Over the past several weeks, it has been encouraging to connect with many of you on the subject of sentence-diagramming. In the past three days, there have been over 500 downloads of the 18-page PDF compilation of the posts in this mini-series. Toward the end (see end of part 5), I shared two desires: (a) to explain why this is important to disciple-making and how to work it out as a weekly rhythm (see part 6), and (b) to show the importance of sentence diagramming for faithful biblical interpretation, which I hope to explain here.
Rightly dividing the word of truth begins with becoming a good “seer” but it does not end there. We need to incorporate what we see in understanding the meaning of the text. I have argued that sentence diagramming serves like training wheels for studying the text, and when assimilating other disciples of prayer and meditation, becomes a powerful means of being immersed in the undercurrent of God’s Word. But once you have done your homework, it’s time to apply it to interpreting the text.
Granted, a lot of what you see will immediately trigger interpretive meaning, but it is advantageous not to jump the gun without assimilating all of what you see in the text. For the purpose of interpretation, I would like to simply suggest four primary sources for determining meaning in a text. There numerous secondary sources available to us, and while I believe they are helpful, I am afraid that oftentimes they supplant the primary sources.
For instance, I am not totally opposed to study Bibles, but one of the main beefs I have with them is that the student of God’s Word will be regularly tempted to become a second-hander when it comes to Scripture. So he comes to a text he doesn’t quite understand…what does he do? Jump below the line and see what someone else says to give it meaning. What happens here is that meaning is conclusive from reading what is below the line (commentary) rather than what is above the line (Scripture). And quite frankly, sometimes people have a hard time making the distinction between what is above or below the line (inspired text vs. fallible interpretation).
My hope is that sentence diagramming will be a tool to keep God’s people from being a second-hander when it comes to Scripture. There’s nothing like getting in God’s Word for yourself. You cannot become a disciple-maker when you do not labor as a learner. Invest your time and energy is knowing God through His Word, and let me encourage you to do so with these primary sources in mind:
1. Committed in Prayer – we should begin with prayer, asking God to guide us and lead us in His Word, to open our eyes, and cause us to be committed to the Bible alone for truth,
2. Dependence upon the Spirit – though we have minds to think and understand meaning and concepts, we are sinners whose minds have been corrupted by sin. We acknowledge our dependence on the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, gives us the mind of Christ, and illumines to us the very Word He has inspired.
3. Submission to the Word – we need to bring our thoughts and ideas under the authority of God’s Word. One of the most practical ways of doing this is letting Scripture interpret Scripture. By doing this, we are saying, “When I don’t understand what the text is saying, I am going to submit to God’s Word and let it have the first (and final) say rather than jumping to whatever opinions I may come up with.” In other words, a high view of Scripture does not only pertain to your view of the Bible, but also your use of the Bible.
4. Participation with the Saints – our study of Scripture is not to be practiced in isolation. So much of what we can learn and understand comes when the Spirit works through one another to reveal truth and understanding of the text. We also have our ideas and meaning brought before other believers who can sharpen, encourage, or challenge in the process.
Instead of secondary sources like commentaries, study Bibles, or other reference works, I encourage you to reference prayer, the Spirit, the Word, and the Body of Christ. I will be the first to admit that I don’t employ these primary sources as means of knowing God’s Word like I should! Let us not take short cuts and miss the joy and jewel that is in cherishing God’s Word for the change it brings to our lives!