Block Diagramming
A technique to aid personal Bible study

Introduction
The main goal of all Bible study techniques is to engage the student in an interaction with the text of Scripture. The reason why we read the context, look at cross references, look at word usages, etc. is to interact with the text. Block diagramming is simply a mechanical technique which forces the student to interact with the text of Scripture.

Before we begin, let us make a few observations:

1. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7).
2. "The sacred writings ... are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).
3. "The thoughts of man no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, ... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:11, 12, 14).
4. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25).
5. "Some men ... have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Timothy 1:6,7).
6. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

When you approach the Bible in study, do you study it like any other book? "If I spend enough time studying, I will know what it says, so let me go at it." Or, do you really come before the Bible both fearfully and prayerfully? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to teach you, or are you depending on your own intellectual resources? Do you really treasure it like the true Word of God?

The following is a Pre-Bible Study Checklist:

1. Is there any unconfessed sin in my life?
2. Have I spent time in prayer to allow the Holy Spirit to teach me?
3. Do I really believe that this is the Word of God?
4. Am I prepared to obey God's Word?

Ask yourself these questions before engaging yourself in any study of God's Word. Place these, or similar questions in your Bible, and refer to them each time you study God's Word.

Context
The three most important rules in interpreting scripture are context, context, context. Before one begins to study any passage of Scripture, it is extremely important that the student understands the general details surrounding the passage. Before studying any passage of scripture, ask the following questions concerning that passage:

1. Who wrote this book?
2. To whom was the book addressed?
3. Why was the book written?
4. What was discussed previously? (Before)
5. What is being discussed? (During)
6. What will be discussed? (After)

Any verse taken out of context can lead to unbiblical teaching that appears to be Biblical. This is very dangerous, because one may use Bible verses to support an argument that is not true, but appears to be true because it is backed with Bible verses. We must be very careful.

The following is an example to demonstrate the above truths. Suppose someone says to you, "The Bible teaches that you can worship Man -- You don't have to worship God. In fact, Romans 1:25 says that people 'worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.' It must be an appropriate thing to do -- people in the Bible did it!"

Let us just state the context of the above verse, found in Romans 1:24, 25. You decide if the above argument is correct. "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." The context of these two verses show that the above argument is a blatant contradiction to what the Bible is teaching. Those who worship Man will be dishonored -- worship of Man is always condemned in the Bible.

To pick and choose words or verses out of the context of the passage is damaging to the most precious thing that we own -- God's Word (Psalm 19:10). So, why are verses taken out of context?

1. Laziness -- it takes effort to examine the context surrounding each verse that is looked up or read.
2. Proof texts -- to prove something Biblically, many times only a verse is quoted. This can be very dangerous if the entire section of Scripture is not carefully examined.
3. Time constraints -- it takes time to examine the context of verses.

Remember, isolating a verse away from its context is to damage the thrust of the meaning of God's revealed truth.

Syntax
Syntax is simply the way in which words are put together to form phrases and sentences. We all communicate through language. Language is based on the order and interrelationships that exist among words. In the same way that context is important to properly understanding passages of Scripture, syntax is important to properly understanding each verse of Scripture.

In terms of Bible study, syntax is very important, because the best theologians are the best grammarians, because they are able to discern the difference between two different statements, based upon the syntax of the relavent passages.

To study the syntax of a Biblical passage, we could engage ourselves in the study of all of the parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. After which, we could examine sentence structure, and how each individual word relates to one another syntactically. We could then proceed to study phrases, clauses, and sentences, and understand their role in the communication process of the written word. Our study could take years to master, and would involve memorizing many, many terms.

We will not undertake such a study here, as it is not a necessity (though helpful) to obtain an understanding of what the Bible is communicating. Instead, we shall focus our attention on one grammatical structure -- the phrase. The phrase is any sequence of words intended to have meaning. It will be our goal to develop a technique that enables a student to understand how all of the phrases which exist in a Biblical passage fit together. Once the student understands how each of the phrases of a particular passage fit together, an understanding of the passage can be more easily derived.

The Practice of Block Diagramming
What is block diagramming? It is simply a way to study any text of literature by breaking the text up into phrases and connecting words, writing each phrase or connecting word on a separate line, and indenting each line of text according to what the line modifies above.

There are three simple steps to doing this.

1. Select a Biblical passage to study.
2. Place each phrase and each connecting word on a separate line.
3. Indent the phrases to show which word the phrase under consideration modifies.

The golden rule of block diagramming: Identify each phrase of the sentence and write it on a new line with an indentation that expresses its modifying purpose in the sentence. We will step through the process below.

Example #1 - 1 Peter 1:1-2

1. Select a Biblical passage to study.
We will chose 1 Peter 1:1-2, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure."

2. Place each phrase and each connecting word on a separate line.

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

3. Indent the phrases to show which word the phrase under consideration modifies.
We shall step through this line by line.

First, we place our first phrase, "Peter," to the far left.

  Peter,

We now ask ourselves, "What does 'an apostle' modify?" It modifies "Peter," and thus, we place the phrase, "an apostle," under "Peter."

  Peter,
    an apostle

Our next phrase is "of Jesus Christ." What does this modify? Does it modify "Peter," or does it modify "an apostle"? We choose the latter option.

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ

We must now decide how to indent "to those." Does this modify "of Jesus Christ"? No. Does it modify "an apostle"? Maybe. If it did, it would mean that Peter is an apostle "to those." Somehow this would imply that his apostleship is limited only to the following people. Thus, we reason that this is not the case. Does it modify "Peter"? Yes. We reason that Peter (is writing) "to those." This does not start a new thought (which would thus be placed clear to the left), but it is still a continuation of "Peter," because he is the one writing. Thus, our block diagram now looks like this:

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those

The phrase, "who reside," modifies "those," so our block diagram now looks like the following:

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside

Now, what does "as aliens" modify? It modifies "to those who reside." Specifically, it modifies "the residents," and thus, we place this phrase under "reside."

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside
              as aliens,

The phrase, "scattered throughout Pontus," could either modify the "residents" or the "aliens." Here we choose that it modifies "aliens," and thus, our block diagram:

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside
              as aliens,
                  scattered throughout Pontus,

Now all of the geographical locations: they are all parallel ideas, and so they are placed under one another. The latter section would look like the following:

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside
              as aliens,
                  scattered throughout Pontus,
                                    Galatia,
                                    Cappadocia,
                                    Asia,
                                    and
                                    Bithynia,

What does the phrase, "who are chosen," modify? Is it the "aliens" "who are chosen"? Is it the "residents" "who are chosen"? Is it "to those" "who are chosen"? Here, we choose that it is "to those" "who are chosen." This is because of the parallel structure of "who reside" and "who are chosen."

Thus, we see that Peter is writing "to those who reside" and "(to those) who are chosen." The phrase "to those" governs both "who reside" and "who are chosen." It is important that parallel ideas are placed directly beneath one another! Our block diagram looks like the following (note that we have removed several of the geographical locations for brevity):

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside
              as aliens,
                  scattered throughout Pontus, ...
                                    ...
        who are chosen

We now have a decision to make: does "according to the foreknowledge" describe Peter's writing (in which case we would place this phrase directly under "to those who reside") or does it describe "those who are chosen" (in which case we would place it under the word "chosen"). We chose the latter option. Thus, we have, ...

  Peter,
    an apostle
          of Jesus Christ
    to those
        who reside
              as aliens,
                  scattered throughout Pontus, ...
                                    ...
        who are chosen
                  according to the foreknowledge

The phrase, "of God," modifies "foreknowledge." Thus, we have (gain, for brevity, we show only a small portion of the diagram) ...

        who are chosen
                  according to the foreknowledge
                                      of God

Similarly, the phrase, "the Father," modifies "God." Now we have ...

        who are chosen
                  according to the foreknowledge
                                      of God
                                          the Father

Now, we come to "by the sanctifying work." This modifies "who are chosen" and should be placed parallel with "according to the foreknowledge." This can be verified, by reading "who are chosen ... by the sanctifying work."

        who are chosen
                  according to the foreknowledge
                                      of God
                                          the Father
                  by the sanctifying work

The phrase, "of the Spirit," modifies "work," which yields

                  by the sanctifying work
                                  of the Spirit

At this point, we must think critically. The connecting word, "that" must be placed very carefully. It makes sense in two places:

1. Modifying Peter (in which case, we read that Peter's purpose in writing this letter is so 'that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.")
2. Modifying chosen (in which case, we read that the purpose why they were chosen is so "that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.").

This is precisely where block diagramming helps in one's interpretation of a Bible text. It forces the student to discern between several different possible interpretations, many of which are not apparent until the diagram is attempted.

In this case, we choose option #2. Since "you may obey Jesus Christ" follows immediately from the connecting word, "that," we place it immediately below "that." Thus, our diagram now looks like this:

        who are chosen
                  according to the foreknowledge
                                      of God
                                          the Father
                  by the sanctifying work
                                  of the Spirit
                  that
                  you may obey Jesus Christ

We now must place the connecting word, "and" along with the next phrase, "be sprinkled." Since "be sprinkled" is a parallel thought to "obey Jesus Christ," we place it directly below these words. We may check ourselves by verifying the fact that it makes sense to say "that you may ... be sprinkled." Thus, we now have, ...

                  that
                  you may obey Jesus Christ
                          and    
                          be sprinkled  

The phrase, "with His blood," modifies "be sprinkled." Thus, we now have, ...

                  that
                    you may obey Jesus Christ
                            and
                            be sprinkled
                                  with His blood

We must know determine what to do with "May grace." Here, Peter really begins his message, so it is not subordinate to "Peter." It must be placed to the far left.

  Peter, ...
  May grace

Again, we have a connecting word, "and." Since "peace" is parallel to "grace," we place them both underneath "grace."

  Peter, ...
  May grace
      and
      peace

The phrase, "be yours," modifies the compound subject "grace and peace." Thus, we somehow want to express this. This is most clearly seen when we indent "be yours" further to the right than both "grace and peace." Thus, we have, ...

  Peter, ...
  May grace
      and
      peace
              be yours

The phrase, "in fulles measure," modifies how grace and peace are to "be yours." Thus, we have, ...

  Peter, ...
  May grace
      and
      peace
              be yours
                  in fullest measure.

Here is our complete block diagram.

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

Observe the following outline derived from the block diagram.

  I. Description of Peter
  II. Description of Recipients
    A. Physically
    B. Spiritually
      1. Source
      2. Means
      3. Goal
        a. Obedience
        b. Cleansing
  III. Opening Remarks

Having done this work, we have done many things ( possible without realizing it) that are critical to understanding this text. Here are a list of a things we have done.

1. We have allowed ourselves to see the grammatical structure of the passage.
2. We have allowed ourselves to see the flow of the passage.
3. We have identified areas of the text where various interpretations need to be considered (i.e. above with the word "that").
4. We have come to conclusions about how the passage should be interpreted in these problem areas.
5. We have already dealt with many issues in the text.
6. We have answered many questions concerning minute details. (What is the purpose for their choosing? Where are the aliens? What are they sprinkled with? Why were they chosen? ...)

Essentially, we have paved your way into an understanding of the structure of the text, which leads the way into an understanding into the flow of the passage. During which time, we have answered many questions concerning the passage, and have dealt with many issues concerning the precise meaning which the author intended. Understanding in all of these areas is crucial to understanding any Biblical passage.

Example #2 - 1 John 2:15-17
Here is another example taken from 1 John 2:15-17 - "Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever."

  Do not love the world
            nor
            the things
                in the world
  If
    anyone loves the world
  [then]
    the love
          of the Father
        is not
            in him.
  For
  all
          that is in the world,
                      the lust
                          of the flesh
                      and
                      the lust
                          of the eyes
                      and
                      the boastful pride
                                  of life
    is not
      from the Father
    but
    is
      from the world.
                And
                the world is passing away,
                and also
                its lusts [are passing away];
  but
  the one
      who does the will
                    of God
            abides forever

Here is an outline derived from the block diagram above.

  I. The Command
  II. The Disobedience
    A. The Reality that Causes Disobedience
    B. The Reason for the Reality
      1. Lust of Flesh
      2. Lust of Eyes
      3. Boastful Pride
    C. The Result of Disobedience
  III. The Obedience

Conclusion
Block diagramming is a useful technique for studying the Bible that allows one to carefully and precisely study the meaning of the text. It is not fool-proof, yet, it is reliable and helpful because it forces the reader to make conscious decisions concerning the meaning of the text, it is good. All too often, we read the Bible without really understanding what is said, or worse yet, we do not even attempt to struggle with the issues involved in discovering precisely what God's Word says. Block diagramming forces the reader to struggle with the text -- this is the goal. Remember Psalm 1:1,2...

  How blessed is the man
                    who does not walk
                                  in the counsel
                                          of the wicked,
                                nor
                                stand
                                  in the path
                                        of sinners,
                                nor
                                sit
                                  in the seat
                                        of scoffers!
                    But
                      his delight is
                                in the law
                                      of the LORD,
                      and
                        in His law
                      he meditates day
                                  and
                                  night.

 

This training guide was developed by Steve Brandon.
For more information see
www.rockvalleybiblechurch.org.