Bible Study, Exegesis, Hermeneutics

Introduction to Text Flow Diagramming: Exposing the Flow of Thought

What is Text Flow Diagramming?

Text flow diagramming, simply put, is a method that visually lays out a scriptural passage to expose the author’s flow of thought. It keeps the main thoughts, or independent clauses, to the left margin and indents the subordinating clauses underneath each main clause, thus creating a block-like structure. An example photo and video of the phrasing module from Biblearc can be seen below.

BibleArc’s Phrasing Module from Bethlehem College & Seminary on Vimeo.


How Does Text Flow Diagramming Aid in Bible Study?

Text flow diagramming exposes the main structure of a passage. Therefore, it is useful for:

  • quickly seeing the big idea(s) in a given text,
  • constructing a homiletical outline, useful for teaching and preaching,
  • understanding the syntactical function through the semantic labels,
  • better understanding of the passage overall due to its structure.

Text flow diagramming is also a very flexible study method. Because there are only two main rules to adhere to it is customizable enough for the user to decide how far to break down each passage and which phrases (other than the main phrases) are worth sectioning off and emphasizing.

All in all, block diagramming will aid the Bible student in understanding, comprehending, and applying themselves to their Bible study.

Text Flow Diagramming vs. Sentence Diagramming

When people hear the word ‘diagramming’ they tend to cringe a little. It brings back memories of standing in front of huge blackboard in front of the entire class, hoping you would place the word in your sentence in the right position. Get it right, and the class would think you knew your stuff; get it wrong, and––well, you know what happens.

So what’s the difference?

Sentence diagramming focuses on how each word functions in the sentence. Therefore, one must analyze each word and place it correctly on the diagram structure. This type of diagram is known as the Reed-Kellog structure. The photo below shows this traditional way of laying out the structure of a sentence:

A text flow diagram, on the other hand, deals with entire clauses and phrases, making it much easier to analyze a sentence and syntactical function. Consider the following example from 1John 1:1-2:

1John 1:1-2
      That   which was from the beginning
             which we have heard,
             which we have seen with our eyes,
             which we have   looked upon
                             and have touched with our hands 
                                                          concerning the Word of Life
The life   was made manifest
           and we have seen it
           and testify to it
           and proclaim to you the eternal life
                                      which was with the Father
                                                  and was made manifest to us

We can clearly see with but a single glance that all the phrases are subordinate to the main clause, “The life was made manifest.”

If we were diagramming this with a traditional Reed-Kellog diagram it would have probably taken an hour or more. But with a text flow diagram I was able to quickly establish the blocks of clauses and phrases and then determine how they should be laid out.

It may look a little confusing now, but stick with the tutorial and you’ll be off and running on your own in no time!

Tutorial Outline

The outline in this tutorial will be as follows:

  1. Basic grammatical concepts
    • clauses and phrases
    • subjects, verbs, direct objects
    • types of verbs
  2. Types of phrases
  3. Finding the main clause(s)
    • what constitutes as a main clause?
    • some helpful tips
  4. Breaking up the passage
    • verbal ideas
    • necessary phrases
    • optional prhases
  5. Subordinating phrases
    • The 5W-H method
    • determining correct subordinations
  6. Semantic relationships
    • Semantic categories
    • Semantic relationships
    • Semantic labeling

It may seem a bit overwhelming at first but we are going to take this tutorial in chunks. It should give you a chance to digest and absorb it all.

I hope that this will encourage, edify, and excite you to use the block diagramming method in your study of God’s word!