Written by Paul J. Bucknell on December, 11, 2020
Teaching Bible Books: Part 2, Creating Helpful Outlines
Discover the Power of Teaching God’s Word
Studying and teaching Bible books thrills me. A teacher does not merely pass on bits and pieces of knowledge but provides a framework to learn, master, and share precious truths from God’s Word with others. While in part 1, we learned how to get ready for a Bible book study, in part 2, we review the steps to form an outline, the title points, along with discovering the Bible book’s purpose. Later on, in part 3, I will share how to find applications and reshape the outline for teaching and preaching purposes.
Finding a Bible book
Studying a Bible book can take much time. Keep any teaching timelines in mind. Shorter books require less time but can still be challenging. If you are seeking a desired theme, prayerfully seek the Lord for a Bible book that leads in that direction. Prayerfully commit yourself to this study no matter where it might lead.
Assuming one has already prepared or found a Bible book, the teacher must get thoroughly acquainted with the Bible book, whether it’s Exodus or 2 Thessalonians. Read and reread. With several reads, you will begin to note the Bible book’s sequence or logical progression. One section’s topic will naturally separate from another. A chronological sequence will separate one time period from another, whether a year, a day, a prophecy, or a king’s rule. The attentive student notices the different ways can divide Bible book can be divided, depending upon the book. 1 Corinthians uses church problems; Isaiah follows a blend of distance prophetic messages within a chronological framework; Genesis follows ten genealogical postings.
An outline, even a poor one, can only be written when one begins to see these separate sections along with the book’s progression. Each of the main divisions become a main point in the outline.
Don’t get discouraged; this process takes time, sometimes more for one book than another. At this point, don’t focus on interpretation or even why specific points or illustrations are present, but only on how each section is distinguishable.
As you make observations or questions from a verse, jot them down. Don’t lose them, but also don’t let them distract you from your main purpose of creating a functional outline.
Rightly used, Bible book outlines provide pertinent information—even if we disagree with someone’s viewpoint. I often maintain several outlines to the same book (see Joshua outlines below). A good outline is like gold, providing instant insight and trustworthy conclusions.
Like a jaw holding teeth, our outline provides the framework that keeps all the individual points together, effectively coordinating them.
Look at the two outlines for Joshua. What is similar about them? What is different? At first glance, we see the left outline has two major points, while the right one, three major points. The left leaves out the emotions and feeling of participation that the right one possesses. The first outline states what happened, while the right one calls out the preparation period. Both leave out specific details. We will return to these outlines when addressing the themes.
With the availability of the web, we can instantaneously find other Bible book outlines. Find another outline that you like for the Book of Joshua! I want to compare and learn from other people’s outlines, for they force me to clarify my own. There is nothing wrong with using other people’s outlines (if we are honest), but don’t let a cute outline hinder you from mastering a book’s content and making it your own.
Expect your outline to grow and shrink. (It grows when finding different possibilities; it shrinks when eliminating particular possibilities.) While some Bible books are easier to understand and rewarding, others require much more work to find that same amount of insight. A Bible book might focus on an area that you have developed some thinking skills; this training will accelerate your understanding of the book’s content, just like a widow would pay extra attention to Jesus’ discussion with one.
Outlines, like targets, will be challenged, properly so. Sometimes, outlines do not adequately describe the sub-points. At other times, the wording is inferior. Don’t be offended, but like a worksheet or words posted on a whiteboard, anticipate changes. Don’t be a perfectionist who doesn’t allow improvement, but neither be sloppy and accept whatever comes. Outline titles are short and pithy but require much processing to choose them aptly.
Each Bible book ought to have well-built outlines with sub-points going down to at least two levels, but a third is extremely helpful, even if they are not well developed. Each level of sub-points enhances the student’s analysis and ability to properly differentiate the content.
A Bible Book’s Theme
The rough outline, when refined, helps us discover a theme that joins the Bible book parts together. After all, we are studying one joint book. It’s no longer fragments of knowledge when joined by a theme and purpose, which we will speak about later. An outline summarizes knowledge, but a Bible book theme forces us to begin to ask perceptive questions.
These exciting questions seek answers, making these historical books come alive begging a theme and purpose. To be true, we acknowledge there are various purposes to a book. For example, in Romans, Paul writes a theological treatise, but then tacks on at the end, another goal for the book—to drop a hint that he might go by their way on his next missionary journey to Spain (Rom 15:24-28).
- Why does the author present this information in this order?
- What is the author trying to say? (Why was the book written?)
- How do different parts contribute to the author’s main purpose?
A theme might center on a word (Philippians - joy; Nehemiah - prayer), while in other books, its character or geographical locations might serve as the backdrop, providing the flow of thought.
When working through the main points of your outline, make sure they make complete sense to you. Like a puzzle, they must fit together! If not, detect and solve the problems.
Some parts are especially challenging to describe—usually, it’s because we don’t fully understand the context or how it relates to the other passages. Don’t be compelled to follow chapter, paragraph, or verse separators as none of them are part of the inspired version. Feel entirely free to change titles, section breaks or to shift emphases, as it ought to match what you think the book teaches.
Good outlines are always being tinkered with to powerfully present what is hidden in the book’s many words. As the theme becomes more evident, the outline might need to be slightly modified. Sub-points further describe each main outline point. If these sub-points or other thoughts pop into your mind, jot them down, but don’t be too concerned about their presence or with style at this point.
I recommend create both a study outline and a teaching outline at the top level, like I have for the Book of Joshua below. The latter includes a more attention to style, but both must reveal the main purpose of the Bible book.
A Purpose Statement
The purpose statement captures the central thrust of a Bible book, sometimes demanding for further refinement of the outline. Remember this is a process. Although others might never see this statement, it forces you to state the key movement and purpose of the book in one line. What is Jeremiah trying to teach through this book? Why did God preserve this Bible book for us? These are some very beneficial questions to compel us to secure a helpful purpose statement.
This statement should summarize the pivotal points discovered in your book study. For longer books, it might be easier first to write purpose statements for each section.
Such a statement can easily guide another into the Bible book’s main purpose. My purpose statement for Joshua is “God’s good purposes are always gloriously fulfilled when we faithfully trust and obey Him.” The main purpose does not refer to the data, the location, or even the main players but explains why God led this author to write this content in a particular sequence.
Don’t try to come up with answers at this point. Enjoy how the Bible book entices you to read and study more. Observe (and write down) how a particular section answers a key question. One of the biggest problems for a Bible book study is the contentment on from mastering the content but never consider reconsidering why they are stated in light of the Bible book’s purpose. There are many real events and statements, but God only chose some to be recorded and preserved for us.
Purpose of Joshua
God’s good purposes are always gloriously fulfilled when we faithfully trust and obey Him.
We are not trying to make the book say more than it does but bind its essential thoughts to words that can enter our minds and lives, thus further enabling God’s Word to empower our lives. Fine studies of God’s Word leads to much practical help as Jesus summarizes, “The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
The Bible book will no doubt take unexpected twists and turns, but ultimately trust the Lord’s direction given in His Word. In the case of Joshua, you will read many chapters about land borders! Prophetical books will have an additional challenge, but follow their message, look at the section from a broader perspective, and trust the Lord that He has preserved it for a reason. Persevere. Take time.
When studying Zephaniah, the Lord showed me the power that prophetical books could have for our generation. (I was so excited that I spent a retreat teaching it to the church leaders where I just started pastoring. Maybe it wasn’t the easiest for them to digest, but I did share my excitement for God’s Word and how God’s Word can be applied to our lives.)
Don’t add or change the message. Be convinced the passage is sufficiently deep and pointed for God’s purposes. Identify the main purpose and then go back and see how each point and sub-point supports this purpose. If it doesn’t, then, perhaps, your purpose statement needs to be broadened or tweaked.
Prayerfully pursue your understanding and application of the Bible book and each passage comprising it. Many preachers and teachers avoid delving into the purpose, primarily due to the lack of faith. They simply don’t believe God has a beneficial purpose for the Scriptures. It’s a shame. One Old Testament professor sadly stated to my class, “This might be the only time you ever read the Old Testament.” He conveyed to us that the Old Testament is not helpful or interesting—so opposite to the truth. There are few good expositional preachers because many do not believe the Lord’s Word. Boldly explore His Word until He teaches you. One plants and waters a young tree but also returns to fetch its fruit. As you are rewarded for your search, your faith will grow.
When the message of the Bible book is not seen, pastors just hover over the surface, saying what they want it to say, never reaching the point of having the Word of God shape what they say. They speak man’s words instead of God’s Words.
The Example of Joshua
The Book of Joshua has three major sections. (You can disagree or differ from me, but at least allow my outline to challenge you why you have two or three major points.) Note how each section, defined by its passage, has a key title word: Preparing, Conquering, or Dividing. The sections clearly identify what God does to or through the Israelites.
When preparing an outline, I often start with a phrase, rephrase it numerous times as I get more acquainted with the Bible book, and come up with key descriptive words at the very final stages. The simpler, the better. Choose the words wisely as they become the focal point. Meanwhile, these words hopefully pique the students’ interest to ask key questions, which act as bridges to God through His Word, making the pathway clear and easy to travel. I’ll use the three keywords above.
Those students who are alert to the raised questions might ask other questions: How has God prepared me for ministry? Is it okay to kill (conquer)? How did they avoid bitter fights when dividing the land? As you go along, write down your questions and thoughts, even if you never again refer to them. It’s good to observe your thoughts, and for forgetful people, to have a way to retrace your thoughts.
- Preparing: What is being prepared? Who is doing the preparation?
- Conquering: Who is being conquered? How or why is it being done?
- Dividing: What is being divided up? Who decides? What is the final result?
The outline, then, along with its purpose statement, become a nicely situated set of large stone steps leading us to the discovery of its Author. God spoke through the prophets (1 Peter 1:10-12). An outline should make us inquisitive and hopeful on how the scriptures can help us (2 Tim 3:16-17). A good outline builds up our belief that God offers precious truths to teach us. A poor outline presents no interest or faith; it’s dull. (The problem might not be just the outline, of course, but the lack of faith in the student.)
With outlines and titles, we enter the world of words. Some are better at creating brilliant titles. Every title I present demands much laborious thinking, but I no longer consider this as wasted time because I refine my thoughts in light of God’s Word.
Content titles describing the content will not require as much fastidious attention as a preaching outline. That’s a given, but each needs to articulate the truth and be faithful to the Bible book’s purpose.
So let me focus only on Joshua 1-5. I have given “Preparing” as its abbreviated title. But behind this one word lie several key phrases. The singular words and phrases result from the hard work of increasing specificity, rather than being a starting point.
Expanding the summary title, “Preparing” I chose a title, ‘Developing God’s People.’ I originally had “The Calling of a Leader,” but this too narrowly defined God’s purpose for these first five chapters and adjusted it—even though I love to meditate on how the Lord trained Joshua and how God uses my circumstances to train me.
God actively prepared the people for the land by building up a leader for them. The first five Bible books centered on Moses, but, now that their earthly leader is dead, God expects that they respect Joshua as their new leader. We want to keep asking ourselves through these five chapters, “What is God doing?” “How is He doing it?” I came up with the importance of developing God’s people. However, a leader’s decisions always greatly affects the people such as when Joshua, because he did not pray (may conclusion), lost men at the Battle of Ai.
The design of a title should interest and lead the readers along with the author’s original intention. In the next section, we will look at how one applies these verses to our lives and others.
Study Questions for Teaching Bible Books, Part 2 Creating Helpful Outlines
- Pick a Bible book and form an outline with major points. What did you find easy? Difficult?
- What is the advantage of having an outline?
- What advantage does it have that you made your outline?
- How does a Bible book theme work along with an outline?
- What is the difference between a Bible book’s theme and its purpose?
- How does the discovery of a Bible book’s purpose(s) have the student connect with the (A)author of the book?
- Do you find it easy or hard to find communicative keywords for each point of the outline? Explain.
- How do good titles lead the student into times of inquiry?
- What is the major problem that the author says teachers and preachers have with studying a Bible book? What is the result of this problem? Do you agree it’s a major problem? Explain.
Relevant Bible Book Outlines from Paul Bucknell
- The Book of Judges, introduction with two outlines: (1) Content Outline gives a practical book outline while (2) the preaching outline provides summary points.
- See a special chart of Joshua’s outline below! JOSHUA’S PREACHING OUTLINES. Joshua: Victorious Living in God’s Promises.
- The Book of Exodus, an Introduction and Outlines ... in the Old Testament; The Symbolism of Christ in ExodusA Geographical Outline of Exodus ...
- The Book of Ephesians Purpose and Outlines shows why Paul wrote this epistle and how he developed his message.
- Provides two outlines for the Book of Genesis, including a Genealogy outline and a Geographical outline using maps and charts.
- Bible Study Questions. Each section of Romans is broken up into teaching or study sections. There is a set of Bible Studies for each set. The NASB is used but ...
- Book of Romans: Introduction and Roman Outlines provides an excellent outline, readable background with charts to the epistle to Romans including such ...
- The Epistle of Joy. Paul J. Bucknell. Purpose. An introduction of Philippians is provided along with several outlines.
- An Outline and Map Survey. Paul J. Bucknell. Purpose: Provides an overview of Acts and two outlines for the Book of Acts as well as ...
- Purpose and Outline of 1 Corinthians serves as part of The Bible Teaching Commentary which provides an overview summary of the Book of 1 Corinthians.
- Outline for Book of Nehemiah: The ‘Rebuilding Our Faith’ series on Nehemiah focuses on an important part of the work that God wants to do in our lives.
- An outline of the Book of Ecclesiastes is not easily developed. Solomon did not chiefly persuade his audience by a simple progression of logical thoughts but ...
- Overviews and a Outline of Isaiah incorporates two special charts that give an overview of the Book of Isaiah - Redemptive Chart and a Light/Darkness Diagram .
- 1 John Introduction and 1 John Outline are both given here in light of I John’s purpose.
- Detailed Micah Outline A Modern Man’s Perspective · 1) Destruction: Evidence of Judgment (1:1-7) · 2) Revelation: Evidence of Sins (1:8-2:11) · 3) Restoration: ...
- This overview of the Book of Job introduces the Book of Job by providing Job’s purpose, a special outline, a brief introduction of the five sections of Job and ...
- Overview, Chronology and Outline. Rebuilding the Temple of God. Haggai 1:1-11 . The Bible Teacher’s Commentary.
- Titus: An Introduction, Outline And Purpose serves as the introduction to the Book of Titus in The Bible Teaching Commentary series. Diagrams included.
- The outline for the Book of Numbers, Numbers 1-36.