February 26, 2011

Reading and Studying the Originals

There are a couple accessible methods for studying the original texts of the Bible that do not require learning the original languages.

The first I learned years ago from a book by Howard Hendricks called Living by the Book.

He teaches a very easy hands on way of how to use an exhaustive concordance and Greek and Hebrew lexicons. It's the first and only external reference to the Bible he really recommends.

An exhaustive concordance (a large book much bigger than the Bible itself) lists every single word in the Bible in context in alphabetical order, and then gives the Strong's number that is the alphabetical number of the Greek or Hebrew word in the corresponding lexicon. Mr. James Strong dedicated his life to this project before technology made this more attainable in shorter time spans.

In the lexicons, you can find the original word, a definition, and how its translated (enough to track down all uses of the word).

Mr. Strong did this with the King James Version. It only makes sense to do this with a literal word-for-word translation of the Bible (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, etc.), and the only other translation for which an exhaustive concordance has been produced so far is the NASB.

(ESV side note: Crossway has published a "Comprehensive Concordance" which is "half the size of an exhaustive concordance" though still "For the nearly 14,000 words listed, every biblical occurrence is included--a total of more than 300,000 concordance entries." Not being "exhaustive" (only "comprehensive") it does not include every single word, may not include a lexicon, and that may explain why electronic publishers have not picked it up.)

That an exhaustive concordance is only available for two translations (KJV, NASB) is an important point. While online tools now make this kind of research much easier, this particular method on one Web site I use has become somewhat more difficult to use, especially for making direct links. But let's give it a shot on our text here.
See the three checkbox items above the verse and under the translation option dropdown box? Check the one on the far right for Strong's numbers and watch what happens to the words in the text. (Note: try any other translation and you'll see that Strong's number option disappear. That goes back to there being no exhaustive concordance for any other translation. Due to the nature of what it does and how it works, by definition an exhaustive concordance is very translation-specific.) The words become linked to the Strong's number references in their online lexicon!

Now, on this lexicon page you can see the original word (with original letters, hence the font question), the transliterated word (Phonecian/English letters), pronunciation, definitions, and ways translated in the left column.

In the right column is the verse count. This is very handy for being able to search the original text of the Bible by original words! Many times I look up a verse by an English word, find an original word close to my intended meaning, and then search by that original word from the lexicon page and that right column. Very very useful, especially for searching for certain books for words, and seeing which books tend to hit certain topics/names more.

Exhaustive concordances and lexicons, as I've pointed out, are primarily based on an English translation.

The second method of looking up original texts is called an Interlinear translation. Only recently have I discovered this method thanks to a friend who has studied (and is studying) the original languages in seminary.

This is a method that is primarily based on the original text. It's the original Greek or the Hebrew text that controls word order in an interlinear translation. It would actually count as having an original text.

My friend recommended I buy a hard copy NT interlinear translation, which is done in the ESV actually, and I recommend that as well.

Come to find out, BibleStudyTools.com also has an interlinear translation mode. This is very new to me and very cool.

As you can see from the dropdown there, it only can look up verses in KJV and NASB for the exhaustive concordance (the printed ESV interlinear I have doesn't have the lexicons, just the text, original words, and corresponding numbers).

What's so cool about this is, beyond what you can find from an exhaustive concordance, an interlinear translation shows you the original text alongside the English translation, and both have the words linked to the corresponding concordance references.
In a printed interlinear translation, the correspondence of original to translated words is even more obvious, but due to the constraints of HTML publishing, I can see why that's hard to attain online. Still, a very useful tool this can be!

That's a crash course in personal Bible study with the original languages and how you can read them and look them up for yourself. It can change your life and how you read the Bible.

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