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The Value of A Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ) for Biblical Studies

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The Value of A Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ) for Biblical Studies

A Greek-English Lexicon, also known as Liddell & Scott or as LSJ, is perhaps the most well respected classical Greek lexicon available today.

Though LSJ deals primarily with classical Greek, it has several applications to Biblical study:

  • Provides information on words in LXX, which is typically lacking in NT-oriented Greek lexicons
  • Provides information on words in NT as many of these words were frequently used in secular literature
  • Provides information on words infrequently used in the LXX or NT
  • Provides information on classical usage of words, which may be helpful in etymological studies

Using LSJ with New Testament Studies

The example of προσέχω in 1 Tim 1:4 is a decent example of the use of LSJ with New Testament Studies. It also serves as an example for learning more about classical usage of Greek words.

4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:4 (ESV)

BDAG and LSJ aligned on the same article.The word προσέχω, in its various inflected forms, occurs 24 times in the New Testament. BDAG glosses the sense of the word as used in 1 Tim 1:4 as pay attention to, give heed to, or follow. The ESV above translates προσέχω as to devote. BDAG notes that when used with a dative, the idea of pay attention to is most likely intended.

LSJ discusses a number of senses of the word. For instance, as is visible in the screen capture to the right, several nautical senses are discussed. In sense I.4.b, LSJ notes that the word, when used with a dative noun (and "myths and endless genealogies" is in the dative case) can be glossed as "devote oneself to a thing" and offers several classical citations that can be examined to confirm this reading.

One sense of the word that isn't presented in the portion of the LSJ article in the screen capture is an interesting citation from Theophrastus, who uses the word passively of gum (yes, gum) sticking to something.

While the primary definition offered in this instance in BDAG is, of course, correct, LSJ proves valuable to examine simply to get a better understanding of the word προσέχω and the nuances it held in secular Greek society.

Using LSJ with Septuagint Studies

The example of ἀλήθεια (inflected form ἀλήθειαν) in Leviticus 8:8 is insightful. The word ἀλήθεια occurs frequently in the LXX and is typically translated truth. However, note this verse in English:

8 And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. Leviticus 8:8 (ESV)

LEH and LSJ aligned on the same article.The word ἀλήθεια is here translated as Thummim. But why is that, as the seemingly proper translation should be truth? A Greek English Lexicon of the Septuagint (hereafter LEH) glosses this particular reference with "symbol of the truth (of the Thummim)". So the translation as Thummim is justified, but the justification (apart from simple fiat) is not forthcoming.

Enter LSJ. The LSJ definition lists a number of senses. The fourth major sense (the entry in LSJ is so long that the fourth sense does not show in the screen capture on the right) reports:

IV. symbol of truth, jewel worn by Egyptian high-priest, D.S.1.48, 75, Ael.VH14.34: of the Thummim, LXX.Le.8.8

Note the two citations. D.S. refers to a first-century BC author (Diodorus Seculus) and Ael refers to a second to third century AD author Aelianus. In these references LSJ cites two sources where ἀλήθεια was used to refer to a jewel worn by the Egyptian high priest as a symbol of truth. A usage that looked unique in the LXX found parallel usage in non-biblical Hellenistic literature, giving information about a word's usage that would be beyond the scope of any NT lexicon.

Another Septuagint Example

The example of διαφορέω in Jeremiah 37:16 (Jer 30:16 ESV) is also helpful. The word διαφορέω apparently only occurs here in the Septuagint, and it does not occur in the New Testament. Here is the verse in English:

16 Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall be plundered, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. Jeremiah 30:16 (ESV)

LEH and LSJ aligned on the same article.The word plunder represents the word διαφορέω. Well, plunder is really a translation of the Hebrew as the ESV uses the Hebrew Old Testament as its basis, but this is close enough for purposes of this example. LEH glosses διαφορέω as to tear to pieces. However, the LEH definition ends there, and nothing else is mentioned.

The LSJ definition, however, is much more extensive. It lists five major senses of the word and provides a number of examples from classical literature. After all, if the Ancient Greeks knew how to do anything, it was war — just think of the battles between the Athenians and the Spartans. LSJ even notes some usages of διαφορέω in medical writers, providing a well-rounded glimpse of how classical Greek writers used this term.

Once again, the primary sense of διαφορέω as defined by LEH does provide the basic information needed, but the expanded information offered by LSJ on this word is helpful to gain a fuller understanding of the term.

Using LSJ with Infrequently Used New Testament or Septuagint Words

One problem students of Greek encounter is the problem of words infrequently used in the New Testament and Septuagint. The use of λουτρόν in Titus 3:5 offers an interesting example.

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5 (ESV)

BDAG and LSJ aligned on the same article.The word λουτρόν is translated as washing in the ESV. It occurs twice in the New Testament; here and also in Eph. 5:26. Again, the BDAG definition is adequate and conveys the meaning of the word in the New Testament. However, when examining LSJ, one sees that LSJ uses the majority of its definition listing citations to the actual, physical sense of bathing, not the ceremonial or figurative sense. So, while the sparse New Testament usages are concentrated on the idea of a figurative cleansing, the word λουτρόν could also perhaps carry the sense of actually bathing. While LSJ does not alter the primary understanding of the NT sense of the word (it actually confirms it in one of its senses) one does arrive at a greater idea of the range of meaning of a word.

So once again LSJ has helped in gaining a clearer picture of what λουτρόν might have meant in its normal, everyday context. While the context of Biblical study is primarily a religious one, people from the New Testament era lived in both spheres — the secular and the religious — much as we do today. Understandably, even today our concept of washing or bathing in the context of Titus 3:5 is enhanced simply because we have an idea of what it means to wash ourselves physically. The same is true for all languages. LSJ simply helps in providing a larger context of Greek usage, which helps enhance understanding of these terms as the Bible is studied and interpreted.


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Last Updated: 7/21/2006