and responsive to God

All the above terms refer to different aspects or modes of human personality viewed from different perspectives.  Yet overlap exists.  Both nous and kardia have considerable overlap.  Kardia reflects the Hebrew term, leb (heart), which was regarded as the center of intellectual life as opposed to emotional (the English word heart is different in this way).

Louw-Nida classifies different parts of speech together.  Positives and negatives are classified together as well.  This is a distinct advantage.  Cross-references also clarify the distinct meaning of a single term within a given context.

Utilizing this lexicon took some work before computer software made it very accessible.  I use Louw-Nida from an interlinear within the NKJV in Logos Bible Software.  But the lexicon is fun to read and browse through as well.  The indices help non-Greek students to begin study of an English word by using an English-Greek index.  Also available is a Greek-English index.  You may also begin with the biblical index.  By utilizing the biblical index you can find out everything written in the lexicon within a particular verse.  But Louw-Nida does not include every verse exhaustively.  The authors outline the method by which they determined which verses would be included within the Introduction.

The Introduction to Louw-Nida points up the most serious mistake people make in dealing with meanings of Greek terms:  they assume some type of one-to-one correspondence.  When a Greek student learns the meaning of a Greek word, he tends to latch onto that meaning as the sole meaning of the word.  For instance, the Greek term sarx generally means flesh.  Louw-Nida highlights distinct meanings by listing them in the index and reminding the reader with superscript letters.  The term sarx in the Greek index provides the following clarifications with Domain references:

     a.  flesh 8.63

     b.  body 8.4

     c.  people 9.11

     d.  human 9.12

     e.  nation 10.1

     f.  human nature 26.7

     g.  physical nature 58.10

     h.  life 23.90

All of the above are not definitions of sarx.  They are cues to various areas of meaning.  However, sarx does not simply mean flesh.  Sarx refers to the flesh of humans and animals (Revelation 19.17-18), to the human body (1 Timothy 3.16), and to human beings as physical beings (1 Peter 1.24).  It is used to modify the term fathers in Hebrews 12.9 (human father).  It is also used to designate race as in Romans 11.14.  1 Corinthians 1.26 uses the term to refer to human nature, but not merely physical like in Galatians 4.23.  Additionally, the term is used in several Greek idioms.  Louw-Nida identifies these.

The Introduction provides five basic principles of semantic analysis and classification:

  1. There are “no synonyms,” in the sense that no two lexical items ever have completely the same meanings in all the contexts in which they might appear.  This is a more nuanced understanding of the term synonym.  It is helpful to understand that corresponding terms may be used for rhetorical purposes by a NT author., but no two terms are ever completely synonymous.
  2. Textual or extratextual context determines meaning.  By textual, the authors refer to a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire discourse.  Textual refers to writings by the same author, documents with the same literary genre, and text in the same language dealing with similar concepts and vocabulary.  Extratextual context refers to the historical and archaeological contexts.
  3. Meaning is defined by a set of distinctive features.
  4. Figurative meanings differ from their bases with respect to diversity in domains, differences in the degree of awareness of the relationship between literal and figurative meanings, and the extent of conventional usage.
  5. Both the different meanings of the same word and the related meanings of different words tend to be multidimensional.  The different meanings tend to form irregularly shaped constellations rather than neatly organized structures.

The fact that computer apps and software provide many linguistic tools for NT readers is a double-edged sword.  Some know just enough Greek to make themselves dangerous.  If we are not careful, we fail to understand the nature of a lexicon and the appropriate use of word study within the NT.  This leads to either a too expansive understanding of a Greek term within a given context, or it leads to a very narrow understanding over the many different places where a single term occurs.  Louw-Nida helps the NT reader avoid either of these extremes.  I am very grateful for this tool.

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