Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Chapter Summary Method of Bible Study

In November, we took a look at the devotional method of Bible study, a method you can do when you have little time but you still want to apply the Scriptures to your life.  This month, we are going to be flexing our scholarly muscles to really dig into the Bible.  The Chapter Summary method of Bible study will give you a good chance to really soak in the Word of God.

To start this method, you'll want to read your chosen chapter of the Bible at least five times.  Try to find a Bible that doesn't have any notes so that your reading isn't tainted by someone else's insights.  I'm not saying that all Bible notes are wrong, but if you can create your own notes, you will remember them much longer.  Read the chapter in several different translations.  This will help you get a good overall picture of the chapter.  Here, an online resource, like, can be helpful.  On this website, you can choose from over 20 different versions of the Bible, and read two in parallel if you choose. For some people, reading the chapter out loud at least once helps with concentration. 

After you have read the chapter five times, there are ten steps to summarize it.  I've put them in the sequence that is most helpful for me, but feel free to do these steps in whatever way makes most sense to you.

Step 1. Chief People -- Make a list of the major people in the chapter.  This list could be as short as the author and audience for an epistle, or a longer list of major players in the Histories or Gospels.

Step 2. Crucial Words -- Make a list of key words in the chapter.  Key words are any major words that are repeated several times, or words that seem to be the "theme" of the chapter.  For instance, a crucial word in Hebrews 11 would be "faith."

Step 3. Contents -- Make an outline or list of the major point or points of the chapter.  Once you have the key words, this is a little easier. Remember in middle school when you had to pick out the "main idea" and "supporting points" for a paragraph?  This is much the same. 

Step 4. Choice Verse -- Select a verse that is significant in the chapter or that you think is important during your study.  There are no wrong answers here.  The verse you choose this time might be different than the one you would choose a year from now.  That's okay! 

Step 5. Caption -- Now that you've broken down the chapter into more manageable pieces, you should be able to give it a short caption, much like the heading a study Bible would have.  Again, don't worry about picking the perfect heading.  Just choose something that represents what you've learned so far.

Step 6. Christ Revealed -- Every part of the Bible points to Jesus in some way, either his nature, his ministry, or his person.  Find out what you can discover about Christ in this chapter of the Bible.

Step 7. Challenges -- List any difficulties you may have had with the chapter.  Even after all these steps, there will be some parts of the Bible that are harder to understand.  There may also be things that are challenging to you as a person.  You may be able to understand them, but doing them is another matter! List both kinds of challenges.

Step 8. Cross References -- One great way to understand the Bible is to use... the Bible!  If you look carefully at a verse in a study or cross referenced Bible there will be a little letter or number that you match to the margins in the Bible.  (On they appear below the chapter.) The letter will correspond to another verse of the Bible that shares some background or theme with your verse.  For example: In John 8:58, Jesus says "Before Abraham was born, I am." Not only does this sentence sound grammatically off, but the next verse says the Jews were ready to stone him.  If you didn't remember the background you might be confused.  But, if you check the cross-reference to Exodus 3:14, you see God calls himself "I am" when speaking to Moses.  Now you can understand what Jesus was saying (He is God), and why it upset the unbelieving Jews so much.  In this step of the Chapter Summary method, you could find dozens of verses from around the Bible to help you get a better grasp of the passage you are studying.

Step 9. Central Lesson -- List the major lessons you have learned as you've studied.  Remember that the lesson you need to hear this time might be different from the one you need next year, which is again different from the lesson your friend might understand. I'm not saying that the Bible means different things to different people, only that you can apply the meanings more than one way. 

Step 10. Conclusion -- Ask yourself two questions as you seek to apply the lessons you have learned: How do these insights apply to me personally? What am I going to do about them?  Remember the foolish man.  He heard the word and didn't do it, and his house went splat (Matthew 7:26-27). Don't be him.

Whew! That's a lot of steps! Keep in mind that you don't have to do all of these steps in one day.  If you want to take a week to do a single chapter of the Bible, that's okay.  If you took the time to do this method for each chapter of a book of the Bible, you would know that book really well.   Happy Studying!


All methods of Bible study presented in this series come courtesy of Bill and Beverly Watkins, who teach the class at the Nashville School of Preaching and Biblical Studies.  It is shared by their permission with many thanks.

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