Reading Into the Sentence Structure

Sentences often provide clues to answering questions of context and uncovering the appropriate application. Below is a list of clues to uncovering meanings that are hidden within sentences. For each clue, follow the prescribed action. It may also be helpful to use a resource like the Blue Letter Bible® or Logos® to determine the number of certain things like pronouns (e.g., "you" singular versus "you" plural).

Clue Action
Actors Identify individuals referenced in the text or surrounding text. Also note number, form, and case.
Cause and Effect Look for outcomes due to specific causes. There may be more than one effect from a single cause mentioned in the text.
Comparisons Look for ideas, individuals, and/or items that are compared with each other. Look also for similarities.
Conjunctions Notice terms that join units, like "and," "but," or "for." Note what they are connecting.
Contrasts Look for ideas, individuals, and/or items that are contrasted with each other. Look also for differences.
Figures of speech Look for expressions that convey an image, using words in a sense other than the literal sense.
Lists Note where the text mentions more than two items.
Nouns Aside from formal nouns (i.e., actors), look for other generic places or things.
Pronouns Identify the antecedent for each pronoun. Again, when necessary, note the number, form, and case.
Repetition of words Look for words and phrases that repeat.
Verbs Note whether a verb is past, present, or future, and determine if it is active or passive. Also look for imperatives.


When attempting to interpret Scripture, it is extremely helpful to parse, or conjugate, nouns and verbs. Doing so can greatly increase the chances of interpreting the passage correctly. Many Bible study leaders and teachers today, including pastors, fail to take the time to conjugate words. Unfortunately, this has led to many erroneous teachings.

Learning to parse nouns and verbs is a subject that is often taught in language classes, especially in the classical languages of Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. You could literally spend days, if not weeks, learning how to do this correctly by hand. Fortunately, many tools today, like Blue Letter Bible® and Logos®, provide the information for us. Therefore, the process of conjugation is simplified significantly. Now, it is merely up to us to learn how to interpret what these tools tell us about the word.

When parsing a word, there are many components to grammar. They include things like inflection, lexical form, and declension. However, for our purposes, we're going to focus on three primary elements:

  • Number
  • Case
  • Gender


Words can either be singular or plural, depending on whether they refer to one item or multiple items. For example, "This verse (singular) is my favorite of all verses (plural)."

Correctly identifying the number can help us a great deal with translation. Consider 1 Corinthians 12:27, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." When Paul writes these words and uses the pronoun "you," who is he referring to? Is he referring to an individual or a group of people? Though you might be inclined to think that Paul is communicating that each individual is a representation of the body of Christ. However, the Greek word for "you" is plural. Therefore, Paul is telling the church at Corinth that they, collectively, are the body of Christ, and each of them are members of that larger body. While this may not seem significant, in reality, it is quite so. Paul is saying that the body of Christ is only complete when each member is active in it—the full body of Christ, which is the Church, requires all of its members functioning.


Words perform different functions within a sentence. Most of us have some remembrance of learning about the subjects and predicates of a sentence in our grade school English class. We may even remember discussions about direct and indirect objects.

All of this is what we are describing when we speak about the case of a word. Each of these _cases describes the function of the word and how it is used in a sentence. Some objects are performing an action; others are receiving the action. We also have cases that describe possession, time (present, past, or future), and intent, such as a question, statement, or command.

Unlike many of today's languages, including Latin, biblical languages don't always present the words of a sentence in what we would consider the proper order (the subject followed by a verb, then a direct object). Instead, the writers focused more on things like emphasizing meaning through word placement. In some cases, the subject of a sentence may be found in the middle of a sentence or at the end, while the direct object is placed at the beginning. When we read our translations, we sometimes lose these nuances and miss the author's original intent. Though the translation is technically correct, we overlook what the author was attempting to really communicate. For this reason, understanding the cases of nouns and verbs is a very good practice—to understand their functions and placements within the sentence.

As stated above, parsing nouns and verbs takes considerable diligence and constant effort. This is why seminary classes—even degrees themselves—are dedicated to biblical languages. For this reason, we're not going to spend a lot of time on it here. However, you are highly encouraged to regularly use tools like those we've recommended and explore some of the various cases. Over time, you'll begin to recollect their meanings more easily.


When discussing nouns (person, place, or thing) and pronouns, we consider their gender. Hebrew has two genders: masculine and feminine. Greek also shares those two genders but has an additional one: neuter. This may initially be a little confusing but consider the following examples.

A male heir to a throne would be considered a "prince" (masculine), while a female heir would be considered a "princess" (feminine). Most English words, however, do not change form when indicating gender. Consider the term "servant." In this case, a servant could be describing a male or female. In such a case, the term is considered "neuter."

In the biblical languages, the nouns are very specific. This helps us with interpretation. Pronouns (he, she, it) follow what's known as natural gender, meaning the word "he" is masculine, "she" is feminine, and "it" is neuter. However, nouns often do not; we must pay close attention to their gender.

As an example, consider John's preface to his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

The Greek word for the noun "Word" is logos. Logos is singular (number) and masculine (gender). Upon conjugating the noun, we can derive that John is describing something (or someone) that is single in number and masculine. Therefore, we can understand that Jesus was a single being (not pluralistic or comprised of multiple gods) and was a male. Likewise, the word for "God," theos, is singular and masculine. The Scripture, therefore, is very clear that God is not feminine, gender-diverse, or gender-neutral; God has been presented to us in male form, and we would rightly honor God by worshiping him as he has presented himself to us in the Bible.


Unless you have studied Greek and/or Hebrew (along with having access to a Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament), you will not be able to parse the words on your own. You will need a resource like the Blue Letter Bible or Logos.

On the resources page, you will find instructions on using each of these tools for parsing nouns, pronouns, and verbs.


If this is your first time hearing (or reading) about any of this, it can initially be quite daunting, if not downright confusing. Let's look at a few examples to help us understand and gain a bit more clarity in parsing. Perhaps, after considering a few well-known verses, the above may make more sense.

(HINT: Follow the instructions for using the Blue Letter Bible® or Logos®, and attempt to parse the verses on your own first. Then, check your answers. This can be great practice.)

You can also find additional examples in the blog. We are adding new examples regularly.

Suggested Approach

This all may seem like a lot at first but don't be discouraged. I assure you that the more you do this, the easier (and more fun) it will become. You will be surprised at all of the hidden gems you find locked in God's word. As you get started, consider a couple of suggestions for achieving success:

  • Work on a single verse at a time. You may be studying a larger passage, but don't try to parse the entire passage at first. Instead, take it verse by verse. You may find that some of the pronouns and conjunctions refer to or combine thoughts from surrounding passages. Note those in your parsing, but keep the primary scope limited to the verse you are currently focused on.

  • Focus on a single clue. Each verse contains multiple clues (even John 11:35 includes a noun and a verb). Practice focusing on one clue at a time. For example, if you are exploring a passage, simply practice identifying and parsing only the nouns. Once this becomes a bit easier, add a second clue, then a third. Over time, you'll see that your ability to recognize these clues becomes much easier.

  • Copy the verse and draw on it. Copy the verse by hand to a sheet of paper, or copy it to a word processor and print it. Then, practice circling, underlining, or highlighting different clues. You may also find it helpful to draw lines between pronouns and the nouns to which they refer, between conjunctions, or between comparisons and lists. From experience, using a word processor may be more helpful when getting started, as you can print the verse multiple times and use each copy for each type of clue (or have a few extra copies in case you mess up).

  • Create a list. Create a chart like the three above where you list the clue type, the clues for that type, and the possible implications. Creating a list helps you to organize ideas, and it assists in conducting a systematic flow of exploration. We also provide various printable resources to help you navigate this process, should you like to use them.

  • Take breaks and step through the process. Don't try to discover all artifacts and attempt to derive implications in one sitting. Instead, follow this process:

    • Spend a few minutes listing the artifacts, take a break, and then see if you've missed any clues/artifacts (more often than not, this is the case).
    • Once you've done this a few times and you're pretty confident that you uncovered most of the clues, cycle through each artifact and parse it. Again, make sure you take regular breaks to not tire yourself out.
    • Finally, after parsing, consider some of the implications of what you've found. Those implications can be insights that you've discovered, or they can be questions that deserve further exploration. Use the implication column, not for absolutes, but for a springboard of areas to go deeper.
  • Not everything has to be filled in. You'll notice that some table cells above were left blank. That's okay. You don't have to list implications for everything you've found. Remember, the implications column is merely a scratchpad of ideas, questions, comments, etc. Use it as little or as much as you'd like, but always to your advantage. Don't get discouraged if nothing stands out or prompts further investigation.

POUR Method
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