Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bible Arcing

One of the most helpful ways of tracing the flow of thought in biblical passages is now a whole lot easier thanks to

"Arcing" is valuable because it forces you to think about and articulate your understanding of the relationship between each unit of thought in a passage. When you are finished, you can see at a glance the major emphases of the passage, and how the various parts fit together.

Sometimes arcing exposes new interpretive possibilities and unexplored exegetical issues:
In John 3:16, for example, the issue is the relationship between οὕτως (translated 'so' by the ESV) and ὥστε ('that') in 16a and b. Before arcing the verse I assumed that ὥστε functions as it often does to indicate result: The result of God's great love was to give his only son. But this leaves the οὕτως at the beginning of the verse unexplained. Rather than indicating a quantity ("so great love"), the word οὕτως normally means "thus" or "in this way." After puzzling over my arcing diagram and looking at the related syntactical pattern in 3:14-15, I concluded that the ὥστε ('that') clause in 16b indicates the manner in which God loved the world rather than the quantity of his love. 16c-d go on to state the purpose of this loving gift.

The one major drawback of arcing is that it was time consuming to write out the text, draw, erase, and redraw each arc by hand. All that has changed with the arcing tool provided by  The tool automatically inserts the Greek or Hebrew text or translation of your choice, and dividing a passage into units of thought and drawing and erasing arcs is the work of a mouse click or two. Now instead of spending time writing out a passage you can concentrate on the work of analysis.

I was taught arcing in 1993 by Bruce Fisk. When I went on to TEDS for my MA, I was introduced to it again by D.A. Carson. When I began teaching Greek Exegesis, I created a replica to replace the tattered hand-out I had been using (download it here).

The method apparently originated with Daniel P. Fuller, professor emeritus of hermeneutics at Fuller Seminary, and son of the seminary's founder, Charles Fuller. Fuller's student, Thomas Schreiner, introduced the methodology in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Baker, 1990). It has been championed more recently by another of Fuller's students, John Piper. (See the video on the home page of


Dale said...

arcing is awesome! i use it quite a bit in sermon prep, and find it a very valuable tool. thanks for having taught it to me back in "the day".

d. miller said...

Glad to hear!

John said...

Hey, FWIW, I just released a free Android app for Bible arcing "on the go". It's called "Bible Arcer" and you can find it on the Android Market. If you happen to have an Android cell phone, I'd love to hear what you think about it. At this point it doesn't have original language support, but I may get to that in the future.

d. miller said...

Looks great, John, but I don't have an Android cell phone. Let me know if you design a stand-alone arcing program. I don't really like always having to work off the website.