BDAG vs. BrillDAG: Battle of the Greek Lexicons

by | Jul 20, 2020 | Battle of the Lexicons | 3 comments

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a unique single-round matchup in the ongoing battle of the lexicons—the bout you’ve all been waiting for. Introducing to you first on my right, bound in a burgundy cover, hailing from Chicago, and weighing in at just over 1100 pages…please welcome the number one New Testament Greek lexicon in the world—A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature—better known as BDAG. And introducing to you on my left, bound in a yellow and white cover, an Italian coming to us by way of Boston, at over 2400 pages…please welcome newcomer—The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (BrillDAG).

Let’s be clear from the onset, there’s no earthly way BrillDAG could survive a round of fisticuffs with BDAG. They don’t have the same scope. It’s apples to oranges. It’s not a fair fight. But the purpose of this bout is to demonstrate the value BrillDAG has to offer as a supplement to the premiere New Testament Greek lexicon. Think of this as more of a case study than a cage match. 

The Case Study

I was studying James 1:2 with special attention to the word πειρασμός, a word often translated as “trial” or “temptation.” Obviously, those two senses are different. But which one does James have in mind? Here’s the verse in English (ESV) and Greek (NA28).

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

James 1:2 Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου, ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,

So is James telling Christians to rejoice over their trials or their temptations? Perhaps we should allow our two pugilists to weigh in on the matter. Here’s BDAG. 

Screenshot from Accordance Bible Software. 

While technically on the fence, BDAG leans heavily towards sense one: “an attempt to learn the nature or character of something.” But it’s possible James has sense two in mind: “an attempt to make one do something wrong.” Other than that, the 1 Peter reference gives us what seems to be a parallel usage, and those Sirach cross-references might be worth a gander. But if you’re looking for a little more support to sway your decision, let me show you what caught my eye in BrillDAG

The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, 1603.

Everything is pretty ho-hum here at first blush. Senses one and two come with pretty much the same glosses as BDAG, although that third sense of worry, concern is new to us. But it’s the Acts 20:19 reference that grabbed my attention. Here it’s used as support for sense one, while BDAG used it as support for sense two. And after looking at the passage, a trial fits much better with the circumstances Paul is describing. 

Acts 20:18  And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,

Acts 20:19  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;

Acts 20:18 ὡς δὲ παρεγένοντο πρὸς αὐτὸν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Ὑμεῖς ἐπίστασθε, ἀπὸ πρώτης ἡμέρας ἀφ᾿ ἧς ἐπέβην εἰς τὴν Ἀσίαν, πῶς μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν τὸν πάντα χρόνον ἐγενόμην,

Acts 20:19 δουλεύων τῷ κυρίῳ μετὰ πάσης ταπεινοφροσύνης καὶ δακρύων καὶ πειρασμῶν τῶν συμβάντων μοι ἐν ταῖς ἐπιβουλαῖς τῶν Ἰουδαίων,


So what did consulting BrillDAG do for me? In this simple case, it caused me to reconsider the evidence. The commentaries I read either wholly embraced the sense of trials or allowed for an interpretation that included both trials and temptations. Looking solely at BDAG, I was open to the broader interpretation. But after being reminded by BrillDAG to examine Sirach and then check out the occurrence of πειρασμός in Acts, I had much more confidence to lean towards the restricted sense of trial. BDAG is still the undisputed reigning champion when it comes to NT exegesis, but it’s to your benefit to check out another high-quality Greek lexicon like  BrillDAG.

Further Reading

If you want to read more on BrillDAG, John A. L. Lee wrote a review article you can view in prepublication form here.

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review has a nice little review by Panagiotis Filos here.

Mike Aubrey shares his excellent analysis (complemented with some nice photography by Tavis Bohlinger) here and here.

And Brill posted a video interview with the editor Franco Montanari himself.

For Bible software users, Logos offers a fully tagged text for a reasonable price. It is currently unavailable for Accordance.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


  1. T.W.

    I would supplement this exercise in discrimination between “trial” and “temptation”—and I don’t think it’s just the etymological fallacy—with recognition that for the Greek speaker a “temptation” is understood, in more than a dead metaphor, to be a species of “trial,” or at least to bear a certain essential relationship to a “trial.” When English speakers asking themselves such questions automatically also knew Latin, I feel it was more possible to carry over these relationships, as the dual senses of temptatio are non-accidentally related to what is going on with peirasmos.

  2. Bob MacDonald

    Have you considered how to manage the opening of genesis 22?

    • Brent Niedergall

      Good question, Bob. You’re right in noting that it’s also important to consider the verbal form of πειράζω. I did notice BDAG cites the Gen 22:1 occurrence (God testing Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac), listing it under a sense dealing with “testing” as opposed to “tempting to sin.” That seems to fit with the context in my view. Looks like it would also correspond well with the Hebrew vorlage (נסה). I defer to your expertise here, but it doesn’t seem like נסה covers both senses. Is that correct?

Brent Niedergall