17 May 2012

Inductive Bible Study, Part 4: Book Summary Key

Dear Lissy,
At this point you've prepared to undertake a lengthy Bible study and mastered the overall content of the book.  You should be familiar with how God revealed Himself in the book you've chosen, and what the writer says about both himself and the recipients.  You've also marked the historical and cultural clues within the book.
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Now we need to take a day and give ourselves four solid reference points that will allow us to keep all of our future work in context:  the key word(s), book and chapter titles, and a key verse. These function much like the staves and key signature in music.  At first identifying them will seem hard, but as you study more books, they jump right off the page during the initial reading phase.  Keys aren't necessarily found in the order I've listed them below.

1. Find two or three key words.
The first key is determined by frequency and is pretty easy to spot.  It's almost never an important word, but it always unlocks incredible truth.  In Jonah it's "pray/call/cry/cried".  Titus has "good", while Colossians is "all/always/every." Ecclesiastes is the phrase "under the sun".  This little key will unlock truth by looking at the word or words that follow.
The second key is a little trickier because it's used for emphasis.  This is a word that will only show up once to a handful of times, but it unlocks the central truth of the book.  Jonah uses "exceedingly/great," while Colossians is "complete".  In Titus, the word hope only appears three times, but it provides the structure for the book.  We are to have a confident and joyful expectation as believers because of our salvation (ch.1), Christ's appearing (ch 2), and our eternal inheritance (ch.3).
The keys should be related, even if you don't immediately spot the correlations between the two.  As you study Titus, it becomes clear that our hope motivates our good (honorable or useful) behavior.
Because you have a good familiarity with the book at this point, you may be able to spot both of these without any additional reading.
Once you find the key words, mark every occurrence in a distinct way on your manuscript copy.  I like to use a highlighter for the first key, and actually draw a key around the second key.

2.  Write a simple book title.  This usually ties into one or both of the key words and the key verse.  Colossians for me was "Complete in Christ," while Titus was "Honorable living in light of eternal hope."
My Colossians book summary key.  We'll fill in the
very bottom row later.

3.  Write simple chapter titles that support or explain the book title.   For Colossians I entitled the chapters Grounding in Christ, Growth in Christ, Glorifying Christ, Greetings to and from Fellow Believers.  I can easily explain how each of those chapters support or explain the overall book theme, Complete in Christ.  They don't need to be alliterated, I simply do that so they're easy to memorize.  If the chapters also fall into larger divisions, mark and title those divisions at this time also.  Colossians 1-2:15 are Christ's Completed Work, Col. 2:15 - 4:18 are Christian Conduct in light of Christ's Completed Work.

4.  Identify a key verse/verses.  One of the old time Bible teachers used to say you could find the key verse under the front doormat or the back doormat.  Titus is under the back doormat in 3:8, but Proverbs is under the front in 1:7. In the New Testament, the books are often written with chiastic structure, so the key verse will be in the middle somewhere functioning as a balance point. Colossians (2:9,10) and John (20:31) both have key verses in the middle of the book.

At this point, it's a good idea to take a study Bible or Bible encyclopedia/handbook and quickly check yourself.  Sometimes the keys can be very tricky to find (like the goad & nail in Ecclesiastes), and a little extra help will make future study much easier.  You shouldn't change your work to match someone else's unless you feel that you were just dead wrong or missed something completely.  You may also be able to glean a few more important bits of cultural or historical information from these sources.  We aren't going to study the culture/history in depth until we are interpreting the information.

It's a gorgemous day, and I need to get OUTSIDE.  I hope you're enjoying this study time as much as I do, little one.

Love and a tight weez,

Inductive Bible Study, Part 1: Preparation
Inductive Bible Study, Part 2: Read
Inductive Bible Study, Part 3: Seeking the Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 4: Book Summary Key
Inductive Bible Study, Part 5: The Choice
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6a: Chapter Analysis
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6b:  Identifying Key Words
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6C: Finding the 3C's
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6D: It's About Time
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6E: Keep Digging
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6F: Word Studies
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6G: Considering Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6H: Application Brings Transformation 
Inductive Bible Study, Part 7: Wrap It Up!


  1. I know this is for your daughter, but I didn't see a way to email you. I found your blog from WLW. I wish my life was as put together as yours. Sometimes I feel like I'm God's poster child for failure. Is it possible to have a life "do over" at 44? Can I find something worthy in all these broken pieces? Maybe you won't even understand.

    1. dearlissyblog[at]gmail.com if you'd like to talk privately :)

  2. First of all, big hugs. I wish you lived close enough that you could come right over and see me, flaws and all! Unfortunately blogs can paint a rosier than life picture -- please don't think for a moment that God is "done" with anyone, especially me.
    God's the master of restoring lives. Please don't try (or try harder) to pick up the pieces yourself. Find a few moments with Jesus, pour out your heart to Him, and be willing to obey whatever he shows you through His Word. As you obey, he'll shed light on the next step toward restoration. Each time you choose obedience, you'll not only have joy, you'll see the next step on the path. The biggest danger we face is wishing for change in our circumstances instead of allowing change in our own hearts and lives. I particularly love the passage in Joel where He promises the nation of Israel he'll restore the years the locusts have eaten. He can even restore what time has taken -- we serve a MIGHTY God. Prayers for you as I prepare dinner tonight.