When the New Testament authors penned their letters, they made statements. Some of these were imperatives, commanding their audience to action or abstinence on some level. Some were wishes or desires they hoped their congregations would achieve. And some were questions, rhetorical or otherwise, to spur them to higher thinking.
Propositions are this very thing: they are a statement(s) [defintion b is what I have in mind] made to establish a coherent thought or argument. In Biblical hermeneutics, we need to further refine that definition for the purpose of breaking down the argument and getting back to the author’s original intent for his audience. Thomas Schreiner, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offers a concise yet true statement of what constitutes a proposition in chapter 6 of his book, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.
What is a proposition? A proposition is a statement or an assertion about something…In order to be a proposition a statement must have a subject and a predicate. The subject or predicate can be implied.Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, p. 99
At its simplest form, then, a proposition must have at least a subject and verb. The one solution that remains is identifying such propositions. The most natural way for this, is to split a sentence whenever you encounter a new verb. Sometimes however, it’s better to split elsewhere, particularly when you have several phrases strung together. Let’s look at a couple examples.
Jesus died on the cross, is a single proposition. There is a subject, Jesus, and a verb, died. It seems simple enough. But things get a little more complex as you attempt to diagram longer sentences and passages. 1Peter 1:3-5 will suffice to demonstrate the complexity of such longer passages.
(1Peter 1:3-5) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
As you can see, the sentence is quite long. The only real verb in the sentence is caused to be born again. There are also several prepositional phrases in succession. So in this case, it may be wise to split the passage after each prepositional phrase. Below, is how I would split the passage. The passage will be further refined as we continue the tutorial.
Some would choose to split the passage after every prepositional phrase, genitive phrase, participle phrase, etc. The best rule is to split the passage that will yield the best exegetical explanation. Not every phrase is exegetically significant, but some can be. I believe in this case, the prepositional phrases will yield some interesting discoveries. At this point, if you need to refresh your memories of the types of phrases and clauses, please do so. The post is here. As we continue, things will become a bit more complicated. Our next tutorial will continue with splitting propositions into its finer parts.