Lesson 1 | The First Pass: Divide

The Big Idea of Phrasing

Let’s start at the very beginning: What is Phrasing? Here’s a short definition for starters:
A grammar-oriented tool for breaking down a passage for in-depth study
But before I expand on that, let’s clear out of the way what Phrasing is not. (This will be of particular interest to those who have learned certain other Bible study methods on Biblearc and elsewhere.)

Phrasing is not Arcing or Bracketing.

This is because, first of all, in Arcing and Bracketing you’re focusing on verbal ideas called propositions. A proposition is a larger unit of thought than you work with in Phrasing.
Also, Arcing is logic-oriented while Phrasing is grammar-oriented. Not that you don’t identify some logical relationships in Phrasing, for that plays an important role in the Fourth Pass. But Phrasing is primarily interested in identifying grammatical relationships, not logical ones. In other words, we use some logical relationships in Phrasing, but we don’t focus on them.
A third difference is that although there isn’t always just one right way to phrase a passage (just like there isn’t always just one right arc or bracket of a passage), you have fewer options with Phrasing because you have fewer interpretational decisions to make.

Phrasing is not grammatical diagramming

Grammatical diagramming is another helpful tool, but it focuses on even smaller units than Phrasing—individual words.
In addition, diagramming reorders the words in order to demonstrate grammatical functions. In Phrasing, we will leave word order alone.

What is a phrase?

Now that we’ve cleared away the debris of some misconceptions of Phrasing, we can start our construction work. Perhaps it would help to see the different units of meaning used in the Bible so we can understand more clearly what a phrase is. Here they are, in order from largest to smallest.
First, the books of the Bible are composed of paragraphs.
Paragraphs are usually built using more than one sentence, and can even contain a large number of sentences.
A sentence can be simple, containing just one proposition, or complex, containing more than one proposition, as in the following graphic.
A proposition can be simple, including just one phrase, or it can be complex, made up of more than one phrase. It almost always includes a verb or verbal (like a participle or an infinitive) and makes an assertion—hence its name.
A phrase is the smallest unit we work with in Phrasing.
Thus, a phrase is a group of words that form a conceptual unit. Examples include conjunction phrases, prepositional phrases, and relative phrases. (We’ll learn more about the types of phrases in Step 1.5.)
Now that we know what Phrasing is not and what a phrase is, compared to other units of meaning in the Bible, we can start building the next level of understanding: What is Phrasing? I gave you the short answer at the beginning of this step. Let’s expand on that definition.
A grammar-oriented tool for breaking down a passage for in-depth study.
Phrasing is a hermeneutical technique that is designed to help you see (1) the structure of an author’s writing, (2) the basic flow of thought of a passage, and (3) relationships between phrases and clauses.
In other words, Phrasing is a technique to help you rightly interpret God’s Word. By breaking up a passage into phrases, you are uncovering the grammatical structure an author used to make an argument or tell a story. You can more easily separate the main ideas from the secondary ideas. You can easily see parallel thoughts. And where thoughts are not parallel, but one depends on the other, you are forced to identify the specific relationships between the phrases.

Phrasing is the most detailed method of Bible study with a translation

You don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew to benefit from Phrasing, although Phrasing is an excellent tool to use in the original languages. That is the most accurate way to phrase a text, and I’ll refer to the original languages from time to time in this course.
But Phrasing in English, especially using a form-based translation, is still wonderfully precise. The reason this is so is because most of your phrases will line up with the original language, where inspiration and inerrancy ultimately lie. This is not so on the word level where Greek and Hebrew grammar differ greatly from English, making work at the lowest grammatical level—the level of words—unhelpful. Thus work at the phrase level is the most detailed you can get with a translation.

Phrasing is worth getting excited about

Hopefully you’re excited to learn more about this wonderful method of Bible study! Let’s look at an overview of the whole course now to see what you’ll learn in the days and weeks ahead.