Introduction: The Problem with Scripture Citation Searching
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.
- Technological Limitations. Computers don’t naturally understand the notation we use for ranges. For example, consider the citation Ephesians 5:1–10. The human mind instantly recognizes that the dash character indicates a range, and that it would be appropriate to consider articles on just verse 5 or even on verses 1 through 11. The computer interprets the dash as just another character to search for, and so it will only display articles whose indexing literally matches exactly what the searcher entered into the search box.
Ephesians 5:1-10 ← search phrase
Ephesians 5:5 ← no match: 5 ≠ 1
Ephesians 5:1-11 ← no match: 1 ≠ 0
- Data Quality. A search can only be as good as the data contained in the database, and some databases only have limited Scripture citation indexing. Thus, there may be many articles written about a particular part of Scripture that are indexed in these databases, but only some of these articles will have the Scripture citations explicitly noted in the database record. Records that lack the Scripture citation indexing cannot be found using a Scripture citation search.
So now that we know the problems, let’s look at how to work around them in each database.
ATLA Religion 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.
Strategy 1: Using the ATLA Hierarchical Scripture Authority
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.
- At the top of the search screen, click on the link in the toolbar labeled “Scriptures”.
- A list of the books of the Bible will be displayed in canonical order. Click “[Expand]” next to the book that you would like to search within.
- A list of chapters in the chosen book will be displayed. Again, click on “[Expand]” next to the chapter that you would like to search within, which will bring up a list of verses. Click on the verse that you would like to search on to execute the search. (You could also click on the chapter itself to perform a search on the whole chapter and any part thereof.)
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.
Strategy 2: Using the Scripture Citation Index
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.
- At the top of the search screen, click on the link in the toolbar labeled “Indexes”.
- On the Indexes screen, in the “Browse an Index” menu, choose “Scripture Citation”, and in the “Browse for” box enter a Scripture reference (whole book, single chapter, single verse, or range). Click the “Browse” button. Important Note: Numbered books must be entered as in these examples: Corinthians, 1st; Kings, 2nd; John, 3rd.
- Check off any Scripture citations that look relevant to your search. Be sure to view the previous and next pages to make sure you get everything that is relevant. Important Note: This list is sorted strictly alphabetically, not numerically. Therefore, verses 10, 11, 12, etc., because they start with a 1, will be listed before verse 2 (likewise 20, 21, 22, etc. before 3, and so on).
- Click the “Add” button to add the selected Scripture citations to your search. Be sure to leave the “or” operator selected.
- Once you have added all the Scripture citations that you want, scroll up to the big search box at the top and click the “Search” button.
Strategy 3: Basic Chapter Level Search
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.
- On the main search screen, enter just the book name and chapter number that you are interested in enclosed in quotation marks. Important Note: Numbered books must be entered as in these examples: Corinthians, 1st; Kings, 2nd; John, 3rd.
- From the menu labeled “Select a Field (optional)” next to the search box, choose “SC Scripture Citation” and then click the “Search” button.