Concordances are a particular genre of Bible study guides about which most readers are familiar. As the editor of this source book points out, however, there are two types of biblical concordances—verbal and topical. The ones most familiar to us are of the former type. Selected if not all, the words of Scripture for a particular version (KJV, RSV, NIV, etc.) are listed alphabetically with the chapter and verse citation of each. It is assumed that we have a copy of that version of the Bible at hand as we search for the citation of a verse containing a word in which we are interested.
All of the early Anabaptist concordances (and there were multiple variations) were of the topical kind (see Robert Friedmann's article in Mennonite Encyclopedia (Vol. 1, pp. 665-7). One by Conrad Grebel and Hans Krüsi dated 1525 uses only two topics—faith (37 passages) and baptism (16 passages). The 1540 Swiss Brethren Concordance contains 66 topics, under each of which the selected passages are cited verbatim or in a few instances only their locations are listed.
These concordances had two functions—apologetic and educational, the former used primarily as a tool in the debates with their accusers and the latter as self-study resources among the Anabaptists themselves. The purpose of the Grebel-Krüsi concordance was mostly apologetic while the function of the Swiss Brethren Concordance was mostly in-group education. Thus, its production over some years surrounding 1540 reflects the gradual transition from the founding of the movement to its more established state. In this transition, as H. Richard Niebuhr explained in The Social Sources of Denominationalism, the movement "must take on the character of an educational and disciplinary institution, with the purpose of bringing the new generation into conformity with ideals and customs which have become traditional" (pp.19-20). To this observation the editor of our source volume adds the factor of the life-span transition: "The narrative thread guiding the selection marks the stages of the Christian life, lived in response to God's call: its beginning, formation, and faithful obedience to the end" (p. xvii).
Other Anabaptist concordances (e.g., one by the Pilgram Marpeck circle) emphasized the preeminence of New Testament passages over those from the Old Testament; but the Swiss Brethren Concordance did not make that distinction. As the editor pointed out, "there is a simple, but unspoken, assumption…that God's words to Israel are meant just as truly [as the New Testament] for the later church" (p.xiii).
Apparently, the editor and translators debated the general principles that guided their translation of the selected biblical passages. Retaining the comparative accuracies and inaccuracies of the original German of the Zürich Bible, what they did in effect was to translate texts that had already been translated from the Hebrew and Greek Bible (or perhaps from the Latin Vulgate, in itself an earlier translation). The option would have been to use of the latest and more reliable versions of the Bible, perhaps using endnotes to highlight the differences in the Swiss Brethren Concordance. This decision hinges on what is the primary purpose in publishing source volumes in the English language. If the purpose is primarily scholarship, the reader wants access to the original document as nearly as possible. If the purpose is to give the reader a resource for self Bible study, continuing the educational aim of the original Concordance, it might be preferable to do so with a more reliable modern version. Since the purpose of Anabaptist source volumes is to read these documents in 20th century English in either case, perhaps the editor and translators should have provided side-by-side versions of every text—one based on the 16th century Zürich Bible and the other an up-dated 20th century Bible.
This reviewer had the same problem with the binding—the coming apart of whole sections. I doubt whether I'm normally that hard on the books I read!
North Newton, KS