Great Exegetical Tool

At church we are finishing a section on how to do Bible Study. As we come to a close I am reminded of the tools I value most in my hopes of the Holy Spirit illuminating Scripture to me.  The top of my list looks like this:

1. The Holy Spirit
2. Prayer
3. Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament
4. Wallace’s Greek Grammer Beyond the Basics or Waltke’s Biblical Hebrew Syntax – both syntax books.
5. Propositional diagrams to understand relationships between propositional statements.
6. Sentence diagramming.

It is a Christian axiom – you need the Holy Spirit and in prayer to understand God’s Word. Hence 1 Corinthians 2:13-16

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.   “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

And granted most people do not know either Koine Greek or Classical Hebrew. In this respect then I see the pinnacle of Bible Study endeavors for most people as the camping out on the summit of Mount Everest of Bible Study being types of English syntactical relationships.  Make no mistake – this summit is not for the weak spirited or the lazy. It is hard work. This points to the value of diagramming propositional relationships and sentence diagramming for both these methods draw out relationships intrinsic in the text that we instinctively know, but have a hard time understanding on a concerted conscious level.

Sentence diagramming is a pictorial representation of the syntactical relationship between words found next to each other in a sentence. If you can’t make sense of how they relate to each other than how can you have confidence in your determination of what they mean? As it is, Google “sentence diagramming” and you will find all kinds of helps to guide you in your efforts in sentence diagramming.

This brings me to the diagramming of propositional relationships. I can’t think of a more neglected Bible Study Tool than this one. It is a result primarily due to lack of awareness. We are not aware that such tools exist or that we should employ them in our studies. The value in propositional diagramming is that it shows the relationship between phrases revealing how we understand the argument being presented to us from the pages of Holy Writ. We take our intrinsic understanding of propositional progressions for granted. This results in sloppy handling of Scripture and can result in totally missing the point. Engaging in a graphic representation of propositional relationships can help protect and alleviate against this sloppiness.  Of course, it doesn’t guarantee anything. It is not a magic pill that once taken forces the Holy Spirit to reveal all to you. Nor is Bible Study meant to solely be a private engagement. Hence this tool works best when discussed with other believers. This way your work is not above inspection and hidden biases are brought to the forefront.

Now propositional diagramming is hard work (as I said before). It is the best example of mining for gold in Bible Study without turning to the original languages. And it is not for everyone. It is laborious work. Personal experience has taught me that our diet of self-entitlement along with a steady diet of prepared Bible study guides have made most American Christians allergic to such an arduous task. If you are undisciplined and out-of-shape in your Bible Study then you get back in shape by turning to the basics of Bible study. Stay disciplined, practice them daily and as the Holy Spirit teaches and strengthens you be encouraged and then try some of the more complicated tools used in exegesis. If you aren’t physically fit you wouldn’t go and try a marathon as your first day’s endeavor to get back in shape. So it is with this practice.

While there are multiple ways to diagram my favorite way is known as arcing. It is a method developed by Dr. Daniel Fuller as reflected in his book The Unity of The Bible and made popular by John Piper. Of this book, John Piper said

No book besides the Bible has had a greater influence on my life than Daniel Fuller’s Unity of the Bible. When I first read it as a classroom syllabus over twenty years ago, everything began to change. . . . It changed my life because it is so honest. No hard questions are dodged. No troubling texts are swept under the rug. There is a passion for seeing all of Scripture with no reference to how one part fits with another. Too much academic labor passes for mature scholarship while dealing only piecemeal with the reality of God’s work in redemptive history. Daniel Fuller has given his life to seeing the connections and pursuing the coherence of ‘the whole counsel of God.

Piper created a booklet called Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts as an introductory guide. You can download a free pdf copy of this booklet here.  Be sure to print out the “cheat sheet” at the end of the booklet. You can then fold this guide and keep it in your Bible for quick reference. More good news is that there is a free website that you use to learn and do your arcing of propositional phrases –

Final warning: This is hard work! I can’t overstress this point. Many people read the booklet once through and get that vacant gaze in their eyes by the time they finish reading. They feel overwhelmed, are lost and not sure how to continue even if they wanted to. Remember, baby steps first, use the website (you might find a discussion board of sorts there to help you), and it is okay to return and refer to your tools. This is like detail carpentry. You can’t master the tool after the first day. Enjoy!

P.S. Let me know how it goes if you try it.


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