In 1975 giant Christian publishing house, Zondervan, released a revolutionary reader’s lexicon. Written by Sakae Kubo and titled A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, this book was to have a huge influence on the reading of New Testament Greek and the learning of its vocabulary. It was called a reader’s lexicon because it was indexed to the text of the New Testament in canonical order. All the words that occurred fifty times or less were listed in the lexicon, as it marched from Matthew 1.1 through Revelation 22.20. It listed the words in their lexical form, verse by verse, and it gave the glosses found in the Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG). It also gave a very helpful word-count after each entry, listing the frequency of words in both the New Testament as a whole and the particular book that the entry was in. Thus, at a glance one could see how important such a word was in said book just by noting its frequency. For example, μονογενής occurs in the New Testament nine times, four of which are in John’s Gospel. Many theological institutes began changing the amount of vocabulary words that students needed to learn because of Kubo. Dallas Seminary was among them: instead of learning all the words that occurred ten times or more (about 1100 words), the school evolved into requiring students to learn only 50+ words (a little more than 300 words altogether).
Four years after Kubo was published, BAG was updated by Fred Danker (BAGD); Kubo was not. The third edition of BAG came out in 2000, with Danker’s name deservedly moving up the ladder (BDAG). Kubo remained unchanged. And there were still numerous errors in it—including many incorrect word-counts, omissions of words, and contextually-inappropriate glosses.
It was time for a new reader’s lexicon. Enter Michael Burer and Jeff Miller, two former students of mine. In 2008 Kregel published their A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. It was a significant improvement over Kubo. Not only is it indexed to the glosses in BDAG, it also is keyed especially to the contextually-sensitive glosses. Further, it gives a threefold word-count for the entries: book, author, and NT. For a long time I wanted to see at a glance the favored lexical stock of a particular author, not only in terms of the book I was studying but also his other contributions to the canon. As well, issues related to authorship (as far as vocabulary can give us insights) have needed a ready table of information. The New Reader’s Lexicon supplies this information at a glance by listing the frequency of words according to the traditional authorship of New Testament books. Thus, for example, the corpus Paulinum includes all thirteen letters to which his name is attached.
Any tool that can simultaneously function well on multiple levels—pedagogical, reference, translation, and exegesis—is rare indeed. What Kubo did for one generation, Burer and Miller’s New Reader’s Lexicon should do for the next.
However, I have been tracking both Kubo and Burer-Miller on Amazon recently and noticed that Kubo continues to outsell Burer-Miller, even five years after the latter’s publication. Perhaps it is because it is only 2/3 the price, perhaps because Kregel is a small publishing house compared to Zondervan. But even with the higher price of Burer-Miller it is well worth the cost. It is long past the time to bid Kubo a fond farewell for the years of service it has given students of the New Testament, and say hello to Burer-Miller.
When Burer-Miller was in the press, Kregel asked me to write the Foreword, which I was happy to do. And they asked me to be the senior editor of a new series of reader’s lexica. After nearly six years of work, the second volume in this series was published (earlier this month). The design of Burer-Miller was so good that Brittany Burnette, Terri Moore (both former interns of mine), and I adopted it when we edited the second reader’s lexicon in the series (A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers). We even included word-frequencies for Ignatius’s seven letters so that one could see at a glance what words were important to that church father. We are now wrestling with what the third volume should be. Contenders are the Septuagint (four volumes—the Law, the Psalms [including all poetic and other books], the Prophets, and the Apocrypha [or, for my Roman Catholic friends, the Deutero-canonical books]), the Apologists, Philo, and Josephus. Have a suggestion? I’m all ears.