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History of the Concordance

Bibles today usually come with all kinds of helpful materials. You can get Bibles with timelines, maps, dictionaries, tables, and pictures. But the oldest tool to help with Bible study is probably the concordance.

A concordance is an alphabetical list of words found in a literary work which also tells where the words are located in the literary work. You could make a concordance of an email message if you wanted: alphabetize prominent words and then tell which sentence they are in. An index in the back of a book is a kind of concordance: it tells the different page numbers where words are found.

But the most popular type of concordance is one based on the Bible. Many Bibles have a concordance in the back. The editors choose prominent words and tell some of the verses in which those words are located. After the book, chapter, and verse is given, several words surrounding that word might be given and the word itself might be represented by a letter. For instance, in my concordance after the word "exalt" the first reference is Exodus 15:2; my concordance reads "my fatherís God, and I will e him."

I have a separate concordance of the Bible; it is 1039 pages long but does not include common words (examples include "go," "seen," "the," etc.). I have seen an old copy of an exhaustive concordance, which lists every word in the Bible; it was the almost the size of a concrete block!

In addition to different sizes, there are different types. Some Bibles have topical concordances. This type of concordance chooses topics or ideas instead of words, then groups verses which relate to that topic or idea.

The first biblical concordance was created around the year 1230 by Hugo of Saint-Cher. According to tradition he was assisted by 500 monks. This first concordance was based on the Latin version of the Bible and only listed the verse reference in which a word appeared, no part of the verse was included.

A further interesting fact about this first concordance: by 1230 the New Testament had been divided into chapters, but not into verses. (The NT was divided into chapters around 1200 by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury; it would not be divided into verses until the mid-1500s by Robert Stephanus, a printer from Paris.) But Hugo wanted to be more specific than just point to a chapter. Therefore, he decided to divide each chapter (of the NT) into seven parts: a,b,c,d,e,f,g. Now he could tell from which chapter a word came, plus give guidance as to where it fell within that chapter.

In 1250, three monks decided to make this concordance more useful, and they added the verses to each reference. So now one could look up a word, see the verse reference, and the verse itself. In 1310, Conrad of Halberstadt decided to reduce the size of the concordance by stating only a part of the verse instead of the whole verse. This is more like the type of concordances that we use today.

The first concordance of an English-language Bible was in 1535 by Thomas Gybson; in that year he produced a concordance of the New Testament. In 1550 John Marbeck produced a concordance of the entire English-language Bible. And today one can go to a number of websites which perform the same action. That has come a long way from a monk in a room with a candle, paper, quill, and ink bottle writing out each word and the verses where it was located.

©2007 Mark Nickens

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