The understanding of a concordance is well reflected in the title of the first concordance of the complete Bible in English, published in 1550 by John Marbeck: A Concordance, that is to saie, a work wherein by the ordre of the letters A B C, ye maie reddly find any words conteigned in the whole Bible, so often as it is there expressed or mensioned. A concordance lists alphabetically and in their context the words that occur in a specified writing or group of writings, with citations of where they may be found.
Concordances in general vary in what words from a corpus they include. Exhaustive concordances include every word. Some concordances exclude very frequent words, or include only words of importance for some particular purpose, or specific types of words. Thus, there can be a concordance of words that occur fewer than a hundred times, of theological terms, or of proper names.
Concordances vary in how much context they provide for each word. Works giving no context but providing citations of where the words occur have historically been called concordances, but they might more properly be called indexes.
Concordances also vary in how they list words. Graphic concordances list the form of a word as it occurs in the text. They are often satisfactory for languages that have few prefixes, like English, since most related forms of a word are listed in fairly close proximity. Lexical concordances list words by the dictionary form of the word. These are necessary for languages like Hebrew, in which the tense and person of verbs may be changed by adding prefixes.
In addition, biblical concordances vary in what books (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Apocrypha) and what language version of the Bible (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, King James Version English, etc.) they include.
The fact that the Bible exists in many translations has meant that users of a translation are often interested not only in a word and the contexts in which it is found, but in what word or words in the original language of the texts are being translated. A monumental work of this type is A Concordance to the Septuagint, begun by Edwin Hatch, completed by Henry Redpath, and published in 1897. It included several Greek versions of the Old Testament with the Hebrew words that presumably were being translated. Such a concordance is referred to as a dual language or analytical concordance.
The earliest biblical concordance known is to the Latin Bible by Antony of Padua made in the early thirteenth century. More influential, however, was the Concordantia S. Jacobi compiled in 1230 under the direction of Hugo of St. Caro. It was the source on which later Latin concordances were based.
The earliest Hebrew concordance was produced by Rabbi Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymos in 1448 and published in 1523. The revision by John Buxtorf in 1632 was the basis for most later Hebrew concordances.
While earlier concordances in manuscript form are mentioned, the earliest published Greek concordance of the Old Testament is Concordantiae Graecae versionis vulgo dictae LXX interpretum by Abraham Trommius in 1718. The first concordance of the Greek New Testament was that of Sixtus Birck (Xystus Betulejus) in 1546.
Probably the most influential and broadly published English concordance was Alexander Cruden's A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (1737).
Because of the labor and time involved and the frequency of errors, in the past it was natural that once a concordance of a text was published, later concordances of that text tended to be based on earlier concordances. This has changed radically with the introduction of the computer and the encoding of large numbers of texts in electronic form.
The earliest computer‐generated concordances were the KWIC (KEY WORD IN CONTEXT) concordances that were generated without reference to the language of the text, except to know whether the writing goes from right to left or vice versa. The usefulness of these graphic concordances depends on the nature of the language involved.
A process called “tagging” (introducing into a text codes that give information about the individual words) has made possible the automatic production of lexical concordances. These are very similar to the KWIC concordances. In addition to information about the dictionary forms of words, tags may also include morphological and syntactic information. This creates the possibility of generating “concordances” of information other than words. One may have a concordance that arranges all the nouns in the Bible together, subdividing them by how they are used in the sentence. Subjects, objects of verbs, and objects of prepositions are listed together rather than with other occurrences of the same word.
The “aligning” of texts, in which the words in two or more texts are correlated, has made possible the automatic creation of dual language or analytic concordances. By both aligning and tagging texts, a wide range of concordances can be created.
The computer has also made it practical to produce and publish concordances of other languages and groups of texts that are important to students of the Bible. Concordances exist for the Ugaritic literature and the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls.
With tagged and/or aligned texts available in electronic form, it is possible to develop computer programs that allow the user to define the kind of concordance desired and to have the concordances generated on the spot and displayed on the screen. Today the electronic texts created by earlier scholars, rather than their concordances, are the source for new concordances.
Concordances are useful to the casual reader who wants to know where a familiar quotation is found, to the student who wants to see Paul's use of a theological term, to the preacher who is examining a biblical theme for a sermon, and to the scholar who is interested in whether the Dead Sea Scrolls use words with the same meaning that Jesus gave to them. The range of concordances is increasing at a tremendous rate, and this is likely to continue.
Richard E. Whitaker