Let Not This Word Depart–3 Reasons for Diagramming the Biblical Text

I don’t think any dialogue about the study of Scripture can be had without introducing some form of analyzing the text. Most times, this type of discussion centers around diagramming.

I used to blow such discussion off with a, “Pffft—who needs to diagram to accurately understand the text?” I quickly changed my mind when I began to actually take the time to do it. It has become an invaluable tool for me. Below are my three main reasons why one should bother with this strenuous exercise.

It Causes Meditation

One of the key elements of carefully studying any passage of Scripture is the ability to carefully read it. And because any sentence diagram you attempt must place every word according to its function in a particular place, you are forced to slow down and consider every part of speech. You will begin to see how every clause, phrase, noun and verb fulfills their individual role within the sentence. You will unknowingly, and probably often, make an exegetical decision, unaware. Sentences can be complicated and diagraming helps sort out the syntactical puzzle.

Galatians 1:6-7 (diagrams help you see the complicated sentence)

This type of reading slows you down as you consider the sentence as a whole. There have been many times diagramming a text has caused me to stop and ponder the truth of God’s word simply by allowing the text to be displayed in a grammatical way.

It Conveys a Graphical Representation

John 3:16 in diagram form

I’m a visual learner. When I see pictures it helps me grasp the concept that is being presented. Diagrams are a “theological” pictograph in their own way. Diagrams are the very God-breathed words represented by lines, shelves, connectors, and other shapes that convey the main thoughts and their subordinate thoughts in picture. Without diagramming, it would be tough to grasp the main points of some passages. The first thirteen verses in the book of Ephesians, for example, is a single sentence in the original language. Imagine trying to wade through that to find Paul’s main point!

Being able to physically see a picture of the laid-out sentence speaks volumes to visual learners. Each slot holds words according to certain functions. The top horizontal line with the vertical slash protruding through the base, for example, shows where the the main subject and verb are placed.

Graphical representation of the placement of the main subject & verb

This may seem a bit obtuse at first, but in many Biblical passages you may find the main verb separated from the main subject by several phrases and clauses. 1Peter 1:10 is a prime example:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully

At first glance, it may appear that prophet is the main subject and prophesied is the main verb. In actuality, there are two relative clauses and a prepositional phrase in between the main subject prophets and the main compound verb search and inquired, as illustrated below:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully

In the John 3:16 pic above, the phrase whoever believes in Him is placed on a stilt in the subject slot. With but a glance, I can see that this relative clause is acting as the subject of the entire clause itself, hence the stilts are used to graphically represent this.

Diagraming is a useful graphical tool that aids in the overall exegetical process. If you’re a visual learner, it is definitely worth your time to learn this new skill, if you haven’t already begun.

It unCovers the Structure

The dictionary defines structure as the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex. Diagrams definitely accomplish this job! The elements of the sentence are placed according to their function: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and all the other parts are arranged on their lines and shelves, displayed in a particular format as to expose the structure of the sentence. It is helpful to sometimes think of this structure in a block-like format, as per the example below.

The structural “blocks” of John 3:16

We see the main clause God loved the world at the head, followed by two supporting clauses, one that shows the result of God’s love and the other that demonstrates the purpose of God’s love, both which are connected by subordinating conjunctions. Of course, not all diagrams will be so easily structured but the idea is that, as a whole, diagrams will show the grammatical structures of a sentence. Understanding first how it all fits together lays the foundation for later exegesis and the proper interpretation of a the passage.

Next Steps

Hopefully this post has encouraged you to at least consider diagramming. If you’re wondering where to start, this section will give you some starting points. I would like to suggest a structured format that will take you step-by-step through the diagramming process. I think the best way to begin is to start with the very basics.

  1. The parts of speech
  2. Clauses and Phrases (these are two separate links)
  3. Sentence Types
  4. Sentence Structure
  5. Diagramming Tutorial

The website I have referred you to is Grammar Revolution. It is an excellent site that offers a complete English grammar course, as well as a book with exercises and answer keys. And when you are ready to practice your diagramming, there is a wonderful web app called Let’s Diagram that allows you to type or paste any sentence and drag the words to their corresponding shapes and shelves. Watch the video below to see how the app works.

(note: the video is NOT a diagramming tutorial. See the links in the list above to learn diagram).

The Let’s Diagram App at work!

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