Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: Preface

Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

This Dictionary of Biblical Imagery was conceived as a reference book that would assist readers, students and communicators of the Bible in exploring the fascinating and varied world of the imagery, metaphors and archetypes of the Bible. It appeared that the conventional Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias provided little help in this area. For those whose Bible's were pencil-marked with cross-references to images, motifs and other literary features, the lack of such a reference work seemed like a crime-or a publisher's opportunity!

From there the vision of the Dictionary grew to include articles on character types, plot motifs, type scenes, rhetorical devices, literary genres and the individual books of the Bible. In the end, some articles have sprawled across broad subject areas (such as "Animals" or "Legal Images") and others are tightly focused (such as "Harp" or "Mustard Seed"). Many articles are innovative and clearly distinguish this work from other Bible dictionaries (such as "Well, Meeting at the" or "Cheat the Oracle"). And even where article entitled "Wall" or "Tower" arouse a right-brained reader's distaste for archaeological description and detail, the emphasis is decidedly on the evocative dimensions of these subjects.

Despite approximately 850 articles, this Dictionary is not comprehensive. This acknowledgment is testimony to the vast and varied sea of biblical imagery, and to the limited time and energy of both editors and publisher. It is always a challenge to create a reference work in a field where no predecessor has established a "canon" of entries. It can also be a delightful adventure as the editors repeatedly encounter new vistas and angles of vision along the way-and try to help others see them too. But after seven years of planning and labor-and a work much longer than originally projected-the time has come to cease and desist and publish. We console ourselves in the generous thought that further revisers can learn from our efforts and build on this foundation. We also believe that our readers, as they work with this Dictionary, will see that they can launch out on their own and explore other facets of biblical imagery.

From the first, the editors sought to bring together the talents and perspectives of both literary and biblical scholars in a complementary marriage of expertise. But it quickly became apparent that in order to produce a satisfying volume, the claims of individual authorship would need to be subsumed under the editorial vision. So the decision was made in favor of a policy that would allow a free editorial hand in shaping, rewriting and augmenting the article. Experience in creating reference works of this type has shown that as the work progresses the editors themselves gain an ever deeper and broader view of the subject. Lateral connections and new insights flourish as articles and pages compound. A policy was created to allow this editorial vision to be fed back into the work. Thus the articles are unsigned (a list of contributors may be found at the beginning of the book). Although some articles appear much as they were originally authored, the vast majority of them have been worked over by several editorial hands, and they are frequently lengthier than the originals. As a result, this Dictionary has become a highly collaborative effort in which individual claims to authorship (not least those of the individual editors) have been set aside in the interest of what we trust will be a valuable contribution to understanding and enjoying the Bible. We offer our sincere thanks and appreciation to the approximately 150 contributors who have labored to make this work a reality. But we also accept full responsibility for any deficiencies in the final product.

The primary audience for this Dictionary is not scholars but laypeople. We have tried to create a readable and interesting work, one that will not only serve as an indispensable reference tool that augments conventional Bible dictionaries but will also open up new avenues of reading and appreciating the Bible. This book, we hope, will unfold new perspectives for all students of the Bible, new approaches for communicators of the Bible-including those in the fine arts-and heart -warming insights for devotional readers of the Bible. If readers capture some measure of the joy we have experienced even in the midst of our reading the proofs of this emerging book, we will have achieved our goal.

The Editors

"People think with pictures in their heads. The Bible is God's picture book even though it is all in words. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery helps us to see the verbal pictures that we may have missed and then helps us to make sense of them. The Dictionary is a helpful tool for Bible study-and it's even fun to read." Haddon Robinson, Harold John Ockenga Professor of Preaching, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, S. Hamilton, Massachusetts

"The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery is a creative and usable reference tool that will enable a wide range of Bible students to read the Word of God with fresh insight and new understanding. This informative and imaginative dictionary-unique in its purpose and approach-will prove to be immensely helpful for scholars, pastors, teachers and laypeople alike." David S. Dockery, president, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee

"InterVarsity Press is to commended for boldly going where no Bible dictionary has gone before. Where else can you get articles on ‘Apocalyptic' on one hand and ‘Dog' on the other, ‘Battle Stories' on the one hand, and ‘Teeth' on the other, ‘Rhetorical Patterns' on the one hand and ‘Left, Left-Handed' on the other? Here we have a full-course meal for the heart and mind, which reminds us that while image is not everything, imagery often is; while plot is not the whole story, story is often the whole point. I don't often recommend dictionaries as good bedtime reading, but in this case I will make an exception. In short, sell the dog and buy this dictionary!" Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

"No one can understand the Bible well without some understanding of its images, symbols, metaphors and poetic language. But surprisingly, until recently there have been virtually no reference books to assist the serious Bible student in this area. Now IVP's Dictionary of Biblical Imagery has arrived to meet this glaring need. Its entries cover hundreds of biblical images, terms and symbols in an informative and engaging manner. It is an important reference tool, and it will be greatly used and valued by preachers, teachers and other Bible students for generations to come." James M. Boice, senior minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

"The human mind is a picture gallery, and we live by the images found in it. This massive and careful work can aid us all in glimpsing the multitudinous pictures that are given us in the Scriptures to transform our lives." Elizabeth Achtemeier, writer, lecturer, preacher

"As we preachers strive to make our sermons concrete, vivid and engaging, the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery will be indispensable. This reference work has immediate application for preaching and teaching within the church. It will help turn us preachers away from our flat-footed toes toward biblical poetry. On almost every page, with every entry, the imagination is sparked, creative juices begin to flow, and we preachers will be led not only to faithful and biblically informed preaching but also to preaching which is interesting." William H. Willimon, Duke University Chapel

Taken from "Dictionary of Biblical Imagery" edited by Tremper Longman III, Leland Ryken and James C. Wilhoit. ©1998 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove,IL 60515. (

Copyright © 2001 All rights to this material are reserved. We encourage you to print the material for personal and non-profit use or link to this site. If you find this article to be a blessing, please share the link so that it may rise in search engine rankings.