How To Properly Use Strong’s Concordance

This is the third 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?

We’ve spent the past two weeks looking at how not to use Strong’s concordance. In Part 1 we recognized that Strong’s is not a dictionary and in Part 2 we examined how it can be misused to create root fallacies and false divisions. At this point you might feel that it’s a hopeless case and are heading out to the garbage can (or recycling bin, if you’re of a greener persuasion) to get rid of it.

I’d advise against this.

Strong’s concordance is still a valuable resource. If you use it as it was intended.

Use a Concordance as a Concordance

We’ve already stated that Strong’s is not a dictionary – it was never intended to define a word precisely. Treating it as such can lead to unhelpful or misleading results.

Chances are good, though, that you have already used a concordance in the way it was intended: You’ve probably used the index in the back of your Bible to find key verses which have the word you’re looking for.

A concordance is an index.

There are two primary differences between the concordance in your Bible and Strong’s:

1. Strong’s concordance lists every occurrence of a word, while your Bible’s concordance lists only the most prominent occurrences.
2. Your Bible lists occurrences of English words. Strong’s lists occurrences of a Greek or Hebrew lemmas (root words) regardless of how they are translated into English.

Using Strong’s concordance you can find every instance of a lemma in the biblical text and comprehensively understand how the authors used it.

How To Use Strong’s: Step By Step

1. Look up the Strong’s number – Use Strong’s index to find the lemma associated with the word you are investigating. That lemma will be assigned a number which identifies it throughout the concordance.

2. Read the gloss (definition) – I know, I know: Strong’s is not a dictionary. That being said, a quick glance at the lemma’s range of meanings can help you in step 4.

3. Make a verse list of all the lemma’s occurrences – Use the concordance -it’s really just a list/index of all occurrences of the lemma – to identify everywhere Scripture uses it. This might be a really long list but you want to make sure you have comprehensive insight into the biblical use of the lemma.

4. Identify the verses which use the lemma similarly – A single lemma can be used in multiple ways depending on context. Figure out which verses use the word in a similar way grammatically, contextually and thematically. (The glosses you read in step 2 can help you group the verses which use the word into categories.)

Bible software can help you find (step 3) and sort (step 4) this data quickly.

5. Use similar verses to explore the original – The verses which most closely reflect the lemma’s use in your primary study verse will help you understand how it should be understood in context.

1 Rule and 4 Guidelines – Weighing the Factors

This is a guide for step 4 above. These factors will help you group and assign relative value to similar verses when utilizing Strong’s concordance.

The Rule

1. Same Grammar – Make sure the lemma is used the same way in each verse. The more precise the similarity the better: Don’t look solely at part of speech. Consider what other parts of speech it is combined with and especially how it interacts with them.

This is the heavyweight, the most important factor. If you get this one right, your word study will be profitable. If you get it wrong, it will be easy to head off in the wrong direction.

The Guidelines

The guidelines are listed in a general order of precedence:

1. Same Author – One biblical author might use a lemma with a different nuance than another. In general, give preference to verses written by the same author (so long as the author used the lemma in the same way in both instances – in accordance with the rule above).

2. Same Audience – Who was this written to? Was it written to Hebrews or Gentiles? Nomads or city-dwellers? Educated people or a general audience? These audiences represent some of the diversity among the various recipients of different books of the Bible. All of them spoke in a particular manner and the authors recognized this.
This is especially important for idiomatic language/figures of speech.

3. Same Genre – The Bible is not a simple book. There is narrative, poetry, letters and apocalyptic writing. Just as in today’s literature where how-to manuals read nothing like romance novels, language is used differently in the varying genres of biblical literature.

4. Same Timeframe – Language changes over time. Don’t believe me? Read some Shakespeare and report back. The Bible was written over a long period of time so a lemma’s meaning may have evolved. This is relevant mostly in the Hebrew OT, which was written over a longer period than the NT, and when cross referencing NT lemmas with the Greek translation of the OT.
Timeframe will likely be the least influential criterion in your decision process.

Let’s Put This Into Practice

Make sure you understand why you shouldn’t use Strong’s as a dictionary or to create textual problems inadvertently.

Next time, in the final installment of this series, we’ll watch a prominent Christian blogger put these “best practices” of Strong’s to good use.

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This is the third 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

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