" November 2014 "

How to Use Structural Analysis in Sermon Preparation

It often happens that a language once studied becomes nothing more than a fond or not so fond memory. In order to prevent this, Bob Jones University offers a Greek Forum every semester to offer practical help for those who have studied Greek. This semester we invited Dr. Sidney Dyer, who received a Ph.D. in NT Interpretation from BJU in 1984, to speak on how to use structural analysis in sermon preparation for the purpose of accurately proclaiming God’s Word.

Dyer was concerned that people who have studied Greek often neglect this valuable tool. People are either too busy or too timid to use Greek. But if we have spent years in college or seminary to learn Greek, why ignore it? I agree with Dyer that studying a passage in Greek is invaluable to fully understand it. Reading a passage in Greek forces the interpreter to explore the details of the text. The interpreter has to slow down, helping him to figure out how the parts relate to the whole: how subordinate parts of a clause relate to the main clause and how individual parts of a paragraph relate to the main thesis of that paragraph. To understand how the parts relate to the whole is the key to correct interpretation.

When we come to a passage, it is easy to pick out words, phrases, or even entire verses that seem particularly interesting or that support a position we have taken. However, such an approach does injustice to the larger context of the passage. Words, phrases, and clauses are always interrelated. They never exist in a vacuum. In order to understand the relationship between all the elements in the passage, Dyer pointed out that we have to understand how they relate to one another. First, we have to recognize what clause is subordinate to what clause. Second, we have to understand how a clause is subordinate to another, i.e., how does a subordinate clause modify the main clause: does the subordinate clause present the reason for the main clause or the means by which the main clause is accomplished? By figuring out how parts are related to the whole, the main theme of the passage will emerge from the text. Around this main theme everything else in the passage revolves.

If we ignore how the parts of a passage relate to the whole, we cannot accurately interpret the passage. If we devote our time to figure out how every part relates to each other and how they contribute to the whole, the central point of the passage will naturally emerge before our eyes.

Why You Should Buy Logos Bible Software

Among the many desktop applications available for studying the Bible, Logos is one of the three that dominate the market for professional-level study. I have two of the three, and I use them both pretty much every day. I find BibleWorks useful for most teaching, because it’s fast and because it contains a wealth of Bible translations. (Mac users will prefer Accordance for similar reasons.) For personal study, I find Logos all but indispensable, because it brings together a large theological library with powerful tools for using it efficiently.

At its heart, Logos is not so much Bible software as a library management system. The software engine is available very inexpensively—you can get the starter package, which includes the engine and just under 200 books, for about $50—and then you can buy the other books you want in your electronic library and add them to the software. There are several advantages to this approach. First, you’re getting real books, the standard recent scholarship, not the old ones that are available online for free only because they’re out of copyright. Second, they’re cheaper than the hard copies, since the publisher doesn’t have to pay for manufacturing and shipping. I have students who have sold their hard copies as used items for more than enough money to buy the electronic version. Third, they have all the advantages of electronic books: they’re searchable, they take up no shelf space, and they weigh nothing. (You understand the importance of that about the third time you move.) I take my 3,000-volume library to Africa with me most summers, and I’m able to fit it under the seat in front of me.

For personal and professional study—preparation of Sunday school lessons, for example, or of classroom lectures—Logos allows me to focus on the content rather than the process of getting it. I fire up the Passage Guide, type in the passage I want to study (“Jeremiah 41,” for example; or if I can’t remember it, just “Johanan” will get me there), and my resources appear in a neatly organized list: commentaries, cross references, parallel passages, outlines, media resources, related music (nope, nothing for Jeremiah 41), a word cloud, online sermons on the passage, and lots of other stuff. I click on what I want to see, and it’s right there for me. For a deeper study, I open the Exegetical Guide to the same passage, and it takes me through the passage word by Hebrew word, with information on textual variants, lexicons, and grammars at the ready, already opened to the places where they reference the verses I’m studying.

I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

I use Logos for my devotions as well. I’ve used it to create a custom Bible reading schedule (this year I’m reading through the NET Bible, OT and NT every day), and every morning I click on the links for that day and check them off when I’m done. In the next window are the books I’m reading this year (as it happens, right now I’m using Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest as a daily devotional and reading through James Hastings’s The Christian Doctrine of Prayer and Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, one section a day.) I simply work my way across the screen, and the next day it’s ready for me again.

There are lots of powerful features available, which I use as occasion warrants. There are word study and topic study features, a sermon starter (though I prefer to do my own), and some really useful graphical interfaces to help you see patterns in the text that might not be obvious—such as a “Morph River” feature that shows you a color-coded graphical representation of whatever morphological spec you ask for. If you ask for a depiction of verb mood in Ephesians, for example, the dominance of the imperatives in chapters 4 through 6 is hard to miss.

A particular strength of Logos’s data set is the work they’ve done in tagging and in visual representation. The Morph River feature just mentioned is but one example of that; there are all kinds of ways you can see visual layouts based on morphological and syntactical specifics. Want to see what sections of the Bible most often use a name for deity as the subject of a verb for communication? It’s in there.

Of course, this is not the Millennium, and Logos is not perfect. The biggest drawback, in my book, is its speed. Early on the company decided to write for the fastest machines available; as a result, it’s probably going to crawl on your machine unless you have a brand new one. (Did I mention that BibleWorks is fast?) Yes, Logos is doing a lot of stuff in that time, and it’s doing it faster than I could with Strong’s Concordance, but I really wish they’d show a little more stewardship of my clock cycles.

That said, I consider Logos an indispensable tool for my own Bible study. Since you can get in for a very small price, and since adding electronic books is cheaper than buying hard copies, I’d recommend that any serious Bible student, and certainly any professional one, buy it.

Some additional information:

Logos website

Training videos

Sermon preparation with Logos (YouTube, with an older version of Logos)