How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance

How Not to Use Strong's Concordance

This is the first entry in a series of posts on the use of Strong’s Concordance:

How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance
How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance Part 2
How To Properly Use Strong’s Concordance
A Good Example of Using Strong’s Concordance
Is Strong’s Concordance Reliable?


What is Strong’s Concordance? It’s a list of every Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) root word in the King James Bible. It numbers each of these roots and lists every occurrence throughout the Bible. Using this tool one can look up the underlying root word which the translators rendered into English. Accompanying this is a list of every occurrence of this word in the Bible and a short English definition called a “gloss.”

“This people honors me with their lips, but their concordances are far from me.”
Matt 15:8 (DSP – Dave’s Sarcastic Paraphrase)

What’s the Big Deal?

This sounds like a great resource that we should use more! While it’s true that Strong’s concordance (and similar resources) is a powerful Bible study tool, it is abused almost as much as the Bible itself.

How can we identify ways in which Strong’s is misused?

Strong’s is NOT a Dictionary

Strong’s is primarily a concordance, not a dictionary. A dictionary defines words. A concordance acts like an index.

While Strong’s does provide a short gloss (English definition) of each Hebrew and Greek word it lists, its function is primarily to show all occurrences of that word in the Bible, not exhaustively define it. There are several problems with using Strong’s as a dictionary:

A. Getting it right doesn’t mean you’ve gotten it right.

Even if you can extract the precise meaning of a word from Strong’s (see point B below), you still don’t know for sure what the author intended to convey by using it. Consider the English noun “bear.” The large, fuzzy, four-legged critter that can ruin your day. Consider these two statements:

“That was a bear!” (At the zoo)
“That was a bear!” (After a hard test at school)

Both statements refer to the creature but mean entirely different things. You can’t depend primarily on a dictionary definition to understand the author’s intent. This is, perhaps, an overly obvious example but the precept remains: The manner in which an author uses a word, not its Strong’s definition, determines its meaning.

Grammatical and syntactical data are important only in that they enable us to grasp the meaning of the statements in their context. Claims of emphasis rarely come from individual words or constructions.
– Dr. Rod Decker “Another Exegetical ‘Grump’ On Grammatical Maximalism

B. You don’t know how to choose the correct gloss (definition).

We just saw that words change meaning based on context. But context can change our entire understanding of a word! For instance, let’s look at the word Greek word “para.” It’s a preposition (words like “over,” “beside,” and “after”). Para expresses nearness, but in several ways. Here’s the Strong’s gloss:

para: from, of, at, by, besides, near

So let’s try an example. “The message is para Jesus.”

It’s a big difference to say that something is from Jesus rather than being near Jesus. If you’re looking up a word in Strong’s how do you choose? At random? Whichever sounds best to you? Whichever fits your theology best?

No.

Para means “from” when the object of the preposition (“Jesus” in our example) is in the genitive case. It means “beside” when the object is in the dative case. And it means “alongside” when the object is in the accusative case. What are these cases? They are suffixes that change the meaning of the noun (again, “Jesus” in this example). Think of them like adding “s” at the end of the word “ball” to indicate that there are multiple balls. But in Greek the word ending tells you how that word functions (for instance, if it’s the subject of the sentence or not) and, in the case of prepositions, what related words mean.

That was a lot of info. What does it mean? The meaning of a Greek word is often determined by the form of other words in the sentence. And that’s not information that Strong’s gives you. And even if it did, it wouldn’t tell you what case the next word was in anyway so you’d have no way of telling which meaning of “para” was called for in the sentence.

“Strong’s function is to show all occurrences
of a word, not exhaustively define it.”

C. Exact correspondence between languages rarely exists.

The varying glosses (definitions) of a single root typically have a very similar meaning and reflect only varying nuances of meaning. There are, however, many words which have multiple distinct meanings depending on the manner of the word’s usage. This can lead to a “mix-and-match” interpretation where the reader picks a gloss to use based on a) a best guess, b) what they want the passage to say, or even c) at random.

I have seen people pick a definition from Strong’s based on preference with disastrous results. For example, I conversed with one person who supported the Serpent Seed heresy by choosing a particular nuance of the Hebrew “naga” because it best fit his interpretation of Gen 3:3 even though the context gave absolutely no indication that the word had his desired connotation in that passage.

An advanced lexicon (which is a dictionary, as opposed to a concordance like Strong’s) like BDAG or HALOT will provide extra information to explain what usages/contexts will result in each definition. Strong’s, since it is not in the business of defining words, does not provide this information and cannot directly help you make that choice.

In the third part of this series we will look at how Strong’s can help you indirectly understand a word’s meaning.

D. Biblical authors use the same word differently.

Just as today, the biblical authors differed in the ways they used vocabulary. Writing at different times, in different places, from different educational backgrounds and to different audiences, words from the same language held different meanings. Just look at the way Paul and James use the word “faith” – the two authors use the same word to mean different things in different contexts. Does this mean that the Bible is inconsistent? No. It simply means that it was composed by different authors.

“The manner in which an author uses a word,
not its Strong’s definition, determines its meaning.”

But Wait, There’s More!

Strong’s Concordance is still a valuable tool and soon we will look at how best to use it. But before we do that we need to put up a few more barriers to misusing it. I hope this entry has helped you understand that Strong’s Concordance should not be used as a simple dictionary.

In Part 2 we will look at two more ways this resource is misused and in Part 3 we will explore how to utilize it as a powerful Bible study tool.

Finally, we’ll look at a good example of a prominent blogger using Strong’s well, making a significant contribution to his Bible study.



This is the first entry in a series of posts on the use of Strong’s Concordance:

How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance
How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance Part 2
How To Properly Use Strong’s Concordance
A Good Example of Using Strong’s Concordance


Further Reading:
The Only 3 Tools You Need to Study the Bible… Free!
How NOT To Study the Bible
Stuff Fundies Like: Making 1611 English Mean Whatever You Want

Citations:
“That was a bear” analogy adapted from Logos Research Systems “Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software”


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34 thoughts on “How NOT To Use Strong’s Concordance

    1. Very helpful! Thank you for the heads up. I will go with a few more resources along with Strongs Concordance for my bible study.

  1. I agree with Phil… Nicely done and easy to understand. Thanks, I look forward to reading the rest of this document.

  2. I have a question
    Genesis 1:1
    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    HOW DO WE KNOW “HEAVEN” USED HERE IS “SINGULAR” AND NOT PLURAL ?

    WHAT ABOUT
    Genesis 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens

    HOW DO WE KNOW HEAVENS USED HERE IS PLURAL?

    CAN YOU HELP ME TO FIND A HEBREW DICTIONARY USED IN 1611 AT THE TIME WHEN THE KJV WAS TRANSLATED PLEASE?
    THE REASON IS CHARLES DARWIN PUBLISHED HIS THEORY IN 1859, AND STRONG’S IN 1890.

    SO I DON’T TRUST ANY CONCORDANCES AFTER 1859 OR HEBREW DICTIONARIES.

    CAN YOU PLEAAASE HELP ME TO FIND THE EARLIEST HEBREW DICTIONARY POSSIBLE BEFORE 1859?

    THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS!

    1. 1. Turn off caps lock.
      2. Darwin wasn’t the originator of evolutionary theory.
      3. Even if he was, would his work automatically make every other work published after that tarnished? This is a non-sequitir.
      4. A concordance or dictionary won’t tell you whether a word is plural or not. You need a morphologically tagged edition.
      5. How would evolutionary theory affect whether or not a noun is plural or not? That’s not a matter of interpretation.

    2. I use to use eSword before I switehcd to the Mac (Halelujah!), but I really haven’t found anything yet that has been as useful to me. I tried several times to get the author of eSword to open source the project, or at least let me help build a mac version, but no dice of yet.Thanks for the pointers to the options, I’ll check them out.

  3. Can we trust it to find the true Name above all Names? Yahweh
    To also find the true name of the His son? The only name by which to can obtain salvation. Yahushua
    Yirmĕyah 23:25-29
    25 “I have heard what the prophets who prophesy lies have said in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed! I have dreamed!’ 26 How long will this be in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy lies, even the prophets of the deceitfulness of their hearts, 27 who plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell each one to his neighbor, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal? 28 The prophet who has with him a dream, let him tell the dream. But the prophet who has my word with him, let him speak my word faithfully. What is straw compared to wheat?” declares Yahweh. 29 “Is not my word like fire?” declares Yahweh, “and like a blacksmith’s hammer that breaks a rock into pieces?

    I think His name is important.

    1. Steve,
      Thanks for the great question! Here is my answer in two parts:

      1. Use of the Hebrew name of God and Christ – I don’t regularly use the Hebrew name for God because I don’t speak Hebrew. I speak English so I use the English translation. Do you think that is inapropriate?

      2. “Can we trust it to find… Yahweh”?
      I’m not quite sure what you mean but “trust it to find.” Do you mean, “Is it a tool one can use to find every occurence of the word?”
      Yes. Strong’s assigns its Hebrew number 3068 to “YHVH.” You can use it to find each occurence of the proper name of God in the OT.

      1. Malachi 3:6 is clear: “For I am Yahweh, I shall not change…”
        Knowing that Yahweh changes not, why would we take it upon the translators’ decision to change His name?

      2. A few questions for you:
        1. What do you mean by “change”? Do you mean that we should only ever use the tetragrammaton?
        2. If so, why then does the Bible use a large number of names for God?
        3. Again, assuming that you only want to use YHWH, do you only use HCSB?

        If the answer to question 1 is different than I’m understanding you, then questions 2 and 3 won’t apply.

  4. I really liked the author’s post. For almost 3 years I’ve been “hanging out” with a pastor and his wife. When he did teachings at church, they were readings of the word, not teachings. Now that he’s moved to the web, he does exactly what you have said, bending words and picking definitions (not even in Strong’s, or not comprised of the numbers comprising the number or related to the number, whew, as given in Strong’s. For instance, insisting, that Acts 1:4-8, is water related, when Act’s does not talk about water until Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
    He was on a bend against dogs for a weeks, insisting that if you so much as touched one, it made you unclean. When I looked it up there were people who did bad things in pagan temples and were called “dog”–well…because that’s what they looked like, then there is the crumbs under the master’s table, kynarian type, puppies or domesticated dog. Do Hebrew speaking people hate dog, or not own dog? I don’t know but I’m keeping mine! He sits and put his paw up in the air to praise the Lord without reward, if he wanders by during prayer sessions.
    I liked your stuff,it is honest research. It follows 2 Pete 1:20 Knowing this first, no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. And 2 Tim 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Those who mess with the Word, why can’t they see, it’s what Eve did in the garden? It removes their share of the tree of life in Rev 22:19!

    1. Suzay,
      Thanks for sharing your story – that couldn’t have been easy.

      Regarding water baptism: I think the early references to baptism in Acts do refer to water. Looking at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, in response to the question “Brothers, what shall we do?” he responded “Repent and be baptized.” (Act 2:37-38) Baptism in the Holy Spirit isn’t a decision to make – it’s something that happens to you – where as water baptism is a choice one makes.

      With respect to dogs, for the majority of human history they have been regarded as unclean. The modern western view of dogs as family members is most uncommon. Nelson’s Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible states, “‘Dog’ was a term of derision. In this symbolic sense it appears several times in Hebrew and Greek texts. ‘Dog’ (Greek, kuon) stood for a false teacher (Phil. 3:2) or a sinner (Rev. 22:15). Keleb, the most common Hebrew term for dog, symbolized a persecutor of God’s people (Ps. 22:16). Jesus spoke of casting food for the ‘children’—i.e., the Jews—to the non-Jews who were ‘dogs’ (Greek, kunarion; Matt. 15:26).”

      This does not mean, however, that Christians cannot have dogs. Reading Acts 10:9-33 we see how Jesus’ fulfillment of the ceremonial cleanliness laws makes them obsolete.

      What are your thoughts on these matters?

      In Christ,
      Dave

  5. Hi:
    enjoyed the piece on how not to use Strong’s concordance.I don’t know where,did you put the second part of the exhortation?I do thank God for His greatness.Knowing the meaning of the original language is very important, also keeping things in their proper context as well.is a safe guard to proper interpretation.Although, I realize this is not part of the actual topic and I’m sure that it was assumed.I do believe it is vitally important more above all things more than any.

    To mention that the Holy Spirit Wrote this word.He is the one that then,will give the interpretation of the the word.
    Jn 16:13-15 11Pet 1:19-21
    We can know this word backwards and forwards in concise language,just ask the Pharisees.Yet if the Holy Spirit does not breathe upon it and, give it life.It is of no true eternal value.It can just become knowledge.We must remember to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood otherwise we have no life in you Jn 6:53-58 or in other words feed upon the living word.Not just the printed page.
    As we read,with whatever helps that are provided to us;we should Always be asking,begging,imploring,,beseeching The Lord that, He interpret His word to us.After all, He is the word.The way the truth the life. No man cometh unto the the Father but,by Him. Jn 5:39,40

    All that really is required to know the truth is a heart after and for the one who is and who wrote and who it is all about.The Lord Jesus Christ.The Heart that is after Him.He will not fail to reveal the truth.

    The word :is a person, written by the person,about the person TA Sparks said”.

    I do look forward to reading the second half of this discussion or if you can direct me to where it is.As I cannot seem to find it.I would appreciate it.
    Thankyou
    Sincerely
    Paul
    Tentmaker110@gmail.com

  6. Sorry to the author of the page.After adding my comments.I found the second part. didn’t realize the the headings were links.Sorry about that.
    Paul

    1. Paul,
      No worries. I’m glad you found the rest of the series. I absolutely agree that the Holy Spirit authored and gives meaning to the scriptures. As such, we can use tools like Strong’s as helpers along the way or impediments. I want to make sure the tools don’t get into the way.
      In Christ,
      Dave

  7. Man’s tools for Scriptural understanding are only for help…not dependence. The importance of the Hebrew language must not be minimized. But, we must remember. 1John 2:26: “As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as He has taught you, remain in Him.”

  8. I think your article stinks, here’s why. In church I was taught it was important to try and understand the mindset of the writers. If you take a word and look it up in English instead of using the Hebrew and Greek lexicons, you will most often get a badly translated idea of what that word in the writers mind actually means. To understand the thoughts of the writer, you have to understand the definition of the words he used from his own language. So you find a literal translation of the definition from his language and research it’s uses in the context of which it was written. The Bible may be the inspired word of God but Man has badly translated it – this – this is a fact that has been proven time and time again. Sure you have to be careful with definitions and usages but it’s far better to have a more proper idea of the thoughts of the writer via his own language than not to have done this study at all. You are giving very poor Bible study advice. Remember, none of those writers thought in English – they thought in Greek and Hebrew and the meanings of their words are from those languages and dialects. You may get several different meanings but when you do you can often find the writers correct mind set from the context of other words around it.

    1. You have missed the point of this post entirely:
      1. Strong’s Concordance is a concordance not a dictionary. It was never intended to be used as a lexicon.
      2. Words have meaning based on how they are used in context. Simply looking up a word in a lexicon (and remember, Strong’s isn’t a lexicon) can’t tell you what it means in any given context. This would be like walking into China with an English-to-Chinese dictionary and trying to communicate. Without knowing how the language works your dictionary has very little value.

      If you read through the remaining articles in this series you’ll see how to use Strong’s to identify how a word is used.

  9. I read with interest your comments about the fact that Strong’s should not be used to define words, but I would think the English words in the description of the particular Hebrew/Greek word is intended to provide some insight to what the writer intended to say. I came across a place that was fairly confusing to me a long time ago and have never come across anyone who had an opinion that seemed to answer my question. I’ll read the rest of your articles, but in the meantime, maybe you can take a look at my question:

    In Genesis 1:2 we read “And the earth {WAS} without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

    In Genesis 2:18 we read “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should {BE} alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

    The Hebrew word for “was” and “be” is the same. The word in question is “01961. hayah, haw-yaw”, which Strong’s says is…

    a primitive root (compare 1933); to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass (always emphatic, and not a mere copula or auxiliary):–beacon, X altogether, be(-come), accomplished, committed, like), break, cause, come (to pass), do, faint, fall, + follow, happen, X have, last, pertain, quit (one-)self, require, X use.

    If one believes that in Genesis 1:2 “was” is “to exist” they can take the position that the earth wasn’t created habitable, but was created “void” and later made habitable by God during creation week (of course, for some there is the argument that it wasn’t literal days). If one believes that in Genesis 1:2 “was” is “became” then they can make an argument that it was created perfect and habitable, only to be corrupted and in need of restoration.

    So, we either determine that hayah means the same thing in Genesis 2:18 as it does in Genesis 1:2, which might force us into an opinion about Adam & Eve that we might not like; or, we decide it means something completely different in Genesis 2:18, which brings me to my question: How does one decide which way to interpret the passage?

    Thanks

    1. This demonstrates the article’s point B, that the word you look up does not appear in the passage, really well:

      You are incorrect in saying, “The Hebrew word for ‘was’ and ‘be’ is the same.” They are not the same word.

      The concordance told you that the Hebrew word in those two verses is the word “to be.” But which form of it? In English we have is, am, are, were, will be, to be, etc. The concordance only tells you the root of the words in each occurrence, not what form is there.

      In Gen 1:2 the word is in the perfect tense, meaning that it is a past tense occurrence already completed. In Gen 2:18 the verb is in the infinitive, a bit more complicated, so think of it as continuing action.

  10. One more thing, the additional words in the description of “hayah” can be treated the same way as the one’s I used in my illustration. Just wanted you (or anyone else) to know that I did look at the whole list, but didn’t see the need in using each one in the illustration.

  11. Dave,
    In your reply you said, “The concordance told you that the Hebrew word in those two verses is the word “to be.””.

    First, which two verses are you referring to? I looked and didn’t see it in Genesis 1:2, and while it is in Genesis 2:18, that was not the area that I had a question about. According to my copy of Strong’s, “hayah” follows the words “that the man should be”…

    Anything to add or did I just misunderstand your response?

    1. Doug,
      That verb is the equivalent of the English verb “to be.” It doesn’t follow the words “that the man should be” – it is the “be” in that phrase.

  12. I find the article very interesting. I grew up in a church that had a Bible College and they taught us how to use the Strong’s Concordance.

    I am listening to what Dave says when he says; “Strong’s is not meant to be used as a dictionary.”

    Grrr.. my brain wants to rebel against this. Like…”What do you MEAN it’s not to be used as a dictionary?”
    But… I am listening. I am being open minded. I am trying to let this soak in. I get it. I see what you are saying Dave. It’s just when you have thought something your entire life… it’s hard to find out it’s not true.
    What I want to say then is…. “Then why are there definitions at all? Why isn’t it just a concordance? Why doesn’t it just list all the places where the the words can be found. I just don’t see the point now. Now it’s so confusing!” It’s almost like you have to be a major scholar to figure any of it out.

    I just want to remind myself that Jesus reminded in the word that we have to become as ‘little children.’ That the Holy Spirit revealed things to the babes and the untaught. It’s the weak things of the world that profound the wise. So… I am not going to give up in frustration and worry about if I am properly understanding everything or not. I don’t trust that I could use the Strong’s properly now.

    In Him,

    Laura Streno

    1. Laura,
      Thanks for your comment – it’s a common frustration once people realize what Strong’s actually is. The glosses are provided as a quick tool, not a comprehensive lexicon. You’ll notice that prepositions and conjunctions have the most variety – because their meaning is dependent on their use in the sentence. Nouns are much more stable. In the end, Strong’s doesn’t give you much help unless you know Greek.

      A much better option is to compare two or three English translations.
      God bless.
      Dave

  13. Very good article man….I needed to see this. For the relatively short time I have been exposed to strong’s, I have been using it as a lexicon / dictionary. I really feel Laura’s comment because that’s the tendency with it….to use it as such, but right on about the open minded ness & being child like / a babe. I tend to use strong’s when I think what I’m reading in English is shady translation…..but it seems- as you pointed out….that it’ll not be much help to one who doesn’t know Hebrew/Greek.
    But in your answer to Laura, how would comparing 2/3 English translations instead help?…..seeing that they’re still just that….. translations. It’s like she said, “It’s like you have to be a major scholar to figure it out ”
    To be clear….is knowing the original languages the only way to understand the bible fully?

    1. Kendall,

      Reading English translations is much more helpful than using Strong’s because the people doing the translation actually know the languages and are generally very good at bringing the meaning of the original to us. I recommend sometimes consulting more than one English version because, as there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between English and Greek/Hebrew, there is occasionally a nuance in the original that isn’t easy to render in English and you’ll see two translations bring out that nuance in different ways.

      Regarding your question about knowing the Bible fully depending on the original languages… a few thoughts: Reading the original languages is sometimes compared to watching TV in high definition. That’s a decent metaphor, since it helps you see some things (the plural “you” for instance) that aren’t easy to see in English. But it also means you can see the vast majority of the text in “standard definition.” It’s only some fine details that the original languages bring out.

      More important than the languages – even English – is the Holy Spirit giving us eyes to see.

      Dave

  14. Why does the KJV use the word “worlds” in Heb 1:2 when, as Strong’s says, is AGES? If a person does not know God made the AGES in which to frame His purpose, they are missing a great and glorious truth.
    I like your website and will pass it along as many folks simply don’t know how to use, but do know how to misuse, a concordance.

    1. Robert,
      I hate to say it but you’ve completely missed the point of this post. You’re using Strong’s as a dictionary and that’s not what it is – it’s a concordance.
      Here’s a link to the definition of the word in BDAG – the standard reference lexicon on Koine-to-English translation. The word has 4 uses. Check out #3 – it’s “world.”
      I hope this helps clear up the difference on the differing uses of concordances (indexes) and lexicons (dictionaries).
      God bless!
      Dave

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