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Day 9: Outline and Interpret


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Learn to Study the Bible with Logos: Part 2

Day 9: Understand the Purpose in Structure

Step 7: Outline and Interpret the Passage

We spent the last two days in Matthew 4 looking at the word and phrase level in order to find the author’s intended meaning. Today, we will outline the passage to see how going through this process helps us understand the meaning of the text.

This is the seventh step in our Bible study method: we will outline the passage and then come to a conclusion about its overall meaning. Later, we will check our interpretation with the interpretation of others.

The structure of a biblical passage communicates truth along with the individual words and sentences. The writers of Scripture, and the Spirit behind them, did not arrange what they wrote haphazardly. Part of good interpretation looks for this structure and takes what it implies to heart. In order to do so, a good practice is to outline the text based on that structure. This outline will not only help us understand the meaning of the passage, but it may also help us communicate the meaning of the passage to others.

To analyze the structure of a passage, all we really need are our notes from the observation and interpretation stages, a tool to write with, and the passage we are studying. So, if you aren’t using Logos, you could use a pencil and a pad of paper or a word processor. In this video, we’ll use Logos’ sentence diagramming tool.

Sentence Diagrams

From the Documents menu, let’s choose Sentence Diagram. The name of this tool may bring back unpleasant memories from high school English class, but let’s do our best to repress those memories and see how diagramming a passage can be helpful for interpretation.

We can certainly use the Sentence Diagramming tool to construct sentence diagrams, and we should, especially for long and complex sentences in the Bible, but let’s instead use it to build a block diagram. Block diagrams break a passage up into small units and then arrange these smaller units according to the relationship they with one another.

Let’s give our document a name and add the passage we are studying by clicking on “Insert passage” and typing our reference. We’ll press enter, choose the version of the Bible we prefer, and select “Text flow diagram.” (The “Line diagram” option is for traditional sentence diagramming.) We can also add other interlinear lines if we wish. Let’s click “Insert.”

Because we are familiar with this narrative from our previous study, we know there are three temptations, so let’s segment them out by clicking the first element of each temptation and dragging it. The first element may be a verse number or a word. There are five obvious breaks: verses 1, 3, 5, 8, and 11. I’ll label each break by clicking the large “T” in the tool selection bar and adding text to the side. Now we’ll begin to break the narrative down even further by sentences and clauses. We add a break where it makes sense to us. It will take some practice to feel comfortable doing this, but the more we do it, the more proficient we will become. There may not be one absolutely right answer, but generally the segments of a text are clear enough, as they are here.

As we observe the structure of the temptations, we notice that the intensity and tension escalates from the first to the third temptation. The first temptation tested whether Jesus would trust His Father for His sustenance and took place in the wilderness with no one around. The second temptation ups the intensity: would Jesus trust His Father’s presence and protection at the temple, the place that symbolized God’s presence with the nation of Israel? For the third temptation, the devil takes Him to “a very high mountain.” R.T. France, in his highly rated volume in the New International Commentary on the New Testament, makes the point that the escalation in geography pictures the escalation in intensity of the temptation. In this third test, the devil questions Jesus’ devotion to His Father as God and His Father’s promise of future glory. France states, “the more subtle suggestions of the first two proposals are succeeded by a blatant challenge to God’s authority when the devil ‘drops his disguise’ and the central issue is brought into the open…. The devil is trying to drive a wedge between the newly-declared Son and his Father.” Will Jesus worship the devil in order to get what He wants, or will he continue in His relationship of dependence on the Father?

Both the temptation narrative’s place after the baptism narrative and its structure are purposeful. God declared Jesus to be His Son at His baptism and the devil was now testing Jesus’ belief in this declaration. Matthew is showing us what this anointed King and beloved Son would choose to do under intense testing.

Let’s observe one more thing related to the structure of Matthew 4:1–11. There is an interesting structural point in verse 11. This verse reverses the three temptations in a chiastic structure. Chiastic structure is common in the Bible and is a type of parallelism where the parallel elements radiate from the center. In this instance, the devil leaves Jesus which is the result of Christ’s words in the third temptation—He rejected the devil’s request in the most aggressive way by not only refusing to worship him, but by telling him to leave. The second phrase in verse 11 speaks of the angels’ arrival which corresponds to the temptation to force the angels to come rescue Him. The final words of verse 11 inform us that the angels ministered to Him, which is God’s provision for the hunger Jesus felt. At the center of this chiasm, and of the narrative itself, is Jesus’ powerful command and its result. “Be gone, Satan!...Then the devil left him.” Not only had Jesus passed the tests, He had triumphed over the devil. This not only foreshadows the victory Jesus would have over the devil at the cross and resurrection after which He claimed, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” but a foreshadow of the victory Christ will have over the devil at the end of the age.

We’ll add these insights to our notes by right clicking on verse 11, choosing reference, and selecting “Add a note to Matthew 4 notes.”

Here’s another word of caution, the structure of a passage isn’t necessarily its meaning. It’s great if our outline of a passage is really close to the actual structure of the passage, but we must fight the urge that ascribes meaning to a passage based on structure alone. We still must take into account the literary, intertextual, historical, and cultural contexts of the passage. We don’t want to allow our analysis of the structure of a passage, and then our outline of the passage, to overshadow what the passage actually says. That’s exactly why step 8 exists. By checking our interpretation with the interpretation of other godly students of God’s Word, we’ll guard against coming to false conclusions. More on that later.

Why did Matthew include the account of Jesus’ temptation in his treatment of Jesus’ life? Matthew may have had multiple intentions for including the narrative of the temptation in his gospel. He could have simply included it as a major event in Jesus’ life, a story that needed to be told in order for his work to be complete. He may have included it so that his readers would know how to fight temptation by observing how their Lord did.

One of the most beneficial things we can do after we’ve done the work of observation and interpretation is to sum up the passage in one overarching statement. The statement should be general enough to encompass the themes of the passage, but specific enough for us to understand what the writer of the passage wanted to communicate.

Notes: Tagging and Searching

Over the last eight days we’ve investigated Matthew 4:1–11 and found significant insight into the passage. Our text is full of note icons just from the insights from the videos. If you’ve also been doing the homework, you have even more notes. Your notes are organized by verse numbers, but it would help us understand the text better if we could organize our notes by major emphases. If you are using the pen and paper method, you can transfer your notes to note cards and begin organizing them. With Logos, we can use the tagging feature for our notes and clippings.

The first step we should take is to read through our notes and clippings. As we do so, we’ll look for central ideas. As I read through my notes and quotations, I found two main ideas. The first revolved around what Jesus was doing. The second revolved around how Jesus did what He was doing. I then tagged each of my notes and clippings with either “Mat4:What” or “Mat4:How” by hovering over the note, clicking on the drop down menu, and selecting “Add a tag.” I found a small number of notes that did not fit either category and did not constitute a central theme, so I left them untagged.

When we press Control “F,” or Command “F” on a Mac, Logos brings up a find box in our notes file. We can use this to search for our tags so that we can read through the ones we categorized with each tag.

Let’s summarize our results. First, a major part of our notes speak of Jesus passing the test, conquering the evil one, and fulfilling what Israel failed to do. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ early life and ministry followed Israel’s history. His experience in the wilderness mirrored theirs, yet, in the midst of severe testing, he obeyed where they failed. And, He used the Scripture that God had given Israel to fight the tempter. Jesus’ testing followed directly on the heels of God’s declaration of Jesus as His beloved Son. Satan took the opportunity in the wilderness both to test the truthfulness of this claim and the resolve of Jesus’ character. The genre of the Gospel of Matthew strengthens this idea. The Gospel of Matthew declares the good news that God was intervening into the affairs of man with Savior and King who was perfectly obedient in our place. With his ample quotations of Scripture, Matthew wanted to ensure that his listeners knew that their faith was firmly rooted in the Old Testament and that their hope in the victory of the returning Messiah was sure. The temptation narrative is nothing less than a power struggle, the culmination being Satan’s request to be worshiped as God. At the center of the structure of the passage is Jesus’ command, “Be gone, Satan” and Satan’s exit from the scene in defeat. Matthew clearly has the future victory over the evil one in focus.

Second, Matthew explores the nature of temptation and demonstrates how Jesus overcame it. Temptation is not simply an enticement toward evil, though, in this story, Jesus is certainly enticed to sin. Temptation also involves an element of testing. Satan was testing the freshly declared “beloved Son” of God as part of God’s will. We must also remember that it was the Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus overcame test through reliance on His Father. Jesus did not seek to provide for Himself apart from His Father, or force His Father’s hand to save Him, or acquire what He had been promised outside of the will of His Father. He simply recalled His Father’s commands and trusted. Even the “how” of Jesus’ victory points back to what He was doing.

So the meaning of Matthew 4:1–11 is Christological in nature. By that we mean that when Matthew included this story in his narrative, he wanted us to know something about Christ more than he wanted us to know anything else, including how to overcome temptation. As we’ve mentioned before, the purpose of this passage is to cause us to look to Jesus, not ourselves. He is the one who fulfilled the hope and destiny of the nation of Israel. He is the one who perfectly relied on the Father. He is the one who defeated Satan and sin on our behalf. In the next video we’ll talk about how to apply the passage, but the main application of this passage is faith. Faith in the perfectly obedient beloved Son of God. Faith in the victorious Lamb of God. Faith in the One who suffered and died for the sins we committed in our own temptation.

This is the message of Matthew 4:1–11: in the temptation, Jesus, the promised Messiah and beloved Son of God, victoriously triumphed over the evil one through reliance on His Father succeeding where Israel and the rest of humanity failed.

Step 8: Check Your Interpretation with the Interpretation of Others

When we interpret the Bible, we have the potential of making mistakes. Sometimes we totally miss something in the text. More often, we have either a preconceived idea about what the text means or an interpretive axe to grind which causes us to ignore the intended meaning of the author. Many of us who communicate God’s Word to others can identify with this tendency because we feel we need to address the issues that we perceive are pertinent to our audience. It’s not a malicious mistake, but it’s still a mistake. The eighth step of our Bible study method includes a way to guard ourselves from making such mistakes: checking our conclusions against those of others.

There’s a healthy balance involved. Commentaries are an immense help and a true grace from God, but we should not allow them to short-circuit our Bible study. They should not be the first place we look, but they definitely should be a place we look—especially when we’ve developed our own conclusions about the passage.

The commentaries section of the Passage guide is our one-stop-shop for the commentaries in our library. We can always use paper commentaries, but flipping to the relevant parts of the commentary can be tedious and, if we have more than three or four, they will soon take up all of the space on our desk. If you use commentaries in Logos, the relevant information is one click away. I won’t demonstrate how to use this feature, as it is self-explanatory. Go ahead, click two or three commentaries and check your interpretation!


Your assignments mirror the steps we took in this video:

  • Construct your own block diagram of Matthew 4 and think through any other implications the structure of Matthew 4 has on its meaning
  • Go through your notes and clippings and identify central ideas
  • Tag your notes and clippings according to these central ideas
  • Write out a summary statement of the central meaning of Matthew 4:1–11

Today we outlined Matthew 4 to help us understand its meaning. It’s a practice I hope you will start using in your own Bible study. In one of the first videos of this course, we mentioned the benefit of slowing down our reading of Scripture. Outlining the structure of the passage does just that. You’re doing great! One more day and you’ll complete the challenge!