Do remember back in English or Grammar class when you were taught to divide your papers and essays into paragraphs? Do you know why you did that? It wasn’t just to separate the paper into sections marked by indented lines. Paragraphs actually play an important part in writing and reading.
To begin, here is one definition of a paragraph: “A distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme and indicated by a new line, indentation, or numbering.”
Now, while most modern languages delineate paragraphs with “a new line, indentation, or numbering,” this has not always been the case. However, the first part of that definition is extremely important: “a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme.”
You see, meaning is not primarily found at the word, clause, or even sentence level. Meaning is primarily found at the paragraph level. In paragraphs, authors present a single theme or topic or statement, which is then backed up, illustrated, or explained within the paragraph using words, clauses, and sentences. (So, you see, words, clauses, and sentences are important because they are the building blocks of paragraphs.)
One of the things that I like to do when I begin to study a section of Scripture is to divide that section into paragraphs and try to summarize each paragraph. It’s kinda like when your English or Grammar teacher told you to make sure that you have a topic sentence for each of your paragraphs when writing an essay.
Once I summarize the paragraph, it then becomes much easier to understand what the author is communicating through the various words, clauses, and sentences within that paragraph. It also helps me not to translate or interpret out of the author’s context.
I thought I would present this exercise to my readers and see what you come up with as a summary / topic sentence for a very important section of Ephesians. Consider this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10 ESV)
This is usually marked in most translations as a single paragraph. In fact, it’s probably one long sentence as well.
Thinking about the passage above as a whole, how would you summarize that paragraph / sentence? What topic sentence would you write to convey what Paul was communicating in that passage?