This volume updates the 1992 first edition, still a useful volume but increasingly outdated. This new version offers notable refinements.
One is a number of contributions from scholars in or from nations outside the historic Europe-North America “Christian” axis. Examples would be Rekha Chennattu (India), Yuzuru Miura (Japan), and Maureen Yeung Marshall (Hong Kong). Scholars from Africa (apart from South Africa) are still at a dearth. Latin American scholars and scholarship are likewise sparsely attested.
Another refinement is a marked increase in contributions from women: Holly Beers, Stephanie Black, Helen Bond, Jeannine Brown, Holly Carey, Rekha Chennattu, Lynn Cohick, Awilda Gonzalez-Tajera, Edith Humphrey, Veronica Koperski, Louise Lawrence, Karoline Lewis, Maureen Yeung Marshall, Jocelyn McWhirter, Susan Miller, Suzanne Nicholson, Lidija Novakovic, Dorothy Peters, Caryn Reeder, Mitzi Smith, Marianne Meye Thompson, Catrin Williams, and Seung Ai Yang—some 23 out of a total of about 128 contributors total (about 18%). The first edition had barely a half-dozen female writers. The only one to write for both editions is Marianne Meye Thompson.
Another refinement lies in sophistication. The field of Gospel studies is more complex, varied, and nuanced than ever, but the Dictionary has continued its original aim of being “evangelical and critical at the same time” (p. x). Central here is a clearer idea of what “history” is and is not, and what it can and cannot provide, as evidenced, e.g., in the article “Historicisms and Historiography” (Joel Green). Similar pieces showing awareness of hermeneutical location are those covering “African American Criticism” (M. J. Smith), “Feminist and Womanist Criticisms” (M. J. Smith), “Gospels, History of Interpretation” (D. F. Watson), “Latino/Latina Criticism” (A. Gonzalez-Tajera), “Narrative Criticism” (J. Brown), “Postcolonial Criticism” (E. B. Powery), and “Social-Scientific Criticisms” (L. J. Lawrence).
The fairly recent development of “Theological Interpretation of the Gospels” (Andy Johnson) receives its due. Johnson notes that this initiative “is not a methodologically monolithic movement” (p. 965). It practitioners arrive at contrasting findings. But he affirms a significant “interpretive aim” shared by those affirming the outlook: that “their churches take on a more cruciform character, thereby giving public testimony to the living Christ, to whom the Gospels witness” (p. 965). This suggests that it is not only interpreters in this movement who practice “theological interpretation,” as many who interpret the Gospels champion this interpretive and missional aim.
Donald Hagner’s important treatment on “Anti-Semitism” concerns itself primarily with the NT data and their proper apprehension and application today. There is another whole dimension to the issue that is not touched: the anti-Semitism of some NT scholars and scholarship. (See comments below, however, on Colin Brown’s article “Quest of the Historical Jesus.”) Watson’s article “Gospels, History of Interpretation” also leaves this topic to the side. Anders Gerdmar’s important volume Roots of Theological Antisemitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Leiden: Brill, 2009) and Christopher Probst’s Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012) need to be consulted to give the fuller, sobering picture regarding interpreters and their guilds. As it stands, Watson’s treatment in particular accords a more innocent, intellectually honest air to Gospels studies than it deserves in too many cases.
An article on the virgin birth of Jesus is lacking, but there is succinct yet thorough treatment (by Stephen Young) under “Birth of Jesus.” Young argues that the Gospel evidence furnishes ample ground for affirming this Christian teaching at least as ancient as Matthew and Luke (and their sources). Young interacts primarily with E. Freed (The Stories of Jesus’ Birth [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001]) who is skeptical of the Gospel accounts.
Some 21 articles are longer than ten pages: “Archaeology and Geography” (15 pages; R. Riesner), “Birth of Jesus” (13 pages; S. Young), “Death of Jesus” (22 pages; J. Dennis), “Disciples and Discipleship” (12 pages; M. Wilkins), “God” (14 pages; M. Thompson), “John, Gospel of” (18 pages; C. Keener), “Kingdom of God/Heaven” (14 pages; J. Green), “Law” (11 pages; J. Dunn), “Luke, Gospel of” (13 pages; J. Green), “Mark, Gospel of” (14 pages; N. Perrin), “Matthew, Gospel of” (15 pages; J. Brown), “Miracles and Miracle Stories” (11 pages; G. Twelftree), “Old Testament in the Gospels” (11 pages; D. Pao), “Parables” (13 pages; G. Anderson), “Quest of the Historical Jesus” (39 pages; C. Brown), “Rabbinic Traditions and Writings” (11 pages; D. Instone-Brewer), “Resurrection” (16 pages; K. Anderson), “Revolutionary Movements” (11 pages; W. Heard and K. Yamazaki-Ransom; W. Heard is missing from the “Contributors” section [p. xxviii]), “Rich and Poor” (11 pages; C. Hays), and “Sermon on the Mount/Plain” (11 pages; S. A. Yang).
This tally shows that in addition to a wide range of subjects (175 articles total by my count), the dictionary goes into considerable depth at numerous junctures. The extended length of Colin Brown’s “Quest of the Historical Jesus” marks it as a sheet anchor contribution to this Dictionary and indicates that readers should be careful to check there for discussion thought to be lacking due to its absence elsewhere. Brown includes helpful discussion of regard for Jesus in patristic thought and Judaism (pp. 719–20) and in “Quests before the Quest” (pp. 720–24) before taking up the “quest” as usually linked with Reimarus (p. 725). Recognizing Albert Schweitzer’s role in framing “quest” discussion, Brown makes three important preliminary comments: 1) Schweitzer’s views were largely pre-determined by Kant’s influence; 2) Schweitzer’s celebrated book The Quest of the Historical Jesus was actually his second attempt to come to grips with the subject; and 3) Schweitzer’s celebrated book took shape in conscious opposition to William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret of the Gospels. Brown points out that Schweitzer’s book “offered two different forms of ‘thoroughgoing skepticism’ with regard to the historical Jesus,” Schweitzer’s or Wrede’s (pp. 724–25). Brown emphasizes: “It was not that Schweitzer himself believed in eschatology” (p. 725).
Another important section of Brown’s article concerns “The Shadow of the Third Reich.” Brown gives a balanced assessment of Adolf Schlatter’s view of Judaism, Jesus, and his times (p. 730). He analyzes at considerable length Walter Grundmann, “the scholar who merits the title ‘the Jesus specialist of National Socialism’” (pp. 730–31).
Perhaps the most important section of Brown’s voluminous treatment is the conclusion, in which he makes a number of pithy first-person observations about the unique identity of Jesus and role of the Gospels in both their Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts (p. 752).
This dictionary splendidly succeeds at giving a snapshot of scholarly evangelical assessment of Jesus and Gospels studies circa the years leading up to its publication date. In many cases this involves confirming, consolidating, and extending previous scholarship. An example here would be H. Bayer’s update of his article in the first edition of the Dictionary, “Predictions of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection.” The same holds for R. Riesner’s reworking of several topics (i.e., “Archaeology and Geography,” “Galilee,” “Teacher”). In other cases, scholarship has moved on: the late David Scholer’s one-sided essay on “Women” in the first edition gives way to F. Spencer’s more balanced verdict that “Jesus was not, and historically could not have been, a ‘feminist’ by modern standards” (p. 1004). Still, it is unfortunate that the bibliography that contains Spencer’s own 2012 book Dancing Girls, ‘Loose’ Ladies and Women of ‘the Cloth’: The Women in Jesus’ Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2004) could not make room for Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger’s important study Jesus and the Feminists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
But no single volume can cover all that might and should be said about Jesus, the Gospels, our knowledge of them, and their implications for us and our world (cf. John 21:25). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels comes as close as could be hoped and deserves wide usage . . . and a third edition by the early 2030s.