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Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms edited by Richard A. Muller

Alan D. Strange

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, 2 ed., by Richard A. Muller. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017, xxi + 408 pages, $37.00, paper.

“I was reading the dictionary,” Stephen Wright deadpanned, “I thought it was a poem about everything.” Richard A. Muller’s new edition of his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms is a work about everything theological, at least as it pertains to Greek and Latin terms used by the Protestant Scholastics, reflecting his and their reading in the history of the church. How does one review such a work? Perhaps by noting its significance over the last few decades. In the last thirty-plus years, this work has helped countless theological students in their historical and theological work. More than one senior churchman has opined that a mastery of its contents (along with that of the Westminster Larger Catechism) would render anyone a first-rate disciple/teacher of Reformed theology.

Muller published the first edition of this seminal work in 1985, coming in at 340 pages. This second, long-awaited edition comes in at almost ninety pages more, though, alas, it is only printed in paperback this time. What is the justification for a second edition, one might ask? Muller admits that the first edition “charted my own introduction both to the intricacies and, underneath those intricacies, to the incredible clarity of Protestant scholastic thought” (viii). In his continuing study of such, Muller has discovered that the “language of this highly variegated, philosophically attuned, and sometimes highly technical theology was far richer than I had originally imagined” (viii). This second edition has afforded Muller opportunity to incorporate the learning of the intervening years by “adding over one hundred terms and phrases; by editing, refining, and expanding other definitions” (viii), and by correcting errors.

Richard Muller, after receiving the PhD at Duke University, taught historical theology for a dozen years at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was, in fact, an associate professor there when he first published his Dictionary. He came to Calvin Theological Seminary in 1992 and is currently P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology Emeritus and is senior fellow of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research. Dr. Muller has become a premier church historian, a recognized expert on Protestant Scholasticism, especially expressed in his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (also published in a second edition by Baker, 2003). Muller has worked extensively in these sources and is perhaps more qualified than anyone else to write, and now revise, such a dictionary.

Before the seminal work of Muller in the Protestant Scholastics, many scholars (chiefly, Karl Barth and his followers) had viewed Calvin as opposed to his successors, the Calvinists that followed in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Muller was perhaps the chief architect of the paradigm shift of the 1970s and 1980s that came to view Calvin and the Calvinists as consonant, albeit with understandable developmental differences. Muller’s contribution in that regard is reflected in this volume, as he defines terms used not only by Calvin and Owen, but also by the medieval scholastics that preceded them.

To be sure, Calvin and the Calvinists (even the Protestant Scholastics of the seventeenth century) differed in some important respects from the medieval scholastics, some of the latter teaching things like congruent merit (235–36; the Franciscans especially) or facere quod in se est (118; “to do what is in oneself,” as Gabriel Biel taught, and Luther rejected). The Reformation, in other words, rejected the semi-Pelagianism that had developed in the Roman Catholic Church, but ultimately, in the seventeenth century, did not reject the scholastic method altogether, ably employed by a number of Reformed theologians, perhaps most notably, Francis Turretin.

So from accommodatio (4; the ways in which a transcendent God condescends to “human ways of knowing in order to reveal himself”) to communicatio idiomatum (69–71; in Christology, the way in which “the properties . . . of each nature are communicated to or interchanged in the unity of the person”) to lex naturalis (197–98; “natural law”) to voluntas Dei (399–402; “the will of God,” with many important scholastic modifiers), Muller treats the researcher to a feast of (mostly) Latin and Greek theological terms. Many have been awaiting this expanded dictionary, and we are happy now to have it. This book is prominent on the shelf on which I keep my most frequently used reference books, and I highly recommend it to all theological students.  

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of New Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Joliet, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, May 2018.

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