Building a Library: Vine’s New Testament Dictionary

The Basic Hammer

Vine’s New Testament Dictionary is a basic work which every believer should own.

Whether you’re a new homeowner or a veteran wood craftsman, everyone has a hammer in his toolbox. A hammer has many uses and, unlike some specialty tools, it is very user—friendly. Likewise, Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words is the one basic tool every reader of the Bible should have. New believers and Greek scholars alike can use this most versatile and easy-to-use dictionary. The Bible says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16) which includes every word and letter of the original.

The New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, the common, universal language of the known world during the first century. Our King James English Version was translated 400 years ago. Since language is constantly changing, a modern English dictionary could at best only give you an understanding of the words in the mind of the modern thinker. To understand the true meaning of a word in the original New Testament, you need a dictionary that takes the Greek words and gives the definition of the words as they were understood in that day. Understanding the use of words in the original language is both essential and enlightening. For example, the word “gospel” occurs in Mark 16:15. This is not a common word today and it is used to signify “something that is to be firmly believed” (New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, 1987). Today people try to affirm that something is true by calling it the “gospel truth.” In New Testament times, the Greek word “euangelion” meant much more. Mr. Vine says the word means “good message or tidings.” There is a major difference between a true message and good news. Therefore, we only get a proper understanding of the word and the verse if we know the precise meanings of words as they were defined in New Testament times.

Mr. William E. Vine was a Greek scholar and a man who was in fellowship with assemblies gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus. His exercise was to provide a tool that would help the person who knew nothing of Greek and also provide an instrument for the benefit of those experienced with the original language. This was an immensely formidable task. With the help of God, Mr. Vine published his dictionary of New Testament Words in 1940 as a four-volume set. One of the great challenges he faced was that one Greek word might be translated into several different English words. For example, the Greek word thelo is translated into 14 different English words throughout the New Testament. Also, any given English word in the New Testament may have been used as the translation for various Greek words. The English word “come” is used as the English translation for 39 different Greek words. Therefore, apart from a dictionary and a concordance, you cannot be sure that an English word occurring in two places is actually the same Greek word in the original. The 6,000 words in the dictionary are organized alphabetically in English.

Under each English word, you will find a list of all the original Greek words and their precise meanings that are translated as that English word. These words are grouped by parts of speech (Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs). For example, under the English word “fire,” there are two nouns (pur and pura), one adjective (purinos), and two verbs (puroo and phlogizo). These Greek spellings are actually English phonetic equivalents of the original Greek words. Next to every Greek word is the spelling in the original Greek. Each Greek word is then followed by its precise definition.

After each definition you find groupings of the original word by usage. For example, under “law” there is the general definition followed by four uses: law as a general principle, a force or influence impelling to action, the law of Moses at Sinai, and the Pentateuch or first five books of the Bible. Each of these groupings is then illustrated with various Scripture passages. Under each grouping of similar uses, Mr. Vine places most if not all of the references in the New Testament. When he included all uses of a word, he put the symbol .

The value of these groupings cannot be overestimated. Mr. Vine’s groupings of the uses of the word for “day” provides the basis for his commentary differentiating between the day of the Lord, the day of God, and the day of Christ.

Proper groupings of Scriptures based on their context provide the basis for understanding true distinctions of important time periods in the Bible called dispensations. All references in the dictionary are from the King James English Bible with the exception of some from the Revised Edition as indicated. For comparison, there are also some valuable references to the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in the time of Christ.

Perhaps one of the greatest helps is that Mr. Vine includes commentary of his own as well as quotations from others to give further understanding to words and their usage. He also provides pertinent historical and cultural information. Commentator Graham Scroggie said, Vine’s dictionary “is organized in such a way that it becomes at once a dictionary, a commentary, and a concordance.” Vine’s exercise was to provide more than a list of definitions. Although admittedly done with limitation, he wanted to provide “sound teaching of an expository character” (Preface). His book provides very critical distinctions that lead to major doctrinal differences.

Perhaps a classic example is his clear distinction of words translated “another.” Allos means “another of the same sort.” Heteros means “another of a different sort.” The critical distinction is seen in such places as Luke 23:32: “And there were also two other (heteros), malefactors, led with him to be put to death.” The Holy Spirit carefully used the word signifying others of a different kind to protect the holy, impeccable character of the Son of God.

This dictionary provides helpful distinctions that have very practical implications in daily Christian life as well. Mr. Vine’s definition and commentary on the two different words translated as “love” are clearly illustrated with Scriptural quotations. Today, a reader imposing the modern, shallow, selfish, feeling-based definition on the word would completely miss the true love we have as genuine believers. His comparisons of the two words will make you worship God and lead you to a decision in the will to “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).

Mr. Vine also included an addendum with some writings on important distinctions of some participles and prepositions. At the close, he provided an index of Greek words in the Bible and all the English words into which they were translated.

The New Testament was originally written almost 2000 years ago and then translated into the King James Bible in 1611 AD. There are many key terms in the Bible such as “propitiation” and “redemption”. Our modem thinking would give us limited and likely incorrect information to properly define these vital Bible truths. Mr. Vine bridges the gap with his Greek scholarship that F. F. Bruce describes as “wide, accurate, and up-to-date.” But this is not some dusty work with limited value. Mr. Vine took great pains to provide concise, readable, and understandable definitions and commentary so that you might “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).