Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

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Strong's Concordance - a Good Tool Gone Bad
Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

For Bible students who don’t use Hebrew and Greek, the Strong Concordance is a popular tool, available online. [1]

But it has a serious limitation – namely:

the “dictionary” in the back of Strong’s is not really a dictionary at all, and should not be used to find the “real, true, or root meaning” of a word

And this means that, using the Strong’s does not make you an expert in Greek or Hebrew! Not an expert, not even a novice.

Let me illustrate: I will use the KJV version of Strong’s, since that is the one version I have on hand, but the same thing applies with the ESV or NASB editions.

We are all familiar with Matthew 1:20 –

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Let’s say I want to learn more about the words angel (Strongs #G32). Look in the back, and it says:

capture aggelos

So, it can mean a messenger, or an angel, or perhaps (Strong is thinking of its use in Rev 2-3) perhaps it refers to the pastor of a church. However, Strong is not telling you what the word means in Matthew 1:21. Rather, he is merely telling you (the material after the ) that “This is how the KJV translated angelos in the New Testament, as angel or as messenger.

The “right answer” in Matthew 1:21 is the special use of the word to mean a spirit messenger of the Lord, an angel.

However, the word also appears in James 2:25 – “was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” Here the better translation is “messengers.” It simply won’t do to announce, “James says the two spies whom Rahab hid were angeloi, literally ‘angels.’” No he doesn’t! It doesn’t mean “angel” in this particular verse.

What Strong does do is to show how a word was translated into one English version (KJV, NASB, ESV), but doesn’t give you any help in choosing messenger or angel in any given passage – the Bible student has to study the context of the verse, not the possible meanings of the word. And while Strong shows you where in the New Testament the word is used, it cannot tell you how it is used in any one passage. [2]

Most words have a range of meaning rather than a point of meaning. The NT has two of its known meanings from antiquity, but beyond that, it was used in other ways in Greek literature – for example, it was the title of the goddess of Artemis and also of the god Zeus. Birds that brought messengers from the gods were called “angelos.” An aphthoggos angelos was a beaconfire. But saying that an angel in the Bible is “literally” a beaconfire or literally a bird is less than useless, it is positively misleading.

Let’s go back to Matthew 1:21 – the angel tells Joseph, “Fear not!” The Strong number is G5399. Strong says concerning this verb –


Here there are several options. Does the angel tell Joseph not to frighten somebody? No, because in the original he uses the passive voice. So the KJV translations (signaled by the ) are “be afraid,” “fear,” or “reverence”; these short definitions are known as “glosses,” as in the word, glossary. In the context of Matthew 1, the verb clearly means “Don’t be afraid,” that is, don’t have the unpleasant emotion of fear. It does not mean “reverence,” not here – but it does mean that in other passages, for example, “fear God” (1 Pet 2:17) or as another version has it, “reverence God” (NEB).

Linguists use the term “semantic range of meaning,” which means the range of meaning that a word might have, depending on its usage in context. We can illustrate the range of meaning of phobeo (passive voice) thusly:


A word has a semantic range, but that doesn’t make it a free-for-all, where you can just pick any meaning that suits you, buffet-style. Context is king in word study, as it is in much of Bible interpretation. (The same thing can be said about the Amplified Bible, which is sometimes misused in the same way.)

It is perhaps easier to use an English word and illustrate its possible range of meanings. The verb “run” can mean all sorts of things – run, as in catching a bus; run as an athlete in a footrace; run for a political office; stockings can run; salmon can run upstream; someone can run her fingers through her hair; a river runs; Fred runs a factory. For “run,” to paraphrase, “We’re gonna need a bigger semantic range!”

Nevertheless, while “run” may mean all this and much more, it doesn’t mean all these things in any given context. Suppose the news comes out that, “Senator Smith has decided not to run for president.” Only a very dull news commentator would take that as, “Oh, it’s because Smith is too out of shape, no way he can run a 440 meter, let alone a min-marathon!”

Yet that is what happens in pulpits all around the world, week after week. It is self-evidently of zero help for a preacher to announce in his exposition: “The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid. This is from the Greek verb, phobeo, which means ‘to be afraid.’” Oh, really?

That’s why the late Dallas Seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, used to preach things like “Now this word ‘joy’ is taken from a Greek word that means…‘joy.’” And this is why I insist that my students refrain from using Hebrew or Greek words from the pulpit, unless there is some really good reason to do so. If a person does not know Greek or Hebrew, perhaps it’s better to abstain entirely.

Let’s add a Hebrew example for the sake of balance. The term for “spirit” in the Hebrew is from the word ruach. This noun is H7307. Strong’s says that it can mean Spirit or spirit (232x), wind (92x), breath (27x), side (6x), mind (5x), blast (4x), vain (2x), air (1x), anger (1x), cool (1x), courage (1x), miscellaneous (6x). Got all that? We’ll have to have the boys down in the graphics department sketch out a semantic range for that one.

So, ruach cannot mean anything, but it can mean many things, depending on what the author is using it for. It shows up in Zech 6:5 (“the four winds from the four quarters of heaven”); in Job 15:30 (“And by the breath of his mouth shall he go away”); in Isa 61:1 (“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me”). But it’s best not to preach that, for example, Zech 6:5 literally means the four breaths (Lamaze, anyone?)

Nor is it any justification to say, Well, the Bible is inspired; or they are ancient languages; or Hebrew had hidden code meanings, therefore it’s not like reading English. Not at all! The inspired Word is written in human language using human vocabulary.

Preaching from undiluted Strong’s Dictionary or Concordance is typically a dead end. It is a tool, but does not provide a message from God. I have to say that I have seen study after study on YouTube or the net, where the author bases his or her conclusions of this sort of misuse of Strong’s. [3]

Don’t use a can opener to dig a ditch; don’t use a hammer to replace a light switch; don’t use Strong’s for full word studies.

There is another danger I should mention – because it is free of copyright restrictions, people can also access Thayer’s lexicon online, and they can use the Strong’s numbering system to do so (so it is on Bible Hub). While this is a handy connection, it must be remembered that they don’t make Thayer available because it is the best or most reliable, but because it is economical to do so. [4]

Of the word study books that are available for the English reader, Wuest and Lenski too are not reliable.

And let’s end on a positive. Vine’s is still basically reliable; Vincent’s too. But if I had to recommend one single book for the reader of the English Bible, it would be Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Great price too, 1300+ pages for $23.48 ( If you’re serious about Bible words, shell out the 23 bucks!


Here’s an example of Mounce, dealing with the word for “angel” –

New Testament

Noun: ἄγγελος (angelos), GK 34 (S 32), 175x. angelos means “angel, messenger.” Similar to malîāk in the OT, there are two primary uses of this word in the NT.

(1) angelos can refer to a human messenger serving as an envoy (see messenger).

(2) angelos refers especially to nonmaterial, spiritual beings—a transcendent power who carries out various missions or tasks for God (“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him” Lk 1:11; cf. Acts 5:19; Gal 4:14). The NT also makes distinctions between good and evil angelic beings or spirits; note Jesus’ words in Mt 25:41 (“the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”) or Peter’s words in 2 Pet. 2:4 (“For God did not spare angels when they sinned”). angelos can also be found in the multitudes surrounding the throne of God, who are a part of the heavenly world (Rev 5:11) and who act out God’s will and judgment (1:1; 7:1).

(3) Our culture has a strong interest in angels for their own sake. It is important for Christians to realize that angels in the Bible are always witnesses for God and do not draw attention to themselves. They bring messages from God (Lk 1:26–33). They praise God (2:13–14; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:11–12). They serve God’s people on his behalf (Mt 4:11; Heb 1:14). They protect and care for God’s people (Mt 18:10; Lk 4:10; Acts 12:7–10). They sometimes give specific guidance to God’s people (Acts 8:26; 27:23–24). They are also involved in the punishment of God’s enemies (Rev 14:17–16:21). All of God’s creation is to serve God alone and to witness to his greatness and glory. See NIDNTT-A, 8–9.

David G. Hummel, “When the Best Bible-Reading Tool Made Bible-Reading Worse” speaks about the concordance as a pseudo-“scientific” tool.


[1] For example, on or

[2] I understand that Zondervan now offers an “expanded” edition of Strong’s, with fuller definitions. My comments have to do with the commonly-used original.

[3]  Okay, since you insist, I’ll just mention one egregious example – “The Serpent’s Seed Examined Using The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance,”

[4] I refer you to my article, “Libronix/Logos and Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon,”

“Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad,” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph.D, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

33 thoughts on “Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

  1. Gary, i have 2 more questions. In Mark 7:19, the Greek word for “foods” in (thus he declared all foods clean) is βρῶμα which supposably means all food of any kind. some Torah observance advocates claims “food” in this context can only mean clean meats, since it’s in a “Jewish” context. does βρῶμα(specificly the form used in the verse) imply only certain meats or all meats?(i ask this because i know Greek has feminine, masculine, ect. tenses that can alter the meaning of a word)

    Also, what is the meaning of remes(the Hebrew word used for every in Genesis 9:3)?

    1. Hi, no, this is another abracadabra by people who already know what a text HAS to mean and then find a way to alter its plain meaning. βρῶμα/broma can mean any kind of food, meat, vegetable, etc., anything that people would eat. Yes, the statement was originally made in a Jewish context, but the gospel of Mark was written principally for gentiles, this is why Mark keeps explaining Jewish terms to them. He did not say “Broma only means a certain kind of food.”

      Here is THE dictionary definition of the term as found in the NT:

      βρῶμα, ατος, τό (s. βιβρώσκω; Thu., X. et al.; pap, LXX; En; TestSol 1:1 C; Test12Patr; Jos., Ant. 3, 29 and 30; 17, 62; Ar.; Just., D. 20, 1; 12:6; cp. TestReub 2:7 βρῶσις βρωμάτων)
      ① that which is eaten, food lit. Ro 14:15ab, 20; 1 Cor 8:8, 13; GEb 13, 79. Pl. (Hippocr. et al.; oft. LXX; En 98:2; Hippol., Ref. 1, 24, 1) Lk 3:11; 9:13; 1 Cor 6:l3ab; 1 Ti 4:3; Hb 13:9; B 10:9; PtK 2 p. 14, 20.—Esp. solid food (opp. γάλα) 1 Cor 3:2 (in imagery, but w. lit. components dominant). Pl. (w. ποτά, as 2 Esdr 3:7) ITr 2:3; (w. πόματα, as Plato, Leg. 11 p. 932a; Epict., Ench. 33, 2; TestReub 2:7) Hb 9:10.—The mng. ‘filth’, ‘stench’, as in Mod. Gk. (Rdm. 12) is most unlikely for Mt 14:15, Mk 7:19 (B-D-F §126, 3).—Of manna: τὸ πνευματικὸν β. 1 Cor 10:3.—In the endtime Papias (9:10); s. ἀπόλαυσις.
      ② nourishment of a transcendent nature, means of sustenance, food (πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ὅ ἐστι βρῶμα ζωῆς Iren. Haer. 4, 2 [Harv. II 294, 11]; ὁ περὶ β. ἀληθῶν καὶ πνευματικῶν λόγος Orig., C. Cels. 2, 2, 49) doing the will of God is Jesus’ food J 4:34; ἔσται μου ἡ εὐχὴ βρώματα καὶ πώματα prayer will be my food and drink GJs 1:4 (cp. Aeschyl., Cho. 26; Soph., El. 363f). Cp. 1 Cor 3:2 above.—B. 329. DELG s.v. βιβρώσκω. M-M. TW.

      “Hence Jesus declared all clean meats to be clean” is what we in the business call a “tautology”, a statement that is by definition void of meaning. Another example would be, “Boys will be boys.” It means nothing. And by default, I assume that our Lord and the gospel writers were able and willing to communicate truth, not just sandbag us with meaningless statements!

      Btw, the gender (not tense) of a noun has nothing to do with its meaning, not unless you are using a word to apply to animals or humans. So anyone telling you that grammatical gender of βρῶμα/broma means something is, again, trying to play with your head. Blessings! Gary

        1. Yes, like I said before: Remes רֶמֶשׂ can mean, to quote the lexicon, “creeping things, moving things — 1. creeping things, 2. sea animals, gliding things. 3. moving things, of all animals.

          Otherwise I’m not sure what you’re asking.

  2. Gary, another question. people sometimes point out that the vision in acts 15 has a diffrent Greek word for common than unclean. i’ve always seen them to do this to try to prove God didn’t make all meats clean, and thus we must still keep the dietary laws.

          1. There’s articles that say the Greek words used for “common” and “unclean” in Acts 10 are diffrent words, and that “common” in this context refers to Gentile’s unclenslines in the Torah, and that God was removing that barrier, not the barrier between clean and unclean animals.


            This article uses this logic to say we must still keep the dietary Laws(although he does use Strong’s Concordance to point out the diffrence, which is a fallacy in itself, the fact that there’s diffrent words for common and unclean in this passage still stands).

          2. His point is that, the vision proves we should still avoid unclean animals, correct? Whatever he is doing to demonstrate this, he runs aground on the fact that the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 never mentions it. Beyond that, kosher laws do not stand by themselves, if you admit them then you admit the rest of the 613 commandments as binding on Gentiles.

            But seriously, why bother filling your time, reading articles that you know from the start are not based on solid exegesis? It’s like a scab, don’t pick at it! Gary

          3. That’s what i was worried about! if he could prove any of the Mosaic Laws(other than ones for moral issues that have been expressed to always be wrong[lying, stealing, ect.]) are still in place, that means all are. and like i expressed so hopelessly, i can’t keep them all.
            also, he claims the 4 laws in acts 15 were already part of the Torah, and those were just Paul’s suggestions for Gentiles to start with. Is there any error in this thinking?

          4. Yes, it’s completely in error. The fundamental law for the proselyte was circumcision. No circumcision, no conversion to Israel, no the other 612 laws.

    1. Gary, about my other comment i was trying to post but was unaproved, I figured out there ARE errors in this thinking. Circumcision was always the Law to start with, even in the time of the NT. Proselytes always started following the Torah with Circumcision. saying Paul was giving them recomendations to start with is a huge error. besides, the fordibence of eating blood and idolatry, along with food offered to idols was given to Noah, long before Moses was given the Torah.

      1. Yes, the point of Acts 15 is that gentile believers in Christ did not have to be circumcised, thus, they did not have to become proselytes.

    This site worries me because much like you, they say Strong’s concordance Thayer’s Lexicon are unreliable, seemingly for many of the same reasons as you do. but the’re all about Law keeping and trying to prove the Law must still be observed. they also take evidence from expert Greek and Hebrew scolars to make their points, and the guy who writes it claims to have read the Greek of the new testament for his evidence. this guy seems to be irrefutable.

    1. Hi Jeffrey! Just because they are right in a couple of things does not make them right in general. Scholars who Catholics, Orthodox, liberals, etc. etc., typically agree that Strong’s and Thayer’s are unreliable. But they cannot all be right!

      This is the common logical fallacy of guilt (or in this case, innocence) by association. It would be like saying, “Hitler was a vegetarian, so vegetarianism is Nazism” Or positively, “Hitler rejected Thayer, and Thayer IS unreliable, therefore Hitler is acceptable.”

      I am surprised that you are following up on this topic, since you yourself have said, plainly, that Torah-observance was a dead end for you.

      Blessings, Gary

      1. thanks.
        Also, the guy at Bible Things in Bible Ways uses Strong’s Concordance to define certain terms, specificly to say that the Law still stands or many verses used to prove we’re no longer obliged to keep it are missunderstood.
        I was glad to find your site. this article was the first i found, and it was a huge help in getting over this.
        but if you read the articles i linked from the site, he’s using Strong’s concordance like it’s some infallible archive of the true meaning of Greek and Hebrew words, and claims “the first option is the literal translation” or maybe that was someone else. but this guy still uses it like it’s definitions can’t be questioned.

        1. Yes, my rule of thumb is: anyone who depends on Strong’s concordance and dictionary is a serious scholar, and when they use that data to say “everyone misunderstands the Bible but me”, it is sometimes a smokescreen to mislead people. Harsh words, I know, but that is what I see all over the internet. As you can see, using Strong’s Dictionary is absolutely circular reasoning. Blessings, Gary

          1. That reminds me.
            Theres this guy on Amino(a social media app that can only be joined on a mobile device) who tries real hard to prove the Law is something everyone needs to follow. I won’t post his name for the sake of his privacy, but he insists most of Christianity is composed of “false beleivers”. he also has some wierd doctrine i’ve never seen anyone else claim.
            Ex. “the idea of there being this body of beleivers called the “church” is a false doctrine made by men(not a quote, just a summary of his thoughts on the doctrine of the Church)” he also claims that translation and transliteration can’t explain how “Yeho’shua” became “Jesus”, calls the rapture a “doctrine of men”, and says Christmas, Easter and pretty much all non-Torah approved holidays “pagan”.(he uses his status as a retired history professor and “decades of mythological and historical research” to bolster his claim)
            The one thing that really bothers me is he claims the ENTIRE New Testament was written originaly in Hebrew, not Greek. Not just Mathew, or Acts and Hebrews, he claiims it would have been impossible for any New Testament book to be written in anything other than Hebrew originaly.
            And of course he uses Strong’s Concordance to define every singe Greek and Hebrew word.

          2. Yes, it’s always the people who really haven’t studied these things who speak very highly of their own abilities and how nobody understands the truth but they themselves! It’s a very common psychological tendency, and unfortunately, their self-confidence sucks people in.

            And, being a retired history professor is not a solid background, unless he did original first-hand research IN THIS AREA. Just as, even though I can claim to be a theologian, I am no expert in Islam, comparative religion, vudu, etc.! Gary

          3. As far as i know, he just repeats the same “evidence” spouted by other people, much of which is the same commonly used by proponents of holiday paganism and Hebrew primacy of the NT.
            And is there a possability his “research” could just be confirmation bias and not real study of the history of these things?

          4. I forgot to say this along with my other comment
            When i showed him an article giving massive amounts of compelling evidence that the NT was written in Greek and not Hebrew, he refused to read it. not sure if he ever did get to reading it.
            when i linked him a video showing definitively through the history of the pagan holiidays Christmas is accused of being linked to, and the actual history of Christmas traditions, that Christmas cannot be pagan in origin, he refused to watch it at all, just because of the channel’s name. yes, seriously.
            this was how he actully responded insted of watching:
            “Oh no! A Youtube video! all my decades of mythological research, gone to waste! I shouldn’t have wasted all those years researching the history of this holiday, because this video debunks all of that!”
            Obviously, he was being sarcastic.

  4. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I will take your advice and order the reference book that you are recommending. God bless you and your audience.

  5. Here’s an interesting example of how not to use the dictionary: John the Baptist is said to have a leather belt (zone/ζωνη). It is just a belt in Mark 1:6; but in other contexts it is a money belt (“It produced a number of astonishing effects, such as spilling wine out of jars without damage to the vessel, and passing through a man asleep without hurting him or touching his clothes, yet completely melting and fusing the copper coins in the money belt [ζωνη] that he was wearing”; Plutarch, Moralia 665B).

    ζωνη might refer to a money belt in some contexts, but not in every context!

  6. Good insights, my question then will which bible software’s can I use if I am doing word study

  7. I’ve used Strong’s many times, not being a Hebrew/Greek scholar and found it helpful. But not being a scholar in Biblical languages (shucks! I’m not to good with English grammar), I also didn’t know of the pitfalls of the concordance. But I h=never had a problem with understanding what was being said in the concordance. I took for granted it listed varied nuances for a word and I figured I had to figure it out by the context. It was a good dictionary for me, as I did not to see all the places where a word may have been used. I coupled my use of the Strong’s with Young’s Literal Concordance.

    I have noticed one big limitation. The concordances don’t tell you the various places where the same word is used in the various places in the Bible. For example, the same Greek is translated “castaway” in one verse and “reprobate” in another but I never knew that until I read it in my “Full Life Study Bible.” Also, I wish there was a Greek concordance for the Septuagint and one that listed similar words used the there with those of the NT.

    Haven’t got to it yet, but I’d like to do a study on “cut off” (Rom 11:22) and see how it may relate to OT verses like Gen 17:14, Ex 12:15 and NT verses like John 15, along with any other “branch” metaphors. I’m under the impression that it supports the notion of the real possibility of forfeiting salvation.

    Your thoughts?

    Anyway, I really appreciate your warning regarding Strong’s Concordance as, if one is not careful, it can lead to confusion if not misunderstanding of verses.

    But what is worse are electronic language resources, which, although also helpful, can lead to a bigger problem like dubious and deceptive teachings in order to support a particular theological view…

    If you could print some kind of warning for using electronic resources, that would be greatly helpful.

    1. Hi and many blessings!

      I would recommend the Englishman’s Greek Concordance.

      There is a companion Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance.

      These allow you to look up the uses of a word, without having to know the languages.

      Remember that, just because the same word is used in different passages, it doesn’t mean that they have the same significance.

      With regard to “cut off,” it has more to do with the context than the word itself.

      Many blessings!

      (btw, I had to cut off the reference to another website; usually I don’t permit them).

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