Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Find Phrases

This is a bit of a heavy week for me, so I have resorted to the archives of my own blog for today's post. Bible study "how to" and "why to" books abound. On my shelves, I'm sure I've got about ten of them. This one is a little different. Bill Mounce's Greek For the Rest of Us is one that not only focuses on bible study, but introduces us to Koine Greek. I think learning the original language is something more women who teach and lead ought to consider.

The subtitle of the book is "Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Greek." You won't learn about declining nouns, or translate anything, but Mounce promises a few things:
  1. You will be able to understand why translations are different.
  2. You will discover the meaning of the Greek that lies beneath the English.
  3. You will learn the basics of exegesis.
  4. You will learn to make good use of commentaries. 
The chapter where Mounce discusses why translations are different is very eye-opening and dispels some common misunderstandings about translations. If you read this chapter alone, you will be left appreciating the very difficult and complex process that is translation, and you will understand why good translation is done by committee rather than an individual. This chapter re-inforced my stubborn refusal to use The Message when I study the bible.

The chapters that discuss basics of exegesis rely on something Mounce calls "phrasing." Some people call this block diagramming, and Precept Ministries offers courses (I took them all) based on similar principles, and calls it "structuring." Bible Arcing also resembles this process, but is much more involved.

When we do phrasing, we take a passage of scripture and evaluate its component parts, its thought units. When Mounce calls it "phrasing" he does not necessarily mean the grammatical term for phrase; clauses and phrases alike are thought units, and he refers to them all as phrases when he discusses this process.

The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate each phrase, how they relate to each other, and thus determine the main flow of thought. Phrasing has been one of the most helpful tools I have used in bible study. It forces me to slow down and really engage with the text.

First, the text is broken down into sections by identifying the topics in the passage. This step is especially important when reading an epistle, because that helps us establish the context. After the sections are identified, we separate the individual pieces further.

Here is my initial breakdown of James 1:2-4. This section, obviously, is about what to do when confronting trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect
that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

The bold words are the main phrases. The others are modifiers. When I do phrasing, I write it out by hand, and I put the main phrases at the left hand margin. Both "Count it all joy, my brothers," and "And let steadfastness have its full effect" would be at the left margin. The modifying phrases would be put on a separate line underneath, indented to show how they modify. For example, both "when you meet with various trials," and "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastnesses," modify "Count it all joy," and would be indented underneath it. They explain why we are to count it all joy when we meet with trials. The phrase, "that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing" modifies "And let steadfastness have its full effect," would be indented underneath to show that. The result of steadfastness is to be complete.

Phrasing can be time consuming, but for passages where we're not quite certain about the flow of thought, it can be worthwhile. If you want to invest in a really excellent commentary, and see how phrasing is done for an entire book, check out the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on 1,2,3 John, written by Karen Jobes. That authors of this series do phrasing for the books they are commenting on.

Greek for the Rest of Us is a book is well worth your time. It's good to recognize that we need to know how to study our bibles better, but for many, they don't know where to begin. This might be helpful for someone. I know it's helped me, and I've been studying my bible for years. We all may not have classes available, but we can certainly start ourselves with the help of some good tools.

Also check out Biblical Training for free lectures of Mounce's material.


  1. I added the book to my wish list. I have been contemplating taking an Intro to Greek course at a college nearby but just not certain of making the commitment.

    1. It is a lot of work to study a language. I really enjoyed it. I'm starting Seminary, and I would like to take it again.

  2. I'm so glad you reposted this Kim because I was trying to remember this guy's name - I've been wanting something like this. Doesn't he have videos too?