Using Electronic Lexica in Communicative Pedagogy (BibleWorks 9 Review, pt. 3)

In this series I am exploring some ways that the new BibleWorks 9 can be used, not simply as a tool for exegesis or Bible study, but as an aid to communicative learning and teaching. For a good overview and introduction to the features of BibleWorks 9, see David Instone-Brewer’s guide.

hurdleThe Vocabulary Hurdle
If you begin to try teaching or learning Greek communicatively, you will quickly run into a major problem: you don’t know Greek! What I mean by this is, first, while you might have memorized charts of paradigms, endings, or morphological rules to generate these paradigms, you don’t have the structure of the language internalized. Also, and probably more serious, your vocabulary is miniscule. Mounce gets you to about 330 separate words in his best-selling textbook (300-500 is average for beginning Greek textbooks). But, don’t forget, a lot of these are cognates (ἄγγελος) or proper nouns (Ἀβραάμ). Furthermore, most Greek classes only require the ability to passively recognize vocabulary words. Normally, when we talk about knowing a word, we mean that we can use it properly in all its forms (i.e. active knowledge). “Proper use” includes knowing its register, and how it relates to other words in the language, e.g. what words it collocates with, what case it takes for its object, etc.

Reverse Word Search in BibleWorks Lexica
Another major problem with regard to communicative pedagogy and vocabulary is a dearth of resources providing the basic elements necessary for communicating in Greek. In a previous post, I discussed the need for a contemporary English to Greek dictionary, and pointed you to several public domain English to Greek lexica that are currently available online.

How does this relate to BibleWorks? Well, BW comes standard with an abridged version of LSJ (Liddell-Scott-Jones), along with several other basic lexica, most notably Moulton-Milligan, which comes in handy sometimes, and Louw-Nida, which divides NT words into semantic domains. For a how-to guide to using Louw-Nida in BW, see Philip Brown’s tutorial here.

sneezingThe great thing about these lexica is that you can search not just for the Greek headword, but also within the English definitions. So, let’s say I want to know how to say “sneeze” in Koine Greek: 1) I open up the Lexicons window in BW and select Liddell-Scott [I always start with LSJ because it deals with the whole of the ancient Greek language, while the other lexica only deal with a tiny slice of it, namely what is used in the NT]. 2) I go to the “Edit” drop-down menu and select “Search.” 3) I check the English option, since I want to search the English definition, type in the word “sneeze” and hit “Find.” [The search is fairly slow by BW standards (not sure why that is), but it eventually takes you through the several times “sneeze” appears in the English text of LSJ. The third instance is the one we want: πταίρω.

It’s pretty easy, but not really optimal. First, you can do the same thing on Perseus, but Perseus actually searches the whole LSJ, not just an abridged version. Of course, sometimes that’s helpful, but sometimes it yields more results than you actually want. Second, because you have only an abridged LSJ in BibleWorks, you often can’t get the kind of info on the word that you really need. If you want numerous examples of it being used in context, you’ll have to consult the full version of LSJ in many cases. Third, as I discussed in my previous post, LSJ is old and British, so you often can’t find what you’re looking for when you’re searching with a contemporary American English word.

So, here’s where another element of BW comes in handy. Just pull up an English translation of the LXX, NT, Josephus, Philo, or any of the other Greek texts that come with BW, and search for your word in that translation. If you’re looking for how you might render an English idiom into Greek, it’s often helpful to consult the NIV, NLT, NET. For example, in Acts 22:16, the NLT reads, “What are you waiting for?” as does the NIV and NET. The Greek here is καὶ νῦν τί μέλλεις; which LSJ tells us is idiomatic for delaying. That’s what the question “What are you waiting for?” communicates in English—Don’t delay!

It often takes a lot of work and time to figure out the right way to communicate your meaning in Koine Greek. But with BibleWorks, or similar search programs, you can often cut that time down considerably.

Next time: Frequency Lists in BW—How to use them for communicative purposes.

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11 Responses to Using Electronic Lexica in Communicative Pedagogy (BibleWorks 9 Review, pt. 3)

  1. Mike Aubrey says:

    Does BW search only glosses or is it searching all English text?

  2. Daniel,

    Thanks for this and so many posts that prompt us to think innovatively about pedagogy and the biblical languages. How do you address the concerns that the software 1) will be a crutch that students over-rely on at the expense of memorizing vocabulary and that 2) gets students thinking in English about Greek — the about vs. in problem you’ve written about. I have my own responses but yours are probably better!


    Nathan (educational technologist at Calvin Seminary)

  3. Hi there Daniel. It’s been ages since we sat together at the “Round Table” at GCTS! I hope all is going well for you. I’ve been “lurking” on your blog and enjoying your posts – especially the review of BW and your recent posting on the James paper you read at SBL.

    Anyway… I figured I’d point out there’s another way of finding English “glosses” in Biblical texts, and that’s to use the various English versions that are tagged with Strong’s numbers. The KJV and the NAS/NAU versions have each word “tagged” with Strong’s numbers and attached to the appropriate Greek/Hebrew word. You can search these versions by English word or by the Strong’s numbers (in a way similar to searching in tagged Greek texts either by lemma or grammatical tag. Here’s an example:

    1. Make the NAU your search version (easiest way is to type NAU in the command line and press ENTER).
    2. Navigate to a verse (like 1 John 4:7).
    3. Hover your mouse over a word you’d like to “study” (say, for instance, “beloved”).
    4. Note in the Analysis Window that a Greek Word and “Strong’s” definition pops up. Note the number that is displayed (in this case it’s 27, the Strong’s number for ἀγαπητός). Another way to see the Strong’s number would be to click your mouse anywhere in the “Browse window” (the one with the biblical text displayed) and then press “R” on your keyboard. That toggles the “Strong’s numbers”. You can also double-click “Strong’s” in the status bar at the bottom of the BW window.
    5. In the command line, do a search by typing .*@27 and press ENTER. (So, you’re searching for any word [represented by .*] that has been associated with Strong’s number 27 [represented by the @27]).
    6. That will yield results highlighting all the words/phrases that were tagged with Strong’s number 27 (ἀγαπητός) in the 1990’s updated version of the New American Standard Bible.

  4. I use the University of Chicago’s implementation of Perseus’ LSJ lexicon for finding words and synonyms. (I do this especially when I’m trying to translate songs into Koine – my favorite pastime). UChicago’s implementation is very flexible, being able to find words ending in – or beginning with any given string of letters. It can do an exact search or a similar search. You can look up words in Greek or in English. It even works great on an iPhone. You can also click on one of the returned links in a page to go to an alphabetical list of the words – which you need to do once in a while. The URL for searching the Full LSJ is

    The University of Chicagos’ LSJ implementation is my primary tool, next to Louw-Nida for finding the right word for the right usage. LSJ is full of examples, and many of them link to texts (though not on the UChicago site – got to go to Tufts implementation or TLG for that).

    A note to learners – sometimes the Middle LSJ will give you more than the full LSJ. Those two lexicons are not the same. The URL for searching the Middle LSJ is

    My suggestion is to drag both of these links to your toolbar in your web browser. You’ll never be sorry you did so.

  5. Carl W. Conrad says:

    I think one ought to be aware that the Middle LS (it’s not “Middle LSJ”) is an abridgment based upon a much older 19th-century version of the “Great Scott.” It’s true that the Middle Liddell includes references to authors more commonly read (at one time, anyhow), but it may not be as accurate or up-to-date as the information in LSJ or especially the more recently updated LSJ-G, with the Glare Supplement.

  6. Paul D. Nitz says:

    For Logos users.
    Save a layout with all Greek dictionaries open, plus LXX and GNT.
    Link all dictionaries.
    Type an English word into a “Basic Search” of “All Open Resources.”
    Of course, then you often have to check whether the English word you are hunting for is quite the same as in the gloss you have found. A quick look at your open LXX or GNT will usually tell you.

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