Friday, June 17, 2011

Bible Study Tips: Use Block Diagrams

The technique that I am introducing in this article takes the outlining process and extends it further so that the flow of an argument can be seen both in relation to the broader sections and how individual points function within a section. The technique is known variously as block diagramming, mechanical outlining, phrasing, and numerous other titles. It may have many different names but it is really a rather straightforward and useful tool that requires very little grammatical knowledge to use at a basic level.

You start by breaking up the text into singular phrases. This sounds as though it would require a lot of grammatical knowledge but it comes naturally to most people. A phrase is simply a group of words that function together as a unit (you will see more clearly what I mean when we get to the example). The technique involves writing or copying the text with the key phrases all the way to the left. These are phrases that introduce a new and independent point to the flow of the authors thought. You then indent any dependant phrases that modify or inform you about the initial phrase. Some people make sure that these dependant phrases are directly under the phrase or key word they modify. This process continues for each phrase so that what you end up with is a word picture of the logical chain showing the relative position of each fact or point in the overall flow. For a simple example let us look at the introduction to 1 Peter:

“1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood : May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” (NASB)

The first phrase is “Peter, an apostle” so we will put this over to the left.

Peter, an apostle

The next phrase “of Jesus Christ” tells us something about “an apostle” so it is indented…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

The next phrase “to those who reside as aliens” doesn’t tell us anything about Peter or Jesus so it is not modifying anything we have yet seen so it also goes over to the far left…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,

The next phrase “scattered throughout” tells us something about “aliens” and so is indented again…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout

We might have included Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, as part of this line but those describe the scattering so I have chosen to indent them under scattered…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

The next phrase “who are chosen” tells us something about those who reside as aliens so it goes back out to the left but stays indented under the “aliens” phrase…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen

The next phrase “according to the foreknowledge of God” tells us something about the choice so it is indented under “who are chosen”…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God

You may have noticed by this point that you could have made a few different decisions about how small to break up the units. That is ok, you will develop a style of your own as you go but the important thing is to keep the dependant statements indented from the independent ones. The next phrase “the Father” tells us something about God so it is indented (or could have been included on the previous line)…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,

The next phrase “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit” tells us about the choice so it gets moved back out in relation to “who are chosen”…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,
by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,

The next phrase “to obey Jesus Christ” tells us something about the sanctifying work of the Spirit and so is indented…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,
by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to obey Jesus Christ

The next phrase “and be sprinkled with His blood” begins with “and” and is therefore in connection with and within the argument parallel to the previous phrase and so is always indented the same amount. Some teachers will move the “and” out to the left and draw lines to indicate this but when working in word I just indent them the same amount.

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,
by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to obey Jesus Christ
and be sprinkled with His blood :

The next phrase “May grace and peace be yours” is a new main point because it is the message that is connected with the key word “to” and is therefore moved back to the left…

1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,
by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to obey Jesus Christ
and be sprinkled with His blood :

May grace and peace be yours

The last phrase “in the fullest measure” tells us something about the possession of grace and peace and so it is indented…


1 Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens,
scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God
the Father,
by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to obey Jesus Christ
and be sprinkled with His blood :

May grace and peace be yours
in the fullest measure.

Notice right away the main elements of this passage. If we bring them together we can rewrite the independent statements as “Peter, an apostle, to those who reside as aliens, may grace and peace be yours”. That is the core message of these verses. To be sure, there is much more in the passage but the main point is that Peter the apostle is writing to those who reside as aliens and he gives the customary blessing. We can also see quickly some important things that are emphasized about these aliens: Peter wishes them to posses grace and peace and they are scattered and are also chosen. We can easily identify certain important things about those who are chosen, namely that that are chosen by the foreknowledge of God and the sanctifying work of the spirit. Since these are emphasized in the greeting we might want to look carefully at how these truths are developed in the body of the letter. We also notice that the sanctifying work of the spirit is unto obedience to Christ and the sprinkling of His blood.

I selected an easy example to introduce this technique but even with this short introduction I pray that you can see the potential value of this tool particularly for longer or more difficult sections of scripture. By simply organizing the relationship between phrases we get a very effective way of seeing how the author develops and emphasizes his points. There are many other ways of formatting the text using this kind of approach but if you just get in the habit of asking at each point, “is this telling me about something that has already been mentioned? And then indicating it in a way that makes it jump out at you it will open up all sorts of insights into what the bible is teaching and how it is doing so. If you take the time to do this work, particularly with difficult passages, I believe you will be greatly blessed by it and your study will be enhanced.

May the Lord bless you greatly in your studies that you may bless many others.

2 comments:

  1. A good tool that unfortunately I do not use that often. I think I'll try it tonight at Bible study. I like this new Bible study addition to you site. Thanks for article. God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I appreciate the encouragement. I will pray that you have a profitable study.

    ReplyDelete