Monday, March 17, 2008

Arcing and Tracing

UPDATE (6/9/2008): I have recorded and produced a 50+ minute video (powerpoint with audio) to teach about "Tracing an Argument in the Epistles":

Arcing and tracing are great ways to analyze the flow of an argument in a passage, especially discourse (such as the epistles; it is more difficult to use for narratives). John Piper has found it helpful. I know of several who say it revolutionized their Bible study. Thanks to help from Dr. Brian Vickers (SBTS), Dr. Jim Hamilton (SWBTS), Matthew Wireman (Ph.D. student at SBTS), and my friend John Beeler, I have been learning this and hope to share it with others. Here are some online resources to help you learn about and use this excellent method, which is well worth the time and effort it takes to begin to learn.

Note: Arcing and Tracing have the same goal. Arcing uses curves (arcs) whereas tracing uses brackets (usually easier to read). One can easily translate an arc diagram into a traced one or vice versa, depending on one's preferences. Arcing in the Piper booklet below is presented as on a horizontal plane, utilizing only verse/proposition numbers without the text. The method on the BibleArc website uses text and arcs it vertically. Tracing uses the text with brackets instead of curves. Now that I've confused you, be sure to check out the resources below for clarification. has to be one of the most innovative and helpful websites I've seen. It allows you to arc a passage of Scripture, save as a .pdf, and share with others. It has all the tools for dividing the verses into propositions and labeling them with their relationships to each other. It even allows you to save your own arcs on the web at the site to go back and edit or download again. (HT: Matthew Wireman)

• For more on "arcing," see John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Ministries, 1999), 48pp. booklet with chart. Order from at <> or download for free at <> (booklet only; chart not included in online version).

• For more on "arcing" and "tracing," see Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 77-126. These two chapters are available online for free from links at his faculty webpage <>:

"Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis," in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 77-96. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <>

"Tracing the Argument," in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 97-126. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <>

Here are some additional tips to make use of these methods.

1. Pray. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see Him in His Word (cf. Ps. 119:18).

2. Choose a literal translation. The New American Standard is probably the best choice for its accurate rendering of prepositions. (Other options: ESV, NKJV)

3. Choose a passage. Try to find a unit in the length of a paragraph. Start with shorter units while learning tracing.

4. Divide the verses into propositions.

5. Read the passage and highlight key words that will serve as indicators of the relationships between propositions.

6. Find the relationships within each verse itself first. Then find relationships with neighboring verses. Then begin to link to other verses/relationships in the text.

7. Use your findings to structure the passage (outline it).

8. Summarize the argument of the passage and identify the exegetical idea/main point.

9. Now you are ready to do further study (observing repeated/contrasted words and concepts, looking up meanings of individual words, noting the verbs, relating the passage to the rest of the book and the whole Bible, finding application, etc.).

Note: If you are a serious student, I would be glad to share another resource or two with you that I have permission to share via email, but not to post on the web. Please email me with "arcing/tracing helps" in the subject line if you need further help.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

John 17 - sermon audio

I had the privilege to share a message from John 17:1-26, "The Prayer of Jesus," at Fellowship Chapel on the evening of March 2. Here is a link to the audio:

"The Prayer of Jesus" (.mp3)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Introduction to Hermeneutics, Part 4 of 4: Approaches

The following material is adapted from what I am teaching in the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply ministry.




After reading and re-reading the Scriptures, it is helpful to have an approach to hermeneutics.  That is what this course is about, and we will deal with more specifics in future sessions.  But for now, you may want to keep in mind a structure to help you study God's Word, such as the two below.  These approaches help you read out of the text what is there instead reading your ideas into the text.


Observation, Interpretation, and Application


  • Observation – "What does it say?" (or, "What?")1 – Notice what is in the text and take notes.  Notice who the author is, why he is writing, to whom he is writing, what he is addressing, repeated words/concepts, etc.


  • Interpretation – "What does it mean?" (or, "So what?") – Based on your observations, proceed to interpret the text, explaining its meaning.  Interpret in light of the immediate context of the sentence, paragraph, book, testament, and whole Bible (literary context).  Also, examine its historical and cultural contexts.  Finding what it meant to its first audience is a necessary step to get on the bridge that connects the Bible's time and our time.


  • Application – "What does it mean for me/my hearers?" (or, "Now what?") – What does the text teach that we should do or obey?  How does it address us as sinners?  How does it point us to Christ?  How should our lives change as a result of having read the text?  How will I obey?


The CAPTOR Method (Dan Doriani)


This method is laid out in Dan Doriani's excellent book, Getting the Message (P&R, 1996).


  • C – Context (literary and historical)


  • A – Analysis (Is it discourse or narrative [story]?  Analyze accordingly.)


  • P – Problems (What is unfamiliar or confusing to you or unfamiliar or potentially confusing or unclear to potential readers/listeners?)


  • T – Themes (What themes are dealt with in the text?)


  • O – Obligations (A better word is application, which the author admits.  What does this text require of us?)


  • R – Reflecting on
    • the point of the text (Why is this text in the Bible?  What is the main point?)
    • the redemptive-historical connection (How does this text point us to Christ?  What is the place of this text within the big picture of the Bible?)


[1] The connections of these concepts in parentheses are drawn from Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons.


Previous posts:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Introduction to Hermeneutics, Part 3 of 4: Tools

The following material is adapted from what I am teaching in the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply ministry.


(I have placed in boldface type the volumes I consider most helpful)


I.                    Bibles

a.        Translations (at least one of types 1 & 2 are good to own for comparison)

                                                               i.      Formal equivalence ("literal") – NASB, NKJV, KJV, ESV, HCSB, AMP

                                                              ii.      Dynamic equivalence – NIV, NLT, NRSV, TNIV, NAB

                                                            iii.      Free (paraphrase) – JB, GNB/TEV, NEB, Phillips, Living, The Message

b.       Interlinear

                                                              i.      Jay Green (Hebrew/Greek/English with Strong's #'s)

                                                              ii.      George Ricker Berry (Greek/KJV interlinear)

c.        Study Bibles (Good ones incorporate things from these other tools)

                                                              i.      MacArthur (available in NASB, NKJV) – very comprehensive notes

                                                              ii.      Literary (ESV) – great for understanding genre and the place of a book in the big picture of the Bible – does not spoon feed you interpretations (in-text notes are very limited)

                                                            iii.      Reformation (available in ESV, older editions in NKJV)

                                                            iv.      NIV Study Bible OR Zondervan KJV Study Bible (same notes)

d.       Audio Bible – good for learning pronunciation of Bible names


Dictionaries typically give the range of meaning of a word, and concordances are useful in finding the precise meaning in a given usage.  Remember that words do not mean all of their possible definitions in every usage!


II.                  Dictionaries

a.        English dictionary can be useful, but use with care

b.       Lexicons

                                                               i.      Brown, Driver, Briggs (Hebrew)

                                                              ii.      Thayer; Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (Greek)

c.       Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

d.       Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT & NT Words (Mounce also has one)


III.               Concordances (all Bible computer programs will have this capability built in)

a.        English Bible Concordance

                                                               i.      Strong's Exhaustive Concordance (many things are keyed to this)

                                                            ii.      Young's Analytical Concordance

                                                            iii.      Concordance specific to the translation you prefer

b.       Hebrew/Greek Concordance

                                                              i.      Englishman's Hebrew-English Concordance (by Wigram)

                                                            ii.      Englishman's Greek-English Concordance (by Wigram)


IV.               Books on literary elements of the Bible

a.        Gordon Fee/Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

b.      Ryken, How to Read the Bible As Literature … and Get More Out of It

c.         Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible

d.       E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible


V.                  Other Bible references

a.       Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

b.       Bible Charts (Charts on OT & NT published by Zondervan)

c.        Bible Handbooks (such as Ryken's)

d.       Bible Encyclopedias, such as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

e.        Manners & Customs book

f.        Bible Atlas, such as Oxford Bible Atlas

g.       Bible Surveys/Intros

                                                              i.      OT:  Walton/Hill

                                                            ii.      NT:  Carson/Moo; Machen; Elwell/Yarborough

h.       Theological Wordbooks

[After having studied a passage, it is helpful to compare your conclusions with theologies and commentaries.]

VI.               Theologies

a.        Biblical

                                                               i.      Vaughan Roberts, God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

                                                              ii.      Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan and The Goldsworthy Trilogy

                                                            iii.      Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology

b.       Systematic

                                                               i.      Daniel Akin, ed.  A Theology for the Church

                                                              ii.      James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology

                                                            iii.      John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (very pastoral and edifying)

                                                            iv.      Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Great application and even hymns to sing in response to the glorious truths considered)


VII.             Commentaries (many available on CD-ROM now and often cheaper)

a.        Types of commentaries

                                                               i.      Classic – John Calvin, Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Gill

                                                              ii.      Modern – John MacArthur, Kent Hughes, Philip Ryken, etc.

                                                            iii.      Whole Bible commentaries

                                                            iv.      Individual books

                                                             v.      Sets

1.       Warren Wiersbe is good as a model of communication

2.       Expositor's Bible Commentary

3.       Hendrickson/Kistemaker's NT Commentary

b.       Resources that evaluate/recommend commentaries

                                                               i.      C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (reviews older commentaries)

                                                              ii.      D. A. Carson, NT Commentary Survey*

                                                            iii.      Tremper Longman, OT Commentary Survey*

                                                            iv. (compiles reputable lists of recommendations)

                                                             v.      MacArthur's Recovering Expository Preaching lists recommended books

                                                            vi.      Fee/Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth*

                                                          vii.      Stuart Custer, Tools for Teaching and Preaching the Bible

                                                         viii.      Rosscup, Commentaries for Biblical Expositors


* Use w/caution as some critical scholars are mentioned without warning;

 furthermore, it is best to borrow or browse commentaries before buying or read reviews first if you can.


VIII.          Electronic Resources

a. (includes many resources mentioned above – and it's FREE)

b. (recommended booklists, including commentaries, book reviews)

c.,, give access to helpful Bible study tools, commentaries, and other resources.

d.       Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology <>

e.        Online book purchases:,,,,,, and are good places to look.


DISCLAIMER:  Mention of a resource does not constitute a full endorsement of the contents of the book/website or all the teachings of the author(s) by Bancroft Gospel Ministry, the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, or the CAPS director or instructors.



Previous posts:

PART 1 - Why We Should Learn How to Study the Bible

PART 2 - Prerequisites for Bible Study


Upcoming posts:

PART 4 - Approaches to Bible Study

Introduction to Hermeneutics, Part 2 of 4: Prerequisites

The following material is adapted from what I am teaching in the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply ministry.




First, to truly understand the Bible, we must be regenerated by the Spirit of God.  We must be born again.  Our faith must be in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.  The unconverted man – even if he is an accomplished scholar – is at a great disadvantage when it comes to studying the Bible (2 Cor. 2:11-16, especially v. 14).  We need God's Spirit to open our understanding (2 Cor. 3:16, 4:4) as well as our hearts.  Do you know that you have passed from death to life and are a new creature in Christ Jesus?  Apart from knowing the Author, you will never truly understand His Book.




As believers, we continually need God's Spirit to renew our minds (Rom. 12:2) and transform us more into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).  He even sanctifies our hermeneutics!  Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza song about God's Word and the Psalmist's love for it.  (One professor used to have his students memorize this Psalm prior to their theological training – this is not a bad idea!)  Notice the repeated cries for help in understanding.  This is a believer who needs the operations of God's Spirit in order to truly profit from the Scriptures.  Martin Luther studied this Psalm and found a threefold method for studying theology:  prayer, meditation, and trials.  It is through our calling out to Him for help, thinking long and deeply upon the Scriptures, and experiencing their power in our lives, that we truly come to understand them.  Do you pray as you seek to understand God's Word?  Do you seek to think upon it deeply, mining its riches?  Do you experience its power in your trials?


B. B. Warfield, in his essay, "The Religious Life of Theological Students," expressed the inappropriateness of separating our prayer lives and Bible study, and encourages us to combine them:


Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books.  "What!" is the appropriate response, "than ten hours over your books, on your knees?"




Unless we have application as the goal of our Bible study, we will fail in our efforts, despite any knowledge we gain.  God did not give the Bible simply for us to stock the shelves of our minds with information.  He gave it to change us more and more into the image of His dear Son (2 Cor. 3:18) – the purpose for which He saved us (Rom. 8:29).  We must certainly seek to understand the context and culture in which the various Scriptures were written, but doing so to be a means of faithfully applying it to ourselves so that we may live in obedience to the Word of God.  You are accountable for what you learn (and for what you have the opportunity to learn) and what you do with that learning.  Do you study the Bible simply to impress others with your vast knowledge – or do you learn it so that you may please God with how you live before Him and others?


Consider this warning from John Frame's article, "Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus":


Your very immersion in the Word of God can be a blessing, or it can be a curse.  If you hear the Word in unbelief or indifference, and respond to it that way over and over again over several years, you will be much worse off spiritually as a result.



Previous posts:

PART 1 - Why We Should Learn How to Study the Bible


Upcoming posts:

PART 3 - Tools for Bible Study

PART 4 - Approaches to Bible Study