A New Year’s Appeal on Behalf of Dr. Strong

I have an appeal to make–a favor to ask.

It is never appropriate to base any teaching on a Hebrew or Greek word definition . . . alone. Before something should be declared to be “so” in the sense of “this is what the scriptures are saying,” there are other basic parameters to be considered when interpreting and teaching the scriptures, not the least of which are: usage, context, original intent and audience, precedence, culture, setting,  etc.

Not only should teaching never be based on a word definition alone, it should also never be based on a definition from Strong’s Concordance . . . alone.

Strong’s was written over one hundred years ago! There have been advances and new discoveries in language over those one hundred years. Strong’s is an excellent place to begin a word study. However, sometimes the definitions are outdated, limited, and occasionally just flat-out wrong. This is not a slam on Dr. Strong and the team’s noble efforts. They were simply working with the best resources they had available in 1890.

It is one thing as an individual to share an exhortation or an insight that you might get from a Strong’s definition. There is little harm in that. I am not endorsing: “I am not scholarly enough” introspection and paranoia.

However, the more important the issue, and if you are expecting others to change or conform their behavior to what you are teaching, never base your teaching on a Strong’s definition . . . alone. Even Dr. Strong himself cautioned that his concordance should not be used as a substitute for original language translational skills.

While Dr. Strong’s effort has been a noble and significant contribution to the cause of Christ (making elementary language issues “reachable” for the masses), an unintended consequence has been the creation of a lot of armchair experts who really do not know what they are talking about. Frankly, the ease of reach of Strong’s Concordance has made for a lot of lazy study habits and lazy preaching: a quick grab of Strong’s, link a few, and away you go!  That is a formula for trouble, nonsense, and bondage.

I repeatedly see, around the world, sheer rubbish being taught by chain-linking a few Strong’s definitions together. The fruit of this is error, confusion, and bondage.

I have also observed a subtle form of control and domination occur by some who try to overwhelm hearers with mountains of Strong’s definitions in their preaching, as if Strong’s Concordance is the “final word” on any matter. It certainly is not.  Mountains of Strong’s definitions give a false appearance of being “deep,” or scholarly, or as having done one’s “due diligence” in study (which is often not the case), with the intent that hearers will be pliable and accept, without question, what is being taught.

If you are called to preach and teach significant doctrines, or if you expect conformity of life and behavior by others to your teaching,  always confirm, confirm, and confirm again from multiple sources (especially more modern ones) before you preach or teach.

If you regularly receive preaching ministry, I urge you, in the name and mercies of Jesus, for your own well-being and safety,  don’t swallow something just because someone has machine-gunned you with a bunch of Strong’s definitions. They may be perfectly fine  or they may not be. Be a disciplined listener of the scripture. Practice good study and listening habits yourself, and don’t reproduce bad ones. 

Use study tools within the boundaries of their own limitations.

May His kingdom increase and may His kingdom come.

6 comments on “A New Year’s Appeal on Behalf of Dr. Strong

  1. This is a really important issue, Steve. It has been a means by which the Scriptures get locked into someone’s (or some group’s) system. Strong’s is a great tool as you have said, but it is not the whole tool kit. Using Strong’s or any other similar Bible study resource as the only or even the primary source of understanding dis-empowers the Scripture and its own context from enabling us to discover what God has really said – rather than what our systems have taught us to believe what he has said.

    • Thanks Brian. So glad you concur. I am seeing it as a real problem among younger would-be preachers and in the so-called “organic” church movement. Seems anybody with a Strong’s definition and an aggressive personality is somehow automatically worth listening to!!!

  2. I have never heard anyone say this before. It makes total sense. We have so many resources available to us compared to Strong’s day. I have enormous respect for what he accomplished. However, his concordance is treated as Gospel. Especially in our area where many are “King James only” types.
    If you would, please list some good alternatives that you feel are reliable.

    • Hi Jeanne,

      Recommending study tools is a lot like recommending music or art: tastes differ. What I might think is a great resource, someone else might not like at all, or find difficult to use. For example, many of the tools I use for primarily NT study (my personal emphasis) require you can read at least elemental Greek. So to recommend one of them, without knowing someone’s background would be futile.But I think there are some general guidelines of wisdom. I try to have a nice mix of old classics and modern resources on any topic.

      I would recommend that you shop Christian Book Distributor (CBD) and thoroughly look for a modern concordance to compliment Strongs as well as a couple of good grammars, analytical lexicons, an interlinear, a good resource on idioms (figures of speech), a good cultural and a background resource (this is critical in my opinion, I do have a recommendation there: Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh have outstanding stuff in that department).

      You have to watch out in the commentary department, because that’s where individual biases creep in. For example, many like Wuests commentary on the NT. However, Wuest was a committed Cessationist who did not believe in the present day manifestation of the gifts of the spirit, so every time the word for prophecy or prophesy is used in the epistles he translates it as “teach.” This is, of course, inexcusable bias. Same thing with Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study NT. It is a great “one stop” beginning study source, but he has the same anti-gift-of the sprit bias, and it shows.

      I hope this helps and happy hunting. Maybe the next time you are down this way, you can shop my library and see what you like before you spend money. It is easy to spend a lot of money on this stuff. These resources are not cheap.

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