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27 May 2018

Using a Concordance: What is an Oracle?


I love the notes on the Hebrew and Greek roots of words you sometimes see in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the Bible. Where those have been included, they almost always add clarity to the meaning of a difficult passage, and I often wished there was more of them.

Then I discovered Strong's Concordance.

What they've done with Strong's Concordance is made an index. Of every single word in the entire Bible. And then cross-referenced each and every word with the Greek or Hebrew word it was translated from. So any word that puzzles you, you can trace back into Hebrew for the Old Testament, or Greek for the New Testament, look at its definition and entomology, and see what else it was translated as, and where else it was used.

My oldest and I are reading through a chronological edition of the King James (another magical invention - I'm absolutely loving having it arranged chronologically, rather than the traditional order) and recently we were reading the 28th Psalm:

Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.

The kids stopped me: "What's an oracle?" 
"Actually, guys, I have no idea."
None of the regular English contexts I've seen this word in make any sense here.

So I checked the footnotes, and wandered through a number of passages that use the word, but none of them explain it and I'm really none the wiser for having followed the footnotes. This is the sort of situation when I turn to Strong's to see if I can learn some more.

The front half of the book is a list of all the words in the Bible, and each word has a list of where it appears. You look things up just like you would in the dictionary: alphabetically. As it turns out, my verse from Psalm 28 is the last one on the list. It's interesting to note that the singular is used in the Old Testament, but the New Testament authors used "oracles" instead. I may look them both up: the Old Testament uses will pull from Hebrew, but the New Testament ones will come from Greek, and it may be interesting to look at both.

You'll notice that after the reference for the chapter and verse the word is used in, there's a number. This is the "Strong's Number" and it's how you find the Hebrew word that was translated as "oracle" when they moved into English. Remember that number, and flip to the Hebrew dictionary section, where you will find the Strong's numbers at the top of the page, rather than the guide words like you would in the English dictionary. Oracle comes from word number 1687, so using the guide numbers I know that it's going to be on this page.

Looking down the page, this is what I find: the oracle is the shrine: the place from which Deity speaks. I also glance at the nearby entries to see if they can add anything. This time, they're not really related, but I've noticed that they are often words that share the same root, and that you can sometimes get additional insights from glancing through them.

At this point, I'm ready to return to my verse, and put the definition in place of the original word.

Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward the place from which You speak.
-Psalm 28:1-2

This now suggests several things to me. Before I even returned to the verse, I was thinking of places from which the Lord speaks: the scriptures are perhaps the most obvious. I also thought of the story of King Benjamin's people pitching their tents with the doorway toward the temple so that they could hear the words of the Lord from their prophet-king. The temple itself could be considered an "oracle", because we hear the Lord's words in the instructions there.

It's interesting to see how the word has been used in past Conferences and other resources included in the BYU Scripture Citation Index: I've seen a couple of quotes that use the word oracle, and never been certain what exactly they mean. The Citation Index turns up several uses, but of the ones that I looked at, this one is probably my favorite quote:

After the death of the Savior and his apostles, the heavens were closed, and for many centuries God ceased to appoint holy prophets among men. Finally, as I have already stated, a living oracle was sent to earth again in the person of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Eternal Father, his Only Begotten Son, and numerous holy angels talked with Joseph face to face, even as they had done with the prophets of old. Thus the word, the will, and the commandments of God came from heaven to mortals again in exactly the same manner as they had come in past ages.
-Milton R. Hunter, A Prophet of God, April 1948

There are other things you can do with Strong's as well: you can find the Strong's number for the world that you're interested in, and then use that to find other verses that use the same words, which can be useful for finding out more on the same topic. 

There are online versions of Strong's Concordance, and this is the tutorial that I used to learn how to use those, prior to getting a copy of my own. Since that time, Strong's has become one of my favorite tools for shedding light on some of those Bible passages where it's hard to follow what the old English is getting at, because it helps take it back to its roots and that just helps so much to make things clear. It's also been useful several times when I wasn't sure what a Book of Mormon word was getting at, exactly, but knew of similar verses in the Bible: then studying the Bible verse sheds more light on the one in the Book of Mormon as well.

1 comment:

Deann | As We Bloom said...

This looks neat, I'm going to look into getting this book.


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