Introduction to Phrasing
Course: Greek Tools for Bible Study
Lecture: Introduction to Phrasing
Step 1: Find the Beginning and the End of the Passage [slide 1]
Let’s go through each of the steps of phrasing. We’re going to start at Colossians 1. But again, let me emphasize just a couple of things about what step 1 is about. What we are trying to do in Step 1 is finding the beginning and the end of the passage. We are trying to establish the context, and we do not want to look at words or verses in isolation. We always want to look at it in context. So, we have to find out how many verses before and how many verses after create that context.
The example John 3:3 that I used earlier, “Unless you are born again you will not enter the kingdom of God.” What is the context? Well, it’s John 3:1, probably through 21, if you take the whole thing. That is the passage. You can subdivide it into two passages if you want, but that is what a passage is. Trying to get the beginning and the ending of the complete story. When you see headings in your Bible, the editors are telling you that they think that what is between the headings is one passage. I am just trying to help you make sure you understand how I use the word passage.
How do you find the beginning and the end of a passage? It is easy. You read your Bible. And you read it, and you read it, and you read it. Very rarely are you going to have to go get help at this point. I have found that if you just read it over and over and over again, you start getting familiar with the rhythm of the passage. Also when you realize, “Oh, wait a minute! He just changed subjects. He’s gone from teaching about something to doing something;” or “Every verse had the word faith in it, now all of a sudden every verse has the word law in it.” Anyway, something like that, where you’ll just read it; all of sudden you realize, “Oh, he’s gone on to a different topic.” Now, again, if you’re using your Bible with headings, that will probably already be indicated for you. However, it is amazing how many times they do not quite get it right, and they certainly always take away the fun for you.
So to do Step 1, you just start reading and re-reading and re-reading, and let Scripture talk to you. You will figure out when the author is done talking about this and moving on to the next. You are looking for the main point as you are doing this. Now, sometimes a passage will have multiple main points, but usually there is one that stands out above everything else. And that one main point is the unifying theme. And when that theme changes, you are off to another passage.
Go ahead and start at Colossians 1, verse 1. We are starting with something that is very simplistic, so there are no tricks. It is as easy as it looks. But if you were going to start at Colossians 1, verse 1, where does the passage end? Go ahead and look, and you tell me. Yes. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God the Father.” So you’re reading along, and then you go, “We always thank God, the Fath-- Oh.” It just changed, didn’t it? So when you look at verses one and two, you realize that you have a passage. You have the beginning and the ending. Now you need to look and see what the main point is, and that becomes the heading for the passage.
It is crucial to write headings down because, by forcing yourself to write a heading, you are saying, “I think this is what the main point is.” If you are not sure, get a pencil or do it on a computer. You can always change it, but you want to start saying, “I think this is the main point.” As you get into the passage, you may realize, “Ooh, no, I was wrong.” And you may realize that you stopped too soon or you didn’t go far enough. I mean, this is a kind of a as-you-go kind of process, and you may make a mistake. No big deal.
So what would you put down for the heading for Colossians 1:1 and 2? Greeting. Salutation, something along those lines. That was very straight forward. That’s why I chose a salutation because it is so straight forward.
Step 2: Identify the “Sections” [slide 2]
Step 2 is to identify the sections. In other words, you’re starting with a passage and you’re asking yourself, “Does this break into basic subunits?” I use the word sections to describe those subunits. Now, again, this is a very short passage. It is only two verses. So you may not even have to do this step, but let’s just walk through it so that you can get a feel for what’s going on.
All that you are going to do is do what you did with Step 1. This time do it with just the passage. You read verses one and two over and over and over again, and see if it starts to divide into sections or into subunits.
Now, a couple of hints that are very important, and this is one place that I am different from many, many people. Stay away from details. When I pick up book after book after book on hermeneutics or exegesis, and they start saying, “Now, pay attention to all the geography names. And pay attention to conjunctions. And circle this. And da-da-detail-detail.” I think that that is not the right way to do it. Because you do not want all the details. You must go for the big picture.
A friend of mine said, “You frame the house before you trim the rooms” when you start building a house. You do not go in there with a floor molding. You have got to build the house. You have to frame it first. You have to get the picture done. I really think when it comes to exegesis, it is crucial that you do that as well. The details do not mean anything unless they fit into the larger picture. They are just details and there is not enough context. So if you are focused on the trim, and you do not care whether it is a one bedroom house or a twenty bedroom house to extend the analogy, it does not work. And so if you want to understand the details, you have to start with the big picture.
The other reason is just very pragmatic. How many times have you procrastinated? You’ve got to teach Sunday School and it is Saturday at two o’clock. You think you have plenty of time to get your Sunday School lesson done, and guess what happens? If you are human, there is a good chance that you are going to get cut short. You are not going to have all the time you wanted. This is why the big picture is so important. You go on to your Sunday School class, you have college age kids or 5th grade kids. Do you want to spend your time teaching a couple little details that you picked up that might be totally irrelevant to the main point of the passage? Or do you want to teach the basic thrust of the passage? Of course, you want the basic thrust. And so it is really important. If there are some words you do not understand, skip it. If there is a place named that you do not know where it is, ignore it for now. Get the big picture first. There is plenty of time for the details.
The other thing, and this is a little hard for some people, I encourage people to think mostly at this stage about structure and not so much about meaning. So many people are geared to say, “Oh, what does this first mean to me?” kind of stuff, and they focus in on meaning. But if you are going to get the big picture, you have to focus on the structure. In other words, the verses are performing functions, as well as conveying meaning. Let me give you an example.
In Mark, chapter 2, there is a story of Jesus healing the paralytic. “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.” Okay, those first two verses in Mark 2 have meaning, right? They’re conveying information. But structurally, what are they doing in the story? They are setting the stage.
Then it continues, “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.” (Depending upon where you want to break it.) “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My Son, your sins are forgiven.’ ”
Now structurally, what’s the function of those verses? They creates the tension, right? Jesus could have healed him. He did not have to do what He did in Mark 2, but Jesus wanted to create conflict because He wanted to teach out of the conflict. That is the function of those verses. Now, yes, there is meaning in here, “when he saw their faith, he said to the paralytic”, I mean, any Bible study is going to spend some time on faith and the relationship of faith to healing, and faith to sickness. I mean, that is obviously something you are going to do in this passage. But I do not think that is not what is really important. He is trying to establish a setting into which conflict can come. And then you obviously talk about how the Pharisees were there, and there is the conflict, and so forth and so on. Okay, that’s what I mean by following structure and not meaning. What function, structurally speaking, does this play, does this play.
Certainly at this point, you just ignore application altogether. We know the Bible is true. It is God’s Word to us. We want our lives to be changed by the text. So we are trained to automatically think, “Oh, apply it! Apply it!” But you need to put that off, because otherwise you get so focused in on the details, you cannot see the basic point. So, big picture. Structure.
Let’s look at Colossians 1:1 and 2. You tell me, how many sections does this break into? “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” Ignore all punctuation.
Here is something, by the way, that drives seminary students up a wall. There is not always a right answer. Now, does that sound really post-modern? In terms of the basic overall structure of things, yes, there is a right answer. But, especially as we get into details, you may see things a little differently than someone else sees them. Guess what? That is okay, but hat is what drives seminary students nuts sometimes. “No! There’s gotta be a right answer!” No. The whole purpose of phrasing--and this is why there’s very few rules in phrasing--the purpose is to help you struggle with the text and to see what you think it means. Now, yes, there is a right and there is a wrong, but what helps Person A see the meaning of the passage isn’t always what’s going to help Person B see the meaning of the passage. There is flexibility in how this is all laid out. So we should come to a basic agreement on the overall things. Don not be surprised if you and the person sitting next to you draw your phrasing a little differently. That is okay. There is nothing wrong with that.
Back when I was teaching in Boston, a lot of people at my school used to make fun of people from California because I’m from California. Not because they did not like California, but because they liked to pick on me and that was fine. I used to say, “Hey! This is the California way of doing things, laid back and easy. What works for you?” Okay. I’m not post-modern. There is absolute truth. But I want you to find a way that works for you. You may take what we do in phrasing and come up with a significantly different way of doing it. If you do, let me see it. I want to see it. But you need to find something, so that when you look at the text, it makes sense to you. Okay? That is my laid back, California parentheses.
Who is writing? “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother”. In other words, there are two authors of the epistle to Colossians. Okay, it is a good example of one of these places where, “How do you want to lay that out?” Do you want to take this section and put a section heading saying, “Authors” or do you want to have two, where you have “Author 1”, “Author 2”? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Again, it is what helps you most to see that this book was written by two people.
Then the second section is, obviously, “To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse”. Your heading for that section is “Recipients”.
Then the third is, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father” which is the “Greeting”. Now again, this is very simplistic but it really helps to understand phrasing by seeing a passage this easy. This is how all ancient letters were written. They were usually a lot shorter. In fact, one of the things that is characteristic of Paul is that when you compare him to other ancient letters is that he expands his salutations. So you have one passage, which is the salutation, and you have three sections: “Authors”, “Recipients”, and “Greeting”. Actually, there often is a fourth section, again it is also in the ancient letters, and that is “I thank God for you” kind of stuff. So what Paul goes onto is also typical of ancient correspondence.
If you need to stop now, you have already learned something! Now, I don not think you are going to do a Bible Study on the salutation to Colossians. But, if you were and you ran out of time, you have something to talk about. You have, “Hey, the letter’s from Paul and Timothy. The super apostle’s not too big for his own britches. He actually writes with other people.” I mean, you can do stuff with that for a Sunday School lesson. His description of the recipients, I mean, there is a lot of information in there. And he extends God’s grace and peace to them. I mean, you could stop.
Mark 2 is a good example, as well. How are you going to, in Sunday School, teach the story of the paralytic let down through the hole in the roof? The stage is set. Think of 3rd graders or 4th graders. There is too much information there. Okay, my brain can barely process it. I do not think ripped Mark 2 into too many pieces, in my Bible ripping days. But you can say, “Okay, here the stage is set. Imagine, if you will, people everywhere. You cannot even get in. Now comes one set of the players in the drama,” (as long as people know that it’s real.) “And they make a whole in the roof. They dig it out, and they let him down through because of their faith. Jesus wants a good fight; so He could have just healed him, but He says, ‘No, your sins are forgiven.’” You see what I’m doing? I’m breaking ten or so verses into smaller chunks that people can process. If you do nothing else but that and go to your Sunday School lesson, you are way ahead of the ballgame, I think. Big picture first. Get details later on.
Step 3: Identify the “Phrases” [slide 4]
Step 3 is to find the phrases. I apologize that this is a little confusing, but when I use the word phrases, I am not thinking only of grammatical phrases. When I say a phrase, I am thinking of a unit of thought. I am thinking of a collection of words that mean something. “Can” is not a phrase; it does not mean anything. Or, it means too many things to know what it means in this specific passage. So, many phrases, in the sense that I am using here, are going to be grammatical phrases. You are going to find yourself breaking things into prepositional phrases and relative clauses and stuff like that, but phrases can be other things as well. You will see what I mean when I go into this.
A phrase is basically a collection of words that make an assertion; they tell you something. If you were reading this passage responsively, where would you put the natural breaks? Again, for those of you who are my age and up, this is automatic because of the kind of churches we were probably raised in. Let’s just read this passage together and listen to where the breaks are.
Paul, [pause] an apostle of Christ Jesus [pause] by the will of God, [pause] and Timothy [pause] our brother, [pause] To the holy and faithful brothers [pause] in Christ [pause] at Colosse (a little trouble there) Grace and peace to you [pause] from God our Father. Did you feel those natural breaks? Each one of those is a phrase.
Let’s say the final sentences. “I am tired, but I have work to do.” As you go down the line, at what point do you have a phrase? “I am tired”. Right. See, that is a phrase. Then you have a conjunction, and a second phrase.
Again, this is my process, I always do this on the computer, but it does not have to be yours. I used to do it by hand, and I actually like doing it by hand because it slows me down, and that is a really good thing in Bible study. You have got to put the breaks on in Bible study, right? The Word of God is worth it. And yet it is so simple just to whip through these things, and writing it by hand makes you slow down.
On the computer, I lay it out and I just click at the end of a phrase and hit a return. I just start breaking them down into its pieces, and I end up with something like this. I have still maintained my sections with spaces. But see, there are five affirmations and then three affirmations and then two affirmations, or phrases. And that is what Step 3 is all about.
Again, please understand this is not grammatical diagramming. Because what happens, if you break it down to the grammatical level, it doesn’t help you see the flow because it’s so dissected to that part. So, resist the tendency to go down to this detail. Leave it as phrases is my recommendation.
Step 4: Identify the Main/Modifying Phrases [slide 8]
So, we are onto the Step 4. This is the culmination. This is where it gets really fun. Identify the main phrase or phrases, and then identify the modifying phrases. We are going to put the main phrase all the way to the left, then we will take the modifying phrases and put them under the word they modify.
Let me say that again. You are going to find the main phrase. Most likely, there will be one in each section (hint, hint). Then you will take the other phrases, which are going to probably be dependent clauses or dependent constructions of some sort, and you will put them under the word they modify.
For example, what is the main phrase in the first section? “Paul”… Keep going down further. Just for sake of discussion, we are viewing this as three, not four, sections. “Paul and Timothy”. So, what is “an apostle of Christ Jesus” telling you? Okay, it tells you something about Paul. So, you would indent the second phrase “an apostle of Christ Jesus”. You would indent it under the word “Paul”. What is “by the will of God”? Well, it’s a prepositional phrase. Okay, here’s a good example. “By the will”, you could have taken “of God” and put it under “will”. But it seems to me that “by the will of God” is one concept. It is one assertion and it doesn’t help me at all to put “of God” under “will”. So, where are you going to put “by the will of God”? Under “apostle”. He is telling us how he became an apostle. Then, where is “our brother” going to go under? “Timothy”, okay, very good. You’re phrasing animals!
All right. “To the holy and faithful brothers” is the main statement in the second section. What is “in Christ” going to hook into? “Brothers”. What is “at Colosse” going to hook into? “Brothers”. Now, there is one other interesting thing. Are there only two descriptions of the “brothers”? No, there are four. The first two are “Holy and faithful”. Now, this is one of these situations where phrasing tries to keep the same order. Sometimes it is really hard to do that, but that is a pretty important point. I mean, as Paul is addressing these people, you want to make it clear that he is calling them “brothers” and that they are “holy”, “faithful”, “in Christ” and that they are “at Colosse”. There actually are four affirmations about them. I will show you how to do that in just a second.
Then the third section is the statement of “Grace and peace to you”. And then, what does “from God our father” hook into? Both “grace and peace”. The “grace” and the “peace” that Paul extends in his epistolary salutations (the beginnings of his letters) are from God. Okay.
So, you just went through and found the main affirmations. You identified the modifying ones. Then you laid it out in a way that makes sense.
This is one way to lay the salutation out. I’m using different colors in this one. As phrasing gets more complex, I like tools that will help me differentiate primary from secondary. After awhile, even though the main phrases are off to the left, you can still lose them. And so, I use different colors, underlines and stuff like that.
So, it is “Paul and Timothy”, “to the brothers”, “grace and peace to you”. That is your basic salutation with the modifiers.
Now, are there other ways to do this? Absolutely! Here, for example, I am using underlining to make the structure of the salutation stand out. I use underlining or different colors to trace themes through a book or through a passage. It just depends upon what my mood is. There is a passage in 1 Timothy 1 where every verse has some version of the word faith in it, but the translations normally hide it. So, I like to go through and mark that it is the same Greek word or the same set of cognates wherever I go. But underlining and colors help you do that.
Now, notice what I did here in verse 2. “To the” ... “brothers”, “holy”, “faithful”, “in Christ”, “at Colosse”. And so you have four descriptions. When I move something out of order, I put an ellipsis there. Normally it means that the very next thing belongs here, but in terms of its meaning it belongs here.
Where would you put the word “and”? I tend to put this kind of connective, like a connective in a series, at the end of the first line because I don’t want to see “holy”, “and faithful”. I like to see “holy”, “faithful”, “in Christ”, “at Colosse”. When you have a series, I tend to leave the conjunction at the end. Now, in something like “Paul and Timothy”, that “and” is much more crucial to the meaning of the passage. And those kinds of conjunctions I tend to put on their own line and indent them just a little. It just helps me see. Now, that may not help you see. That may be confusing. You may want to figure out some other way to do it. That is fine.
So, if you were to do a Sunday School lesson on salutation in Colossians, you would tell your kids, “Okay, Paul is following standard practice in ancient letter writing. He is going to break his salutation into three parts. There’s three basic things that he wants to say. First of all, he’s going to identify himself. Guess what? Paul and Timothy are writing this together. Who’s Paul? Well, he’s an apostle, and he’s an apostle of Christ Jesus. How did he get to be an apostle? God willed it. God chose him and made him an apostle. Who’s Timothy? Well, he’s our brother, he’s a fellow Christian.
“Who’s he writing to? Well, that’s the second section and it’s to the brothers. But what are the characteristics of brothers? What are the characteristics of the Colossian Christians? They are holy, they are set apart for God. They’ve been faithful. You know, this isn’t 1 Corinthians. This isn’t Galatians. Paul’s not mad, you know. They are faithful. He likes this church. But they are brothers in Christ. They’re not ethnic brothers. But more importantly, the family bonds are because they are in Christ, Paul’s concept of mystical union. And they are specifically the Christians who live at Colosse.
“What does Paul wish to the Colossian Christians? Grace and peace, but not just any grace and peace. This isn’t Paul saying, ‘Hope you’re doing okay.’ It’s an extension of God’s grace and God’s peace that he is stating as a blessing to the Colossian Christians.”
That is the kind of thing that you can do when you break passages down with phrasing. What if the main phrase is not the first one on the section? Then you just start indented. You see, that is why I always identify where my main phrase or phrases are. I start with them all the way to the left, and then I go to the top of the passage and I just start working down. And so, the way I state is that if you have a modifying phrase, you can put it over or under the word that it modifies. In other words, if you see a phrase partially indented relative to another word, that is how you indicate the connection.
Now again, I chose a salutation because it is so easy, because I wanted you to understand what I was doing. What a commentary writer is going to do is that he or she is not going to talk in that way. What they will say is, you know, the threefold division of salutations. And they will talk about how Paul’s apostleship was affected because of the will of God. In other words, they will be trying to spell out for you the nature of the relationships. They are not going to say, “Write ‘by the will of God’ indented under the word ‘apostle’.” Okay, they do not do that. But they will talk about how “by the will of God” is related to the word “apostle”. So, they are going to be going through this process of identifying the main thought or thoughts, and then how the subordinate ideas modify those main thoughts. They do a lot of other things, but that is the most important.
Let’s go to Colossians 1:3 and following. Things start getting a little more interesting! Case in point. You cannot teach verses 3 to 14 to your 5th grade Sunday School class. You cannot do that because there is too much there. They cannot process it. So, your job is to break it down. Your job is to find out where the sections are, how many basic things are being said, and what is the author’s flow of thought. How does the author move from point to point, and how does he modify the main thoughts. I wanted you to take a couple minutes to just look at this and read it through. I stopped it at verse 14 because that was all the room I had on the screen. But I want you to read that and you tell me, starting at verse 3, where does the next passage end?
Now, if you are looking at the handout with verses 15 and following, why do all Bibles (as far as I know) actually have a new heading starting at verse 15? What happens at verse 15? Yes, he changes. Paul is very much stream of consciousness. I mean, he moves very smoothly from one concept to the next. He tends to end a sentence with something, and then he starts the next sentence talking about that something. That is how he kind of progresses through, especially in the first chapter of most of his letters. When you get to 15, he has been talking about the beloved Son in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins. But in verse 15, he says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created…” And you can really feel the shift at that point, can’t you? Because he is no longer talking about his prayers for the Colossians. He is on to an intensely theological discussion of the nature of Jesus Christ. So, that is how you know that at verse 15, even though grammatically everything is still very smooth in its flow, the topic is fundamentally changed at verse 15.
The question is, are you going to treat 3 through 14 as one section, or how many? Two, why do you say two? Okay, verse 9, “For this reason”. Did most of you feel the break at verse 9? I mean, he is still talking about prayer, right? I mean, for example, the ESV has 3 to 14 as one section, but with a new paragraph at 9. That is their way of saying, “Well, he’s still talking about prayer, but there really is a shift at 9.” But, 9 and following is getting into the specifics of the prayer, of the purpose of the prayer, and what maturity looks like. So even though he is still talking about prayer, there is this shift in what he is trying to get across.
Colossians 1:3 and following: Step 1: Find the Beginning and the End [slide 12]
Most likely, the next passage goes from Colossians 1:3 through Colossians 1:8. This is the NIV text we are working with. Let me read this in the ESV. You will see something interesting. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” That is a much more word-for-word translation. “The faith and love that spring from” does not exist in Greek. Greek likes long sentences. English doesn’t, but they used to. Now it doesn’t, and so all translations (King James, ESV, all of them) are going to break these super long sentences into pieces. Then you have the problem that, well, you cannot just say, “the hope that is stored up”. It just simply does not make sense. So they understand that the word “hope” is modifying “faith and love” up there in verse 4, and so they just repeat it. That is a very common thing in translations especially dynamic equivalent translations.
Colossians 1:3 and following: Step 2: Identify the Sections [slide 13]
Let’s look at 3 through 8 and see what we can do. We found the beginning and the end. That is taken care of, so next we have to identify the sections. Now again, you can see how this is too much information, isn’t it? Certainly a 5th grade class is going to have trouble processing this. I would think most classes of any age are going to have too much trouble processing this much data. So you look at 3 to 8 and say, “Does it break in any natural sections? Are there any natural subdivisions? Is Paul moving from one theme to another to another all within the passage?” Take a second and read it and tell me what you think.
It is not quite as straight forward as the salutation, is it? And yet, it is too much data to teach, so we have to break it into manageable chunks. This is why I said earlier that it gets to a point where it’s a judgment call, which is why commentaries are different. I mean, they are going to make different decisions as to how many sections there are. You can break it anywhere you want. I have given you a hint on how I laid it out on the screen. If you have read Paul much, and I assume you all have, it is very typical for Paul, (isn’t it?) to start talking at the end of a sentence, mention a concept, and then he decides, “Oh, I’m going to talk about this concept for awhile.” Then he talks about that and then he talks about concept three at the end of that concept, “Oh, let me talk about that for awhile.” Okay, so that is what you are seeing in this passage.
There is a break here where he has been talking about “them”, and then the tension shifts to the gospel. It is related; it is not an unrelated tangent. It is related, but there is a shift at verse 6. The way this translation handles it is that “that has come to you” is really part of “the gospel”, and then they start a new sentence, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit”.
Any other breaks? Knowing how much data is too much is part of the art of Bible study. Or knowing at which point you have too little to work.
This is what I did with the passage. In verse 3, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you”. That is what the whole point is. The main thing that Paul wants to get across to the Colossians is that he prays for them and he is thankful for them and that thankfulness is stated in their regular prayer times. I like that by itself. That helps me see it. It helps me teach it.
But then, why? Why is Paul thankful? You can hear yourself asking your proverbial 5th grade Sunday School class, “Why? Why are they?” Well, “because we’ve heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” You heard the natural pause. Guess where the phrases are? We will get to them in a second. “Because we’ve” that is his reasons for giving thanks.
Then Paul wants to say something about their faith and their love. He wants to go into some detail on it, to give some more information. “The faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” He is slightly moving away from their faith and love, and wants to talk about the growth of the gospel in the world just as it is growing in Colosse. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
I debated at this point because you could make 7 and 8 another section, couldn’t you? “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” Obviously, Colosse is not one of Paul’s churches. It is the one that Epaphras was involved in starting. If you wanted to, you could break it between verse 6 and verse 7. Okay, you are already starting to see that you have some manageable pieces of information, don’t you? At 9:00 on Sunday morning, 5th graders can handle these chunks.
Colossians 1:3 and following: Step 3: Identify the Phrases [slide 14]
Okay, what’s Step 3? Getting out the scissors! Yes, identifying the phrases. And again, if we would just read this out loud, you would naturally hear the breaks. We always thank God, [pause] the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, [pause] when we pray for you, [pause] . Why? Well, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [pause] and we’ve also heard of the love you have for all the saints [pause]. You can hear the phrases start to emerge.
Sometimes you can see that the verses get in the way. “The gospel that has come to you” is really one idea, but this is just how I do it. I like the verse references out to the side. I guess you could put them into the text, but it just gives me structure or something, and it’s the way I’ve always done it.
Okay, you have identified the phrases, and now we are going to start laying it out. What are the main phrases? Okay, “we always thank God”, “because we’ve heard of your faith and your love” (you’d add in). Paul goes on to talk about hope, then that’s where he shifts his attention. So the next affirmation would be something to do with hope.
Colossians 1:3 and following: Step 4: Identify the Main and Subordinate Points [slide 15]
Here is how I did it:
**“We always thank God”, first affirmation.
**Who’s God?... “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
**When do we thank God?... “when we pray for you”
**Why do we thank God?... “because we have heard”
**What have we heard?... we’ve heard “of your faith in Christ Jesus” and we’ve also heard “of the love you have for all the saints”
**Let’s talk about that faith and love. Well, that “faith and love spring from the hope”
**What do we know about the hope? What is it about the Christian hope?... our Christian hope “is stored up for us in heaven” and “you have already heard about this in the word of truth”
**What’s the word of truth?... well, it’s “the gospel”
Again, this is what a good exegetical commentary is going to be doing. Did you notice the questions I was using to introduce each phrase? Those little words I was using is the end of the phrasing process, and we will talk next week in more detail about them. But all they do is say, “What is the nature of the relationship between the modifying phrase and the main phrase?” This is the heart of an exegetical commentary. What is the main thing the author is saying? What is the flow of his thought? What are the points he’s trying to make? How is he modifying it? What questions is he anticipating from his readers and he’s trying to answer them right now?
That is what is going on behind the mind. “We always thank God. Who?... the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When?... when we pray. Why?... because we’ve heard. Heard of what?” That is commentary writing and that is what phrasing is designed to help you see.
Colossians 1:6-8: Step 3: Identify the Phrases [slide 16]
Okay, look at verses 6 to 8. What are the main phrases in 6 to 8? By the way, I know we are getting pretty detailed here, and there is certain kinds of writings in the Bible that lend themselves to this kind of detail. Anything Paul writes lends itself to this. Hebrews, Peter, the Epistles, tend to lend themselves to this beautifully. You just cannot do this with narrative passages. You cannot break the parable of Jesus healing the paralytic into this kind of detail. It just gets frustrating. You cannot do it with much of Acts. You do Steps 1 and 2 in the narrative materials, and then you do not have to do anymore because you have broken it up into pieces that are understandable. For narrative, you will probably go to 2 and stop. For the Epistles, you will probably go all the way to 3 and 4. Now, what is kind of interesting though, even on something like Mark 2 where you are just going to be dealing with the broad strokes and the basic divisions, there will be, when you get to the key theological truth that the narrative is teaching you can start doing phrasing. But for the most part in narrative, you will just do Steps 1 and 2. For the letters, you will do 3 and 4. Okay.
What do you want to do with verses 6, 7, and 8? Yes, this is about the gospel, isn’t it? So he is making an affirmation in verse 6 that the gospel is “bearing fruit and growing” in the world just as at Colosse. And then, what is the second half of verse 6 doing? It tells you how long, right? How long has it been doing this? Well, “since the day you heard about it and you understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it.” This is a harder passage. Let me show you what I do to it.
Colossians 1:6-8: Step 4: Identify the Main and Subordinate Points [slide 17]
First of all, notice the curly brackets. Whenever I want to add something, I put it in curly brackets. Now, “the gospel” is in verse 5, but I need to bring it down into verse 6 because Stephanus got the versification a little off on this one. So I put it in brackets. I like to number things (1, 2, 3, 4) especially if you have a complicated phrasing and you have four basic modifying thoughts, but there are some other stuff stuck in between. I always put the numbers in brackets. I use curly brackets for anything that I want to add or if I want to move things around.
So, “the gospel that has come to you”, then “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing”. Then why did I put “just as it has been doing among you”, why did I put it under the word “bearing”? What’s the point that Paul is trying to say? The key is, we are talking about fruit bearing here. We are talking about fruit bearing all around the world. We are talking about fruit bearing in Colosse as well. That is why it is under there.
You notice the lines? Especially in Paul, but really with anyone. As your thought progresses and your phrasing keeps moving off to the right-hand side of the page and you just typographically have to have a way to pull it back. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing”, “just as it has been doing among you”. How long?... Well, “since the day you”--and see, you can see the connection between “since” and the “doing”. Well, “the day you” did two things. You “heard it” and you “understood”. What’s “it”?... “since the day you heard it” meaning “the gospel”, and “understood God’s grace” which is contained in the gospel.
Okay, I am too far to the right, but I have a pronoun, so I am going to pull it back. “You learned it from Epaphras”. Who’s Epaphras?... “our dear fellow servant”, “who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf”, and “who also told us of your love in the Spirit”. Could you have broken these down into smaller units? Yes, but I can manage this. There is not too much there, even for our proverbial 5th grader.
By the way, notice in verse 6, “since the day you”. When I have dual objects, or multiple objects whether it is prepositions or verbs, I just put a little extra space there and then indent the objects the same amount. To my eye, I see that clearly as two objects, or two verbs in this case, following “you”. I guess you could have put both of these under the word “you”, but this saves a line and it makes sense to me.
Final Comments [slide 18]
This process has been evolving for 25 years for me. That is why it is important that you not do it the way I do it, but that you look at the basic approach to how to understand communication. There is a way that you can take this and modify it so that it works for you. I would really encourage you that this is the best way I have ever seen.
Actually, what happened was that I thought I was the only person in the world doing this. I was still young. I went to a professional meeting and Gordon Fee was speaking, and he was speaking on Philippians 2. He goes up there, and he puts up an overhead, and I’m going, “Hey! He’s doing my phrasing! That’s not fair!” Well, I found out that everyone was doing it, including Gordon. In fact, in his books on exegesis, he spells all this out in detail. But, for example, Gordon Fee likes most of the conjunctions three spaces in on the left-hand side. That is just where he likes his conjunctions, but it didn’t work for me. I tried it for awhile but it just did not help me see the flow of thoughts, and I said, “I’m not gonna do it that way,” with all respects to Dr. Fee. The idea is that you take the basic idea and just start doing it and see how it works. It totally changed the way I studied my Bible, and I know it has changed many, many students’ Bible study methods. But you will move it and shake it and do something that is a little more special for you, and that is perfectly fine. I do not own it, and you can do whatever you want with it.
The question is, are we making huge assumptions that the translation’s been done properly? Sure. That is why next week we are going to start learning Greek conjunctions and prepositions, the connecting tissue of the language. We will come back and look at this to see what the translators did. What you will find, too, is that formal equivalent translations are much easier to phrase than dynamic.
To be perfectly frank, when I was doing the NIV, I pulled out the Greek and then I pulled out the ESV, because I simply couldn’t follow what was going on in the NIV. I just got lost in it. Greek is a hypotactic language, which means it is not this one flow of ideas in a straight linear. Hebrew is that way. English is more so that way, but not as much as Hebrew. Greek is very much, “Let me make a main assertion and let me modify the living daylights out of it.” That is just how Greek functions. And so, if you have a dynamic equivalent translation, taking a hypotactic language into something that is more paratactic, it is going to struggle with the structure of the language, and it is going to try to smooth it out. Guess what? It wrecks one of the most important clues. And again, understand I am an ESV guy. That’s my bias.
When you start ignoring the distinction between dependent and independent constructions, which dynamic translations do a lot, you start losing the structure of the original. And you start being given the structure of the translator, and it gets very, very difficult at times to see the structure. There is a large section (I didn’t cover it in class), but there’s a discussion of that in the book itself.