How to Use Concordances
WM- 1168 --DATE OF PUBLICATION: OCTOBER 2003
"I have a
question about the interpretation of Hebrew and Greek words that I would
like to ask you about. When I want to know the Greek word and definition
of any word in the New Testament, I go to Strong's Concordance
and look up the word and use its reference number to find the original
Greek word and its meaning in the dictionary in the back of the book. I
have recently been told by an SDA pastor that this is not the most
accurate way to define a word. He says I should use the root word
definition as the definition of the word I am looking up, instead of
using the definition of the word itself. This does not make sense to me,
but I have never taken any college courses in Hebrew or Greek, so I am
not sure if he is right or not. I have asked some other people about
this, but they don't seem to know either. Can you shed some light on
"I have a question about the interpretation of Hebrew and Greek words that I would like to ask you about. When I want to know the Greek word and definition of any word in the New Testament, I go to Strong's Concordance and look up the word and use its reference number to find the original Greek word and its meaning in the dictionary in the back of the book. I have recently been told by an SDA pastor that this is not the most accurate way to define a word. He says I should use the root word definition as the definition of the word I am looking up, instead of using the definition of the word itself. This does not make sense to me, but I have never taken any college courses in Hebrew or Greek, so I am not sure if he is right or not. I have asked some other people about this, but they don't seem to know either. Can you shed some light on this?" Washington.
[Note: one of the most important ways to understand the meaning of a particular word in a book of the Bible, is to use the concordance to find out how the writer of the particular book used the particular word in other verses.]
Here is my reply:
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is the quickest way (other than using a computer program) to find a passage in the Bible. It is unfortunate that William Miller did not have access to it. He only had the older concordance, Cruden's, which is much shorter. (Miller began his studies in 1816, six years before James Strong was born.)
Under a given KJV word, Strong's lists every verse where the word appears, from Genesis to Revelation. In Young's Analytical Concordance (equally as large and expensive), the listing of passages for a given word is split according to the Hebrew and Greek words for that KJV word. As you know, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. (Cruden's does not give all the word usages. It lacks the Greek / Hebrew lists in the back and has extremely brief definitions.) For example, under the word, "look," there are 24 subdivisions. Each one contains the places where "look" is based on one of 24 different Hebrew or Greek words.
In addition, Young's also has a Greek and Hebrew vocabulary list in the back.
Both concordances are flawed in their definitions in that, although they give you a quick view of what may be the words Greek and Hebrew meanings, those definitions are not totally accurate, for three reasons: First, the definitions are too brief. Second, they do not take into account the mode and tense of each specific word usage. Third, they lump together all the usages of a given word instead of clarifying how they are used in different passages.
The principle of "first usage" is significant. This is the first time a Hebrew word is used in the Bible. Locate that first usage, and it can help explain the meaning of the word and cast light on how it is used in later passages.
For example, the important word, "sanctuary," comes from the root, "holy"; and the first time it is used is early in Exodus:
Your pastor errs in thinking that the root word will always provide the correct meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word. It can be different! ("Sanctuary" refers to something different than "holy"; yet a fundamental concept regarding it comes from its root, "holy.") First usage is a valid study tool. But, ideally, it should be the first usage of the Hebrew root rather than the English word.
More on first usage: The important word, "sanctuary," is a Hebrew derivative of the word, "holy"; the first usage of this is Exodus 3:5. That verse greatly helps in clarifying the meaning of "holy" and "sanctuary." We learn from it that the fundamental concept of qodesh (holy) is actually "something that is totally pure and separated." For example:
Strongs defines qodesh this way:
Young's provides definitions in a different manner. For example, qodesh: When you look up "holy" and find Exodus 3:5, you are told (right there in the middle of the concordance) that the root meaning of qodesh is "separation, object set apart; qodesh." That is a fairly good definition.
Next, turning in Young's word lists in the back, we find that they are also different from Strong's. Young's lists qodesh, not by definitions of the Hebrew word (as Strong's does)but so you can find all the other words qodesh is translated by in the KJV (each of which you can look up in the concordance, if you wish). This can be very handy!
So qodesh is translated in the KJV 304 times by 12 different words or phrases. If you look up each of those words in Young's Concordance, you will obtain a much better understanding of its meaning. This is a useful way to better understand the meaning of the word. As you do your search, keep in mind the underlying meaning, as interpreted by first usage. Scanning through the concordance listings (the short phrases by each text reference beneath the word "holy," etc.) will help you know where to begin your research.
In order to better understand the meaning, see how the passage is used in the Spirit of Prophecy! This is very important. There you will find a fully inspired commentary on the meaning of the verse.
What does "touch" mean? Look it up in the concordance; it is obvious that it means what you think it means: to touch something or somebody.
But then, having looked up the word "touch" in the concordance, now turn to John 20:17; and, if you know the Greek, you will find it means something quite different. The Greek word used in that verse is haptomai, the reflexive of hopto, "touch."
But neither Strong's nor Young's knows both meanings of haptomai! Here is Strong's definition of the word:
Here is Young's definition:
Strong's says that the root meaning is kindle (a fire):
Well, now we are thoroughly confused. What does John 20:17 mean?
Scanning through the usages of haptomai in the New Testament, it is obvious that they mean to touch something in order to receive something personally valuable.
But after the time of Drs. Strong and Young, in the twentieth century, it was discovered that haptomai also had a second idiomatic meaning in the first century A.D., when Koine Greek was used:
In the late nineteenth century, Gods prophet for our time in history applied that other definition. Without having studied Greek, she gave exactly the correct meaning of "touch" in John 20:17.
The book typesetters did not place "Detain Me not" in quotation marks, for they thought it was not in the Bible. Yet it actually is; it is the meaning of the original Greek of the passage!
The verb, hypto, means "to touch." But hyptomai is in the reflexive. Normally, in the reflexive, it would mean "to touch on behalf of oneself." But, by the first century A.D., when Classical Greek had changed into Koine Greek, hyptomai had acquired a special meaning: "Do not hold me back, do not hinder me, do not detain me," for I have something I must do right now.
In the very next paragraph Ellen White explains this further:
You can always trust the Spirit of Prophecy. Bank on it. Stick with those books. In the strength that Christ ever gives to His humble children, obey those books, and your future is assured.
Another interesting passage is very important to us, doctrinally:
According to modern antinomian (anti-law) theory, Christ said that He was about to destroy the Ten Commandments. Obviously, the meaning of "fulfill" and "fulfilled" (the same Greek word is used for both) is crucial. If the Protestants are right, then Jesus said, "I am not come to destroy but to destroy, and heaven and earth will not pass till all be destroyed." Yet, in this passage, He repeatedly exalts the importance of that law!
The key Greek word in the passage is pleroo. What does Strong's say that it means?
Well, Strong's has it wrong. Pleroo is never used in the sense of "expire" in the New Testament. The word does not mean that.
Protestant writers declare that the following passages prove that pleroo means "bring to an end": Romans 15:19, Colossians 1:25, Mark 1:15. But not one of them means to end or get rid of.
That does not mean that Paul fully preached to everyone in that area, so he could now stop and go somewhere else. Paul had not spoken to everyone in that area, and he did not intend to stop going back and preaching there some more. Instead, it means that, throughout that area, Paul fully preached Christ's gospel, and no other gospel! Nor does it mean that, henceforth, he was going to stop preaching the truth about Christ, because now he had fully preached it!
Here is another passage:
This does not mean that Paul was going to stop preaching to the Colossians; but that, acting on his commission as a minister, he intended to fill them up with the Word of God! That is what Gods true preachers in every age should do. I hope your pastor is doing it.
It is true that the 69 of the 70 weeks, in Daniel 9:24-27, had ended at that time; however, "ending" is not the meaning of this passage. It does not mean "the time has ended," but "the time has fully (pleroo) come." Time for what? "The time has fully come for the start of the announcement of the kingdom of God. It is now time for you to repent and believe the message we bring to you!"
So Mark 1:15 is not talking about how the time prophecy has ended; but, instead, that its timing has brought them to something new. New things must be learned, new decisions must be made! That is the message of Mark 1:15.
Matthew 2:22 and John 7:8 follow the same pattern, which is this: The "fulfillment" of a prophecy (according to the Greek usage of pleroo) is not about the end of a prophecy, but about the predicted event which is about "to be made full"; that is, about to fully (actually) occur!
However, in the case of Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus is not talking about a time prophecy, but about the sacred law of God. Predicted events may come and go, but the foundation of Gods throne stands fast forever.
So then, what did Jesus mean when He said, "I am not come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17)? He meant, "I am not come to destroy the Ten Commandments or the witness of the Old Testament prophets, but to help you fully obey the one and better understand the messages of the other."
We know this is true because of how pleroo is used elsewhere. Here are some examples:
Christ did not say that His baptism would destroy righteousness, but that it would provide a full example of how it was to be done, as well as, by His own example, explain more fully its meaning, which was the beginning of a life dedicated to helping others.
Also read John 16:24, 2 John 12, Philippians 2:2, John 17:13, and 1 Corinthians 10:6.
Thus we find that an outstanding way to understand a word is to see how it is used elsewhere in Gods Word.
Whereas pleroo means "fill up to an overflowing abundance," teleios means "arrival at a point of utter completion, reaching the uttermost, or ultimate."
In this life there are completions we can reach. The New Testament mentions some of them. And Jesus is speaking about this kind of objective:
Another example of an erroneous definition is found in that famous passage in Matthew:
Strong's defines "rock" in this way:
For 4074, Strong's has this:
For 3037 and 2786, Strong's provides this:
There are several problems here for the person who is set on trusting in James Strong to provide him with accurate definitions:
First, "rock" (petra) in Matthew 16:18 is the neuter of petros, not its feminine. There is some careful theological balancing here. If the noun was masculine, it would represent Peter. That is what the Vatican would like it to be, something Greek grammar will not permit. Protestants deftly call it feminine, for then they can say it represents "the Church." But, in reality, it is in the neuter gender and refers to Jesus Christ. (Young's does not define the gender, only calling it a "rock or stone.")
Second, petros is not a rock larger than lithos. For lithos also, at times, represents Christ. In Mark 12:10 (Matt 21:42, Luke 20:17), it is the immense cornerstone of Solomon's Temple, rejected for a time, which represents Christ (DA 597-600 tells the story). Lithos is also the massive boulder of Matthew 21:44 (Luke 20:18); this is Christ. Everyone who is saved must "fall and be broken" on Him.
Third, petros and kephas represent the frail stone of Peter, not a strong rock as indicated by Strong's.
For a thrilling Bible study about Christ the Rock of our salvation, read: Isaiah 28:16, 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 1 Peter 2:4-6 (yes, Peter said it), Ephesians 2:20-22. And there is more: Daniel 2:34, 44; Zechariah 9:10; Luke 1:30-33; Daniel 7:14, 27, Daniel 4:34, Isaiah 60:12, Micah 4:7, Daniel 6:26, and Revelation 11:15. How triumphant will be His victory!
Another example of erroneous definitions in Strong's may be found by tracking down the meaning of "wine" in John 2:3-10. Strong's says it was actual wine:
If you will take the time to check in an exhaustive Greek-English Lexicon, such as Liddell and Scotts, you will find that oinos can mean grape- juice, wine, or even grape jam. It is wrong for a concordance to say that every time oinos is used in the New Testament, it can only mean wine. (Young's says oinos means "wine or grape juice," which is correct.) As usual, in order to settle the question of the exact type of juice at the wedding, in John 2:3-10, we check with the equally-inspired Spirit of Prophecy, and find a very clear statement (DA 149).
Let us complete this brief survey with an extremely important word: the one that unlocks the door to the inner meaning of Hebrews 6:19 through 10:22. This is the word, hagia, in the Greek.
It is explained in some detail in my book, Biblical Defense, 251-263, so I will only touch briefly on it here.
People complain that Hagia is not in Strong's Concordance! Here is the definition at the back of Strong's for the eight Hagia passages:
As for hagia, it is not there, anywhere in Strong's. (It is not in Young's either, which gives the definition, "place set apart, hagion.") Once again, Strong's lumps together all the various meanings. So a person coming upon the hagia passages in Hebrews (8:2, 9:2, 9:8, 9:12, 9:24, 9:25, 10:19, 13:11) will select the definition he prefers. This is how the translators of the New International Version usually did it, translating most of them as "most holy place" the second apartment of the sanctuary. That is why Desmond Ford, and fellow travelers, only quote from the NIV. They use a mistranslation to prove an error.
But if you will carefully read pp. 251-263 of my book, Biblical Defense, and the pages around them, you will clearly see that the second apartment of the heavenly Sanctuary is not mentioned in the book of Hebrews. Paul wrote the book about A.D. 65, when Christ had been ministering His blood in the first apartment for 34 years. Nearly 1800 years must elapse before He would enter the second apartment. Christ's ministry in that apartment was not present truth for Paul and his readers. In the providence of God, it would not be until after October 22, 1844, that Christ's followers would understand the transition.
Why is hagia not in Strong's or Young's Concordances? Because it is the neuter plural of hagion, and they only list words by their singular form. Once again, we find that concordance lists and definitions do not tell the whole story.
So, in conclusion, it is nice to be able to use Bible concordances, and we all do. They are a wonderful help. However, none of the concordances (or Bible commentaries, for that matter) are fully accurate in their comments or definitions. Fortunately, the Spirit of Prophecy always is. vf