Considering Context is already a written segment of this site. However, I wanted to do a podcast as not everyone would be able to sit and read for a long period of time. The podcast should not last more than fifteen minutes or so, with some hitting the half-hour mark if technical and structural considerations of the text have to be discussed. Below is the first very first episode. Enjoy!
The Messed Up Church is a group of independent contributors who focus on some of the zany, whacky, ridiculous things going on in the mainstream Evangelical church. As of late, they began exploring the podcast arena. This episode is an interview with Robert M. Bowman, Jr., author of The Word of Faith Controversy. Take s listen to the podcast and jump over to the MUC site and relish in the resources that will help you avoid false teachers like COVID!
The Bible contains many precious promises of God to the believer. They are and should be a great source of comfort to us. Promises of God’s presence with His people, His enduring strength in our weaknesses, and mostly, His covenant with His people through the perfect work of His Son, Jesus, are causes of rejoicing and celebration, and rightly so.
Problems arise, however, when we begin to misinterpret or misapply these promises. Do not fret. We all do it. We are all guilty of making these promises more than they were intended to be. The important thing is to recognize what we are doing wrong and readjusting so that we interpret and apply Scripture correctly. Here are five ways we may be misinterpreting Scripture.
it’s me! (allegorizing yourself into scripture)
Allegory is a useful way to teach theological truths. What else are Jesus’ parables but allegorical stories that demonstrate their spiritual meanings? The parable of the soils teaches us the condition of the human heart in response to the gospel. The prodigal son shows us God’s acceptance of a repentant sinner and a self-righteous person’s indignant attitude of the repentant person. And one of my favorite allegorical stories in the Bible is found in Judges 9:7-21. After Gideon’s death, his son, Abimeliech became the self-appointed king and murdered all of his brothers, save one. This youngest son, Jotham, confronted him and told him an allegorical tale that would be Abimilech’s downfall.
Allegory is not a problem in and of itself. Problems arise when we attempt to take a passage of Scripture, usually historical or narrative, and place ourselves as one of the main characters in the story. Perhaps the most famous type of this fallacy is that of David and Goliath. The common Evangelical pastor interprets this to mean that God will help you defeat your “giants” and that with His help you can overcome anything. Marshmallowy mush like this has caused many a Christian to wrongly interpret the story of David and Goliath and claim a promise of God not found in the narrative. How do we avoid such fallacies? Here are three simple rules on how not to misinterpret allegory.
- True allegory will be presented as such. Therefore, you will not find allegory in historical and narrative passages unless it is stated as allegory. Parables, hyperboles, Apocalyptic literature, and the like are introduced by specific phrases and keywords such as, “there was a man…”, “he told them a parable…”, “it was like…”, etc.
- Allegory is full of imagery. The passage in Judges, for example, depicts the enemies of Jotham as certain types of trees while the main character, Abimilech, is depicted as an olive tree. Since olive trees were viewed as good and safe, the imagery is useful and appropriate for the occasion. If the passage you are reading does not contain these types of elements, it is not an allegory. Don’t interpret them as such or place yourself as one of the characters. Narrative is written to inform us of something past and usually contains an over-bearing theme for the benefit of the reader. Hence, the entire book of Judges warns us of apostasy and the continual wavering between serving the Living God or dead idols.
- Allegory will always be tied to the lesson that the author is presenting. In other words, the author has a point to make and launches into a story that represents this. Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18 exemplifies this type of allegory where the Pharisees represent the tenants, the prophets of old represent the king’s messengers, and Jesus represents the heir. The point of this allegory is that God has a vineyard, Israel, and expects fruit. He has placed the religious leaders over the people to care for them. They failed and so He sent prophets they ignored. The final person is the heir, Jesus. They will also reject Him and therefore be kicked out of the Kingdom of God. If your allegory is not indicative of the lesson the author is trying to make then it is not an allegory.
stone skipping in the pond (skipping straight to the application)
One of the greatest temptations of Scripture reading is not understanding the full context. This tends to happen when we see a verse that stands out to us or affects us emotionally one way or another. Instead of examining the surrounding verses, we tear up and go with that “feeling.” We never consider whether the application that we think is correct is valid because it makes us feel good. Just as interpretation is dependent upon the context, so too our application must reflect the context. It is doubtful that a first-century audience would have understood Zepheniah 3:17 as God giving believers the feel-good assurance of His love. That is a purely modern application and stems from lazy Bible reading/study. It is a total disregard for the text and ignores the entirety of God’s judgment upon the leaders of Israel, of which the context of Zepheniah 3:17 speaks. Before jumping to an application ask these questions:
- What is the full context of this passage?
- What message is the author trying to convey?
- How would the original audience have understood it?
- What was the response the author was seeking?
verbs, tenses, & roots (word study fallacies)
“The Greek word for power is dunamis. It’s where we get our word ‘dynamite.’ This passage is saying that God’s power is dynamite!”
How many times have you heard this or something similar? Enter, the word study fallacy. Word studies yield vital information when done properly. However, the saying, A little Greek is a dangerous thing, should always be minded carefully. Understanding syntax, not just basic definitions, goes a long way in proper interpretation. Most fallacies of the word study type occur in two areas:
- Tenses – verbs are packed with tenses which indicate time and Greek is no different. Most unskilled interpreters look at a specific tense, ascertain a basic definition, and conclude that this tense bears the same nuance every time it occurs. One of the most famous examples is John 1:1. The ‘to be’ verb in that passage is an imperfect tense. Imperfect, as given in many grammars is described as a past event that is not yet completed or an action that is yet ongoing. For this reason, I have heard pastors attempt to translate John 1:1 as, In the beginning, was being the word, and the word was being with God, and the word was being God. This kind of fallacy stems from a misunderstanding of how tenses work. Though the imperfect may bear this kind of action in some way, it is not always the case and should not always be assumed. Careful consultation of Greek scholars and grammarians will go a long way to aiding you in the syntax of word studies. One of the primary sources used is Dan Wallaces Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. It is an excellent resource that will help with understanding verbal aspects and how they work together.
- Root words – also called the Etymological Fallacy, it assumes the root meaning of the word must continue to mean the same thing throughout time. A wise person once said that language is dynamic rather than static. In other words, words change their meanings over time and it should not be assumed that the word you are now studying carries the same meaning as it once did. The Greek word διαθήκη, for instance, is translated as covenant in the New Testament. However, the original use of the word according to the LSJ Greek Lexicon is that of a will of property. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament further indicates that it was often used as coming to an agreement or a distribution of property. It would be improper to assume that it means this in every context simply because the root word initially indicated this usage. But one of the vilest misuses of this fallacy I have ever encountered came at the attempt to equate the same usage of the Greek preposition ἐν (in) in all contexts. The sermon was on Ephesians 2:2, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. The pastor came to the conclusion that because the basic definition of ἐν is a place of location, and the text stated that lost people had the spirit of disobedience working ἐν them, then all lost people must be demon-possessed! This kind of reasoning is destructive and always leads to bad theology. Beware of the Root Fallacy.
For more information on these types of bad hermeneutical practices, D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies is an excellent resource.
unintended promises (is it for me or another group of people?)
Scripture is replete with promises. God’s word is written to assure us of His faithfulness and goodness towards us. But one thing that we need to reckon with is that not every promise in Scripture is individualistic. That is, many of the promises are corporate, or for a specific people group. When we take a corporate promise and make it individual, it often results in disappointment. Jeremiah 29:11 is perhaps the most misapplied promise in all of Scripture.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
This verse has been hung on thousands of walls in homes, venerated in countless Bible studies, and passed around social media like wildfire. The promise is not a promise for God to fulfill a plan for your life, or even to bring you to a place where He can begin to shape your “destiny,” as has been so wrongly taught. God’s promise here is a corporate promise to the nation of Israel to restore them as His inheritance and to bring them back to the land of Israel after their time of punishment has ended. It is His assurance that even in the midst of their chastisement, He has not forgotten His promise to be their God and for them to be His people.
Therefore, the only feasible way to apply a modern application of this passage is the realization that when God now punishes His people, the Church, it is out of love. The Church should cling to the promise that despite their discipline, it is through the covenant of His Son that He will not forsake them. He does this because He knows the plans He has for [them] declares the LORD…
It is truly sad when a person becomes depressed and begins to think that God is unfaithful. Knowing a little context goes a long way. When claiming promises from Scripture, be extra diligent that you understand the full extent and context of that promise.
hello, my name is context. You ripped me from my pages. prepare to die! (context–the over-arching theme)
You may have guessed by now that the main thing stressed throughout this post has been the importance of context. Context ripping is all too often a reality in the pulpit as well as in our personal studies. Misinformation, misinterpretation, and misapplication are all a result of destroying the context. Do not fret, Christian for we are all guilty of this at one time or another. The important thing is to recognize and correct our mistakes. There are guidelines that can help us avoid this pitfall and though we will not always be one hundred percent correct, we can be confident that we did not butcher God’s word to such a degree that it is irreparable. Here are some things to consider when interpreting and applying Scripture.
- Read the entire context. The entire context includes the verses before and after the passage you are reading. Sometimes it may include entire paragraphs depending upon the genre. A lot of heart misinterpretation is suddenly taken care of when the full context is taken into consideration.
- Understand the background of the book. Part of knowing the context consists of knowing the who, what, why, when, where, and how–the 5WH method–of what you are studying. Understanding the background is a tremendous help in interpreting the passage. For example, the book of Galatians was written for the purpose of debunking Judaizers. These were men that were teaching the young church that adherence to the Mosaic Law was required alongside of faith in Christ. When we realize what is at stake, we begin to understand some of the harsh and condemnatory language Paul uses towards his audience. The book of 1John serves as another example. Some people are baffled at the opening of this treatise. What does John mean by all of this talk? Simply stated, he was combating a form of Gnosticism that taught that Jesus did not have a real physical body because the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. At the outset, John makes it very clear that he and the other disciples physically touched, talked, and heard Jesus.
- Keep the book’s context in mind while reading. If you know the context of the book it should always be front and center while attempting to interpret. The New Testament authors wrote for specific purposes and this purpose is what drove them to engage their audience. Jude, for example, states that his brief epistle was written for his audience to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. He wanted to write to them concerning their common salvation but changed gears as he felt the necessity to address false teachers. The Gospel of John was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. When you know the why of the book, it must be kept at the forefront to understand a correct interpretation. Grasping for an interpretation or application outside of this context will usually be wrong. No doubt there will be many topics addressed in a book or an epistle but the important thing to remember is that the authors usually had a specific audience in mind with a specific reason for writing to that audience.
- Know your genre & literary devices. Genre and literary devices are important when it comes to interpreting Scripture. You don’t interpret poetry the same way you would interpret a didactic (teaching) passage, for instance. Or you would not interpret apocalyptic literature the same way as an historical or narrative passage. How are hyperboles to be interpreted? What about some of the stranger sayings in Scripture? Though context is the guiding factor in all interpretation, different genres must be interpreted according to their rules. Let’s take, for example, Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother… he cannot be My disciple. Are we to come to the conclusion that Jesus is commanding us to hate our parents or other family members? What of His own teaching on honoring your parents? This particular verse demonstrates hyperbole, a literary device used to exaggerate something in order to make a point. Here, Jesus is not advocating hate for family. He is using the extreme to make a point. Your love for family members should be of such degree that it pales in comparison to that of even your closest Jesus. And if those family members keep you from following Him, you are to forsake them instead of rejecting Him. I once knew a pastor who took this passage at face value and encouraged others who had family members that were unsaved to do the same. This is why great care should be taken when interpreting different genres and literary devices.
- Go with the plain meaning of the text. There is no reason to complicate things. Sometimes, it really is that simple. When the Bible states that we are all dead in sin (Eph 2:1) it really means that. When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again of water and Spirit (John 3:5) that’s what it actually means. Sometimes there’s a deeper meaning like our example passage Luke 14:26 above, but most times it really is as simple as the text states. If the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text, then the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text. Let’s not complicate it.
It may be discouraging to realize that you have been guilty of any of these interpretive fallacies. When I began to understand how hermeneutics properly worked, I had many ooops moments of my own. Do not let it deter you from studying God’s word. We are all guilty of these methods and we must all learn how to correct our mistakes. Be sure to visit the Study Aids page for books and other tools that will be of help. Until then, God bless your study of His word!
In this step, we will begin to put things together. But first, let’s have a little review to refresh our memories.
Subjects, Verbs, Direct & Indirect Objects
Subjects are the nouns or pronouns that perform the action or that which the action is performed upon. We find the subject by first locating the verb and asking who or what of the verb.
Verbs are words that show action or a state of being. They are either transitive (transfer their action to an object) or intransitive (stays “stagnant”). Verbs also have two voices: active and passive. Active voice verbs perform the action. Bob hit the ball. Bob is the doer of the verb hit. Passive voice verbs are when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. Bob was hit by the ball flips the action around. When the subject is being acted upon you know you have a passive verb.
Direct objects are a noun or another part of speech to which the action of the verb is transferred to. Jesus taught his disciples. The noun ‘disciples’ is having the verb ‘taught’ transferred to it and is acting as the verb’s object. We find the direct objects by asking who or what of the subject.
Indirect objects are the nouns and pronouns that the subject performs for or on behalf of. Jesus taught His words to the disciples. The phrase ‘to the disciples’ tells us whom Jesus did the verb of teaching for. We find the indirect object by asking to whom or for whom the verb was done.
Clauses and Phrases
We are now beginning the step that will allow us to split our passages into propositions. The previous posts was setting up this step. You need to understand how to identify subjects and verbs in order to find clauses and phrases. Each step builds upon each other and are important to learn. Now comes the task of pulling out chunks of the text in order to further your Bible study.
Grammatically, a clause is a group of words that always contains a subject and a verb. Without either, it could not be a true clause. A phrase, on the other hand, is a group of words that contains either a subject or a verbal word form but never both. The following illustration points out the difference between a clause and a phrase:
Galatians 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel
The words in red color indicate the main clause. Blue text indicates another clause but is not the main clause. Notice that both clauses contain both a subject and a verb. The word ‘I’ is the subject with ‘marvel’ being the verb and the second clause has ‘who’ as its subject, ‘called’ as the verb, and ‘you’ as the direct object. The brown text indicates the different phrases within the text. Did you notice anything significant in the brown text? None of the phrases contain a subject or a verb. As we talk about the different kinds of phrases and clauses, they will be much easier to identify.
two kinds of clauses
Clauses are also independent or dependent. A dependent clause can stand alone and make a complete sentence while a dependent clause needs other clauses and phrases to complete the meaning. The sentence, Jesus died on the cross to save sinners, contains two clauses. The first could stand alone and be a complete sentence. If I say, “Jesus died on the cross,” you understand completely what I mean. But if I just blurt out, “to save sinners,” you will have to ask for more information in order to find out what I mean.
Typically, there will be “landmarks” to tip you off to a subordinate clause. Words an phrases such as “in order that/so that,” “because,” “when,” and others will help you determine subordinate clauses. You will find that most of the time you naturally spot these subordinate clauses provided you are working from a translation that is in your first language.
Types of clauses
Finite Clauses (independent, dependent) – These clauses will be the only types of clauses that will be the main clause. They will contain a finite verb rather than other types such as participles or infinitives. Be aware, though, that not all finite clauses will be the main clause, though they are the only ones qualified to be so. The book of 1Peter is a prime example of this. Verse 8 contains the finite verb ‘you love’ but is subordinate to verse 6 because it is contained within a relative clauses.
Relative Clauses (dependent) – These begin with a relative pronoun, who, whom, whose, which, and sometimes, that. Be careful not to confuse these with interrogative clauses, which can sometimes be a main clause. “There are some who trouble you…”
Interrogative Clauses (dependent/independent) – Interrogatives are clauses that contain a question. “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Many times they will start with an interrogative pronoun. “Who is it that shall bring a charge against God’s elect?”
Infinitive Clauses (dependent) – You may remember infinitives from the verbs part. They usually start with our English word, to and add another verb to complete the meaning. “There are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel.”
Substantival Clauses (dependent) – These are the hardest of all the clauses to identify. The entire substantival clauses will function as a noun. Matthew 1:22 is an example of a substantival: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” The last part of this verse is acting as the direct object to the infinitive ‘to fulfill.’
Participle Clauses (dependent) – In the English language, participles usually end in ing and are relatively easy to spot. Participle clauses are very diverse and often indicate the way an action is carried out, and imperatival nuances, or complemental completion.
Prepositional Phrases (dependent) – The most typical type of phrase you will encounter are prepositional phrases. Prepositions show the relationship of the noun to the preposition, usually some kind of location or motion. “Jesus died on the cross.” In the sentence, the noun preposition shows the relationship between Jesus and the noun cross.
Unmarked Phrases (dependent) – Sometimes phrases are not clearly marked and you must look carefully to separate them out. In our verse above, Galatians 1:6, the phrase “so soon” is not so easily seen. It contains two adverbs and grammatically could be an adverbial phrase. I prefer to don them as unmarked so as not to confuse them with participial clauses, as they are often adverbial in nature.
Genitive Phrases (dependent) – Genitive phrases do not exist in English. In Greek, Genitives are extremely versatile and “genitive limits as to kind” (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 76). The closest English comes to translating the Genitive is with the word “of.” The Son of God. The Genitive limits the noun Son to that of which Son. It is God’s Son. Although Genitives do often show possession, they do much more than that. The easiest way to deal with Genitive phrases is to look for the word “of” and its noun. The main precaution is to carefully distinguish between it and a true prepositional phrase.
Everything we have learned up to this point will be used in our next post. We will be learning about propositions and how to separate them from the text. Continue to read Scripture and try to recognize the different types of clauses and phrases. Until next time, God bless your study of His Word.
Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to Israel before they enter the Promised Land. He recounts the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness, the result of their unbelief. Now on the edge of entering, Moses recounts God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s continual rebellion and delivers the curses and blessings upon them; curses for disobedience, blessings for obedience.
Textual notes on Deuteronomy 32
Chapter 32 is somewhat the finalé of Moses’ life. This portion was written as a song, as songs were used to aid memory. It is sung as a series of blessings and curses, a summary of what had been previously recorded. One thing stood apart as I read it this morning. It is the name Moses ascribes to God. We first encounter this name is verse 4:
Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.(NKJV)
This name for God is repeated a total of five times in this chapter alone. Verses 4, 15, 18, 30, and 31 use the metaphorical name. As I pondered upon this for a time I went to my Hebrew lexicons and commentaries to find the meaning of Moses’ use of Rock. Two resources in particular resonated. The first entry is from the Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible and the second is from the IVP Bible Background Commentary.
5. God⟺Rock — the God of Israel understood metaphorically as a rock or stone; perhaps with emphasis on strength and permanence. (Emphasis mine)
(2020). The Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
rock metaphor. Used in 2 Samuel 22:3 as a divine epithet, rock could also carry the meaning “mountain” or “fortress.” It is used in Israelite names both as a metaphor for God (Zuriel, Num 3:35, “God is my Rock”) and as a divine name (Pedahzur, Num 2:20, “Rock is my redeemer”). It is used of other deities in Aramaic and Amorite personal names, and its application to other gods is hinted at here in verses 31 and 37. As a metaphor it speaks of safety and deliverance (Emphasis mine)
Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
God was the strength of Israel. He was meant to be their permanent Divine, the only God that should be worshiped. This would soon be a bygone concept once Israel conquered their enemies and settled down in the land. They would forget their Rock and seek to be acquiesced into the culture surrounding them. Later in the chapter (verses 10-15) God accuses them of their future idolatry, or rather the way He will rebuke them when they fail to obey His Law. He harshly condemns their offerings and sacrifices to other “rocks.” They are vain, and deaf, and powerless. God’s rebuke was justified and needed.
Law & Gospel in Deuteronomy 32
Just as Israel sought after empty things to satisfy them, we too, often run after rocks instead of the Rock. We find solace in the temporal pleasures of this life instead of the Eternal God. In spite of God’s punishment of His chosen people, He was gracious and compassionate toward them. In the same chapter that He pronounced His judgment, He would also pronounce His mercy. Verse 36, along with verse 43 is this chapter’s pinnacle of the gospel in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 32:36 (NKJV) — 36 “For the Lord will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free… 43 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
O, what mercy and grace! Yahweh would redeem His people despite their rebellion. He would redeem them and bring them back as His very own possession, and with the promise to circumcise their hearts so that they would love Him.
It is this same great mercy that has been extended to us through the perfect work of Jesus. His sacrificial and vicarious death has covered our sins; it has covered our idolatry, our greed, our sexual perversions, and every other sin that the Law continues to bring to remembrance. As the children of Israel gazed upon the bronze serpent to be healed of their fiery bites, so must we fix our gaze by faith on the One who took sin’s bite in our stead.
Rejoice in Christ’s work. Be joyful in His merciful offer of His invitation to come to Him and live.
The first part of this tutorial started with subjects and verbs. To find the subject of a sentence simply ask who or what performed the action. In the sentence, Bob hit the ball we ask who or what hit? Bob hit. Therefore, Bob is the subject of the verb hit.
Verbs also come with two voices, active and passive. The verb is active if the subject performs the action. Hence, in our example sentence above the verb is active because Bob, the subject, is the one performing the acti0n. But if the subject is being acted upon the verb becomes passive in nature. Bob was hit by the ball now tells us the action is passive because the subject is being acted upon.
There are three main types of verbs we examined. Finite, participles, and infinitives. Finite verbs make a simple declaration. These are the only types of verbs that will be the main verb of the main clause. Participles can be used as adjectives or adverbs. They also describe the means or the manner in which an action is carried out. For more review see the first post here.
In the most simple terms, direct objects are the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, or other words that the action of the verb is transferred to. The direct object shows who or what receives the action of the verb. This can be confused with the passive voice verb because it too shows what is being acted upon. The big difference is that the direct object is a separate noun from the subject. We find the direct object by asking who or what of the subject, whereas to find the subject we ask who or what of the verb. Let’s consider some examples from Scripture.
Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you…
To start we must first find the verb. After looking at the sentence we determine that ‘has bewitched’ is the verb. Now we must find the subject by asking ‘who or what‘ has bewitched? The interrogative pronoun ‘who’ answers that question and is therefore the subject of the sentence. Now, in order to find the direct object, we must ask ‘who or what was bewitched?’ We conclude that ‘you’ is the receiver of the bewitching and is the direct object.
Seems pretty simple, huh? But what happens when the subject and verb are separated by other phrases and clauses? This is when we must slow down and take our time to observe what is going on in the text. Paul is infamous for having long and complex sentences. His letter to the Ephesians is a good example. In our English translations, depending on the version you are using, verses 3-6 is a single sentence. In Greek, the first thirteen verses are a single sentence. Try unraveling the main subject, verb, and direct object in that! We will just use four verses for this example.
Ephesians 1:3–6. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
We have not yet covered other types of clauses and phrases. To make things simple, the verb is ‘be’ while the subject is ‘God and Father.’ In this case, the direct object is actually the adjective, blessed. And so we ask, ” Who or what be”? God and Father be. Next, we ask, “God and Father be what?” The only answer is that God and Father be blessed. We have not yet covered picking out the main subject and verb in a sentence. Things should become much clearer as we progress.
Words of Apposition
Some words simply express a quality about a noun. That is, they rename a noun in another way or describe the same noun in some manner or antother. Most New Testament epistles begin with such words.
Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)
The word apostle is appositional to the proper noun, Paul. It renames Paul and tells us that the apostle is the same person as Paul. When this occurs, it is said that the word or phrase stands in apposition to the noun, adjective, pronoun, etc., that it is modifying.
An indirect object is a noun or pronoun telling to whom or for whom the action was done for. Paul, an apostle…and all the brothers with me, (writing) ^to the Churches of Galatia. Our English word ‘to’ often signifies an indirect object. in this case ‘to the Churches’ is the indirect object. The verb has been supplied but writing the epistle seems to be Paul’s objective. But be warned that from our previous lesson on verbs ‘to’ is also used to form the infinitive. It’s easy to mix them up if you’re not reading carefully.
Indirect objects are “indirectly” involved in the action but are not the receiver of the action, neither do they have the action transferred to them. Instead, the action is done for them or on their behalf. The tricky thing we need to be aware of is in English, indirect objects are often taken as prepositional phrases because they are commonly translated in such a way. Greek does not have this problem. The function that a word is used on a clause is determined by case endings. These are the different endings that nouns have. English has no such thing, really, and so parts of speech often end up being mistaken for other parts of speech. Luckily with text flow diagramming, we need not worry too much as we subordinate the entire phrase or clause rather than individual words like a traditional diagram.
That will wrap up this step. In the next step we start the task of identifying clauses and phrases, as well as looking at the different types of clauses and phrases. As a final thought, read a familiar passage and try to identify the main subject, verb, direct objects, and appositional words.
This is part 1 of 2 , subjects & verbs, in Basic Grammar.
Grammar–blech! Nobody likes it and once we finish our education we tend to forget as much as possible. After all, who really cares about subjects, and adverbs, and adjectives, and gerunds?
As much as we may hate it, grammar is a part of all written languages, including the Bible. In John Piper’s thirty-four page booklet, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts, he says this about the grammar of the Bible.
An evangelical believes that God humbled himself not only in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The manger and the cross were not sensational. Neither are grammar and syntax…Therefore, if God humbled himself to take on human flesh and to speak human language, woe to us if we arrogantly presume to ignore the humanity of Christ and the grammar of Scripture.
Biblical Exegesis, John Piper, p. 5
Love it or hate it, grammar is an important part to better understanding Scripture. The Biblical authors used grammar and syntax to convey the meaning they wished their audiences to understand. Likewise, we will briefly study grammar and syntax to come as close to that meaning as humanly possible. With that brief introduction, let us begin our journey.
Verbs-It’s Where The Action is!
We start with verbs because they are words of action and tell us what’s happening in the text. The Bible wouldn’t make much sense if we left out all the verbs. There are two types of action that verbs perform: transitive and intransitive.
- Transitive verbs transfer the action to a direct object (discussed later in part 2 of Basic Grammar). In the sentence, Bob hit the ball, the action of the verb hit is transferred to the word ball. In simple terms to be a transitive verb, there must be someone or something for the action of the verb to act upon.
- Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, have no object which to act upon. They are still verbs but the action remains, so to speak, with the person or thing performing the action. In John 11:35 we read, Jesus wept. The verb is wept yet it does not weep on someone or something. The verb is somewhat stagnant and has no object. Therefore it is called Intransitive. That is, the action does not transfer to something else.
Verbs also have something called a voice. No, they don’t talk but they do show action in two kinds of ways. Their action is either active or passive. in the action voice the subject performs the action. Bob hit the ball, tells us that the verb is being done by someone or something, in this case Bob. But in the passive voice things get flipped around. Now the action of the verb is the subject. Bob was hit by the ball, tells us that Bob is no longer the one performing the action, but is rather the one being acted upon. Passive verbs are usually written using a helping verb to make it passive.
Kinds of Verbs
Now that we understand the kinds of actions verbs perform we need to understand the different kinds of verbs we will encounter. At this point, I believe it will be helpful to introduce to be verbs and helping verbs.
There are eight be verbs: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been. When we talk about finding verbs we must also include these being verbs. Take John 1:1 for example:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The two be verbs are italicized and underlined and show a state of being. When picking out verbs and their subjects it is important to include these in clauses you may separate out. It is also worth pointing out that Being verbs don’t take an object and can be considered passive.
Auxillary verbs, or Helping verbs, help complete the action of the verb. Galatians 1:4-5 is a prime example of a helping verb.
Galatians 1:3–4 Grace to you and peace… from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
The word ‘might’ helps to complete the meaning of the verb, deliver. Helping verbs should be included in their clauses as we begin to separate them. Now, let’s continue with the kinds of verbs we will encounter. There are three major kinds of verbs we typically see.
- Finite – these verbs simply assert something happened. These are the only kinds of verbs that can be the main verb of the main clause. We will flesh all this out in later posts.
- Participles – these guys are often used as an adjective and describe further the noun or verb they modify. In John 6:51 Jesus states, I am the living bread. The word ‘living’ is describing Jesus further. He is not only bread that came from Heaven, He is living bread. Participles also indicate the means or the manner in which action is carried out. Paul uses participles in this way in Ephesians 6:17-18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.
The two participles in verse 18, praying and being watchful, modify and describe the manner how spiritual armor, namely the sword of the Spirit and the helmet of salvation are taken up through prayer and watchfulness. (Cohick, L. H. (2010). Ephesians. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. pg. 158). Participles can be versatile in their function so it is important to ascertain their use when you encounter them.
- Infinitives – These are verbs with our English word ‘to’ preceding them. Like participles, they can be used a number of ways including being objects, subjects, and showing the purpose of an action.
1 Samuel 15:22 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.
The infinitive ‘to obey’ is functioning as the subject of this sentence. In the New Testament infinitives can also be used to express the purpose or result of an action. In Matthew 4:1 the infinitive ‘to be tempted’ is semantically functioning as an infinitive of purpose. The passage then could be read as “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness [for the purpose] to be tempted by the devil.” As we progress through the steps we will touch on how infinitives are subordinate to their clauses.
A subject of a sentence is a noun that performs the action of the verb or is acted upon by the verb. In order to find the subject of a clause you simply ask who or what performed the action. Using the example of John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” we can find the verb, wept, and ask who or what wept? The answer is Jesus is the one who wept. This would be the subject of that clause. Of course things become a bit more complicated when there are several clauses in a sentence. Sometimes the main subject and main verb are separated by several clauses and phrases. When this is the case, care must be taken to pick out the correct pieces. 1Peter 1:10 should suffice for an example.
1 Peter 1:10. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully…
At first glance it is easy to think that prophets is the subject and prophesied is the verb. But the entire relative clause has to be ignored to find the correct verb for the word prophet. Once we go over the different kinds of clauses and phrases it should become a little more clear. In our next post we will begin to flesh out grammar a bit more as we talk about direct objects and indirect objects.
Below is a practice sheet you can download. The answers are given on the second page.
One of the greatest needs our culture has at this moment is understanding what the Bible says and the proper way to interpret and apply what has been read. Interpreting passages wrongly gives us a skewed perspective of who God really is and what He has promised us through the gospel. On the other hand, a close and careful reading allows us to see Him as Scripture proclaims.
One of the best tools to accomplish this is text flow diagramming. You may have heard this method referred to as block diagramming, semantic diagramming, text hierarchy, phrasing, or numerous other labels. The main gist of a text flow is to visually layout a passage of Scripture so that you can clearly see the main points of a passage. It is done through a several step process that includes careful reading of the text several times and then proceeding to allow the main clauses to stand at the left-hand margin while indenting the subordinating clauses and phrases under the main clause(s). The result is a visual stair step (or block) like aid that represents the flow of thought of the author. Below is an example from Galatians 1:1-5
A brief glance at the diagram reveals the main thoughts of Paul and his companions writing and their desire that God would give them grace and peace through the person of Jesus. It doesn’t sound too spiritual but those are the main points in Paul’s introduction to the Galatians.
Some Words of Caution
It’s tempting to see a Scripture that really stands out and try to force it to be the main point. Text flow diagramming, although flexible and not as rigid as line diagramming, is bound by grammatical rules. How we “feel” about a particular verse does not automatically mean it should stand as the author’s main theme or the central focus of an entire pericope. Therefore, it is important to let the author’s meaning and the grammar (which will be discussed in a follow-up post) dictate what the main point is.
One last caution would be understanding that text flow diagramming is a starting point and should never be the only part of your Bible study. You need to put the work in and dig as deep as you can with other resources. You can see some of my favorite tools on this page.
how is text flow helpful?
Besides laying out the main points visually, text flows are useful as a study aid in several ways:
- Text flows give a bird’s eye view of an entire passage. Scanning the page will help you see the big picture of a pericope and the main topics the author is trying to drive home.
- Text flows provide a natural outline. Since the main points are available at a glance you can easily outline a passage. The subordinating clauses often serve as sub-points, helping to flesh out the main clauses.
- Text flow syntactical labels (discussed at a later time) help identify the connection of individual clauses and phrases to the main clause.
- Text flows when done properly, align closely with the grammar of the original languages. (this is mainly the Greek text. Hebrew is different.)
- Text flows are easier to learn than traditional diagramming.
- Text flows still force you to slow down and observe the whole text.
the tutorial outline
Our journey to understanding the Bible will be taken in steps. It is important to try and learn these concepts well. After every step, practice what you have learned by reading a familiar Bible passage and picking out the key elements you learned that day. Let’s get started by looking at the outline
Step 1 – Basic Grammar
We will identify the basic grammar essential to understanding the Bible. Scripture was written according to the grammar and syntax of the time and it is important for us to understand it, as well. This lesson will cover the following:
• How to find subjects, verbs, direct objects, and indirect objects
• Different types of verbs
• Apposition words
Step 2 – Clauses and Phrases
This lesson will focus mainly on how to identify clauses and phrases. And yes, they are different.
• What are clauses?
• What are phrases?
• Different types of phrases
Step 3 – Identifying Propositions
This is where we begin to dig into the text. Everything we’ve learned up to this point will come into play, so make sure you learn the previous lessons well.
• Finding propositions
• Splitting propositions
• when some propositions stay together
• Prepositional Phrases and their contribution to the text
Step 4 – Indenting Subordinating Clauses
This step will go into detail on how and where subordinating clauses should be indented.
• Two methods of indentation
• Extracting phrases
• “Testing” subordination for correct placement
• Using arrows to show subordination
Step 5 – Semantic Labels
We will identify and place semantic labels beside each subordinate clause.
• Categories of semantics
• Color coding schematic of labels
Step 6 – Final Touches
In the last step we will see what is done once we finish the text flow.
• Proof reading your diagram
• Internalizing your study (how is God’s word changing you?)
• Creating an outline
• Further study
I pray that text flow diagramming will be another useful tool in your Bible study belt. It will take practice and perseverance just like any other skill. But once you get the hang of it, I think you will find that it will be one of the most important steps in the observation phase of your study.
1 I cried out to God with my voice—To God with my voice; And He gave ear to me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; My soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.
This Psalm of Asaph expresses a deep and abiding pain. Scholars place this Psalm in the time of Habakuk, the minor prophet. Habakuk is set in a time of uncertainty. The Chaldeans are among them and Israel’s residents are committing injustice and violence among them. Habakuk continually pleads to God to intervene as it seems that all these things will overwhelm him. Psalm 77 is written within this context.
Amongst the national unrest we are experiencing currently, we also deal with our personal anxieties and doubt. We are still wading through our own trials. Along with Habakuk we cry out to God for relief, “O Lord, how long shall I cry And You will not hear?” And like the Psalmist we express our sleeplessness and doubt that perhaps God has cast us out.
This Psalm has particular significance for me as I sit here and recover from a major life-changing surgery. I feel like a lump, just sitting and doing nothing. I complain to God, “How Long, O Lord?” I see His hand in guiding and still cry out to Him, patiently waiting for His reply.
And when I read verse 1 over and over I begin to be comforted: “I cried out to God with my voice–to God with my voice, and He gave ear to me.”
When I read Scripture of God answering His people in the midst of their troubles, my heart is encouraged. For I know that God will only delay so long before His loving answer comes to my ears. Christian, you also continue to cry out to Him. And when His reply comes, it will be sweet in your ears and sweeter in your soul. Then you shall exclaim, “He gave ear to me.”
Teachers and preachers are often crunched for time. Many pastors are bi-vocational and must dedicate the necessary hours to their supervisors. At the same time, they have an obligation to God to tend the flock they have been charged with. But what do you do when you begin to run out of time and have to prepare your sermon on teaching lesson? This is where most Bible software shines. Most of them are geared towards streamlining your study. Here are my top five reasons for using Bible software:
- Programmed to help you get behind the English. A lot of pastors may not have the time to upkeep their language studies once they graduate seminary and step into ministry. Bible software can help quickly inform you of Hebrew and Greek words right along in the text with just a glance. Many software programs are also geared towards those who have little to no experience in the original languages, even going so far as to add sound clips of how the words are pronounced. Notice the bottom portion of the below photo. It follows along word-for-word with the English text, making easier to see which Greek words are being used.
2. Go beyond simple word studies. Bible software is great for digging into the original languages. Most of the free ones allow you to access basic definitions along with the morphology of any given word. But sometimes you want to, you need to go further. Paid software will usually have these types of features. The screenshot below shows the Greek word logos with its basic definition as well as with the senses (how it is used in each verse) of each individual context.
3. Built-in tools to help you exercise your understanding of a passage. It’s important to grasp the full meaning of a text you are studying to present to your class or congregation. One of the best methods of slowing down and meditating on a passage is diagramming. There are basically two types of diagrams: line diagrams, which take each word individually, and text flow diagrams, which take entire clauses and phrases into account. Both are vital for understanding a passage. Examples of both can be seen below.
4. Robust note-taking systems. You’ve studied and studied a passage and have lots of things in your head. You grab a piece of paper and begin to jot down insights about the passage as they come to you. Luckily, just about every software program, free or paid, has some form of taking notes. Most of these can be highly organized. The software I use, Logos Bible Software, allows me to not only create these notes but to create notebooks for each study. So if I am studying the topic of Personal Holiness, while at the same time studying through the book of 1Peter, I can create notebooks for both and place the notes in their proper places.
5. Helpful aids for time-saving study. The goal of Bible software is to make it as useful and time saving as possible. Many developers really pack in the the tools that allow you to look up and read a wealth of material within seconds. In Logos Bible Software these tools are called guides. They focus on two major aspects: (1)Passage Guides, bringing together all of your commentaries and dictionaries for whatever passage or topic you’re studying, and (2) Exegetical guides, which link to your original language texts, apparatuses, and lexicons. Having the power to pull this information up lightning quick is invaluable for those who may find themselves crunched for time. Check out these videos from Logos to see both types of guide in action:
While some people are adamant about studying with book and pencil the “old fashioned way,” the usefulness of Bible software should not be overlooked. We love in a day and age where technology is rapidly consuming our daily lives. As students of God’s unchanging eternal word we have an obligation to study and be prepared at our best to present these truths. Bible software is the tool, I believe, that God has gifted us with in order to faithfully serve and love Him while teaching and reaching out to our neighbors.