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A concordance is an index. The idea is simple. Look up a word in the index and see a list of pages where the word occurs in the book. In the Bible concordance the list is of chapters and verses rather than pages. For example, look up "begat" in a Concordance of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible and find that "begat" is listed 228 times in 142 verses if the three citations in the Apocrypha are included. There is a lot of begatting in the Good Book.

The fascinating fact that people get themselves begat 228 times in the Bible is only slightly less impressive than the fact that John Marbeck compiled the first English concordance of the entire Bible over four centuries ago.[1] His work on the concordance got him accused of heresy. This makes the first English list of biblical begats about four hundred years old.[2] His first concordance was destroyed by fire coincidentally with his sentence to die at the stake for heresy so, after his release from a death sentence and pardon, he hit the books again and got the abbreviated version published in 1550. Although Cruden's Preface is a good short history of the Bible Concordance, perhaps the most popular early concordance is ignored in Cruden's summary. Robert F. Herrey's, concordance dated 1578 was bound with the Geneva Bible.[3] The Herrey concordance sets forward three purposes. One purpose seems to set the prooftext goal of his and all later concordances: "I have likewise by themselves placed all, and as many proper and useful English words, as are contained in the same Bible, conducing to the finding out of the most fittest sentences, and best common places, tending to the proving or verifying of any article and doctrine, concerning our Christian faith and Religion, or belonging to any other godly or necessary instruction: so as if thou would understand what is to be learned in the Scriptures touching God or his power, his wisdom, or his love, his mercy, or his truth, his justice, his promises, his plagues, or his punishments" (emphasis mine). Herrey then appends a long list of who can benefit by understanding various doctrines and ideas.

The Marbeck edition and a few later attempts just didn't do the job about two centuries later for Alexander Cruden and neither did any of the other twenty-one earlier attempts described by Cruden in the preface to his concordance, the purpose of which is clear, as he concludes his preface with a prayer: "May those who profess to believe the Scriptures to be a Revelation from GOD, apply themselves to the reading and study of them." Besides, the Bible of Cruden's day was the Authorized or King James Version of 1611, which had never been properly indexed. Early index attempts were just lists of references and didn't include each word in brief context. The old versions had no dictionary either and "significations" or definitions would especially help lay Bible readers who didn't have the benefit of large personal libraries or training for the ministry. And so, after working a little more than a year, Alexander Cruden published A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in 1738. This concordance is the oldest index continuously in print. People were using it to find Bible passages a generation before the United States declared independence. It is still here in the libraries of the world and after two and a half centuries. A recent search shows that it is still available in at least six editions from four publishers.[4] It is also bound with Bibles and published in electronic form on the Internet.

Writers can index as they type these days. Just mark the words and the word processor alphabetizes them into an index, which is compiled as fast as the text is written. So two and a half centuries before technology took over the arduous task of indexing, Alexander Cruden indexed the 773,746 words of the King James Version of the Bible. It was a year and a half from start to printing. He added the Apocrypha later.

We suppose he started where the Bible starts, with Gen 1:1, "In the beginning." If he did, he found 12,674 occurrences of "in" in 9,526 verses. Perhaps he didn't start at the very beginning because he only gives a definition of "in" and then lists references for "in as much." The second word in the Bible is "the." He would have found "the" 64,040 times in 24,127 verses.[5]

Evidence and logic suggest that he probably moved on to "beginning." This he found a more manageable 106 times in 104 verses. If careful as he scanned three quarters of a million words looking for "beginning," he could have picked up "begin" fifty times, and "began" 216 times. But it is best to be alert and not pick up a "begat" or "beget" by mistake. They are only a consonant different from "began," and two letters different from "begin." At the same time it would be good to catch five "beginnings" in the same scan along with the "begin" word that only occurs twice in the Bible, "beginnest." We suppose he noticed that there are no "begins" in the Bible.

Finding the words was one thing, noting them another. Cruden would have written down every reference for "beginning" along with a few words that precede and follow each "beginning." Long tally sheets spilled on desk and floor. The writing instrument of the day was not the computer and a candle served to light up the project in the dark English nights. One wonders how many goose quills and ink pots this project took. And since he wanted to "assist us in finding our passages," he sorted the "begin" words into different lists including the expected "begin, beginner, beginning, and beginnings." He also sorted some of the common phrases so that his "Complete Concordance" includes reference lists for "at the beginning," "from the beginning," and "in the beginning."

So there is an index to the almost one million words in the Bible. It is a thorough index, complete and mostly accurate if one can forgive the fact that Cruden missed Huz the brother of Buz completely (Gen 21:21). It seems only fitting to have an index, since the Bible is the only book without a real title. Bible means book. The Bible is a library of books with an index, thanks to Cruden. The concordance is like the card catalog of the library, or for those who have only discovered libraries in the last decade, the computer catalog of library holdings.

How would one use this giant doorstop of a book called a concordance? Prooftext!!! The idea is to prove you are right, and the clergy, scholars, and lay people were in the business of "proving" in earnest in Cruden's day.[6]

If one wants to "prove" that works aren't enough to assure salvation then "works" is the place to start in Cruden's Concordance. And how helpful to find that he separated the references according to "works, his works, their works, thy works, wonderful works." But to assure that the argument includes other helpful passages showing that grace is part of the salvation idea, the reader should check out the references to "grace" and find that Cruden separates this entry into "grace" and "grace of God." But since Cruden's work is an index, not a topical guide or reference Bible, there is no listing for "grace" with the entry for "works." In the concordance, "works" don't lead the reader to "grace." The reader must work this out. And we easily do this with our computers these days. And just as Cruden did, prooftext readers looking for grace and works often ignore context. The passages used to support a single idea may come from disparate writers who are dispersed by centuries.

Another weakness of this kind of word search is that a search for any word will naturally miss references that relate to a particular topic without using a particular word. For example, if one were to search for "Sabbath" with the idea of learning all that the Bible has to say on the subject, the search would come up short. For most Bible readers the idea of a Sabbath rest is first found in the creation narratives of Genesis when God rests. However, this idea won't show up with a word search of "Sabbath." The word "Sabbath" is not in the entire book of Genesis even though the idea of Sabbath is found in the first book of the Bible. It is not until Exodus 16 in the context of manna in the wilderness, that the word "Sabbath" is first encountered. It is also easy to miss another contextual issue even though the concordance should help. "Sabbath" is found 137 times in 116 passages in the Christian Bible. "Sabbaths" is found thirty-five times in thirty-three verses and all citations are in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Of the 137 citations in the Christian Bible, fifty-five are in the New Testament and all but ten of these are in the Gospels. This suggests that there may be something quite different about the Hebrew Bible Sabbath and the Christian New Testament Sabbath that warrants further study. Add to this the fact that the first Sabbath of Genesis doesn't show up in a word search, and it is possible to admit that just looking at verses that contain the word "Sabbath, may not teach a reader much about the Sabbath. On the other hand, the word search could give a good prooftext reader plenty of evidence to support a preconceived idea.

One of the ironies for modern Christian Bible word searchers is that the word "Christianity" will not turn up in a search. It isn't in the Bible. It isn't a New Testament word. The word "Christian" is not found in the Gospels and only three times in the New Testament.[7]

As Bible reading is seemingly on the rise and literal reading remains constant, there are probably few who find it necessary like earlier followers of the sixth century Rule of Benedict of Nursia and read seven times a day.[8] Modern readers with electronic and paper Bible concordances have no need to become what one author called these Benedictine Monks: "Thus it comes as no surprise to find that, given their familiarity with Scripture, these men were practically living concordances."[9]

This first "complete" concordance in English by Alexander Cruden is also a dictionary of proper names and includes "significations" that explain the symbolic meanings of animals' names and natural history. Besides the significations in the concordance, Cruden included an "Alphabetical Table of the Proper Names in the Old and New Testament: Together with the Meaning or Signification of these Words in their Original Languages." And because definitions are just not enough, he included in the book "A Concordance to the Proper Names of the Old and New Testament," so a reader can find every place Aaron, Aaronites Abaddon, Abagtha, Abana, Abda, Abdi, and so on, are mentioned in the Bible. He also added "A Concordance to the Books Called Apocrypha." The tome deserves the "Complete" in its title. The unpaginated three column book is two inches thick.

The "significations" are fascinating and a first view to how he personally read the Bible. His writing about the serpent, for example, is both archaic and encyclopedic and dispersed throughout with the biblical references to the serpent of the Garden of Eden, the serpents of the Egyptian plagues and Aaron's staff, and the serpent Moses holds up in the wilderness.

It is likewise said of the serpent that when he is old, he has the secret of growing young again, and of stripping off his old skin or slough, by squeezing himself between two rocks. He assaults a man if he has his clothes on, but flees if he finds him naked. When he is assaulted, his chief care is to secure his head; because his heart being under his throat and very near his head, the readiest way to kill him is to squeeze or cut off his head; hence, in the curse that God gave the serpent, he told him the Seed of the Woman shall bruise the Serpent's head—that is, the seat of his life.... When he goes to drink at a fountain, he first vomits up all his poison for fear of poisoning himself as he is drinking.... It is said that it applies one of its ears hard to the ground, and stops up the other with the end of its tail. Others say the Subtlety of the Serpent consists in its agility and suppleness; or in a secret it has of recovering its sight by the juice of the fennel.[10] Everyone proposes his own conjecture on this matter. Some place the venom of the serpent in its gall, others in its tongue, others in its teeth.

The "significations" have not persisted, for obvious reasons. But the massive index itself is still a fixture on the bookshelf of scholars, parsons, and any Bible reader who tries to support belief with evidence from the Bible.

Compiling a concordance of the Bible was not Cruden's full time job. He was editor or "corrector" for a printer and managed a bookstore that eventually fell on hard times because of his neglect. He was the Queen's Bookseller, an honorary title that was hard earned but paid nothing. He worked correcting from seven most evenings until the first hour of the next morning. He was then up at 6:00 a.m. working at the concordance until time to start his proofreading again. And he wasn't always able to keep at his work throughout his life. He was three, possibly four, times committed to a lunatic asylum against his will. There is a mystery in his possible confinement at Bethlem Hospital, the original bedlam. He stood for Parliament and withdrew from the race when defeat became obvious. His application for knighthood was ignored in spite of his frequent attendance at the king's levee. He was thrice disappointed in love and in modern terms was a stalker that rejection could not stop. And although a compulsive worker, he was fired from a job as tutor in French because he couldn't pronounce the foreign words properly and resorted to spelling in his oral reading.

So literal was his Bible reading and so personal his interpretations, that throughout his life he noticed the parallels between himself and the biblical Joseph. Ministers told him he was a modern Joseph. Like Joseph he was unjustly imprisoned. Like Joseph he would save the people. He would correct their morals. Like Joseph he was chaste. Like Joseph he was annoying.

It is from Cruden's words that the context of his concordance is understood and through his eyes that we see his eighteenth-century world. He was seduced by words, especially the words of the Bible and so his words are careful and descriptive and offer a view from his private world.

The biblical world of Alexander Cruden was created with English words: "In the beginning was the word" (John 1:1);[11] God says "Let there be light," and there is light (Gen 1:3). The power of words is extended to Adam in Genesis. After "the LORD formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air," (Gen 2:19) he showed them to Adam, who named them. These animals were nothing until named with words. Adam's words are powerful.

The Psalms venerate the power of words and recognize that, in the words recorded in Genesis, God created the world. It is clear that, for Cruden, the power is in the words. By the "word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Ps 33:6). "Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created" (Ps 148:5).

The Pslams were even more for Cruden. He read the Psalms as revised by Isaac Watts to the prisoners of Newgate. These psalms are a new way of reading the Bible for people removed from the countries and cultures of the Middle East. "Isaac Watts, the eighteenth-century nonconformist hymn-writer, rewrote the Psalms as Christian hymns, by removing all reference to events and institutions in the life of Israel and introducing references to Jesus and the Church."[12] To Watts and Cruden, Israel was often England and Cruden read the words of the Psalms as personal, messages to him. And this is the key to understanding what Cruden did with his concordance. He made it possible for anyone to read as he read, literally with application to himself and his country. The Bible was very much his story.

As Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he recognized the power of words and quoted the words of the law. "Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Alexander Cruden understood the idea that the Word was also Jesus and his lengthy "signification" in the concordance of "word" artfully expresses Cruden's view of his religious world. He understood that in this passage, the Word (Jesus) was telling his followers to follow the words of the Word. Cruden believed that his work with words was work with the divine. He also sensed that people would not find the biblical passages about "words" without a concordance.

And the result of Cruden's work is a tectonic shift in how the Bible is read and by whom. No longer is the church the authority. The Bible itself has become even more the authority than envisioned in the 1562 "Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion." Article VI is clear: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." [13]

And no longer are those with large libraries and good biblical memories the only authorities on the Bible. Everyone can find the passage in the Bible, which by this time is the bedrock of the English culture.

In his preface, Cruden claims that his concordance "tends so much to render the study of the Holy Scriptures more easy to all Christians." Now what these Christian readers can do is find an interpretation of any passage "by comparing one Scripture with another" as if the good book had been memorized for them. What happens now is that any reader can find proof for an argument or question. Now biblical evidence need not be memorized, just know a key word and find the proof text. Cruden has made the lay reader as good at finding the proof text as parson or scholar. It is a new world for Bible readers who can now replace the authority of the church with the authority of what they read in the Bible. The words become the authority of the Word.

And this new world of Bible reading was discovered or invented by an annoying proof corrector of the press who was involuntarily incarcerated in madhouses three or four times, who was unsuccessful in love and politics, who never financially profited from his work, left no descendants, and initiated madhouse and prison reform in England. Yet he may have compiled the most printed book besides the Bible, if not the most printed index, in the history of the world.

Roger G. Baker, Brigham Young University

[1] John Marbeck, A Concordace, That is to Saie, a Work Wherein by the Ordre of the Letters of the A.B.C. Ye Maie Redely Finde any Words Conteigned in the Whole Bible (London: Richardus Grafton excudebat, 1550). Alternate spellings are Marbecke or Merbecke.
[2] Although Marbeck is probably the first English Bible concordance, the idea of a concordance is much older. In Cruden's 1738 preface, he attributes the earliest concordance to the Dominican Frier (sic) Hugo de S. Charo, who died in 1262. David S. Katz, God's Last Words: Reading the English Bible from the Reformation to Fundamentalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 6 remarks that in Biblia Sacra Polyglotta (Alcalá, 1514-17), "a sort of primitive concordance appears in the margin, noting similar passages in other parts of the Bible." For more information on this polyglot, see An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics (4th ed.; ed. Thomas Frognall Dibdin; London: Harding & Lepard; G. B. Whittaker, 1827), i. 1-43.
[3] A copy of this concordance is in the author's possession.
[4] According to
[5] If he had included the Apocrypha in the first edition, he would have to add another 2,216 "in"s, 9,703 "the"s but only 65 "beginning"s.
[6] The Concordance is still a valuable tool for students of the Bible. A good resource for those who may wonder about how to use this index is Lloyd R. Bailey, "What a Concordance Can Do For You: The Bible Word by Word," Biblical Archaeology Review 10 (Nov./Dec. 1984): 60-67.
[7] The New Testament references that include the word "Christian" are Acts 11:26; 26:28, and 1 Pet 4:16.
[8] Paul Schrodt, "Christian Reading: Lectio Divina, Lectio Excelsior," Journal of Theology 106 (2002) 55-68.
[9] Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina (Collegevill, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 5.
[10]The fennel is a perennial European herb with yellow flowers. It is cultivated chiefly for its use in sauces eaten with salmon. Cruden may have intended this use of the word since he compiled an index of Milton's Paradise Lost in which Milton (1667) used fennel in the lines "A savorie odour ... more pleas'd my sense Than smell of sweetest Fenel" (P.L. ix. 581). It is interesting to note the fennel is a type of apple, often thought of as representative of the forbidden fruit of Eden. Cruden may have intended this reference.
[11] According to The Chicago Manual of Style, "the version of the Bible now most frequently referred to in scholarly work is probably the New Revised Standard Version." The references here are from the Bible of Alexander Cruden's day, the Authorized or King James Version, published in 1611, about 125 years before Cruden's concordance. The SBL Handbook of Style suggests the abbreviations NRSV and KJV and offers no version preference.
[12] Roger Tomes, "The Psalms," in Creating the Old Testament (ed. Stephen Bigger; Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 254.
[13] Alister E. McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 234.

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Citation: Roger G. Baker, " Baker," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2006]. Online:


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