Strong numbers. Or Strong’s numbers. Whichever.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December 2020

From time to time I refer to Strong numbers or Strong’s numbers. I suppose I need to explain ’em before people get the idea I’m introducing them to numerology.

A concordance is a list of every single word in a book. People make ’em for the bible so they can use it as kind of an index: You might remember there’s a verse in the bible about “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but not remember where it’s found. (And you might live in 1987, when you couldn’t just Google it.) So you bust out that concordance, flip to “meek,” and find out where it’s hiding. Seems it appears 17 times in the King James Version.

Nu 12.3 the man Moses was very m., above all the men H 6035
Ps 22.26 The m. shall eat and be satisfied H 6035
Ps 25.9 The m. shall he guide in judgment H 6035
Ps 25.9 and the m. shall he teach his way. H 6035
Ps 37.11 But the m. shall inherit the earth H 6035
Ps 76.9 to save all the m. of the earth. H 6035
Ps 147.6 The LORD lifteth up the m. H 6035
Ps 149.4 he will beautify the m. with salvation H 6035
Is 11.4 reprove with equity for the m. of the earth H 6035
Is 29.19 The m. also shall increase their joy H 6035
Is 61.1 to preach good tidings unto the m. H 6035
Am 2.7 and turn aside the way of the m. H 6035
Zp 2.3 Seek ye the LORD, all ye m. of the earth H 6035
Mt 5.5 Blessed are the m.: for they shall inherit G 4239
Mt 11.29 for I am m. and lowly in heart G 4235
Mt 21.5 Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, m. G 4239
1Pe 3.4 even the ornament of a m. and quiet spirit G 4239

So check it out: The meek inheriting the earth comes up twice, actually. In Psalm 37.11, and in Christ Jesus’s “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Mt 5.5

Some bibles have a mini-concordance in the back, to be used as just this sort of index. They don’t include every word. Really, not even an exhaustive concordance does: There are 64,040 instances of “the” in the KJV. (More instances of “the” than there are verses.) When people are trying to track down a verse, they don’t use “the.” Too common.

Anyway. Dr. James Strong wasn’t the first guy to produce an exhaustive concordance of the KJV, but his was powerfully useful for one reason: His numbers. When you looked up any word in his 1890 concordance, you’d find he provided a number. In the back of the book were his Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, and Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. Don’t even have to know the Hebrew or Greek alphabets: You look up the word by its number, and there you go: It’s the proper original-language word behind the KJV’s translation.

Wanna know the original word for “ass” in 2 Peter 2.16? Strong’s concordance will point you to number 5268, and once you look up that number in the Greek dictionary, you find this:

5268. ὑποζύγιον hupozugion, hoop-od-zoog'-ee-on; neuter of a compound of 5259 and 2218; an animal under the yoke (draught-beast), i.e. (specially), a donkey: ass.

Nice, huh? Wanna know the original word for “buttocks” in Isaiah 20.4?

8357. שֵׁתָה shethah, shay-thaw'; from 7896; the seat (of the person):—buttock.

Yes, I’m twelve.

Juvenile words aside, the number idea was just plain brilliant. Yeah, Strong could’ve only given people the original-language word, then turned ’em loose to fumble around for it. But I know way too many people who are totally wierded out by foreign languages. Even Spanish scares ’em. Throw a foreign alphabet in there and they’re wholly lost—how are they to know Hebrew alphabetical order? (Yeah, Psalm 119. But still.) Anyway, anybody can look up a number. So instead of trying to figure out how on earth you’re gonna find ὑποζύγιον or שֵׁתָה in the bible, you look up the numbers 5268 and 8357. Simple.

Nope, Strong’s system isn’t perfect. Some of the numbers are redundant: Different forms of the same word sometimes got different numbers. Aramaic words (which he called “Chaldee”) got mixed up with the Hebrew words, and people can mix up the Hebrew definition with the Aramaic definitions and get some strange interpretations. Pronunciation is off, ’cause it’s not taken from native speakers, who’d pronounce ὑποζύγιον as i.poʊ'ʊn not hup.ɑd'zug.i.ɑn. And if you wanna use Strong’s Greek dictionary to look up words from the Septuagint, he didn’t write it for the Septuagint, so good luck. (For that you’ll need a Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon… and maybe a semester of ancient Greek.

But the popularity and utility of Strong’s concordance means you’ll find Strong numbers in a whole lot of reference materials.

The G-K numbers.

If you’ve read my article on the King James Version, you might know this translation has its deficiencies. Starting with the fact its “translators” were really just updating the Bishop’s Bible, not translating it afresh from the original texts. And if they did double-check with the originals, the Old Testament would come from a decent copy of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, but the New Testament was Robert Estienne’s edition of the Textus Receptus.

Textual criticism was a brand-new science… and they went about it all wrong. Estienne, and Desiderus Erasmus before him, didn’t base the Textus on the most ancient Greek copies of the bible. Instead it was a compilation of every present-day bible they could find. Including the Vulgate, which Erasmus had to translate back into Greek so he could include it in his NT. Once scholars started doing their Greek NTs properly, basing them on archaeology and the most ancient texts, it meant removing all the verses added to the Textus… and in some cases adding a few words which aren’t in Strong’s dictionaries.

When new bible translations, based on today’s Greek NTs, wanna create Strong-style exhaustive concordances, they hit this problem: Sometimes the words they translate don’t have Strong numbers. Now what?

They took two different routes. Take the New American Standard Bible: When they cranked out their first concordance in 1997, they added the additional words to their Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. In alphabetical order, as they’d usually go. If a word doesn’t have a Strong number, they take the previous Strong number and add A. There; nearly all the Strong numbers match. (They did this in their edition of the concordance for the NASB’s 1995 edition, and will likely do it again for the 2020 edition.)

The other route was that of the New International Version. For their first concordance in 1984, the editors, Edward W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger III, simply renumbered the dictionaries from scratch. They called their system Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbers; G-K numbers for short. The NIV and its publisher, Zondervan, are trying their darnedest to get the G-K system to catch on. They use it in their reference materials, and regularly nudge other publishers to use it for their concordances. But none of ’em really do. Hence Kohlenberger has taken to producing concordances marketed as “Strongest Strong’s” for various translations—which use Strong numbers, and if you happen to have any NIV reference materials, they include his G-K numbers too.

Me, I use computer bibles. Plus I know Hebrew and Greek alphabetical order. So it‘s been a long time since I’ve used a concordance… or looked up a word by its Strong or G-K number. Really, I only use ’em on TXAB to link original-language words to Blue Letter Bible—for your convenience; you’re welcome.

Every once in a while you’ll come across bible nerds who actually care which number system you use—Strong versus G-K—and insist you stick to their favorite, for all sorts of reasons. I won’t go into them. Frankly they’re like tech nerds who demand you get an iPhone or an Android phone, just because it’s their favorite… and all you wanna do is make phone calls. Who cares? What’s gonna do the job? Both. So why the fuss?

But in most resources, you’re gonna find Strong numbers. Like the KJV, they came around first, and unlike G-K numbers they’re not under copyright: Everyone can use ’em. So they do.

Although I recommend you get a computer bible, and click on the words instead of the numbers. Way easier.