Getting Behind the English Text – II

Published: October 31st, 2008

As I mentioned in my previous post, some scholars have objected to this method of study based on Strong’s numbers (or other numbering systems), pointing out the various pitfalls associated with these kinds of word studies. The dangers are there, to be sure, but if one learns to use the tools, and process the information they give, it can do more good than harm in the long run. Thanks to tools like these, among others, non-specialists do not have to settle for a “shallow” Bible study.

But first things first. If you are unsure about what I mean by “word study,” you could download How To Do A Word Study (PDF file) and see what it took and how it was done before the advent of computer-assisted Bible study.

Now, for a good overview and bibliography on how to perform word studies, you could profit from reading the following:*

Darrel L. Bock, “New Testament Word Analysis”, in Scot McKnight (ed.), Introducing New Testament Interpretation. Baker Book House: 1989, pp. 97-113.

Gary M. Burge, Interpreting the Gospel of John. Baker Book House: 1992, chapters 8-9 (pp. 125-156).

David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. InterVarsity Press/Apollos: 2004, pp. 703-713.

There are also some excellent online resources, like Studying Words, by Mary Hinkle, or simpler and shorter How-to Guides, like Word Study, by Steven C. Ibbotson.

To conclude this post, I would like to quote from two online articles that point out some of the limitations inherent to the use of Strong’s.

Kevin Cauley, in The Strength of Strong’s, writes the following:

As many are familiar, Strong’s also numbers each word indexed so that the reader may look up the original Greek or Hebrew word that is used in the passage under consideration. This can be useful in comparing two different Bible passages to aid the reader in understanding whether the same word was used in both passages. However, a student should be careful not to extend Strong’s beyond its intended purpose; it is a concordance, not a comprehensive lexicon of ancient words.

[…] the Greek and Hebrew dictionaries in Strong’s Concordance ought not to be looked at as ‘the’ definition of a word for all occurrences of that word in scripture.

Overall, Strong’s Concordance is an excellent tool for the Bible student. I highly recommend that every person have a copy in their personal library. However, when it comes to Greek and Hebrew aids, one ought to purposefully limit Strong’s to what it does best in that department. Strong’s aids the reader in understanding where similar original language words are used and where different original language words are used in reference to a single English word. One should limit one’s use of Strong’s dictionary to that purpose. Greater depth of understanding of original language words ought to be sought from a Greek or Hebrew Lexicon.

John K. McKee, in Getting Beyond Strong’s Concordance, also makes the point that Strong’s should be used carefully and thoughtfully.

How many Bible teachers that you know tell you that all you need is a good King James Bible, a Strong’s Concordance, and a Webster’s Dictionary, and that is all you need to interpret Scripture? If this is what you have been told, then you are sadly mistaken.

[...] So when it comes to Strong’s Concordance, and our usage of it, using Strong’s is only a beginning, not the end. It must be where the Bible student begins first looking at Hebrew and Greek words, but by no means should be where the student stops. The problem is that we have Bible teachers […] who stop at Strong’s Concordance. They do not realize that there is a whole world of valuable tools out there that make Strong’s actually look pretty weak. Perhaps what keeps people using Strong’s Concordance is their familiarity with it, but that familiarity has to be tempered with the reality that Strong’s Concordance is an incomplete resource.

So, we must be cautious and exercise some common sense. If we do, we’ll soon realize that the currently available numbering systems can help us discover a little bit of the meaning and nuances that lie behind our modern language translations of the Bible, although it would not be realistic to expect that these tools can automatically turn us into Hebrew or Greek “experts.”

With all the caveats out of the way, in the next post of this series we shall look at some of the implementations of this numbering systems in various Bible software programs.


* All of these are currently available in Libronix format from Logos Bible Software.

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