Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 3 – Scope and Use


 After the previousblog post it became clear that I needed to read the introductory material to get into the detail of this new lexicon. Apart from the lists of ‘Authors and Editions’ and ‘Abbreviations’, there are only 6 pages of prose as introduction.

The project was originally intended as a revision of the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon but soon morphed into something bigger and independent. Aimed at ‘modern students’ but also of interest to scholars because of the fresh reading of the texts.

 Here it gets interesting. The coverage of the Lexicon extends from Homer to the early second century’ and ‘most of the major authors who fall within that period are included.’ This is a lexicon aimed at students, covering most of the major literature of said period. What does that mean from a New Testament perspective? The Gospels and Acts are covered, but not the remainder of the New Testament.


Also, there is no Greek Old Testament, no Philo, no Josephus.

It is a Lexicon of a certain body of Greek literature (and indeed an important body which New Testament scholars do well to read), but it is not a Lexicon of the Greek language as a whole. There are no papyri, there is no epigraphic material.

I had not realized this from the outset. The title ‘Cambridge Greek Lexicon’ and the phrasing ‘the coverage extends from Homer to the early second century’ had led me to expect that it covered all of this period. To be honest, I think this is a little bit of a downer. All that gargantuan effort to produce something that, in the end, is an intermediate lexicon, though possibly the best one around. I had hoped for more, because we need a lexicon that does more.

 Swallowing my disappointment (and this is directed at me, not at the editors) there is the explanation of how an entry works. By and large we got this right the first time around, though there is some interesting terminology used (and not used). The example ἀλάσσω works well and demonstrates how this lexicon is at its very best. The numbered sections are called sense-sections, a definition is indeed not in bold, but the glosses are. Here the term for gloss is ‘translation words’.

Having read the ‘Structure and Content of Entries’, most of my questions about the structure have been answered, even though the application in practice may not always been as lucid as in the demonstration example.

The lexicon claims to make a real contribution, ‘Entries are organized not primarily according to chronological or grammatical criteria, but according to meaning’. This is where skill comes in, and this is where we should be able to learn something. I admit upfront that a couple of years ago I read Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and picked up a lot about how meaning develops, flows, and re-emerges. So let’s put the Lexicon to the test and we return to the same page as the previous post.

How does the meaning of δόξα develop? From the New Testament I have a firm concept of ‘glory’. So how did we get there?

The birthing verb (my term) is δοκέω, as in ‘to think’ or ‘it seems to me’, etc. Looking at the sense-sections I can see indeed how the various senses are related. ‘Glory’ is close to ‘reputation’, is close to ‘opinion about someone’. I can indeed see how the same word can function in such a wide array. If I turn then to BDAG in comparison, I am confronted with a wordy mess, divided in senses, but with definitions that need the glosses to be understood (which is of course the wrong way around). In just 30 seconds, I learned more from the Cambridge Lexicon than from BDAG.

So we have here a positive, namely the organization around senses, and a negative, a rather underwhelming coverage.

In the final post, I will ponder the question if a student of the New Testament needs this lexicon.


  1. For what its worth, I believe that in lexicography circles, the term "lexicon" itself inherently specifies "a certain body of Greek literature".

    If it intended full coverage, the term "dictionary" would have been used.

    This is one of the quirks of LSJ. It has "lexicon" in its title because its coverage was originally conceived as much narrower than what it has become. Brill's translation and revision of the Italian translation of LSJ changed the title to "dictionary" for precisely that reason.

    1. Also: props for reading Women Fire and Dangerous Things!

      You might enjoy the historical flow of how views on semantics have grown over the past two centuries.



  2. What is needed for NT students and researchers is a lexicon specifically of the full Koine (not just Jewish and Christian lit), organized around meaning rather than morphology, with full definitions alongside glosses (where enough data is available to form a full definition).

    Since these resources always seem to start as a "revision" of something else, perhaps someone could start the project as a revision / expansion of MM. "The Tyndale House Koine Greek Lexicon".

  3. Under point #4 at the link below, CC suggests there will be electronic format linked to some key databases, possibly extending the reach beyond the limits of the print product.