You’re writing a sermon, researching for an exegetical paper, or preparing a Bible study, and you want to find articles that talk about the Scripture passage that you’re working on. It’s a common task, and it should be easy. Unfortunately, as you may have already discovered, it’s not as simple and straight-forward as one would hope. This tutorial will walk you through the Scripture citation search functions of the major Biblical studies databases and help you work around the quirks of each one.
First, let’s define the problems.
Ephesians 5:1-10 ← search phrase
Ephesians 5:5 ← no match: 5 ≠ 1
Ephesians 5:1-11 ← no match: 1 ≠ 0
So now that we know the problems, let’s look at how to work around them in each database.
The ATLA Religion Database has good Scripture citation indexing, but the search interface for doing this kind of searching, despite recent improvements, is rather quirky. Therefore, there are a couple different search strategies that one can use. Each has its pros and cons, and a combination of strategies is required in order to be thorough.
When using the ATLA Hierarchical Scripture Authority search mode, the computer attempts to correctly interpret the verse ranges cited on the database records. The user is allowed to select an individual chapter or verse and the computer will attempt to display all the articles about the chosen chapter or verse specifically, as well as all the articles about any range of verses that includes the chosen chapter or verse.
Pros: Interprets Scripture ranges on the database records (in theory).
Cons: Only works on individual chapters or verses; it does not allow the user to enter a range to search on (although a work-around for small ranges is possible). Seems buggy—certain ranges are not interpreted correctly, which leads to the search results being incomplete.
A Work-Around for Small Verse Ranges
When executing a search through the ATLA Hierarchical Scripture Authority, you’ll notice something similar to the following in the search box at the top of the results page.
Let’s say that this is the first verse in your desired range. Copy and paste the entire contents of the first search box into the second. Change the verse number to the second verse in your desired range, and switch the “AND” operator to “OR”. Repeat for each verse in your desired range, adding rows as necessary.
The Scripture Citation Index is a list of all the verse ranges cited on all the records in the database. The ATLA Religion Database allows you to browse this index and select any Scripture citations you deem relevant. Then, it will automatically construct a search that will display all the articles that are about any of the Scripture citations you chose.
Pros: You can create a highly targeted search.
Cons: You can easily miss a relevant Scripture citation in the list, especially since the sorting of the list is counter-intuitive (see more below). Ranges are not interpreted.
One way to get at articles on a large range of verses is to perform a search at the chapter level and then manually filter through the results picking out the articles that are about the verses of interest.
Pros: Search is quick and easy to construct.
Cons: Won’t necessarily pull up articles on broader ranges. Manually filtering through all the irrelevant results can take time.