I frequently find that there are words which are used only once in scripture or used so sparingly that it is difficult to determine possible meaning based on context (other than what the translators felt it to mean). For words which are used frequently enough, things like Strongs Conordance can come in very handy.

It strikes me that while there may be words which are not used all that often in scripture, there are probably very few words in scripture which would not appear in other known ancient Hebrew and Greek writings. Thus my question:

Are there any tools similar to Strong's concordance which list reference/uses of words appearing in scripture in historic non-biblical/extra-biblical writings to assist in establishing context and usage?

  • +1 perseus.tufts.edu, and perseus.uchicago.edu.... Several words that I have seen claimed as Hapax I have found in the corpus of Greek literature. Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 4:40

3 Answers 3


The OP asks specifically about extra-biblical resources available for exploring the meaning of rare words in the Bible. The lexical situation is very different when considering Classical Hebrew and Koine Greek, so I will consider those separately. First, a few general remarks about Biblical word studies:

  1. The best resource for English readers to understand the words of the Bible is the English translations. The OP mentions concern about settling for "what translators felt it to mean". It is admirable to aspire to more in-depth analysis, and the investigation itself can be edifying study, but the translators of modern texts have at their disposal many years of education and experience with the languages as well as the best available lexical resources (see below). Any conclusions from one's own word-study that contradict the consensus of translators should be be met with a healthy skepticism.

  2. The next best resource for English readers (and, indeed, for all but the most skilled Hebrew and Greek scholars) to determine word meaning is the lexicons. It is the job of the lexicographer to peruse the available literature and summarize their findings. Because most lexicons of ancient Greek and Hebrew to some extent also acts as concordances (i.e. they cite examples from period literature), these are included below. We also have a Meta post with a guide to some of the online resources available in this area. As I compose this answer, I see we have another that reviews the available Greek lexicons.


I think you may be overestimating the available extra-biblical corpus of ancient Hebrew. To my understanding, we have:

  1. The Inscriptions
    This category includes texts from diverse geographical sites and spanning a long period of time; however, the total amount of text is limited. As of 2009, the text of the Inscriptions amounted to about 2% of the size of the Hebrew Bible.1

  2. Ben Sira
    Ben Sira was 2nd C. BCE Jewish scribe best known for the Wisdom of Sirach (=Ecclesiasticus). That book was only known in its Greek version until manuscripts (dating from the 11th-12th C.) were found in the Cairo geniza. Portions have also been found among the DSS. Together, the available text of Hebrew Ben Sira amounts to about 3% of the size of the Hebrew Bible.

  3. Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)
    Our tag wiki provides a helpful introduction. Although, as pointed out there, about 80% of the manuscripts included in this group are non-Biblical, these are, for the most part, considerably shorter. Compiled, they amount to about 20% of the text of the Hebrew Bible.

As you can sea, the Hebrew Bible itself remains by far most plentiful source of Classical Hebrew text. The lexical resources in the Meta post provide information about this usage. To my knowledge, the only lexicon that also includes the extra-biblical sources (up to ~200 CE) is the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, ed. David Clines. From the introduction:

Unlike all previous dictionaries of ancient Hebrew, this work does not restrict itself to, or privilege in any way, those ancient Hebrew texts found in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, it views Hebrew simply as a language like any other ancient language, for which it is necessary to examine the evidence of all the extant texts.

This formidable 8-volume work not only considers extra-biblical sources, it also comprehensively catalogues them in a syntagmatic analysis (i.e. listing all the subjects and objects that are attested for every verb, and, for nouns, all the verbs and all the other nouns with which they are connected). Unfortunately, to my knowledge this has no freely available version unless you have access through a library.


The situation with Greek is much different, and it's certainly true, as the OP suggests, that most hapax legomena within the Greek NT have attestation elsewhere in the corpus of Greek literature (both Ancient and Koine). In general, these sources have been long known and well catalogued. There are several lexicons that account for these data, and even those such as BDAG that focus on the NT frequently consider extra-biblical sources.

As an example, consider ἅλωσις in 2 Peter 2:12. Neither this term nor its cognate verb ἁλίσκομαι occur elsewhere in the NT. However, you can see that both are well attested in other literature. In the online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ), many examples are given with active links to the Greek text. The LSJ entries provide representative examples but are not necessarily comprehensive.

If you would like to search the Greek literature yourself, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae might be the best way. You need to register for a free account which will give you access to the "abridged" version. This is quite powerful. For instance, searching for the noun ἅλωσις ("lemma") gives you 254 results, each linked to the full text (follow the →). In order to make much out of this beyond a general sense of the distribution of usage, knowledge Greek is required.

Arguably more relevant to NT usage would be a survey of uses in the Septuagint. LSJ includes examples of LXX usages, and most of the "theological dictionaries" such as TLOT mentioned in another answer — also Kittel's TDNT and the more recent NIDNTTE — will include a survey of uses in Jewish literature, including the LXX.

1. All numerical data about the relative quantity of available Hebrew text are taken from the introduction the ש–ת volume of DCH, where the authors aggregate all of the words from every source for all volumes of the Dictionary.

  • 1
    "The best resource for English readers to understand the words of the Bible is the English translations." Absolutely. +1
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 14:40

A lexicon is the tool of choice for identifying the meaning of words and their semantic domains. These tools assume knowledge of the language as words have different meanings depending on their morphology, syntax, and context.

A Note on Most Freely Available Public Domain Greek-English Lexica

"...in 1895, Adolf Deissmann published his Bibelstudien - an innocently titled work that was to revolutionize the study of the NT. In this work (later translated into English under the title Bible Studies) Deissmann showed that the Greek of the NT was not a language invented by the Holy Spirit (Hermann Cremer had called it "Holy Ghost Greek," largely because 10 percent of its vocabulary had no secular parallels). Rather, Deissmann demonstrated that the bulk of NT vocabulary was to be found in the papyri.

The pragmatic effect of Deissmann's work was to render obsolete virtually all lexica and lexical commentaries written before the turn of the century. (Thayer's lexicon, published in 1886, was outdated shortly after it came off the press - yet, ironically, it is still relied on today by many NT students.)"

Daniel B. Wallace. The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar. Zondervan, 2000, p. 21.

Some recommended Greek-English Lexical Resources

Keep in mind that many freely available Greek-English lexica on the Internet are based on Thayer's lexicon and/or Smith's Bible dictionary, especially online lexical resources tied to the Strong's Concordance (the content of which was most recently revised in 1893). An exhaustive list is beyond the scope of this site (questions asking for lists don't tend to work well), but here are a few resources I'd recommend for the Greek New Testament:

  1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.) by Walter Bauer and revised and edited in 2001 by F.W. Danker (published by University Of Chicago Press). Often referred to as BDAG.
  2. Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, Revised Edition by Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie. Published by Hendrickson. This is generally considered an essential go-to for Septuagint studies, as even BDAG does not always sufficiently cover the nuance of words as they appear in this corpus.
  3. The Greek of the Septuagint: A Supplemental Lexicon by Gary Alan Chamberlain. Published by Hendrickson in 2011. This work was intended as a supplement for BDAG when conducting Septuagint studies. The treatment in BDAG is supplemented when the LXX has additional meanings. New lexical articles are composed when the LXX word is not in BDAG at all.
  4. A Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.) with a Revised Supplement by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott through the 8th edition which was published in 1897. Henry Stuart Jones most recently edited the volume along with Roderick McKenzie. The last edition (9th) of LSJ was published in ten parts between 1925 and 1940. A list of Addenda and Corrigenda to the 1940 edition was published in 1968 and bound with subsequent printings but the revisions were not merged into the main lexicon composed by Liddell and Scott. In 1996, Oxford University Press published the LSJ Supplement with 320 pages of corrections and additions but the main text of the lexicon was not revised. The corrected volume is available online in a couple places and is used by many scholars, but always in consultation with a more recent lexicon such as the BDAG.

Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 vols.) Author: Ceslas Spicq

Spicq has used many resources, including epigraphical texts, papyri, classical writings, the Greek Old Testament, Hellenistic authors, among others, to create this study. Article headings provide Greek lexical forms, fully tranliterated English forms, and a definition. The extensively footnoted body of each article discusses usage in the papyri, the Septuagint, and classical and Hellenistic writings, applying the results to New Testament interpretation.

  • Have you used this product yourself? If so, perhaps you can supply your own review instead of the publisher's?
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:58
  • @ThaddeusB , not this one particulary. But when I wrote my paper for Theology BA it was recommended. I personally used BDAG and TDNT and found them very useful. I wrote a paper on "Adoption in Paul's letter's" and used them . Google BDAG or TDNT . Good luck
    – Razvan Pop
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 19:03

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