Greek Lexicography And Translation: Comparing Bauer’s And Louw-Nida’s Lexicons -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 44:2 (Jun 2001)
Article: Greek Lexicography And Translation: Comparing Bauer’s And Louw-Nida’s Lexicons
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Greek Lexicography And Translation:
Comparing Bauer’s And Louw-Nida’s Lexicons 1

Vern Sheridan Poythress*

[* Vern Poythress is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 27009, Philadelphia, PA 19118.]

Using Bauer’s lexicon and Louw and Nida’s lexicon presents more challenges to Bible translators than one might suppose, especially in areas where Bauer and Louw-Nida travel in different directions. 2 The recent appearance of the third English edition of Bauer’s lexicon, based on the sixth German edition, 3 offers a fitting opportunity to reassess the relation of the two lexicons to the tasks of NT interpretation and translation.

Louw and Nida designed their lexicon specifically with the goal of aiding Bible translators. 4 The organization by semantic domains, as well as the descriptive definitions of meanings, utilizes up-to-date conceptions of semantics. 5 The third edition of Bauer’s lexicon shows improvements in semantic description, but the overall organization of the lexicon is still the familiar standard one. One might therefore na•vely assume that Louw-Nida would offer superior resources in every respect for any kind of Bible translation. But such is not the case. In my own experience working on the English Standard Version (esv), a conservative revision of the Revised Standard Version (rsv), I encountered considerable complexities in using the lexicons. These complexities have convinced me that, for some types of translation, Bauer rather than Louw-Nida serves as the best first resource. And exegetes and translators using either lexicon must understand how its strengths and weaknesses affect its use.

I. Distinctive Design Of Louw-Nida

As early reviewers noted, Louw-Nida introduced two outstanding new features: the organization in terms of semantic domains and the description of meanings by specifying semantic features. 6

First, consider semantic domains. Rather than listing word entries in alphabetical order, like more conventional dictionaries, Louw-Nida groups together words with similar meanings, that is, word meanings belonging to a single “semantic domain.” For example, Domain 26, “Psychological Faculties,” includes νοῦς (“the psychological faculty of understanding, reasoning, thinking, … ”),

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