The Strength of Strong's

Perhaps one of the most popular Bible tools that is readily available is Strong’s Concordance. As a concordance, Strong’s is one of the best (if not the best) available to the Bible student today. Many a gospel preacher wrote his first sermon using nothing but the Bible and a Strong’s concordance. 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. What can Strong’s Greek and Hebrew aids do to help the non-Greek/Hebrew reading student? What are the limitations of Strong’s Concordance? Let’s look at these questions this week in our basic Greek study.
As I mentioned, Strong’s language helps can aid the reader to understand which word is used in what passage. For example, if I were comparing two passages that had the English word “love” in them, I could note what the Greek word for love is in those passages. However, in order for that to be helpful to me, I need to know what those different Greek words indicate. Without knowing the definition of a word, I may be able to eliminate a scripture that doesn’t go along with my sermon topic, but that doesn’t help me put what I do have into the right context. “Mr. Strong” recognized this and so he put a “dictionary” into the back of the concordance. The dictionary is designed to aid by giving a rudimentary definition of a word so that one may know the difference between two different Greek words with the same English translation. So it is very helpful in this regard.
On the other hand, 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. Just as most English words have more than one definition, so also Greek and Hebrew words have more than one definition. Strong’s often gives the words as they have been translated in the KJV. Strong’s dictionary doesn’t really look at the fundamental definitions of a word and the nuances involved in the uses of those words and how they might be translated into English in the year 2004. This job should be left to more advanced lexical tools, such as Thayer’s or BADG.
Another limitation of Strong’s is that it doesn’t necessarily indicate how the word is used in the context. It merely gives the word as most often translated. For example, Strong’s translates the Greek word OINOS as “wine.” That is the correct translation; but in the times of the New Testament the word “wine” could indicate either an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic beverage. One cannot determine simply by looking at Strong’s dictionary what the Greek word OINOS means in its context. One must examine the context and understand how a word is being used.
Finally, while Strong’s can tell us when two different words are being used, it cannot tell us how synonymous those two words are in meaning. There are many synonyms in the New Testament. Sometimes those words are used to reiterate the same concepts and sometimes not. Strong’s cannot help a person understand when that is happening and when it is not, though, Strong’s may be able to provide some hints through its etymological references. But one must remember that similar etymology doesn’t necessarily mean that two words are synonymous, either.
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.

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Kevin Cauley

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