Building a Library: Concordances

This article should help to guide the young believer in selecting a Bible concordance.

The writer heard someone remark many years ago, “When the Commies come, grab your Scofield Bible, your Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, and your Strong’s Concordance and head for the hills!” His anxiety about the possibility of a Communist takeover of our country was most likely misplaced but his choice of books for a minimum personal library was quite sound. Just as many believers will have a personal preference for a different edition of the King James translation, in the same way there are different concordances available to suit differing tastes.

All will know the principle use for a concordance is for looking up the chapter and verse when the location of a statement or phrase does not come to mind. Concordances are also very useful for finding parallel and related passages. Some concordances have lexicons (word definitions), which are also very valuable for word studies.

Many Bibles have a concordance at the back. These are useful only in a very limited way for looking up a principle word in a verse. Frequently, it is necessary to try more than one principle word, and even then the reference may still not be found.

There are three widely used concordances based on the King James translation. The smallest is the Cruden’s concordance. This is only a larger and more complete concordance than the typical one found in the back of a personal Bible. It has no lexicon and is not suitable for word study.

Dr. James Strong compiled an Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible that has been used for over one hundred years. It includes a useful lexicon, which can be accessed using the number for the original word in Hebrew or English. (He places that number at the end of the line for the verse reference.) Strong’s also lists every English word used to translate each original word.

The other major concordance is the Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible compiled by Dr. Robert Young. This work is at least as old as Strong’s. It does not claim to be exhaustive, but for all practical purposes it is, since no one will seek a reference using the common words in it. This writer prefers Dr. Young’s work because, for a given English word, the references for the word in the original are grouped together. Young’s does not have a lexicon per se. With each heading of a group of references for the original word, he provides the transliterated spelling of the original word and a terse definition. This work does have a very valuable Index-Lexicon at the back enabling the student to find the transliterated original word and the different English words used to translate it, plus the number of times it is translated by a given English word.

Another very valuable work is J. B. Smith’s Greek-English Concordance. One really should have one of the other two major concordances to use with it. The student will not find it useful to find a reference, but Smith has taken all of the original Greek words found in the New Testament and given, in a very graphic tabular form, every English word that translates it plus the references where that word is found. By taking Strong’s number for a Greek word, one can go directly to Smith’s tabulation for that word. Smith has an English word index at the back where he lists each of the Greek words used to translate that English word. The student using Young’s can take his transliterated spelling for the Greek word to find that word in Smith’s tabulations.

A more recent work that is based on an entirely different concept is also very valuable for word study though not for searching for references. This is The Word Study New Testament and its companion, The Word Study Concordance. Again, as with Smith’s, this is only for New Testament words. The text used in this New Testament is large print with ample space between each line to display Strong’s word number below the English word. Then the student can turn to that number in the concordance and find the reference and text for each time that Greek word is used in the New Testament. This may be the easiest way to get into serious word study if the student already knows the verse with the word into which he wishes to look. The student who has this set is urged to use the lexicons that are widely available to inquire further about the significance of original Greek words.

With the advent of computers, many believers are finding online Bible programs much easier to use and quicker when searching for a reference than are concordances. All Bible programs contain verse lookup and word study aids that are very useful to the student who wishes to get to know his Bible better. The concordances mentioned above will not enable a student to determine verb tenses and their significance, but computer programs can indicate these with only one or two mouse clicks. Moreover, most of the computer Bible programs include one or more major lexicons enabling the user to have virtually instant access to these as well.

In summary, this writer does not recommend Cruden’s unless the sole purpose is to find references. The choice of Strong’s or Young’s will be a personal one with approximately equal value in owning either one. Strong’s is handier to use while Young’s is more useful for studying specific original words. If serious word study is the objective, then the other works mentioned will prove invaluable additions to enhance one’s study.

One final thought: it is not enough to study and learn spiritual facts. The student must meditate upon truths mined from the word and then apply these truths in daily life. May our Lord be pleased to draw each believer into serious study with a view to knowing Him and His ways better and then grant the grace to live lives that bring honor and glory to Him.