Quick Tip – Sentence Diagramming

Teachers will diagram a passage to help them see the relationship of ideas in their text. Wayne McDill calls this “diagramming the text structure” in The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. Haddon Robinson calls it a “mechanical layout or diagram” in Biblical Preaching. Both books are available in WORDsearch format. Read them both for more information.

The sentence diagram shows the relationship of ideas in a biblical text so we see how one phrase relates to another. WORDsearch users can do sentence diagrams in Greek, Hebrew or English using the WORDsearch 10 word processor. If you do, you will more easily see the structure of a text to help better communicate the main idea along with the development of that idea in a sermon or Bible study.

Prepare New Document

Before starting a new document, change the copy settings to remove all the verses and reference information. They get in the way of a good sentence diagram since verses often split a single sentence artificially dividing thoughts.

Under Options select Settings and then Bible Copy. Uncheck all the items under the Contents section and make sure Position is set to None as seen below.

WS-diagram-1

If you don’t want to change settings, just delete the verse numbers and reference identifier.

We’ll use Ephesians 2:8-10 as an example. Start with the first phrase. We used the HCSB, which says, “For you are saved by grace …” Hit the return key after the word “saved.” Keep the first phrase close to the left edge and move the second line starting with the word “by grace” to position it below the word “saved” since the phrase “by grace” shows how we are saved. That phrase explains something about the word “saved” in this passage. Positioning it there shows a visual relationship.

We want to decide how much of the next part of this verse will remain on this line. We decide that “by grace” refers to “saved” but “through faith” also refers to “saved.” So, we hit the Enter key and use the space key we move “through faith” under “by grace.”

Keep moving through the verse doing the same with each phrase. Position the next phrase so that it shows its relationship to the previous phrase. Use new lines and spaces to accomplish this. We do this to visually show the key ideas of a passage. See our example of the finished product below.

WS-diagram-2

Once completed, we see that there are two main ideas in this passage shown with the two major sections of our diagram above. The first talks about our being saved. The second about God’s creation.

McDill suggests marking main verbs and theological terms, so I use underline and bold formatting options. Use the link button at the right end of the Word Processor toolbar to create a link to the verse and then save the document for later use in WORDsearch.

We see two main section, which means we either have one or two messages. I think they go together so the one Big Idea might be summarized as, “God graciously saves us creating us for good works.” Look at our diagram which shows a possible outline that might look like this:

  1. God saved us by grace
    1. God’s grace initiates salvation
    2. My faith is the response
    3. God’s gift is His response
  2. God’s grace earns Him all the glory
    1. Grace is His gift
    2. It’s not my work
  3. God’s grace created his new creation.
    1. He created us to do good works
    2. He created this idea before time
    3. He created it for us to walk in

The first two points come from section one of the diagram while the third explains the second section. Most preachers will take this and polish it to make it more memorial and interesting for hearers to listen to. They might come up with some aurally appealing wording or use a structure based on some overarching illustration.

The sentence diagram doesn’t replace good exegesis, but it does take us a step closer to doing good exegesis. Now use other WORDsearch tools to look up key ideas in bold or italics.

Kevin Purcell has been preaching for over 20 years and has served as a pastor for 15 years. He is currently the pastor of High Peak Baptist Church in Valdese, NC. He is married to Barb, a teacher, and they have two sons. 

Comments

  1. Excellent!! Through this method we are forced to do much better exegesis of the text, as well as getting a better layout to keep us in the text when preaching/teaching God’s Word.

    Thanks for sharing,
    BroJames

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