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Concordances December 31, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello. This will be my last post…of the year! 2010, here we come! I can not think of any better topic to end the year with than concordances. It is amazing how such a simple concept can be of such great value. Before I even went to Bible college I was interested in the Bible. Even in those early days I would frequently use the concordance at the end of my Bible to find verses or passages. I remember the excitement I felt when I was first introduced to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for studying the Bible. With that book alone, I was doing word studies, before I even knew what a word study was. Even though I have tons more resources today for studying the Bible, I still use Strong’s all the time. And I am not alone in this. One of the first classes I took at Life was Biblical Languages and Exegesis with Professor Larry Powers. His class helped me understand the fundamentals of Biblical studies, and most of what I gained from that class I have incorporated in this blog. He said that Strong’s was his favorite book for studying the word. So, what is a concordance, you may ask?

Basic Functions

A concordance is a listing of the words within a book. A concordance of the Bible will have the words listed alphabetically and (depending on how thorough) will have a list of verses that the word occurs in. Most Bibles (or at least study Bibles) have an abridged concordance at the back to help locate major passages or verses. Even these abridged versions are helpful in finding a verse that you know is in there, but have forgotten where. Also, these mini concordances can give you a basic idea what a word means simply by scanning through the other occurances of the word. Or you may find some inspirational verses inadvertantly as you are looking for something else.

Obviously the best thing to get is an exhaustive concordance. With an exhaustive concordance, every word is listed and you can more easily find what you are looking for. The only downfall is that, because of its thoroughness, it may be possible to overlook the passage you are trying to find. This leads me to the three main things you can use a concordance for:

1. Finding passages – If you can remember part of a verse, but not all of it, you can simply look up one of the words that you remember and hopefully find the verse.

2. Word studies – I plan on doing an entire post on word studies, but for now just realize that the concordance is the base of word studies. Words are defined by the different contexts they are in and so if you have a tool that lists all the contexts, then you can come to a pretty good understanding of a word. The big problem though, is that the Bible was not written in English and so a word study based only on the English will be not only incomplete, but potentially erroneous. This is because sometimes there are different Greek or Hebrew words which are translated by only one English word and also there are single Greek or Hebrew words that are translated with many different English words to fit their contexts.

3. Topical studies – Concordances are perfect for topical studies. Unlike word studies which necesitate an understanding of the language differences, you can study out a topic simply from the English. This is because topical studies are more holistic and are used to get at the big picture of a concept. There may be different Greek words for healing, but they all come together to make up the general topic of healing.

Basic Layout

I like Strong’s and so I am going to use it for my example. But, there are many concordances out there. There are concordances specifically designed for different translations of the Bible (like the NIV Concordance). And there are more specific types of concordances, like Young’s Analytical Concordance (which organizes words according to their respective Greek or Hebrew words). And of course, with the advent of computers there are software programs and online applications that allow you to simply type in a word into a search box and instantly see all the verses which that word occurs in. Some of these computer programs even have concordances based on the Greek or Hebrew, where you can type in a Greek word and find all the places it is found (even including the Septuagint). If you like speed and efficiency, online concordances are the way to go. Maybe I am stuck in the past, but I find something satisfying about actually opening up a book and finding something.

That being said, Strong’s is the standard concordance. It is based off of the King James Version of the Bible and has a dictionary in the back. Every Greek and Hebrew word is assigned a number. (These are the Strong’s numbers) In the back of the book, all the Greek and Hebrew words are listed both alphabetically and numerically. When you open up the main concordance you will see every English word listed alphabetically. There will sometimes be words next to the title in parenthesis. These words are names of other entries that are similar words. Under each entry is all the verses the word occurs in, each with a small part of the verse for context. If a word is used two or more times in a verse there will be more than one listing. Usually the word will be abbreviated in the verse to set it apart, sometimes it may even be just the first letter. (For some extremely common words, like “the”, the verses will simply be listed in an appendix and there will be no context given.) Next to the specific verses are the numbers (sometimes there may not be a number because there are a lot of words with the same number, so they will just write the number once for all the verses under it). These numbers are the codes to the Greek and Hebrew words in the back. Make sure if it is a Greek word you look in the Greek section, not the Hebrew section and vice versa. If it is a New Testament word it will be Greek, and the Old Testament words are in the Hebrew section. Because the numbers represent different Greek/Hebrew words, you can see how a word in English can represent different Greek and Hebrew words. You can easily compare which verses have the same number after them, and so compare and contrast different Greek or Hebrew words.

Strong’s is primarily a concordance and so the dictionary in the back should not be given much weight. This dictionary basically just tells how a word is translated into English, with a basic definition and a list of any roots the word may have. Understanding a Greek or Hebrew word is difficult and cannot be understood simply from the dictionary in the back of Strong’s. It can be tempting to use the roots of the word to gain a “deeper meaning” of the word, but this is extremely dangerous and one of the more common fallacies people make when doing word studies.

Reflection

This will be an easy one, but hopefully valuable. Pick a word (like one of the fruits of the Spirit, or one a virtue such as holiness or righteousness) and look it up in the concordance in your Bible. If you picked an uncommon word that has only a few entries, look up each verse and try and get an understanding of the context they are in. If it is a common word just look up the verses that are in one book or maybe in a larger section like the Gospels. As you read each verse try and see what that verse adds to the meaning of the word, or how it reinforces another verse. Take special note of the first time the word is used in the Bible and also where the word is used the most. Is it primarily used in one book? Or is it only in the Gospels, or Paul’s writings, or only in the Prophets, or mostly in the Pentateuch. Write down everything you discover and then come up with a one sentence summary of the word you picked.

Happy New Year!

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