In his “high priestly prayer,” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). A disciple of Jesus simply cannot function apart from the Spirit and the Word. And I would argue that the Spirit is not impressed by mystical attempts of understanding the Bible. We are to love God with all our minds. That means we should expect to exercise our minds in focused engagement of the Scripture the Holy Spirit inspired to put in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books. A mystical approach to Scripture, in my opinion, undermines the Spirit’s intention of communication of God’s thoughts through words and ultimately divorces the instrumentality of the Word from the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Disciples of Jesus are not intellectual elites nor are they anti-intellectual. The Bible is not gnostic. There are no codes to decipher. I believe in the perspicuity and clarity of Scripture, but that does not mean the meaning of the text is always on the surface. God expects us to do work. The work of the disciple is to rightly handle the Word of God in order to share it and explain it to others that they may know and understand God. We should discourage shortcuts to Scripture, like study Bibles which make it hard to know the difference between the inspired, infallible text above the line and uninspired, fallible text of a favorite teacher below the line. We should strive against anti-intellectualism by challenging disciples of Jesus to use the mind God has given them to think God’s thoughts after Him.
The Bible is a compilation of books, which are a compilation of paragraphs, which are a compilation of sentences, which are a compilation of words. The basic building block for understanding a text is a proposition, which is simply a phrase making an assertion or point. One verse may have several propositions. The key to becoming a good “seer” of Scripture (observation) is by discovering the various propositions in a text and their relation to one another. In doing so, a disciple learns how to see what the author is saying and how he is seeking to make his point. The practice of sentence diagramming, then, is to simply delineate the propositions in a text, understand their relationship to one another, and from there discover the meaning in the text.
Where to Begin
So you’re new to this, and you want to learn how to dig into texts and see more of God’s Word through sentence diagramming. Where should you start? Here’s how I encourage you to begin.
1. Take a small book of the Bible like 1 John 1 or Philippians 1 or Galatians 1 as the focus of your study. Eventually, you want to work through the entire book paragraph by paragraph, having diagrammed the thought flow of the text.
2. I recommend that you use a computer and word processor for the first half of sentence diagramming. Here’s how I set up sentence diagramming through MS Word.
- Open a new document. Set margins at 0.6 on all sides for maximum space allowed in document.
- Copy and paste from online Bible the text you are studying (I use ESV Bible online). Clean up the formatting by making all the font the same (I use Helvetica) as well as size (I use 11 or 12 point size should work).
- For marking purposes, make line spacing either 1.5 or 2.0 (double space). To do this simply select all the text, go to format » paragraph » line spacing » 1.5 and you should be good.
- Start by separating each verse on separate lines (each verse should begin on far left of the page).
Once you are finished, the document should look like this…
The set up part at first may seem to take a little bit of time, but after doing it a couple of times, you can do it rather quickly. Next comes the part of breaking down the verses in propositions and seeing the relationship between them.