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Something New Under the Sun:
Computer Concordances and Biblical Study

Dr. Ralph Klein

[From an article written for The Christian Century, November 12, 1997. Adapted with permission.]

For Hebrew Bible scholars there were the works of Solomon Mandelkern and Gerhard Lisowsky. Abraham Even-Shoshan assembled a more up-to-date, Mandelkern-like Hebrew concordance. For New Testament or Greek scholars there were the large Moulton and Geden, and Schmoller concordances. Those restricted to the English text for their word studies often turned to the analytical and/or exhaustive concordances based on the King James Version by Robert Young, Alexander Cruden, and James Strong. The Hebrew word "dabar" has more than eighty English equivalents in the KJV (e.g. word, act, case, dearth, power, song, tidings, wherewith), and the denotations and connotations of the Hebrew word can be studied by a painstaking use of Strong’s numbers. In recent years, computers have been used to generate hard copy, analytical concordances of the RSV, NIV, and NRSV. Computers took some of the editors’ drudgery away and produced books that were more attractive and, probably, more accurate, but still not decisively different than their great 18th and 19th century predecessors.

But now programmers have designed new biblical search engines for the Personal Computer that far outstrip anything that could be done with a hard copy English or original language concordance, such as looking for specific verb or noun forms or even phrases or clauses, lexically or grammatically. These entries can be sought in the original languages or in multiple English and European translations, all texts displayed interleaved by verse or in parallel by passage, and all this can be accomplished in seconds or tenths of seconds, and the customized results printed out on a high quality laser printer.

Since I have used the BibleWorks for Windows program most, my comments below are based primarily on it.

So What Do These Electronic Concordances Do? Four Benefits....

1. BibleWorks helps people read the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible.

Because of the broad-ranging and demanding M.Div. curriculum and the relatively-late start many get in seminary education, most seminary students barely get enough Hebrew and Greek to navigate through exegetical courses—and then rapidly forget what they did learn. I am convinced that wise users of programs like BibleWorks can maintain and improve their original language ability. One can put on the screen the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text and list under the original languages as many interlinear versions as one wants [currently, 90 interleaved versions in 28 languages]. Wave the mouse over the Hebrew or Greek text and a little window gives you a complete parsing of the word and its full definition from excellent biblical lexicons.

In the past, parsing verb forms and looking up vocabulary have formed too deep a ditch for many a seminarian and young pastor to get over. Now the answers shine out from the BibleWorks’ computer screen, making it possible to compare the best of the modern versions with the original, or even to produce an original translation, without having to spend hours thumbing through a big old lexicon or trying to recall the recognition points of the Hebrew Piel.

Persons who had basic courses in the biblical languages and would be willing to devote twenty minutes a day to such language study during their ministry would have enough linguistic skill to base their sermon text study on the original text.

I’m so convinced of this that when I teach beginning Hebrew, I introduce BibleWorks on the first day of the course, project it on a screen, and demonstrate how it can supplement the students’ linguistic knowledge. As students learn the basic paradigms and the structure of Biblical Hebrew, they will be able to understand and gain access to the wealth of information stored on the BibleWorks CD-ROM and have a fighting chance of maintaining and improving their linguistic skill throughout their ministry. Instead of settling for the minimum in biblical languages, I teach that minimum AND I introduce the BibleWorks product that will make Bible translation and exegesis and exposition almost nice.

2. BibleWorks enables users to make fresh word studies while vastly reducing the tedium and the time required to assemble the basic data.

In seconds, computer Bible software programs can perform searches of the Bible text that would otherwise be virtually impossible. Take the second word in the Hebrew Bible, "created." A root (lemma) search finds 54 occurrences in 0.7 seconds.

I can scroll through the list of each of these occurrences in its Hebrew context and read an interleaved translation of the corresponding verse in NRSV [or RSV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NAB, etc.].

I can quickly note how frequently this verb is distributed by book across the OT. In a few seconds, I can transfer all forty-six verses to an editing window and print them out—Hebrew with parallel English—for more detailed study. If I search on the English word "created," I get only 33 occurrences and no assurance that all of these are renditions of the Hebrew word bara’. In fact, they are not always translations of that Hebrew word.

Another advantage of using an original language concordance is that one can study a given morphological form of a word. How is the verb used in the Aorist? When its subject is 3fs? When a noun has a first person singular suffix (e.g. my child)? What’s the difference in meaning between the Niphal and the Piel? Incidentally, people who teach biblical language can come up with plenty of new examples for exercises by using an electronic concordance. One could list all 109 Hophal perfects in the Old Testament or only the 12 that occur in Jeremiah. Prior to Bible software on computer, you would have to page through every page of the lexicon to find this information.

What if your knowledge of Hebrew or Greek is very weak, almost nonexistent, because you never had a course in it or have forgotten everything you learned? Let’s study the word "messiah" in the Old Testament. Once you find a passage where the word "anointed" is used with the meaning you want (e.g. Psa 2:2), you will see that Strong’s number for "anointed" is H4899 and the transliteration chosen is mashiyach. In a split second you will get the list of the 38 verses in the Old Testament where this Hebrew noun occurs. Just to complicate things a bit, try searching for "anoint*," where the asterisk stands as a wild card for any ending—anoint, anoints, anointing, anointed— and the total now climbs to 140 times in 129 verses. In BibleWorks you can do this for the Strong’s tagged English KJV or Revised Websters or French LSG or German LUO or Dutch SVV or Russian RST, with interleaved verse display or parallel passage display of any or all versions and the Greek NT and Hebrew OT (and LXX and Latin Vulgate) texts, synchronized by verse number.

Boolean searches include words (operators) like AND, OR, or NOT. Perhaps there would be reason to find all verses in the Bible that refer to Peter, James, and John. Or one might want to look for all verses in the New Testament in which the names of either Saul or Paul occur—that would help you to find all the references to the apostle before and after his call. One could find all the verses in which Peter is mentioned and not Paul, or in which either Peter or Paul is mentioned, but not both.

Electronic concordance programs enable users to devise complex searches that meet their particular research needs.

Try using hard copy books to find all contexts containing reference to "Jesus" or "Christ", AND "Kingdom of God" or "Kingdom of Heaven". Try to find all OT Hophal perfects. Try to find Hebrew waw-consecutives with certain forms of certain verbs. Try to find all Greek NT/LXX aorist passive phrases containing some form of the Greek words for believe or convince or persuade. In seconds, BibleWorks can perform searches of the Bible text that would otherwise be practically impossible.

3. BibleWorks produces impressive handouts for adult forums or other educational programs.

Perhaps you want to study "justice" in the eighth century prophets with an adult Bible class. With BibleWorks, easily print out all or select verses from any translation, then duplicate and distribute. Your comments or questions could be printed in a different type face between the verses. Another example, the entire text of John 4 could be printed out, and this production of an English or Spanish or German handout for that chapter would be much cheaper and more accurate than having your secretary type it out, and better looking than xeroxing a page from a regular printed Bible.

4. BibleWorks may become your dog-eared Bible.

BibleWorks allow users to add virtually limitless notes to specific chapters or verses, and one can use these notes and add to them throughout a lifetime. Through reading or study a pastor may discover new meanings or emphases, reflecting deep thinking and personal and ministerial experience. If one uses these programs and adds notes on specific verses, a person is creating their own personal commentary on the meaning of Scripture. My old battered copy of the RSV, mended with duct tape, that had marginal notes and underlinings where I wanted them and needed them, was a walking file cabinet. But it could never contain the wisdom that can be packed by the user into notes on a computer Bible.

Ralph W. Klein is Dean and professor of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

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