Text Flow Diagramming – Clauses & Phrases

In this step, we will begin to put things together. But first, let’s have a little review to refresh our memories.


Review

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.

phrases

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.

Text Flow – Step 1.2 (Direct & Indirect Objects)

Review

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.

Direct Objects

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.

Indirect objects

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.

Text Flow – Step 1.1 – Basic Grammar

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!

Photo courtesy of PXhere.com

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Subjects

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.

Bible & Coffee-An Aid to Help With Bible Study

introduction

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

Text Flow of 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Text flow syntactical labels (discussed at a later time) help identify the connection of individual clauses and phrases to the main clause.
  4. Text flows when done properly, align closely with the grammar of the original languages. (this is mainly the Greek text. Hebrew is different.)
  5. Text flows are easier to learn than traditional diagramming.
  6. 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.