I. Purpose and Scope.-The purpose of this encyclopedia is to define, identify, and explain terms and topics that are of interest for those who study the Bible. Thus it is like the 1915 ISBE in combining the defining function of a dictionary with the encyclopedia's presentation of more comprehensive information, summarizing the state of knowledge about each of its topics and leading the reader to further sources of information and insight.
The entries are of several types. Every name of a person or place mentioned in the Bible has an entry here. Often a person is mentioned only once in the Bible, and the little that can be said about him or her will take only a few lines. Yet it may be helpful simply to know that a passage in question has the only mention of this person, or that the same name in another part of the Bible does refer to a different person. Other persons, however, are more frequently mentioned and have more importance in the biblical story of salvation. In such cases the articles about them are much longer, and may have to gather information from widely scattered parts of the Bible (or even from sources outside the Bible) and summarize the story of that person's life and meaning.
The same is generally true of the names of places. Some remain unidentified, while others have long been known and have been studied by archeological investigation. Some are of little importance, while others played significant roles in the story of God's redemption of His people. Generally, the length of the article reflects the relative importance. But sometimes a site receives little space because little is (yet) known about it, while a site of lesser importance may receive longer discussion because of division of scholarly opinion about it, or because archeological study of it gives us information about other sites or about passages in the Bible which do not even mention it. The article on Debir, for example, is longer than its relative importance in the Bible might warrant, because this article includes the several sides of a scholarly debate about its location and identification.
The reader will also find articles on all other terms in the Bible that have theological or ethical meaning, and on expressions that would be puzzling or unclear to the average reader. Thus ISBE is an exegetical tool, providing brief discussion of problem texts under the English keywords and guiding the exegete to further information in other scholarly resources.
The scope of this work also includes articles on the Bible itself, and on the transmission (e.g., text and versions), study (e.g., concordances, commentaries, Bible dictionaries), and interpretation (e.g., biblical theology) of the Bible. The sources of our knowledge about the background of the Bible have seen a steady increase as the result both of systematic pursuit of information, as in archeology, and of accidental discoveries, as of the Dead Sea Scrolls; that increase is reflected here in new articles and longer articles on the subjects that deal with the background of the Bible. This encyclopedia also goes further than others in tracing the development of some of the doctrines (e.g., about the Holy Spirit) and practices (e.g., baptism) that are based on biblical teachings.
The treatment of significant names and terms includes those from the writings of the Apocrypha. Even for those who do not accept these writings as canonical, they form an important part of the background of the New Testament, illustrating the development of some Old Testament themes and the introduction of some new ones during the intertestamental period.
Although the titles of articles on biblical terms normally follow the readings of the RSV, the distinctive readings of the AV and the NEB are included, usually as cross-reference entries to the articles that use the RSV forms. This makes the encyclopedia more readily accessible to a wider range of readers.
II. Arrangement.-Articles are arranged alphabetically, according to the following rules: In titles that have several words, the first word receives primary consideration, so that, e.g., BAPTISM OF FIRE precedes BAPTISMAL REGENERATION and BIRTH, VIRGIN precedes BIRTHDAY. All the words of the title, including articles, are alphabetized, so that ACTS OF SOLOMON precedes ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. A hyphenated word is alphabetized as a single word, so that the sequence would be BEN-