The old addage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true. But what about a picture of words, more or less? Most people think of diagramming sentences as being laborious, unproductive, and not very helpful. But when you apply the above saying it can be viewed in an entirely different light.
A digram is simply a picture of how words are arranged in a sentence. This can be very helpful when studying a passage of Scritpture. But the question of what type of diagram and how much of the passage needs to be diagramed is still an issue. This post hopes to answer these questions to help you.
What type of diagram?
Text Flow (Block Diagram)
Syntax Tree Diagram
Each word is not only syntactically tagged but also tagged as to their function as a whole in the sentence. Through this type of diagram we see that so loved, or in this way, as the diagram renders it, is not only an adverb but stands at the beginning of an adverbial phrase. These types of diagrams are helpful because they display both the syntactical role of each word as well as the syntactical contribution to the entire sentence. Abbreviations such as Sn (sentence), Cl (clause) Np, (noun phrase), etc. help distinguish the various parts with arrows starting at the word and branching out to the sentence level. By following these arrows one can easily identify all syntactical parts to a sentence.
Syntax is one of the most important aspects in hermeneutics. Words have meaning but in context of other words they function together to form meaning. This is why considering the syntactical context is so important when doing word studies. A simple definition or even the force of a single verb is not the only consideration when interpreting a passage.
All three types of diagrams are useful in the study of Scripture. Which one should you choose? It will depend upon your learning style, level of understanding of grammar and syntax, and the amount of time available to invest in study. How much of the passage should you diagram? The answer to this question will usually depend upon time constraints one has in preparing a sermon or lesson. If the individual is simply studying for his/her benefit, then by all means, should diagram as long a passage as content with. A word of caution—it’s easy to loose the forest through the trees. In other words, even if you’re studying for your own benefit try not to take too large of chunks or you may get bogged down on the mechanics of how to do rather than actually learning from the actual diagram. Here are some guidelines to determine how much of a passage to diagram.
- If you’re studying longer passages, especially narrative, block diagramming may be the best. It allows for a quick assessment of the flow of the passage.
- If you are desiring to hone in on specifics a traditional line diagram may be the best thing. These types of diagrams evaluate the function of each word.
- For those more interested in grammar, the syntax tree may be the best option. Line diagrams are useful for this as well. In my opinion the syntax is the best option as these were meant to hit the finer points of syntax and grammar within the sentence structure.
- If you simply want an overview of the passage or are trying to deduce the main points of the author turn to the block diagram. With its main clauses all the way to the left margin the big picture and points of the author’s interest are easy to spot. This is also the type of diagram you need for homiletical outlining.