Book Review: Spicq’s Theological Lexicon of the New Testament

Books are a minister’s treasure. Here’s a review of a magnificent three-volume set, Spicq’s Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. We recommend this work very highly.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

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No preacher can afford to neglect the acquisition of good study tools to enhance his work. This is especially true of books that help him to understand the original languages in which the Bible was written.

An absolute treasure that I discovered a few years back is the three-volume, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament by Ceslas Spicq (1901-1993). Professor Spicq was a French scholar whose commentaries on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, and the book of Hebrews, brought him international acclaim.

The original work was published first in French, but an excellent English translation (by James Ernest) is now available. Spicq’s Lexicon is one of the most valuable tools for studying the history of the words that adorn the Greek Testament that one can find anywhere.

Words have histories. They have “genealogies.” Professor Spicq takes scores of prominent words from the original New Testament and traces them through their uses in classical Greek (e.g., Aristotle, Demosthenes, Hippocrates, etc.). He pursues the trails that Greek words left in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, 3rd century B.C.).

He mines numerous sources from Greek writers of the Hellenistic period in which Koine Greek flourished (the type of Greek used in the composition of the New Testament). Koine Greek was the most precise language for expressing human thought in the history of mankind, understandably chosen in the providence of God for the New Testament.

In addition, Spicq combed through scores of papyri inscriptions (first discovered in the mid-1700s), writings on “paper” made from the papyrus plant in Egypt. He extracted texts from contracts, tax records, receipts, business letters, love letters, etc., that shed light on a great variety of words in the New Testament.

There is perhaps no area of study more exciting than to do background “detective” work in attempting to see the richness of the vocabulary of the New Testament. And for those who acknowledge that the Bible is the verbally inspired word of God, this is a tremendously important endeavor.

Spicq’s Lexicon contains word studies on several hundred important terms found in the Greek Testament.

For example, the professor’s treatment of the Greek word, agape (the richest term for “love” in the New Testament; cf. Jn. 3:16) is the reflection of an entire book he did, Agape in the New Testament a volume that brought him international tribute.

I recently found Spicq’s study of aidos, “modest” (1 Tim. 2:9), to be the most thorough treatment of that term I could find anywhere. The professor’s background investigation of aphesis, “forgiveness” (Acts 2:38), is thrilling indeed. What richness lies behind the words we sometimes take for granted.

In recent decades, the controversy regarding the meaning of parthenos, “virgin” (cf. Mt. 1:23; Lk. 1:27) was reignited. With exhaustive research, the author introduces tons of ancient evidence for the “sexual purity” associated with the term. The study is unique.

Spicq’s treatment of the term metanoeo, “repentance” is most rewarding. He shows that, in addition to “sorrow” for a wrong act, it “entails a change of conduct or of future status.”

One ancient source has this sentence: “The person who claims to have repented while still committing injustices is not in his right mind.” In a time when many seem to be confused as to the true nature of repentance, this discussion is especially helpful.

Scholars have given this set a very high rating. Frederick Danker, of the top-ranked lexical team of Arndt, Gringrich, Danker, characterized this set as an “important resource available to English-speaking people.”

The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society noted:

“The word studies offered to us here, a gold mine of information in convenient form, would appear to be the fruit of a lifetime of study on the part of this distinguished scholar.”

The studious preacher will find himself consulting this literary treasure often.