Rightly dividing

Most people deemed the grammatical way of studying the scripture as blasphemous or at least disrespectful to God because they think that in so doing, the scripture is treated like any other books. As if to place it to the same level with books written by mere men. Also, others believe that it is best left to the scholars to do the hard work. The old error of the medieval church! Forbidding the laity to study the word of God for themselves. Fearing that the flood gates of iniquity and misinterpretations will be opened. Today, when a “mere” layperson tries to argue on a tense of a verb based on the original language of scriptures, be ready to hear some anti-intellectual sentiments and smart shaming.

My brief response to this dumb down milieu

First, when the second person of the Trinity took on a human nature, the divine did not ceased to exist. Same goes when God chose to show himself through human language, the scripture did not ceased to be of divine origin. So studying it the way you study any other books doesn’t make it less divine. God himself stoop down to be understood the way human beings communicate with each other. Through letters, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs. John Piper put it this way:

An  evangelical  believes  that  God  humbled  himself  not  only  in  the  incarnation  of  the  Son, but  also  in  the  inspiration  of  the  Scriptures.  The  manger  and  the  cross  were  not sensational.  Neither  are  grammar  and  syntax.  But  that  is  how  God  chose  to  reveal himself.  A  poor  Jewish  peasant  and  a  prepositional  phrase  have  this  in  common,  they  are both  human  and  both  ordinary.  That  the  poor  peasant  was  God and  the  prepositional phrase  is  the  Word  of  God  does  not  change  this  fact.  Therefore,  if  God  humbled  himself to  take  on  human  flesh  and  to  speak  human  language,  woe  to  us  if  we  arrogantly  presume to  ignore  the  humanity  of  Christ  and  the  grammar  of  Scripture.

Second, the God of scripture did not intend to be studied merely by theologians, but that all behold Him as he described himself in it. Yes, not all are teachers, but all are students. And students do study too! Study that we may behold him accurately and in turn worship him in spirit and in truth. It is one thing to imagine what a treasure is based only on what we’ve heard from others and another thing to behold it ourselves. Don’t settle for a second hand experience when you can have a first hand experience of the God of scripture!

Rightly dividing..

In this article we will start what would be a series of articles on how to divide God’s word. One of the ways we’ve learned doctrines from the scripture is when it is making statements, assertions, questions, giving answers to questions, arguments and implications or conclusions. And that’s what we would call propositions. Dividing God’s word in proposition level will help us understand the flow of thought of the biblical authors.

Punctuations and Verbal ideas

Let’s begin on how to break up passages into propositions. The basic and easiest way of doing this is to divide a passage wherever there’s a punctuation. Take for example 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We can divide the passage this way:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,

for reproof,

for correction,

and for training in righteousness,

that the man of God may be complete,

equipped for every good work.

Now notice that when I do this, we not only divide in the proposition level but also in the phrase level. A phrase is not necessarily a proposition in of itself. We still need to figure out how is it a proposition.

So how can we know if what we have is a proposition? Answer : A proposition must have a verbal idea.

My favorite method in breaking up a passage into propositions is by splitting it whenever I see verbal ideas, instead of relying on punctuations only. This way we can be sure that we’re dealing with a proposition. Verbal idea, as the phrase suggests, must have a verb in it. The verb can be explicit or implicit. Here’s how I’ll divide the passage, having verbal ideas in mind:

All Scripture is breathed out by God

and (is) profitable for teaching,

(is profitable) for reproof,

(is profitable) for correction,

and (is profitable) for training in righteousness,

that the man of God may be complete,

equipped for every good work.

The italicized words are the verbal ideas. The verbal idea “is profitable” is implied in the list of prepositional phrases. So it would be clear how each of the prepositional phrase is asserting or proposing something.

Relationships

After dividing a passage, the next step is to show how each proposition relate with each other. In this particular example, Paul asserted that all scripture is of divine origin(16a). And the rest of v16 is an inference from the fact or an effect of its being divine in origin. So it can be construed as a ground-inference or cause-effect relationship.

But how does 16b-16e relate with each other? Is it a mere enumeration of effects, or is there a progression in the mind of Paul? If it is a mere enumeration, then sequence doesn’t really matter. But if there’s a progression, it’s more like a step, then sequence do matter. Or maybe it’s not a list of four but in reality he only listed three, and 16b is more like a heading?

Next, how does v17 relate with v16? Is it an expression of purpose or a result? Purpose or result of the “training in righteousness”, or perhaps “correction or reproof”?  Or maybe it is the purpose of the entire 16b-16e?

These kinds of questions will naturally come up as long as we divide passages properly.

Exemptions

Verbs or verbal ideas that function as the subject of the main verb must not be a separate proposition.

Verbal ideas functioning as the object of the main verb will not take a separate proposition, except if it’s in a relative clause.

Some infinitives can be separated with its helping verb, sometime it can’t. Infinitives that can be construed as a purpose clause can have a separate status.

In the next installment of rightly dividing God’s word, I will give more examples of splitting a text into propositions and we will look into the different ways an author make a statement by paying close attention to the mood of the verb. Thanks for reading and Godbless!

Quits Sabio
Founder and President of Reformed Exegetes Society. Serving as an elder and sunday school teacher at Sovereign Mercy Evangelical Church Inc. at Caloocan Metro Manila Philippines. Quits is currently working as a Senior Lead Game Developer at Funguystudio(A Game Development studio at Makati Philippines). He is a musician playing various styles and genres(jazz,blues,classical,rock). A husband to Malou and a father to Amara.
%d bloggers like this: