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Words: They are Important February 3, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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Hello again. Today I would like to talk about words. As you can tell from the title, they are important. Because the Bible, like most other books, is made up of words, we should spend time talking about them. Up to this point I have been talking about the importance of reading paragraphs and large units of text in order to study the Bible. Now, I want dive into more of the specifics of what to look for when you are studying that paragraph/section. Sometimes you need to study the small details in order to understand the bigger picture. Our goal though is not to stop at the small details, but to use the information we gain from them to get to the big idea of the passage. In my previous post I talked about OICA as a method for exegesetical study. I would like to use this post to begin a section on the “O” part of that, or observation. Observation is all about asking questions and noticing things. The first thing I look for in a passage is the word usage. You can learn a lot about the flow of the passage and what it is about just by looking at the words. I am dividing this post into two types of words. As you read you will want to find the “key” words and the “transitional” words. Noting these two things will be invaluable in understanding the text.

Key Words

Key words are words that the author is trying to emphasize. These are usually repeated or play a big part in your pericope. One key word in 1 Cor. 13 is “love”. Seeing these repeated words can help tie passages together. The end of 1 Cor. 12 (27-31) talks about Spiritual gifts. Verse 27 mentions the “body”. Although this word is only used once in this passage it is a key word because it sets the analogy that the whole paragraph centers around. And it helps tie the passage together with the previous section (12-26) where the word “body” is used many times. After analyzing the connection between these two sections you can see that the author is first of all describing the relationship between the body and its parts and then using that as an example of how the different gifts work together in the Church. Finding these key words can be helpful for finding the main themes in an entire book also. Even a brief reading of Proverbs will show that there is a contrast between the wise man and the foolish man.

Transitional Words

Key words will help you see what a passage is about, but key words will help you see how the thought progresses. Transitional words are the signals and signs throughout a passage that show you how it is organized and where it is going. Transitional words are the connecting words between clauses, sentences and even paragraphs. We need to define a few words here:

Clause – a single thought with a subject and a verbal idea (usually these also have a direct object)

Independent Clause – a clause that can stand on its own as a complete thought ex. The boy went to the store.

Dependent Clause – a clause that explains an independent clause (can not stand on its own as a complete thought) ex. after he ate breakfast

Sentence – the combination of all clauses that make up one complete thought ex. The boy went to the store after he ate breakfast.

Conjuction – a word or phrase that connects clauses together ex. and, but, or, yet, therefore, now, then, in order that, so that, because

Dependent clauses are important because these are the transitions in the sentences. There are two types of conjuctions: conjuctions that combine two independent clauses and conjuctions that combine a dependent clause to its independent clause. Whenever you find a dependent clause look for its relationship to the independent clause. How does it help explain the main clause? These conjuctions are the words you want to look for as transitional words. There are more, but these will give you a good idea of what they look like and how they function. We will get into basic diagramming in a later post, but for now, just find the conjuctions that seem the most important. When these words are at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph they show the transition from the previous idea.

Coming back to 1 Cor. 13, the last verse is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There are two transitional words in this verse: “and now” and “but”. The word “and” between hope and love is a conjuction, but it doesn’t combine clauses. The “and now” is a summary clause that helps us see the point the author was going for, namely that love is eternal and is the greatest thing you can aspire to. The word “but” in the verse shows the comparison between the two clauses. There may be 3 things that remain, but they are not all equal. Love is the greatest out of the three.

Summary

In this initial observation stage there are many things to look for. Looking at both the key words and the transitional words will help you, not only get to the meaning of the text, but also see how it ties in to the surrounding context. As you look for key words, keep an eye out in the surrounding contexts to see if you can tie them together through repetition of those words. As you look for transitional words look for the comparisons between independent clauses first and then see if there are any dependent clauses that seem important to the flow of the text.

Reflection

Gal. 5:22-26 is about living in the Spirit. How does the transitional word help us tie this passage back to the previous paragraph? Looking at the key words where would you say this entire section begins? (which verse?) Just from that information, initially what do you think this passage is about?

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