Syntax: Not Just For Searching

In previous blog posts, I’ve focused on how the syntax databases we offer are used when searching, when asking questions of the text. But this is not the only use. I don’t even know if it will end up being the primary use. I was reminded about this with a recent comment on one of my posts:

These blogs are extremely helpful for things like [structure searching], but make it difficult for an average joe like me to get a search result and have confidence that all the cases of what I’m looking for would be covered. . .I’d think “what kind of clause component will this show up in that I’ll miss with this search”. Certainly, I’ll get some results I’d want, but will I get them all?

Instead of focusing more on searching, I figured I’d step back and show another use that doesn’t require any searching knowledge at all. Just being able to see the structure of the text in a different way is helpful when reading through the text.

We read through the text in translations with paragraphs/etc frequently. Reading through a syntax graph in addition to reading the text in modern translation can help us slow down when we read, and take note of not simply each word but also the things going on around each word at the clause level.

Ephesians 5.18b-21 offers a good example. I’ll give you two hints: Look only at the clauses (primary and embedded) and the verbs in those clauses, and the relationship between these things. No searching necessary. Just reading slowly paying attention to the annotated syntax.

And there’s a video (Flash, 3 megs, with sound) that provides a little more information to help in seeing how this can be done.

Here’s Eph 5.18b-21 in the ESV, just plain text. Read it in this form and try to think about the underlying structure of the text:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5.18-21, ESV)

What can we see from just looking at the syntax here? Check out the video for more explanation, but in short, you’ll see how to:

  • View only clause information in your graph, removing some of the word group annotation since we’re just looking at clause level data here
  • Find verbs in the annotation
  • Show why this is relevant when looking at the annotation for Ephesians 5.18b-21 (which is a whole primary clause)

Update: If you’re interested in using the Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament to assist as you’re reading through the text, check out this post from May 2006. It’s a handy way to work through the Greek text of, say, First John and beef up your knowledge of the syntactic goings-on at the same time!

Update II: Note that I’ve blogged again about how reading the syntax graph can help when analyzing or outlining a particular passage: Organizing an Outline with Syntax Graphs.


  1. Thank you for the Logos software which has been very helpful to me.
    However, this Syntax: Not Just For Searching, is a little over my head.
    I am a 63 year old pastor of a church in England with very little in the ways of the scholar.
    I am sure that I am only scratching the surface of this software.
    Is there a program that would allow my to explore small areas at a time?
    Bless you all for your work.
    Pastor Ray.

  2. Hi Pastor Ray.
    Are you asking for how to study a passage by “small area at a time” or for how to get into different areas of Logos Bible Software a “small area at a time”?
    If the latter, then I’d recommend that you spend some time going through the demonstration videos for Logos Bible Software 3 that we have on our web site at Focus on the “Logos for New Users” section. Each of the videos are short, and they’ll walk you through a portion of the program.
    Hope it helps!

  3. Scott Stocking says

    Some of these syntactic connections seem to be interpretive in places, especially where a construction may be difficult to follow. This may be unavoidable. For example, in the Ephesians passage you use as an example here (5:18-22), there are five participles, each treated as a predicator of their respective embedded clauses in the adjunct phrase. But “singing,” “psalming,” and “giving good favor” strike me as further modifying “speaking,” so I would consider them to be embedded clauses of the embedded clause that begins with speaking and ends with “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the outline looks like this:
    Level 1: Be filled with the Spirit
    Level 2: Speaking to yourselves with . . .
    Level 3: singing. . . psalming. . . giving good favor
    Level 2: Submitting to one another. . .
    Or the path for the middle three participles in the group of five would be: PC->A->[EC->(EC/EC/EC);EC], not PC->A->(EC/EC/EC/EC/EC).
    I don’t suppose there is a tool or add-in that would allow us to copy a diagram to a work space so that we can move the arrows around to postulate different syntactic connections? I know I could use the diagramming tool, but it wouldn’t look the same. I know you must be thinking us linguists are soooo demanding! The SAGNT is a powerful tool, and I’m just speculating about the ways it could be used to its fullest extent.

  4. This is just epic :) Thankyou for posting this!!!