Hermeneutic (Bible Study) Tools

The Word of God is a complete and full account of God's revelation to us. It contains all that we need to know and the information we need to understand what we need to know. Many have stated that the best concordance on the Bible is the Bible itself. I believe this to be true; however one does have to concede that this particular concordance is sorely lacking both a topical and word index. And with greater than thirty thousand verses that are not arranged in alphabetic or topical order that can make even tracking a verse or phrase down a problem.

It also needs to be noted that unless one has mastered the original languages some of the information the true Bible has, especially in the area of word study, has been obscured by the translation. Some Greek and Hebrew words are translated my multiple English words; and some of the English words render multiple Greek and Hebrew words. Fortunately a number of tools have been produced to enable the Bible reader to overcome these problems; and this essay is going to discuss a few of them.

The first problem to solve is that of finding a verse given you know a word that is in it; or perhaps finding all the verses that contain a given English word. Cruden's Complete Concordance allows you to do this; giving a list of every verse containing a particular word. Strong's Concordance also performs this function in the 'Main Concordance' section. The Strong's book has the additional feature that it also notes the 'Strong's Number' for each reference. The Strong's number is effectively a numeric ID that has been assigned to each word used in the underlying Greek and Hebrew. Regrettably Strong reused the numbers between his Greek and Hebrew lexicons so some form of typographic convention such as bolding the Hebrew or adding a leading zero to it is required to distinguish between the two sets.

The Strong's number becomes the key to a much deeper level of word study. For each different Strong's number an English word has, the underlying Greek or Hebrew word meaning can be looked up in his lexicons. These lexicons provide the word in the original language complete with original and anglicized pronunciation. He also shows the derivation relationships between the words in the original languages as well as the original meaning. Finally he provides a list of other English words that the given original word had been rendered. This essentially allows for the many-many relationship between English and original words to be 'unpicked'.

If you spend a lot of time performing the double level lookup then there are a couple of works that make it significantly easier. The works are Vine's Expository Dictionary and Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies which essentially do the same thing for New and Old Testament respectively. They act as a dictionary keyed by the English word. Then under each English word they list the different words of the original language that have been translated as that word. Then they list all the places in the Bible where the English word appears and note the word from the original language that was so translated. Having all this information in one place is time saving and also draws out the subtle distinctions between the words.

One of the problems with studying an individual word in this manner is that it will only find verses with the same exact word; there may be other words which are conceptually very closely related which are not found. Therefore a correct context for the word may be built but the full biblical context about the topic in question may be missed. Nave's Topical Bible solves this problem[1]. It is essentially a topical index to the Bible with the added benefit that the references are classified by the aspect of their significance within the topic.

The final book to note in this area is the "Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". Again this should really be viewed as an index rather than a source of independent information. Rather than being keyed by English word or Topic it is keyed by verse. For every verse it provides cross-references to other verses which are related. The cross references are categorized by the word in the original verse that they are related to.

There are additional books which are less foundational to biblical study but which nonetheless are good early acquisitions to a library. These include:

  1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; this is a Hebrew lexicon keyed by a set of numbers different to the Strong's numbers although a mapping is available. More detail but also more work.
  2. Greek-English Concordance by J.B. Smith; essentially a pruned down version of Strong's where the information about 'other English words from the same Greek word' is available earlier in the process.
  3. Archeology and the Old Testament by M F Unger; to provide historic and geographic information.

It should be noted that all of the above references refer to written books and the vast majority of them are keyed to the King James Version. The majority of them are available in electronic form either in products such as the Power Bible or online at places such as www.Biblegateway.com. The electronic versions are typically much faster and simpler to use than the older paper methods; and as long as the extra efficiency is used to spend more time studying this is a good thing! The electronic version also allows multi-word searching in both the original language and English. They also allow searching within different Bible versions. I do not know of a place where alternative versions have been keyed to Strong's or where the equivalent to Wilson's or Vine's has been produced.


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