Getting the Bible's Number

How to Use Strong's Numbers in Mac Bible Study Software.

by David Lang (Posted: 3/17/04)

In 1890, James Strong, a seminary professor, published his Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, a massive book listing every occurrence of every word in the King James Bible. In addition to being "exhaustive," Strong's Concordance was notable for its innovative system of using numbers to link the English words of the King James with the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words which they translated. All of a sudden, pastors and laymen who knew little to nothing of the original languages of the Bible could gain access to the Greek and Hebrew words behind their English translation.

More than a century later, computer Bibles can do in minutes what it took Strong 35 years to accomplish (see Sidebar), but while Strong's concording efforts have now been overshadowed by the power of computer technology, his numerical innovation has found new life in the digital age, continuing to exert a profound influence over the way people study the Bible.

Remarkably, Strong's numbering system has made the transition from print to software essentially unmodified. Both in the print concordance and in most software implementations, Strong's numbers serve as a link between the English words and their Greek or Hebrew equivalents. The process of using them is simple: you look up a word in a passage you're studying, find it's Strong's number, determine the Greek or Hebrew word to which that Strong's number points, and then study that word in more detail. This process is the same whether you're using a print concordance or a software search engine.

Yet while the concepts behind Strong's numbering system remain essentially unchanged, the impact of his simple innovation is now being revolutionized through current advances in computer software. In this article, we'll examine some of the ways Strong's century-old system is being applied and extended in the various Bible programs currently available for the Mac. In the process, we'll learn how to use the Strong's capabilities of these programs to study the Bible in greater depth than we may have realized was possible.

The One-Minute Concordance

James Strong spent thirty-five years creating his Exhaustive Concordance, but with the help of the computer, Strong's life work can be duplicated in a matter of minutes. Using Accordance Bible Software on my four-year-old PowerBook, I did a search for every word in the King James Bible. I then clicked the Concordance button, and Accordance began building a concordance of every word that was found. The entire process took about a minute, and I ended up with my own exhaustive concordance of the Bible. That's a time-savings of three-and-a-half decades! Now imagine what I could have done with a brand-new PowerBook!

Behind the Numbers
In the years since Strong published his Exhaustive Concordance, his numbering system has been emulated—and modified—by those creating concordances for other translations.

The modifications are hardly surprising, given the fact that there are some strange inconsistencies in the Strong's numbering system. For example, in Strong's Greek numbering system, the numbers 2717 and 3203-3302 are skipped entirely!

Then there are the textual issues. Because many modern translations are based on a slightly different Greek text than the one available to the translators of the King James, any numbering system used for these translations must account for any additional words in the original language texts upon which they are based.

The makers of the New American Standard Bible, wanting to remain as consistent as possible with the original Strong's numbering system, solved this problem by inserting new words into the Greek and Hebrew dictionaries at the appropriate places alphabetically, and then subdividing the numbers for that section of the dictionary using lowercase letters and diacriticals. For example, in Acts 14:17 of the King James, the phrase "did good" translates the Greek word agathopoieo, which Strong assigned the number 19. In the Greek text behind the NASB, the word is agathourgeo, which the NASB also translates as "did good." In the NAS Greek dictionary, agathourgeo appears as number 19a, while agathopoieo is changed to 19b. Another aspect of this attempt to maintain consistency with the original Strong's numbering system is that numbers 2717 and 3203-3303 are likewise skipped in the NAS numbering scheme.

The makers of the New International Version, on the other hand, did not concern themselves with trying to be consistent with Strong's. Instead, they built a new numbering system from the ground up. Known as G/K numbers after Goodrick and Kohlenberger, the editors of the NIV Exhaustive Concordance, this new numbering system eliminates the problem of skipped numbers, and renumbers the entire sequence to account for any additional words. Returning to our example from Acts 14:17, the NIV translates the word agathoergeo (a variant spelling of agathourgeo) and assigns it the number 14.

Now, why did I just bore you with details of the differences among these various numbering systems? Because when electronic versions of these Bible texts are embedded with their particular brand of "key numbers" (a term I'll use to refer to any such numbering system) software developers must account for the differences in these varying schemes.

Who's Got What?
Different software packages offer different Bible texts embedded with key numbers. The following chart gives a quick breakdown of which programs have which texts. Note that the lack of a checkmark does not necessarily indicate that a particular text is not available, only that it is not available in a form which includes Strong's numbers. For example, Online Bible does offer the text of the NIV, but it has not been tagged with G/K numbers. Likewise, Accordance offers most of the texts which are unchecked, but none of those include Strong's numbers.


Online Bible



Bible Reader Free
King James Version
Revised Webster Bible
1995 New American Standard
New International Version
Greek New Testament
Hebrew Old Testament
Foreign Translations French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Russian Russian

Unlocking the Greek and Hebrew
Now that we have the preliminary explanations out of the way, let's get down to learning how to use key numbers in Bible software. Only then will we be able to "unlock" the Greek and Hebrew behind our English translations.

Each software program uses a slightly different approach to showing you the Greek or Hebrew word behind a particular English word.

In Accordance, you simply position your cursor over any English word to see its Strong's number and Greek or Hebrew equivalent. This information is displayed in the Instant Details box at the bottom of the screen, which is continually updated as you move the cursor across each word. So, for instance, if you're looking at John 21:15, where Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" (NASB), you can see immediately that the word for love which Jesus uses is agapao, while Peter uses the word phileo.

If you want more information about the Greek verb agapao, simply triple-click the English word "love" to bring up a dictionary definition. Accordance accounts for the differences in the various numbering schemes by opening the Greek or Hebrew dictionary which corresponds to the translation you're in: If you triple-click a word in the Old Testament of the KJVS, Accordance will open the Hebrew Strong's module; if you triple-click a word in the New Testament of the NIV-G/K, Accordance will open the NIV Greek dictionary; and so on. That way, you're sure to get the right definition for the word you clicked, regardless of the numbering scheme being used.

In Online Bible, you can choose to view the Strong's numbers within the text of the Bible, or to keep them hidden. If you choose to keep them hidden, you simply click on an English word to discover the Greek or Hebrew word which it translates. A dictionary window will open showing you the definition of the Greek or Hebrew word behind the English word you clicked. Returning to our example of John 21:15, you would click on the word "love" in Jesus' question to Peter to see that it translates the word agapao. You would then close the dictionary window which had opened, or click the Bible window to bring it to the front again, and then click the word "love" in Peter's reply. A second dictionary would open showing you that this second "love" translates the word phileo.

If you choose to view the Strong's numbers within the text of the Bible (to do this, go to the Display menu and choose Show Strong's, or use the keyboard shortcut, command-3), the Strong's number for each word will appear beside it in the text, like this:

The advantage of this view is that you can see right away that the number for Jesus' word for love (25) is different than the number for Peter's word for love (5368). To find out what these words are, you still need to click on each word (or its corresponding Strong's number) to bring up the dictionaries.

In iBible (formerly known as E-Bible), a button labeled Strong's for this chapter appears at the bottom of the main Bible window.

Clicking this button opens a new window displaying the text of the King James with Strong's numbers in parentheses, much like Online Bible does. Double-clicking one of these numbers causes the definition for the Greek or Hebrew word that number represents to be displayed in a pane at the bottom of the window.

In MacSword, selecting "Strong's Numbers" from the Options menu will display the Strong's numbers within the text of the KJV. The Strong's numbers appear as hypertextable links, but these links only work properly if you have first downloaded and installed the Strong's Greek and Hebrew dictionaries from the Sword Project web-site. If you do have those dictionaries installed, you need only drag your cursor over a Strong's number to see its dictionary definition in a little pop-up. Actually clicking the link will display the dictionary definition in a separate window.

In Bible Reader Free, you must choose Strong's from the translation pop-up to view the Strong's numbers in the text of the KJV. Clicking one of the numbers displays the definition in a pane at the bottom of the window, much like iBible. One significant difference is that BRF will actually add each Strong's number you click to a list for easy recall in the future.

Definition and Meaning
We have just seen how each Bible program makes it easy to get a definition of the Greek or Hebrew word which a given English word translates. Most such definitions give a word's entire range of meaning (often referred to as its semantic range). Consider, for example, the following definition of kephale, the Greek word for head:

As this definition makes clear, the Greek word for "head" can be used in a variety of ways, much as it is in English. In addition to speaking of the physical body part, we can use the word "head" metaphorically for someone in authority ("head of the company"), for someone "in the primary place" (such as at the "head of the line"), or for a "point of origin" (such as the "head of a river"). Yet getting the definition of a word is just the first step in determining the meaning of that word in a given passage.

A word's meaning in any given passage is determined not just by that word's semantic range, but by the way that word is used in a particular context. Thus, in a passage like 1 Corinthians 11:3, which reads "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God," we must look to the context to determine which of the meanings of "head" is in view here.

A common mistake made by many interpreters is simply to pick the meaning they like best. Many feminists do this when they argue that by "head" Paul means merely the "source" or "point of origin" rather than someone in a position of authority. Other interpreters make the mistake of injecting a word with every possible meaning. Thus, some evangelicals might say that "head" here implies both that man is in authority over woman and that he is her source of origin. Both approaches tend to distort a word's meaning rather than making it clear.

My point here is that just because these Bible programs make it easy to get a definition of the Greek and Hebrew words behind a given passage, we must still do the work of examining how those words are used in context. If we're not willing to do that, a little knowledge of Greek and Hebrew can indeed be a dangerous thing!

Searching by Strong's Number
Since context is so important, it is often helpful to examine the context of every occurrence of a particular Greek or Hebrew word. But since a given Greek or Hebrew word can be translated by more than one English word, and since some English words are used to translate multiple Greek or Hebrew words, finding every occurrence of a Greek or Hebrew word is never as simple as searching for a corresponding English word. In other words, you can't just search for the English word "love" and expect to find every occurrence of the Greek word agapao. Since "love" is also used to translate the Greek word phileo, and since agapao may sometimes be translated by another English word, a search for the English word "love" is bound to turn up some false hits and miss some true ones. If you want to find every occurrence of agapao, you need some way to search specifically for agapao.

Accordance and Online Bible make this possible by enabling you to search by Strong's number, a feature which appears to be lacking in iBible, MacSword, and Bible Reader Free.

In Accordance, you can search for a Key number in a variety of ways. You can choose "Enter Key Numbers..." from the Search menu to pick the numbers you want to find from a scrolling list. You can also choose "Key" from the Enter Command submenu of the Search menu. Doing so inserts "[Key ?]" into the search entry field, and you simply replace the question mark with the number you want. By far the easiest method is to select an English word which is tagged with the Key number you wish to find, and then option-click the Search button on the Resource palette. Doing so will automatically perform a search for the appropriate Key number.

In Online Bible, you can enter a Strong's number in the Find dialog box, or you can select a word in a Bible text with Strong's numbers and choose "Find Strong's" from the Search menu (the Strong's number of the selected word will appear in place of the word "Strong's"). You can also use the keyboard shortcut command-I. Any of these methods will bring up a window displaying every occurrence of the Strong's number attached to the selected word.

Both of these programs enable you to search either the current text or another text with Key numbers for the number associated with the word you've selected.

Pushing the Envelope
Strong's numbering system was originally designed to give people some basic access to the Greek and Hebrew behind the King James Bible. Today, however, Strong's numbers can be used in some pretty sophisticated ways. Here are a few ways that software is helping to push the envelope of what can be done with Strong's numbers.

We've already seen the importance of being able to search by Strong's number in order to find every occurrence of a Greek or Hebrew word. But what if you wanted to find a Greek or Hebrew word only when it is translated a particular way? For example, what if I wanted to find every occurrence of the Hebrew word adam where it is translated as "man" in the KJV? Or what if I wanted to find every occurrence of the Greek word agapao where it is not translated as "love" in the NASB?

Accordance enables you to use the at symbol (@) to find particular combinations of English words and their associated Strong's numbers. A minus sign (-) can be used to specify that a certain element should not appear. Consider the following search arguments:

[KEY H120]@man Finds every occurrence of the Hebrew word adam where it is translated by the English word "man."
love@[KEY G25] Finds the English word "love" only where it translates the Greek word agapao.
[KEY G25]@-lov* Finds the Greek word agapao where it is not translated by some form of the word "love." In the NASB, this search finds places where agapao is translated as "felt" or "beloved."
man@-[KEY H120] Finds the English word "man" where it does not translate the Hebrew word adam.

Accordance also enables you to get statistical information about Strong's number searches. Once you perform a search, you simply click the Details button to bring up the following kinds of information:

The Graph plots the relative frequency of the words or Strong's numbers being searched for. You can even plot multiple searches for purposes of comparison. The following graph shows where in the New Testament the Greek words agapao (red) and phileo (blue) are used most frequently.

The Analysis breaks down every word found by a particular search, the number of times it occurs, and its corresponding Strong's numbers. After searching the New Testament of the NASB for the English word "love", we get the following analysis:

Other statistical options include the ability to build your own concordance (see sidebar above), and the ability to view a numerical table of search hits.

Old System, New Possibilities
Throughout this article, we've seen how Strong's century-old numbering system continues to open up new possibilities for fruitful study of the Scriptures. Thanks to current innovations in Bible study software, Mac users can explore the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words, study the various ways those words are used, and even gather useful statistics. Used responsibly, the Strong's number capabilities of the various programs available can lead us to a deeper understanding of God and His Word. That, I imagine, is precisely what James Strong would have wanted.

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