[forthright] What Is His Name?/The Strength of Strong's

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From: Forthright Magazine <ba@...>
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 2004 16:43:12 -0500
Forthright Magazine
Straight to the Cross

COLUMN: Field Notes

What Is His Name?
By Michael E. Brooks

"Then Moses said to God, 'Indeed, when I come to
the children of Israel and say to them, "The God
of your fathers has sent me to you," and they say
to me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to
them?' And God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' And
he said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of
Israel, "I am has sent me to you"'" (Exodus

The name of God has always been a subject of
curiosity and sometimes controversy. Different
languages use different words for divinity, such
as "El" or "Elohim" in Hebrew, "Theos" in Greek,
"Deos" in Latin, etc. Various gods are given
personal names. Baal, Moloch, and Rimmon were gods
worshipped by the nations surrounding Israel in
Old Testament times. Krishna, Shiva, and Ganesh
are deities of modern Hinduism. In a polytheistic
society one cannot identify his god only by the
generic term for deity; he must specify the exact
one he wishes to address.

The third commandment is "You shall not take the
name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord
will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in
vain" (Exodus 20:7). God attaches great
significance to his name. He gave it to Moses in
order that he might be correctly identified and
known, and he protected it with a strict and
ominous warning. The Jews took this commandment so
seriously that they refused to even pronounce
God's name, substituting "Adoni" ("The Lord") for
"Yahweh" even when reading the Old Testament text
aloud (a practice continued in most modern English
translations –- for instance in Psalm 23 the
original text says "Yahweh is my shepherd," but we
read "The Lord is my Shepherd."

It is significant that the name of God is very
like the Hebrew verb "to be" and that it is
unmistakably connected with God's eternal
existence in Exodus 3:14. God's name reflects at
least a part of his unalterable nature. He is, he
is the ultimate Being and the ground and cause of
all other being. Without God there is no life, no
existence. These truths are reflected and
acknowledged whenever we speak or read his name.

I was made to reflect on these things recently by
a rather trivial incident in Nepal. A group of
Christians came to one of our workshops from the
village of Badhurjahula. The name of the village
means, "hanging monkey." Does that perhaps suggest
a certain type of location for the village? Would
you expect that name to be given to a neighborhood
in a modern city? Badhurjahula lies within Chitwan
National Park, the oldest of the parks in Nepal
and home to many wild animals, including tigers,
leopards, Asian rhinoceros, and, yes, lots and
lots of monkeys. The name well describes and fits
the village's location.

So our perception of God's identity and nature is
enhanced by our knowing his name. He is eternal,
all-powerful, ever-present. He Is! And He always
will be! "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Psalm

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COLUMN: Basic Greek

The Strength of Strong's
by Kevin Cauley

Perhaps one of the most popular Bible tools that
is readily available is Strong's Concordance. As a
concordance, Strong's is one of the best (if not
the best) available to the Bible student today.
Many a gospel preacher wrote his first sermon
using nothing but the Bible and a Strong's
concordance. As many are familiar, Strong's also
numbers each word indexed so that the reader may
look up the original Greek or Hebrew word that is
used in the passage under consideration. This can
be useful in comparing two different Bible
passages to aid the reader in understanding
whether the same word was used in both passages.
However, a student should be careful not to extend
Strong's beyond its intended purpose; it is a
concordance, not a comprehensive lexicon of
ancient words. What can Strong's Greek and Hebrew
aids do to help the non-Greek/Hebrew reading
student? What are the limitations of Strong's
Concordance? Let's look at these questions this
week in our basic Greek study.

As I mentioned, Strong's language helps can aid
the reader to understand which word is used in
what passage. For example, if I were comparing two
passages that had the English word "love" in them,
I could note what the Greek word for love is in
those passages. However, in order for that to be
helpful to me, I need to know what those different
Greek words indicate. Without knowing the
definition of a word, I may be able to eliminate a
scripture that doesn't go along with my sermon
topic, but that doesn't help me put what I do have
into the right context. "Mr. Strong" recognized
this and so he put a "dictionary" into the back of
the concordance. The dictionary is designed to aid
by giving a rudimentary definition of a word so
that one may know the difference between two
different Greek words with the same English
translation. So it is very helpful in this regard.

On the other hand, the Greek and Hebrew
dictionaries in Strong's Concordance ought not to
be looked at as "the" definition of a word for all
occurrences of that word in scripture. Just as
most English words have more than one definition,
so also Greek and Hebrew words have more than one
definition. Strong's often gives the words as they
have been translated in the KJV. Strong's
dictionary doesn't really look at the fundamental
definitions of a word and the nuances involved in
the uses of those words and how they might be
translated into English in the year 2004. This job
should be left to more advanced lexical tools,
such as Thayer's or BADG.

Another limitation of Strong's is that it doesn't
necessarily indicate how the word is used in the
context. It merely gives the word as most often
translated. For example, Strong's translates the
Greek word OINOS as "wine." That is the correct
translation; but in the times of the New Testament
the word "wine" could indicate either an alcoholic
or a non-alcoholic beverage. One cannot determine
simply by looking at Strong's dictionary what the
Greek word OINOS means in its context. One must
examine the context and understand how a word is
being used.

Finally, while Strong's can tell us when two
different words are being used, it cannot tell us
how synonymous those two words are in meaning.
There are many synonyms in the New Testament.
Sometimes those words are used to reiterate the
same concepts and sometimes not. Strong's cannot
help a person understand when that is happening
and when it is not, though, Strong's may be able
to provide some hints through its etymological
references. But one must remember that similar
etymology doesn't necessarily mean that two words
are synonymous, either.

Overall, Strong's Concordance is an excellent tool
for the Bible student. I highly recommend that
every person have a copy in their personal
library. However, when it comes to Greek and
Hebrew aids, one ought to purposefully limit
Strong's to what it does best in that department.
Strong's aids the reader in understanding where
similar original language words are used and where
different original language words are used in
reference to a single English word. One should
limit one's use of Strong's dictionary to that
purpose. Greater depth of understanding of
original language words ought to be sought from a
Greek or Hebrew Lexicon.

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