Bible dictionaries are very helpful in explaining for us places, customs, people and events which relate to Bible times. Several have been available for many years, with newer works tending to replace older ones. But among these, and different from most of them, is one which so far has not been replaced by anything better - W E Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Mr Vine’s name is known today mainly because of his writings, which include very helpful and concise commentaries on several books of the Bible.¹ But foremost among them is this Expository Dictionary; an invaluable help to all who would seriously study the Scriptures.
It is a hybrid of a concordance and a dictionary. Although not exhaustive, it gives key references to most New Testament words, drawing out meanings based on the Greek word in the original text, and noting the special significance of compound Greek words. In addition, Vine gives valuable commentary on key passages, and concisely explains many doctrinal concepts.² It was first published in 1940 in four volumes, then as a single volume in 1952, with an excellent Foreword by F F Bruce (W Graham Scroggie wrote a longer and very good one for the first edition).
In assessing his many writings, ranging from short articles for periodicals to his major works, those qualified academically have noted how his mastery of the ancient languages was accurate, up to date, and yet unobtrusive. His writing style was scholarly yet straightforward, forceful yet simple - a necessity for true understanding and effective communication. From his ripe scholarship and years of hard work has come material which has helped many of the Lord’s people to enjoy the riches of Holy Scripture. Learning about the man behind these works makes them all the more valuable.
William Edwy Vine (1873-1949)
Mr Vine was born in Blandford, Dorset, where his father ran Mount Radford boarding school. Two years later the school transferred to Exeter, and it was there that he was saved through the teaching and influence of his parents. At the age of 14 he was baptised and received into the fellowship of the assembly which met in Fore Street, Exeter.
His first job was teaching in Mount Radford school but, from there, he moved to Aberystwyth to study at the University College of Wales, preparing for a degree from London University. He obtained the degree of BA with honours in classics, then MA in 1906, laying the foundation for the substantial benefits he would pass on to countless others.
Vine married Phoebe Baxendale in Manchester in 1899. She became a true helper to him; an ideal companion and, later, a faithful nurse in times of pain and weakness. The early years of their married life were spent in Exeter, where he was assistant headmaster of the school which had been part of his upbringing. They had a family of five children. Although a busy man, with both professional and spiritual commitments occupying most of his day, he always found time to spend with his growing family. He shared their games; played the piano and sang with them at home; spent time by the seaside rowing, sailing, and swimming with them, once rescuing three boys from drowning; and went walking in the country, ever pointing out the wonders of God’s creation. He remained very fit and active until heart trouble made itself felt in his mid-fifties. His love for young people extended well beyond his own family to many others in Sunday School and Bible Class. He knew how to be full of fun in a natural way, as well as how to turn the conversation to serious spiritual matters.
He soon became well known as a preacher of the Gospel and a teacher of the Scriptures in and around Exeter. At the end of 1909, he received an invitation to join in the work of Echoes of Service at their office at 1 Widcombe Crescent, Bath. After much prayer and seeing how the Lord overruled, he agreed to accept this work, first of all commuting between Exeter and Bath. In 1911, with his family, Vine moved to 9 Widcombe Crescent, which would be the centre of his labours for the rest of his life.
His work with Echoes of Service was marked by thoroughness and diligence. He grasped the central purpose of missionary work and practised and taught it. He called it the Spirit of God’s “one and only code”, and assiduously resisted any departure from the New Testament pattern of service, writing:
In the mind of God the grand, ultimate object of missionary activity is the planting of churches … The Head of the church who gave His instructions to His Apostles … on record for us in the Scriptures, gave therein a body of truth and principles adapted to every age, generation and condition. The pattern is complete, and exhibits the divine wisdom in every part ... It is incumbent upon all who profess the Christian faith to respect the plainly revealed intentions of the Head of the church, instead of burdening it with doctrines and regulations of human fabrication.
In his Qualifications for Service at Home and Abroad, he says that the key thing is to be “approved unto God” – having been tested and approved by God, rather than receiving permission from any committee. The local church is the divinely appointed training ground for service, and collaboration with a senior worker is most valuable, as is “tactful civility, politeness and Christian courtesy … and godliness and moral fibre.”
In 1946, he was corresponding with about 1,000 missionaries throughout the world every few weeks. Orderly planning and concentrated attention enabled him to accomplish so much, but inevitably work extended into his home life and his holidays. This was in addition to writing so many books and magazine articles, along with his preaching, teaching and pastoral work in the local assembly.
As a respected elder for nearly 40 years, he was a true shepherd in the assembly at Manvers Hall, Bath, which then consisted of over 250 believers. Nearly every Lord’s Day morning he was first there to greet all the believers with a smile and appropriate words of grace - he had a great memory for individuals and their cares and concerns. The reverence of his approach to God in worship and his edifying ministry left their mark upon many. He loved the children and always tried to include a special word to them in his preaching. His tenderness towards babies was well known - if one cried he would tell the mother not to take it out, saying that its little cry was music, and it didn’t trouble the Lord!
Even when unwell he was a diligent visitor to the sick and needy, bringing informed prayer requests to the prayer meeting. His attitude to public prayer is worth noting - he deplored protracted, expository, and repetitive prayers, also colloquial forms of praying, and especially prayers of innuendo. He said these all made prayer meetings “dull” (an understatement!). His own daily private prayers lasted from 6.00am to 7.00am. Their home was open to visitors - during war years many service personnel found love and care when they needed it, and many a problem was shared and prayed over.
He taught and encouraged others to develop spiritual gifts, and gave pertinent advice to would-be preachers, encouraging good habits first for the public reading of the Scriptures, as well as for the delivery of the message. He had 23 hints, ranging from “Do not imitate others” to “Don’t put your hands in your pockets”. He also enjoyed conducting Greek classes, which enabled many others to benefit from the Greek New Testament.
Mr Vine’s health began to deteriorate in 1927, when heart disease was diagnosed. He nevertheless worked on for another 22 years, although weak and falling unconscious at times. To his last day he was active in the service of others, spending it in prayer, dictating letters, attending to some business, then resting a while. He finished his day by reading from his Hebrew Bible in bed, from where the Lord called him Home.³
¹ Over 40 titles are listed by Wikipedia.
² A good example is Heb 9.24, 26, 28, where there are different and precise Greek words for the three ‘appearings’ of Christ.
³ Compiled from W E Vine, His Life and Ministry, Percy Ruoff, 1951.