Rightly Divide! Why You Should Learn the Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming

I’ve harped on a previous post reasons why sentence diagramming is helpful for studying and exegeting a biblical passage. In this post, I hope to give some reasons why a person would want to bother learning to diagram at all. Here are some reasons to learn all that grammar jargon and all those nonsensical nuisance shapes.

Sentences are structured with purpose

Most people have a main idea along with their sub-ideas they are trying to convey when they write. Typically, we don’t write willy-nilly unless for practice. There is purpose behind every letter, word, sentence, synonym. If we feel our message is that important for the person who is going to receive it, how much more the biblical authors felt as they wrote to the fledgeling churches and Christians? I’m certainly not suggesting they “diagramed” their own writings. But it is most certain they took great care in the wording and structure of their epistles and biographies. It was common practice for one to use an amanuensis (an ancient secretary) to pen their words and then to sign off on the letter before it was distributed. We see this in the book of Romans. As chapter 16 comes to a close, we understand that someone named Tertius actually wrote Romans, but the letter was approved by Paul before being sent out to the churches. In short, don’t dis proper grammar and sentence structure.

God spoke through grammar

Photo Courtesy of Beinecke Library

God has given us His written word for our comfort and assurance. This word includes things such as pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and participles. It seems unpleasant to have to learn all this stuff, but if it is viewed as a high and holy thing of God, it becomes less burdensome. Unfortunately, there’s not much glamour in learning grammar. You just have to dredge your way through it. Do it anyway! Make the best effort you can make. And no matter how tough it gets, don’t give up. A better understanding of grammar means a better understanding of God’s written word to us.

Diagrams help visual learners

Photo courtesy of The Tasmanian Archives and The State Library

Some people learn easier when they study a picture. Sentence diagrams are simply “pictures” of the sentence structure. Each word is placed according to its function in the sentence. Once these placeholders are memorized, it expedites the learner’s awareness of how each word is being used. Visual aids are always a helpful tool.

How do we go about learning diagramming? The internet has become a plethora of information. You can learn just about anything you desire by simply Googling the topic. But if you’e still not sure where to go, I’ve listed some great resources for you below. These will get you headed in the right direction.

English Grammar Revolution–this site is my go-to place for a grammar refresher. There are plenty of videos, exercises, and instructions to take you from beginning grammar student to Diagram Guru in their short and well-explained tutorials. The site is also divided nicely into their respective sections. Each section builds upon the previous, so be sure to read them in order.

Let’s Diagram Web App–Once you start learning sentence diagramming, you’ll need a place to practice. Why write it out when you can simply drag and drop all of your sentence elements onto a canvas? The web app allows you to type or paste any sentence, including bible verses, into the box and then diagram them. Be aware though, that the app costs $5/monthly to use. The free version only gives you five sentences a month. You’ll need much more than that to practice, so shell out the money for a few months. You’ll be glad you did! Below, is a video tutorial on using the web app.

Video tutorial of the Let’s Diagram web app.

The last resource I would like to share with you comes from a middle school grammar book published by Glencoe McGraw-Hill publishing. It’s pretty fascinating considering that most public schools have stopped teaching this lost art form. Below is a PDF of the book. It walks you through all the necessary steps of sentences and gives ample examples of sentence constructions that may be confusing to students when they first encounter them.

I hope this post has encouraged you to delve a little more into learning well the grammar and language God used to convey His precious message. God bless you seek to learn and study the bible in all diligence!

Got Assurance? Yes, You Do! It Is Called The Sure, Prophetic Word

Diagramming 2Peter 1:19-21

2Peter 1:19-21 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

One of the comforting components of genuine Christianity is the assurance of a clear conscience before God. A clear conscience means we can freely approach our Father and ask Him for that which we need or desire (Mt 7:7-11, Heb 4:16, 1John 5:15).

Sadly, many pastors have lost the art of properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel. When the two are conflated, tender consciences become disturbed, causing a lack of assurance to the point of even fearing to come to the Father and pray. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve struggled. I’ve feared. I’ve floundered. We need to be constantly reminded to look outside of ourselves and look to the sure, prophetic word to find rest for our weary souls and peace for our bruised consciences. And God has not left us helpless. He has graciously given this to us. Let us now explore this word in 2Peter 1:19-21.

setting up the text

2Peter tackles the issue of those false teachers who had denying the Master who bought them (2:1). In light of this, Peter exhorts his audience to live in the power that has given them the Holy Spirit and enabled them to live godly lives, despite the corruption that surrounds them. The authenticity of Peter’s authorship has been debated since the time of the early Church. Many scholars, including J.H. Elliott (Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary) puts the writing of the letter late or early 2nd century (AD 100 or later). Elliot states,

The advanced Hellenistic spirit of the letter, the Christian divisions it describes, the delay of the parousia it must explain and the doubts it must dispel, its retrospective appeal to the legacy of an apostle no longer alive, the misuse of prophetic and Pauline writings it must correct, along with its relatively late attestation are all features which indicate that 2 Peter is, with great likelihood, the latest composition of the NT, written sometime in the first quarter of the 2d century

Elliott, J. H. (1992). Peter, Second Epistle of, vol 5, p.287 In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

Many other scholars date the letter early, just before Peter’s execution in the mid AD 60’s. This stems from the fact that there is no mention of 1Enoch, as in Jude, and those who the author is writing against were not Gnostic in their beliefs, as was the late first to second century heresy prevailed and surely would have been addressed, as C.D. Osburn, writing for Erdman’s demonstrates.

2 Peter knows the Pauline letters, which date from the mid-1st century but were collected somewhat later. The Apocalypse of Peter, dating from the first half of the 2nd century, knows 2 Peter. The lack of reference to 1 Enoch indicates a 1st-century date. Also, the absence of “early Catholic” stress on institutional officeholders may suggest an earlier date. The opponents are certainly not 2nd-century Gnostics. 2 Pet. 3:4 may reflect that the first generation of Christians, that of the apostles, are dead. The scoffers’ objection in 3:4 is plausible in the period 75–90, marked by great disillusionment regarding the Parousia. There is certainly no basis for viewing 2 Peter as the latest composition in the NT.

Osburn, C. D. (2000). Peter, Second Letter of, pg. 1040 In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Both the Anchor Yale & Eerdman’s articles may be downloaded at the below links

The Diagram

Reed-Kellogg of 2Peter 1:19-21 (diagrammed according to the Greek Text)

The immediate context begins the section at verse 16 where Peter assures his audience of his and the other apostles eye-witness of Christ’s glory. More than likely, this is referring to the Jesus’ transfiguration. Lenski & Weidner from the 19th century hold this view, as well as Giese, author of 2Peter and Jude in the Concordia Commentary series.

A main clause and its succeeding compound clause anchor this passage, which is steeped in talk of God’s word. Examining the structure, we see that Peter first makes the assertion of personal possession of this word: we have the word. It is a simple yet factual statement that he can anchor his audience’s hope with. His statement is then followed by the second main compound clause connected with the causal γαρ (for). This grounds the preceding clause and gives the reason his audience should pay close attention to this Word. Let’s discuss each of these clauses to understand why we can derive our assurance solely based on God’s sure, prophetic, word.

Clause 1

We have the word

The astute Bible student will no doubt pick up that λόγος (logos) is used here to describe this word to which Peter is referring. Normally this word simply means a saying or discourse about something. However, with the adjective προφητικός (prophetic) it becomes, as BDAG states, “an inspired interpretation of the divine will” (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.), p.891 Logos Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press). In other words, it is not the prophet himself from which this oracle comes, as Peter will point out in the next clause.

Having this prophetic word comes with an exhortation. The relative pronoun (to which) is a dative of reference, pointing back to the prophetic word which is described as βέβαιος (more fully confirmed). It means something that is reliable and trustworthy; or as TDNT puts it, that which is steadfast. Peter’s exhortation is to pay attention to this word. God’s revelation to us is described as a shining lamp, flooding in reminiscence of Psalm 119:105. We are not to allow this light to be extinguished but rather to keep it at the forefront until the Day that Christ reveals Himself by our physical deaths or He returns to bring us into His everlasting presence.

Why are we to pay such close attention? The connecting clause tells us that it is simply for the fact that we are to understand that this word did not originate with man. The phrase someone’s own interpretation is a Genitive of Source, simply meaning that prophecy in and of itself cannot lie in man but must come from somewhere outside himself. The second clause grounds the reasoning behind Peter’s statement.

Clause 2

No prophecy was ever produced by the will of men…but men spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

This second clause is headed by the explanatory γάρ (for). It further explains and solidifies Peter’s previous statement about the word. This section is comprised of two coordinating clauses, a negative statement and a positive statement.

  • A negative statement about prophecy – The statement itself is a denial of what is known as the dative of manner (of the will of man). That is, it is a denial that prophecy, as a means, could be produced or come about (γίνομαι) by man’s will or nature.
  • A positive statement about prophecy – the preceding clause’s coordinate part is contrasted with ἀλλά (but) which is to say on the contrary (Louw-Nida Semantic Domain Lexicon). It is the denial of the first clause, no prophecy originating by man’s will, and the upholding of this second clause which makes this a true negative/positive statement. Peter now emphatically affirms that the Scriptures about, of, and pointing to the Savior come directly from the agent of the Holy Spirit. It is He that spoke of the Son’s atoning work and resurrection. It is because of this that we are to pay close attention to this word, regard it as a lamp in a dark place, and know that this word has not originated with man himself.


We can be certain that when God speaks, He accomplishes all His will (Isa 55:11). Most importantly, this includes the prophecies and the words regarding Jesus and His completed work on the cross. We too often look inward for a feeling, emotion, or other subjective assurance. Yet Peter plainly tells us that the more fully confirmed prophetic word is all that we need to live a life of godliness in Christ Jesus (2Peter 1:3-4). Christian, it is time to look outward to the prophetic word of God for your assurance. Looking inward will not do! It will bring you sorrow upon sorrow as you see your own sinfulness swallowing you whole. Let us cease from such insolence and begin to look Extra Nos.