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Label the Bones

Recently I introduced one of our pastoral interns to a handy first rule for understanding a Bible text, called “cut at the joints.” This, as we discussed in a prior post, is the beginning of any serious analysis of a passage. To cut at the joints is to determine the major segments of the passage in question, which often appear in paragraphs or stand apart from one another by virtue of chapter divisions, verse divisions, and the like.

The second stage of understanding a text, to go one step beyond my Greek professor’s clever rule, is to label the bones. If cutting at the joints separates one segment from another, then labeling the bones identifies the main idea of each segment. If one has correctly cut at the joints, each resulting portion of the passage should have one underlying idea, which the reader might do well to articulate in a concise phrase.

This type of analysis works for any biblical passage (and for any coherent written work, for that matter). One can apply it to longer or shorter passages (the nuances of which we’ll cover in a future post). For those who want to make disciples, it is an expression of that foundational instructional skill we call synthesis, which allows us to move the concepts of Scripture into the hearts of people and the contexts they understand.

Give it a try on 1 Timothy 1:1–11 and let us know how it went by leaving a comment below!

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