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How to Use Verb Rivers

Logos has introduced the concept of the Verb River to allow users to obtain a high-level picture of the distribution of various morphological properties across a given range of text. While visually appealing, some users aren't quite sure how to use this new feature to add value to their Bible study. This tutorial will provide examples on how to use the Verb River feature of the Biblical Languages addin.

Note: The Verb River feature is installed with the Biblical Languages Addin. This addin is available as part of the latest Original Languages Library, Scholar's Library, Scholar's Library: Silver, and Scholar's Library: Gold collections, or it can be individually downloaded and unlocked. If you need to upgrade to the latest collection, go to our Upgrade Now! page to see what discounts you may qualify for.

Example 1: Imperatives in Ephesians

The book of Ephesians provides perhaps the prototypical example on the usefulness of the Verb River feature. Students of the New Testament have long known that in this book, Paul seems to use the last half of the epistle to implore its readers to adhere to various commands. In the Greek, chapters four through six are loaded with uses of the imperative mood. While a careful analysis of the whole epistle allows one to see this quite plainly, the actual analysis of the book is not an easy task. Similarly, while one may read in passing that Paul uses imperatives (hence commands, mostly) in the last half of the book, the fact doesn't really take root because it is simply another fact mentioned in passing.

Enter the Verb River. Verb Rivers analyze a given section of scripture according to a particular morphological criteria, and provide a visual image of the use of that morphologial criteria throughout the range. So, the use of the imperative mood throughout Ephesians now becomes easy because an existing analyzed Greek New Testament is used. And it becomes meaningful because an image is associated with the data.

Performing a Verb River on mood usage in Ephesians is simple:

  1. Open the Verb River report using Tools | Bible Study | Verb River.
  2. Enter the Passage in the Passage box. In this case, for the whole book of Ephesians, simply type "Ephesians."
  3. Select the Version from the Version drop-down list. In this case, select "Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition ... " as Ephesians is in the New Testament. 
  4. Select "Mood" from the Attribute 1: drop-down list to generate the graph. The imperative is a type of mood in Greek, hence the selection of "mood" for the Verb River criteria.

Your result should be something similar to the image at the right of the page.

As you can see, imperative usage is virtually non-existent in the first few chapters and incredibly thick in the last few chapters of Ephesians. The original idea — Paul spends the last half of the epistle imploring his readers — is confirmed visually and meaningfully though the use of a Verb River.

Example 2: Paul's Advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy

Paul's second epistle to Timothy is a somewhat personal letter from a beloved guide and mentor to his trusted student, associate, and friend. Timothy, at the request of Paul, is in Ephesus combatting the seemingly indefatigable heresy that continues to plague the Ephesian community of believers. Paul desires to both encourage and exhort Timothy to, as Paul puts it, "fight the good fight" against the heretics and also to build the church at Ephesus into a strong fellowship, able to combat heresy on its own.

The question then, is how does Paul indicate this to Timothy? Of course the simple answer is the obvious one: Paul did it by writing the letter in the first place. However, are there morphological patterns to Paul's writing that would become evident if one could only generate an image from the morphological qualities of the words of Paul? This is just the thing that Verb Rivers help to establish. In this tutorial, we'll only start to answer the question by using Verb Rivers to look at the language used by Paul in 2 Timothy. To fully answer the question, it would involve not only examining Paul's writing in 2 Timothy, it would involve examining Paul's writing elsewhere (all his other epistles) and comparing it all to the other New Testament authors. Answering the question is outside of the scope of this tutorial, but using Verb Rivers to take a high-level look at Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy is well within the scope. It is this high-level examination that can lead to further study by examining the apparent patterns that can be seen in the Verb River display.

Initially, it is worth noting that Verb Rivers help to both confirm the normal and identify the aberrant. When a Verb River is performed on a given passage, it may disclose something interesting, or it may simply confirm that the passage in question has no interesting morphological goings-on (which may, of course, be interesting in itself depending on the context).

The procedure is rather simple. It involves generating multiple Verb Rivers for differing attributes of the same passage, and then comparing these Verb Rivers to each other in an effort to note the "interesting bits" of the passage. Try the following steps to begin:

  1. Open the Verb River report using Tools | Bible Study | Verb River.
  2. Enter "2 Timothy" in the Passage box. 
  3. Choose the Version from the Version drop-down list. In this case, select "Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition ... " as 2 Timothy is in the New Testament.
  4. Select Fit to Window from the Graph Size drop-down list. This is helpful (along with a very wide report window) since we are dealing with a large range.
  5. Select "Mood" from the Attribute 1: drop-down list.
  6. Click on the Go button next to Passage (green button/white arrow) to generate the graph.

Something like the image to the right should display. Depending on the speed of your computer, the Verb River may take some time to complete and display.

Once the Verb River is displayed, you can begin to examine the different moods used. If you use your mouse cursor and hover over the colored ovals in the legend on the right side of the Verb River, you'll notice the Verb River will subtly pulse the color in question. So, place your mouse cursor over the colored oval by the word Indicative. You should notice one of the streams of the Verb River slightly pulsing. These represent the indicatives in the range. Move your mouse cursor to the next one, and you'll see it pulse as well.

Now that the Verb River is generated, and you're somewhat familiar with it, it is time to take stock of the information it holds.

  • Unlike Ephesians, imperatives occur thoughout the book.
  • Some large clusters of imperatives occur in chapter 4, in verses two and five.
  • The optative mood, a rare mood in Koine Greek, is used a few times in chapter 1 as well as once toward the end of the book in chapter 4.
  • There are some small pockets of verbs in the subjunctive mood throughout the book.
  • As expected, the indicative mood is used frequently and consistently.

To this point, Verb Rivers have only been used to get an idea of the distribution of verbal mood throughout a range of text. But these types of images can be generated for other qualities of verbs too: Person, Number, Tense, and Voice. As the basic question being examined involves Paul's communication with Timothy, it is helpful to next examine how the morphological quality of Person is distributed amongst verbs in this text. So:

  1. Select "Person" from the Attribute 2: drop-down list; the graph will be regenerated.

Note that this will use the same Passage and generate another Verb River in addition to the existing one detailing mood in the passage. This is helpful because now the Verb Rivers can be compared to each other.

Both Verb Rivers should now be visible in the report window. Both rivers have the same "banks". That is, their shapes are the same, because differing qualities of the same words in the same range are being compared. This is simply a view of different qualities of the same data.

Examine the different person information. Remember, first person would be "I" or "we", second person is "you" or "you (plural)", and third person is "he/she/it" or "they". Upon a closer examination, notice that the widths of the second person stream in the Person Verb River are in many cases analogous to the width of the imperative stream in the Mood Verb River. This is not always the case, and it does not necessarily mean that second person imperatives are being used in all of these situations. It may simply mean that the number of second-person verbs and the number of imperative verbs in these verses are similar. But it does show a correlation, a pattern, that should be followed up.

Of course, this brings up another question. Is this second person singular, or second person plural? Is Paul addressing Timothy (singular) or some group of people (plural) in the second person in these instances?

The answer is to generate a third Verb River — this time for Number.

  1. Select "Number" from the Attribute 3: drop-down list; the graph will be regenerated. 

As would be expected for a mostly-personal letter from Paul to Timothy, singular dominates the letter. Comparing the three Verb Rivers, the areas that are seemingly common between the Mood Verb River and the Person Verb River are, for the most part, singular in number. In other words, these instances throughout the letter are directives of Paul for Timothy.


Some other areas where Verb Rivers may be useful or offer additional insights:

  • Comparing parallel pericopes. For example, compare the tenses used in Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount with the tenses used in Luke's account of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Establishing genre. For instance, "Example 2" above could be the beginnings of a study to establish that 2 Timothy is a primarily personal letter, as opposed to more generalized epistles.
  • Establishing style. For instance, one may be able to gain a high-level, very general idea of a particular author's style by examining how and when the author uses particular qualities of verbs.

Verb Rivers can be used to obtain a very high-level look at the morphological goings-on of a given passage. When compared with other Verb Rivers performed on differing criteria in the same passage, potential trends can be identified. These trends, then, can be followed up on in more detailed study of a passage, if necessary.