We love to get questions on basic Bible interpretation, so please keep sending them in to us. Today’s question is from Deborah from Kalamazoo, Michigan: “Hello Pastor John, I’ve heard you talk about arcing. Can you explain to me the very basics of what arcing does, and what we can learn from the practice? This is my introduction to it, so the simpler the better. And if you have one simple example to explain it all, that would be great.”
I would love to. Let me try to be simple because, at root, it is simple. Arcing is a way of taking a paragraph of Scripture, a unit of Scripture, let’s just say a paragraph, breaking it down into individual statements, and seeing how each of those statements relate to each other logically.
Is one the cause of the other? Is one the result of the other? Does one explain the other? Seeing the relationships, and then putting all those statements together, according to those relationships, so that we can see the one main thing that the paragraph is saying, and how each of those individual parts of the paragraph, those statements, work to support it and explain it.
Seeing the Text
Then, arcing provides a way of preserving what we’ve seen with a kind of drawing of the text, each statement having an arc and each relationship having a symbol. When you’re done, you can file it away and remember everything you’ve seen next time you want to study the passage.
“Arcing is simply seeing how each of the Bible’s statements relate to each other logically to find the main point.”
There’s nothing really mysterious about it. We talk this way all the time, especially when we’re trying to be clear and trying to explain something to somebody. We try to make a point, then we say other things about the point to explain it or support it. We do this instinctively. We manage to communicate pretty well from day to day.
What arcing does is force us to think about what we’re doing, and what the biblical writers are doing, just as a way of making sure that we don’t miss anything that they’re trying to show us. The great value of arcing is, mainly, it forces us to just look and look and look at the text and think and think about it.
Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding.” In order to get the fullest meaning out of a passage, we have to look at it carefully and in detail and think about it. Then, we need to reconstruct the argument in our heads, or on paper and write it down lest we forget it.
How it Works
Here’s the example so you get the idea. Romans 1:15–17. Here’s what it says: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”
There are four statements here. Paul clues us in to how they’re related by the connecting words that he uses. In this case, it happens to be “for.” Each of those statements gets an arc. You get four arcs. We’re trying to decide what’s the main point, not necessarily the most important reality, but the main point that is the conclusion, what everything else is supporting here.
“Go deep with God in his word. You will know him as you’ve never known him before.”
Let’s walk through these four propositions and see if we can reconstruct the argument. “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” That’s statement number one.
Here’s statement number two: “For” — or because: here comes the support or the ground — “because I am not ashamed of the gospel.” One of the reasons he wants to preach the gospel in Rome is that he’s not ashamed of the gospel at all.
Then, comes the third statement, which is given as a support or an argument or a basis for why he’s not ashamed of the gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” That’s the third statement. Now we have three statements.
The last two are the arguments for the first one. If we say it in reverse order, we can hear it even more clearly. When you go in reverse order, a “because” becomes a “therefore.” “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Therefore, I am not ashamed of it at all. Therefore, I am eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.”
Then there’s one last important statement, one more piece in the argument in Romans 1:17. He gives the reason or the basis, the argument for why the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. He says. “For [or because] in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”
Paul is giving a three-step argument rooted in the very nature of the gospel for why he is so eager to preach the gospel in Rome. I’ll read it in reverse order so that you can hear how the argument works.
“When you slowly meditate on Scripture, your confidence in seeing God’s truth will dramatically increase.”
In the gospel, God’s righteousness is revealed as a saving righteousness that is counted to us through faith. That’s the first statement. Therefore, this gospel is the power of God for the worst of sinners, Jew or Greek, through faith, whoever believes. Here’s the third statement: Therefore, I’m not ashamed of the gospel. Last statement: Therefore, I’m eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.
That’s basically what we do in arcing. We take a unit of Scripture and we identify individual statements. Then we identify the relationships between those statements, and then we rebuild the arguments so that we can see what the main point is, what’s the one thing he’s trying to support with all the other statements.
I promise you — this a promise — I promise you that if you begin to think about passages of Scripture this way, you will not only see vastly more of what’s really there that you might’ve missed, but your confidence level that you have seen God’s truth will dramatically increase. If God is willing, and I think he is willing, you will go very deep with him, and you will know him as you’ve never known him before. God's word is a gold mine full of riches for us to uncover as we turn its pages and trace its logic.
Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.