Using the New Bible Dictionary in the LDS Edition


In 1979, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published for the first time its own special edition of the Bible. The text of this Bible is exactly the same as the Church has always used—the King James Version. What makes the new publication unique and more useful to Latter-day Saints is that it contains extensive study aids that have been prepared especially for our use of the Bible in connection with the other standard works of the Church. This article discusses only one of these study aids—the Bible Dictionary.

A Bible dictionary is a reference source that defines words and phrases and presents other useful information under subject-matter headings arranged in alphabetical order. A dictionary may be a few pages bound within the covers of the Bible itself, or it may be several volumes containing thousands of pages of small print offering much detailed information. Most Bible dictionaries are designed to present material that is factual, historical, archaeological, geographical, and cultural in nature, but generally do not give extended theological or doctrinal interpretations.

Both in format and in purpose a Bible dictionary differs from another type of reference work known as a commentary, which is intended to explain and interpret passages of scripture and is usually not alphabetically arranged by topic headings. A commentary deals with passages; a dictionary deals with terms.

A dictionary is different also from a concordance, which is an alphabetical index that helps you locate the various places where each word may be found in the Bible text. A concordance presents each word within a brief excerpt of the sentence in which it occurs, and then lists the scriptural reference without any discussion or evaluation.

Thus, a concordance is for finding words, a commentary is for interpretation of passages, and a dictionary is for definition and discussion of terms. The person who wishes to become familiar with the background, meaning, and location of the scriptures will find each of these types of reference works very helpful.

Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and concordances published by the great Bible houses of the world—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—have been available for many decades and represent a tremendous amount of scholarly effort by those who prepared them. Although very helpful, these study aids were never entirely satisfactory to Latter-day Saints because they were limited to the biblical area only and were prepared by scholars who did not have the benefit of latter-day revelation.

The new LDS edition of the Bible offers both a new dictionary prepared especially for Latter-day Saints and a type of concordance that is called the Topical Guide with Selected Concordance and Index. These are found in the Appendix constituting the latter third of the book. There is no separate commentary section as such, but commentary materials are found in the footnotes to the Bible text and in the headings to every chapter. These new chapter headings are very important, for they give Latter-day Saints an interpretation and explanation of the Bible text, accomplishing on a minor scale what a book of commentary would do.

The new dictionary differs from other Bible dictionaries in that it includes information not only from the Bible but also from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as found in the History of the Church. (See, for example, the parallel information listed in the “Harmony of the Gospels” section of the Bible Dictionary.) It is a dictionary of the Bible, but it is also a dictionary of broader religious topics which, although mentioned in or indirectly related to the Bible, are developed more fully in latter-day revelation. The new Bible Dictionary is therefore a useful tool for study with the other standard works also.

The new Bible dictionary is not intended as a revealed treatment or official version of doctrinal, historical, cultural, chronological, and other matters found in the Bible. Much of the information has been drawn from nonscriptural scholarly sources and will be subject to reevaluation as new discoveries or additional revelation may require. The topics are treated briefly and in an introductory rather than a definitive way, so that the dictionary could be used by the average reader as well as the more serious student or teacher. If an in-depth discussion is desired, the student should consult a more exhaustive dictionary.

For nearly half a century the Church has used an edition of the Bible published by Cambridge University in England. This was called the Missionary Edition, and it contained a Bible dictionary prepared by Cambridge scholars. Although that dictionary presented much helpful information, it was deemed advisable to produce a new dictionary that was more useful to Latter-day Saints. Though based on the Cambridge work, the Bible Dictionary in the new LDS edition differs from it in several important ways:

Additional Topics. First, new topics were added to broaden the scope of the dictionary and include insights available through latter-day revelation. Among the dozens of new topics are: Aaronic Priesthood; Dispensations; Dove, Sign of; Ephraim, Stick of; Holy One of Israel; Judah, Stick of; Joseph Smith Translation; Knowledge; Melchizedek Priesthood; and War in Heaven.

It will be seen that most of these new topics are the result of the impact of latter-day revelation. Some topics were added for other reasons, though. For example, in the case of the entry for “Corn,” the need arose because the former dictionary was compiled in Great Britain, whereas the new dictionary is influenced by American culture. In the United States, the word corn produces a mental image of large yellow kernels growing on a cob. But in the King James Version, corn refers not to the “maize” of America, but to the cereal grains of the British Isles, such as wheat and oats. Thus, “ears of corn,” as found in Matthew 12:1 of the King James Version, would be called “heads of grain” in the United States. [Matt. 12:1] Use of the dictionary in this instance would prevent a misunderstanding by many American readers of the New Testament.

Another added topic is “Family.” The Cambridge dictionary does not present a discussion of the family as taught in the Bible, but some Bible dictionaries do have such an entry. The new dictionary includes information from the Bible on this topic and concludes with a paragraph that states: “Latter-day revelation confirms all that the Bible teaches about the family and adds the most important truth that through the gospel of Jesus Christ the family can be sealed together in a permanent relationship for time and all eternity (D&C 132).”

Improved Topics. Second, some subjects that needed more thorough treatment were enlarged and improved.

For example, in the section entitled “Jehovah,” the etymology of the word was formerly cited, but the reader was left uncertain as to Jehovah’s identity. With the aid of latter-day revelation, the new dictionary adds the important information that Jehovah is the premortal Jesus Christ who was born of Mary.

Also in the former dictionary, under the heading “Sacrifices,” the following was found: “No Divine command can be quoted for the institution of sacrifice” [meaning animal sacrifice]. The discussion also suggests that forgiveness and atonement were not part of the reasons for offering the earlier sacrifices but were a later development. This, of course, needed to be brought into conformity with Moses 5:4–8, which records that God commanded Adam to offer animal sacrifice and that an angel taught him that the offering of a sacrifice of the firstlings of the flock was “a similitude” of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. From latter-day revelation we know that a knowledge of Jesus Christ and the symbolism of animal sacrifice were first made known to Adam, and from him to his posterity.

Corrected Topics. Third, in the older dictionary there were instances of misleading or erroneous statements due to the inadequacy of the Bible in clarifying some subjects. These had to be either corrected or eliminated.

One such statement is found under the heading “John.” This section lists many interesting and significant things about John the beloved disciple and concludes with the comment, “His death occurred somewhere near A.D. 100.” This latter expression is unacceptable to Latter-day Saints because of 3 Nephi 28:6–7 and D&C 7, which clarify the meaning of a statement about John in John 21:20–23. These passages inform us that John did not die but has been permitted to tarry until the Lord’s second coming. The new dictionary employs this and other information relative to the life and mission of John that is known only through latter-day revelation.

Another correction, and perhaps a more significant one, relates to the “Fall of Adam” entry. One of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality of the fall of man through the transgression of Adam and Eve. The Fall was foreseen by the Father and was absolutely necessary in the progression of man. This concept is confirmed many times in latter-day revelation and is the doctrinal basis for the necessity of the divine Sonship and atonement of Jesus Christ.

The former dictionary states that “at a certain point in the history of the race the development took a wrong turn, which was not in accordance with God’s original purpose.” This, of course, is not in harmony with what the Lord has revealed; so the new dictionary cites latter-day revelation to indicate that the fall of Adam was necessary, was foreknown by the Father, and was not contrary to his original purpose.

Deleted Topics. Fourth, some items in the previous dictionary were considered to be of lesser importance, and due to space limitations these were omitted. In most cases, these were references to minor characters or geographical features of little significance. The city “Achzib,” for example, is deleted from the Bible Dictionary, but is now found in the new Gazetteer and Maps section.

Corrected Terminology. Fifth, the language and terminology of the former dictionary was at times inconsistent with the customary terminology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and therefore needed to be adjusted. For example, the previous dictionary speaks of “Philip the Deacon” baptizing people in Samaria; but since deacons do not have the authority to baptize, it is evident that Philip was not an ordained deacon. In the same way, Stephen is also incorrectly referred to as a deacon. The Bible itself does not refer to these men as deacons; this is the word used by scholars because of the greek term diakona, which means a “helper” or servant. In that sense all disciples could be called deacons, but not in an ordained sense, and such usage would be misleading. Thus, the new dictionary omits the word “deacon” when referring to Philip and Stephen because to use it would be confusing to the Latter-day Saint reader.

A useful feature that was retained from the Cambridge dictionary is the definition of Hebrew words. Ab means “father” and Ben signifies “son.” Thus Abraham is defined as “father of a multitude” and Benjamin is “son of the right hand.” Beth is a “house”; El is a designation for God. Thus Bethel means a “house of God”; Bethlehem, a “house of bread”; Bethesda, “house of mercy”; Bethphage, “house of figs”; and so forth. Michael means “Who is like God” (a statement, not a question). Lucifer means a “light bearer” or “son of the morning,” indicating his early status, not his present one. One’s appreciation and knowledge of the scriptures can be greatly increased by using the dictionary to find the meanings of biblical names. (See the new dictionary heading “Names of Persons.”)

These are only a few examples of ways in which the new Bible Dictionary is a more accurate and useful reference work. But there is more. The dictionary is not a separate entity entirely removed from the other aids in the new LDS edition of the scriptures. It is cross-referenced by the Topical Guide, by the Index in the new triple combination, and also by footnotes in the new triple combination.

For example, numerous Topical Guide entries direct the reader to the dictionary for additional discussion of the subject matter in those entries. In like manner, the Index in the new 1981 edition of the triple combination frequently refers the reader to the same subject entry in the “BD” (meaning Bible Dictionary). An example is the entry for “Abrahamic Covenant,” which in the Index reads: “See also Covenant; Israel; TG Abrahamic Covenant; BD Abraham, Covenant of.” Likewise, the footnotes in the Doctrine and Covenants refer the reader directly to the Bible Dictionary. (See, for example, D&C 1:36, footnote f; D&C 9:2, footnote a; D&C 17:1, footnote e.) Also, the footnotes in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price refer the reader indirectly to the Bible Dictionary by citing the Topical Guide, which in turn often leads the reader to the dictionary.

As an example of the way the new dictionary can be of assistance, consider the term Urim and Thummim. This term first occurs in the Bible in Exodus 28:30 in connection with the equipment of the priest’s office. [Ex. 28:30] The footnote for this verse leads the reader to the Topical Guide (TG) under the heading “Urim and Thummim.” The Topical Guide lists twenty-eight references with a brief portion of the text in each case, showing the places in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price where Urim and Thummim or related topics are mentioned. It also directs the reader to the “Dictionary: Urim and Thummim.” Turning to the dictionary, one finds a brief discussion of this subject, not only from the standpoint of the Bible but also including the Book of Mormon and other settings from Adam down to the days of Joseph Smith. Other details, such as there being more than one Urim and Thummim, the celestialized earth becoming a Urim and Thummim, and each person in the celestial kingdom receiving a Urim and Thummim, are also included. The Index to the new triple combination lists the references to the Urim and Thummim in latter-day scriptures and also refers the reader back to the Bible Dictionary (BD).

Another typical example is the term “Comforter.” The Topical Guide entry for “Comforter” refers the reader to other sections of the Topical Guide: “Holy Ghost, Comforter; Holy Ghost, Mission of”—and also to “Dictionary: Comforter.” The Topical Guide lists the passages; the Bible Dictionary discusses the fact that two Comforters are spoken of in the scriptures and also quotes a passage from the Prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the History of the Church, 3:381, indicating how a person may obtain these two Comforters.

In a similar manner, hundreds of topics may be searched through the new reference system. The new dictionary has 1,285 entries—not large by some standards, but sufficient to help an interested reader get a clearer concept of many features of the Bible and integrate the teachings of all of the standard works on any one subject in a minimum of time.

In this the Latter-day Saints are most fortunate, having access to revealed spiritual knowledge and guidance from a multitude of scriptural sources and not from one source only. This blessing is reflected in the new dictionary of the Bible. We should be content no longer with a Bible dictionary that fails to convey the wider vision and additional dimensions of the Bible that are available from latter-day revelation.

Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University, is bishop of the Lindon, Utah Third Ward.