Big Data: the Best Way to use your Commentaries and Lexicons

Using a commentary like you use a lexicon —  it’s not really a far-fetched idea. There are scads of context-sensitive discussions of Greek and Hebrew words locked away in commentaries.

As a matter of fact, Ceslas Spicq’s justly famous (and immensely useful) Theological Lexicon of the New Testament derives originally from work done by Spicq in his commentaries on Hebrews and the Pastoral Epistles:

I have often been asked to bring together in one volume the NT word studies scattered throughout my previous works, especially in the commentaries. I could not simply collect them as they were, even filling in the references and bringing the bibliographies up to date.1

So it isn’t a stretch to think that important and interesting information about Greek and Hebrew word usage in a particular passage is locked away in commentary discussion.

Here’s the problem: How much is there? And how do you access it?

You could try searching for the Greek or Hebrew, but do you use the lemma form, or the form in the text? And what if it is transliterated? Or if the accents are slightly different? An astounding number of commentaries transliterate Hebrew and Greek, even the more “academic” commentaries. And how do you narrow it down by passage?

Solving the Problem with Data

We have a lot of commentaries available for Logos Bible Software. At the time of writing this article, we have 6,482 commentaries available. 5,383 have some sort of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or transliteration in them (not to mention Latin, German, French, etc).

How do I know this? Before Logos 7 was released, we decided to find all the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in all the commentaries, lemmatize it, and make it available for reference in the Exegetical Guide. We created a section for it called “Lemma in Passage” that, for a given verse range, traverses your commentaries and finds and collates instances of lemmas in the relevant commentary section, allowing you to dive deeper into discussion of words in your passage.2 Even better, we let you do this for your own specialized commentary collection or favorite commentary set.

Then earlier in 2017, we accounted for the sizeable portion of available commentaries that use transliteration instead of actual Hebrew and Greek when discussing original language words. Sets like the UBS Translators Handbooks, NICOT and NICNT, and the Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries use transliteration to help make their advanced content available and approachable for non-specialist readers—not to mention it’s easier to typeset. So we figured out how to incorporate the transliterated data as well.

In the 5,383 commentaries available for Logos that use original languages or transliteration, we located and lemmatized over 7.3 million terms in commentary text and footnotes.

7.3 million is serious word study fodder. That’s millions of references to original language terms in the context of a particular verse or verse range. This is an amazing resource to harness in the study of any biblical passage.

Also, we update it every two weeks. Each time we publish new commentaries, we add to the data. So it grows and grows, which means that any commentary you have for Logos Bible Software that has original language information is supported in this dataset.

Thus, you can use the Lemma in Passage data as a passage-sensitive, lexicon-like index to all of your commentaries.

First Example: 1 Timothy 2:12

For an example, I’ll use material I’m familiar with: First Timothy.

One of the exegetical conundrums in First Timothy is what in the world we do with 1 Timothy 2:12: “But I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” (LEB). Many commentaries spend time discussing the word translated “to exercise authority” (αὐθεντέω, authenteō). The verse is harsh to our 21st century ears, and it is tough to both understand and incorporate in the context of our 21st century lives.

We can (and should) read lexicons to understand what the word might mean. But we should also evaluate discussions of the word’s use in this passage to see specific understandings. The only way to get that information (well, before the Lemma in Passage dataset) would be to open all of our commentaries, one by one, to discussions on 1 Timothy 2:12 and scan the text to see if the word is discussed.

But if you have access to the Lemma in Passage dataset, it’s as easy as running the Exegetical Guide, as shown here:

This version of the guide (with access to all available commentaries) notes there are 174 instances of the Greek word or its transliteration in commentary sections that deal with 1 Timothy 2:12.

In case you haven’t grasped it yet, let me explain how significant this is. The collation of all the discussions of the words in a specific passage means you can now evaluate all of your commentaries to better understand the different perspectives along with  their rationale/defense. And you can better evaluate and consider what you yourself think in light of all of that specialized discussion, all right there in your Logos program.

Second Example: Romans 1:17

An important concept in the letter of Paul to Rome is the “righteousness of God,” first mentioned in Romans 1:17 and again in Romans 3:5, 21–22; 10:3.

One strength of commentaries over lexicons is that commentaries not only discuss important words in context, but they also discuss important phrases in context, such as the “righteousness of God.” So by looking into how commentaries treat δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē), the word translated “righteousness” in Romans 1:17, we can learn about how the concept of “righteousness of God” is understood by commentators of Romans.

The list is ordered by frequency of occurrence; first frequency of lemma and then within the lemma frequency within commentaries. The book cover images, although tiny, allow one to visually evaluate the list for familiar commentaries.

The first green cover is from C.E.B. Cranfield’s ICC Romans commentary, which upon evaluation contains a significant bibliography focused on the concept of “righteousness of God.” He also then summarizes the primary issue with understanding the Greek phrase:

The other main disagreement concerns the question whether in the phrase δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in 1:17; 3:21, 22 (Cf. 10:3) θεοῦ is to be understood as a subjective genitive or as a genitive of origin, or—to put it differently—whether δικαιοσύνη refers to an activity of God or to a status of man resulting from God’s action, righteousness as a gift from God.3

Another recent commentary, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament volume on Romans by Thomas Schreiner, examines the strengths and weaknesses of the primary options for understanding “righteousness of God” in Romans, at the end favoring a both-and approach:

The support for both interpretations is remarkable, and other evidence could be adduced for both views. I would suggest that it is a mistake to opt for an either-or here, and thus I conclude that the term “righteousness of God” is both forensic and transformative. … The term “righteousness of God” in Rom. 1:17, however, is clearly fundamental for all of Romans, and it is unlikely that it can be confined solely to forensic or transformative categories. Those whom God has vindicated he also changes.4

Scrolling further down the list, we run into one of the commentaries on my “always consult” list, Lenski’s volume on Romans. Lenski, in his typical manner, reaches outside of the current phrase to see if anything is treated similarly in the surrounding context, and finds gold:

Δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ introduces the sentence just as δύναμις Θεοῦ introduced the previous one and does so with the same emphasis. We naturally compare εὐαγγέλιον Θεοῦ (v. 1) and ὀργὴ Θεοῦ (v. 18), especially the latter, because it, too, is used with the verb ἀποκαλύπτεται, both God’s wrath and God’s righteousness are revealed, the one in the law, the other in the gospel. The new fact, which elucidates v. 16 and the fact that the gospel is God’s power that saves every believer, is that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel from faith unto faith. The gospel tells all about this righteousness which has nothing whatever to do with works, neither springs from (ἐκ) works of ours, nor aims at (εἰς) such works, but has its source (ἐκ) only in faith and thereby is intended only for (εἰς) faith. … We need not hesitate in making Θεοῦ the genitive of the origin and of the author. We have the same type of genitive in “God’s gospel,” “God’s power,” “God’s wrath”—all denoting what proceeds from God.5

The point of reproducing all of these excerpts isn’t to convince you one reading or the other is correct (though personally I think Schreiner has much wisdom), it is to show you how easy it is to use the Lemma in Passage feature as way to empower word studies within the context of a particular passage and, further, to enable research in commentaries on phrases, their meaning, and their impact on exegesis.

This level of access to lexical data in commentaries is available for pretty much every word and passage in the Bible. All the word studies and lexical discussions locked away in your commentaries are now available for you to consult and consider.


Rick Brannan is the general editor of the Lexham English Septuagint and the translator of The Apostolic Fathers in English. He also translated and edited Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha. He is author of the New Testament portion of the Lexham Textual Notes on the Bible. He recently published Lexical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy and Second Timothy: Notes on Grammar, Syntax, and Structure. He is currently working on the Second Timothy volume for the Lexical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles as well as a discourse analysis of the Pastoral Epistles. His personal web site is RickBrannan.com; you can follow him on Twitter at @RickBrannan.

Rick manages the Content Innovation department at Faithlife, a team focused on original language analysis, reverse interlinear textual alignments, and creation and analysis of Bible data. He lives in Bellingham, WA with his wife, Amy, and their children Ella, Lucas, and Josiah.



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