Book Overview tools
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Facts about the Book Overview

The book overview allows us to seek the big picture, the overview of the book, a telescopic view and prevents us from going in deep too quickly and risking getting lost in the details and missing the big picture. It also helps us to understand the basic structure of the book.

Another reason why it is important to do a book overview before we get into the book details is that it would help us interpret the verses in context and perspective. The function of establishing context is so crucial. Context is King and rules in the interpretation of scripture. Besides, reading in context will help us avoid many of the fallacies that we make when we take verses or portions of a scripture out of context.

Step 1: Select the book for your Book Overview

This step is very important because if you make the mistake of selecting a book that is not appropriate for you considering your experience in studying the Bible, you may become overwhelmed, discouraged and give up on the method that otherwise would be a very fruitful method.

How to choose a book for your very first book study or book overview.

  1. Choose a short book. Choosing a long book sets us up for discouragement. When you choose a short book and finish, the treasures you will have learned and the momentum that you will gain will then motivated you onward to longer books. So start with a short one.
  2. Chose a relatively easy book.  Some books of the Bible are harder to understand than others. Even the apostle Peter confessed that Paul’s “letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  If you are a beginner in Bible Study, save these harder books for later study when you must have gained more knowledge and understanding of the scriptures.  A book like First Peter will meet criteria number one above for being short, however, criteria number 2 that the book should be relatively easy would disqualify it because a few of the most difficult passages in the Bible are found in this little precious Book.
  3. Choose a book that is rich enough in its teaching to illustrate the advantage of this method of study and thus give a keen appetite for further studies of the same kind. A book that meets all three conditions above is First Thessalonians.  It is short, has no interpretive difficulties and is very rich in its teaching. This book is also the first of Paul’s letters.  Another option that will equally be good is First John.

Step 2: Read the book repeatedly to master its general contents.

This step is very simple to explain, it maybe harder to do because many people never get to read the Bible.  You simply
a) Read the book from beginning to end without stopping and paying no attention to chapter or verse divisions.  A Bible that has no chapter and verse divisions would be best for this purpose if you can lay your hands on one.

b) Then read through the book over and over again say about 12 times at a single sitting. If you cannot do as many rounds at one sitting, at least try to do as many as you can. But the more times you go over the more you will get out of the book. Use a recent translation that is written in contemporary English. If you have access to many different translations, it may be helpful to read the book in different translations to ensure that you grasp the main theme.
Here is what some Bible scholars recommend:

Dr. R. A. Torrey recommends, “Reading it through again and again, say a dozen times in all, at a single sitting.”

Bible Scholar and Pastor, Dr. John MacArthur recommends reading 1 John every day for thirty straight days. That is thirty times. He writes “begin with a short book, such as 1 John, and read it through in one sitting every day for 30 days. At the end of that time, you will know what’s in that book.”

Pastor of Saddleback church and best selling author of the Purpose Driven life series that has sold over 70 million copies, Dr. Rick Warren is more modest and recommends at least five times.

The renowned Bible teacher, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan read each passage up to 50 times before he would prepare a sermon on it!

The initial reaction may be to say that reading the book through over and over will not add much more value. We encourage the reader to read through as many times as possible and see how the book will begin to open up and give new revelation of the relationships between the different parts. The will chapter takes on new meaning and beauty and the reader’s insight and knowledge of the Book will swell up.

In his book published in 1903, Dr. Torrey narrates this story:

“Rev. James M. Gray of Boston, a great lover of the Bible and prominent teacher of it, says that for many years of his ministry he had “an inadequate and unsatisfactory knowledge of the English Bible.” The first practical idea which he received in the study of the English Bible was from a layman. The brother possessed an unusual serenity and joy in his Christian experience, which he attributed to his reading of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Mr. Gray asked him how he had read it, and he said he had taken a pocket copy of the Epistle into the woods one Sunday afternoon, and read it through at a single sitting, repeating the process as many as a dozen times before stopping, and when he arose he had gotten possession of the Epistle, or rather its wondrous truths had gotten possession of him. This was the secret, simple as it was, for which Mr. Gray had been waiting and praying.” From this time on Mr. Gray studied his Bible through in this way, and it became to him a new book. ”

c) Have a notebook and a pen or pencil ready to take notes as you read.  Remember that a short pencil is better than a long memory. You may start taking notes after the second reading. Remember to focus only on making observations as you read. At this stage, don’t worry about interpretation and application.

d) As you read through the chapters, remember that it will take: prayer, reliance on the Holy Spirit, hard work, love and reverence of God’s word, surrender of your will to God and determination to obey, and a teachable childlike mind to really understand the Bible.

Step 3. Observe and Interrogate the text as you read.

As you read the passage through slowly, carefully and repeatedly,  endeavor to pursue accuracy and let the text speak for itself. Don’t force it to say what you want it to say. Also begin to observe and interrogate the text.  Start pealing the onionskin from the outside. We will do further observation in the analysis phase.  Many people overlook things in the text simply because they don’t know what they should be looking for. We provide you guidance on some of the things that you should keep an eye for as you read the text. We recommend that you read the chapter on the three principles of Bible study to enhance your understanding of process of observation.

Take Notes to Prepare a Summary of the Book.

As you slowly read the text, start interrogating the text with the observational questions (the 5Ws and 1H) and recording your findings. A good way to get this done is to get some blank sheets of paper. On these sheets of paper, write the observational questions. Use as many sheets as you need. Allow enough space between the questions to write down the answers.  Then continue your reading. When you see an answer to any of the observation questions that you have written on the blank sheets of paper, stop and write it down on the blank sheet.

Note that you don’t have to write the entire question out. For example, instead of who wrote the book? You can just write Author: —; Instead of “what type of literature”, you can simply write “Type of Literature:________”; instead of to whom was the book written? you can write “Audience” etc.

Asking the right questions is the key to getting the right information from the text. Interrogation is the secret to having a good Bible study. You may have to go through the text several times to get the job done correctly. If you persevere and do this, you will reap the benefits soon.
Many times the answers to the questions you ask will be found right in the book you are reading. At other times, the answer will only be found in a related book. For example, if you are studying one of the letters of the apostle Paul, the answer to your question may be found in another one of Paul’s letters. Otherwise, it may be found in the book of Acts or another book in the New Testament or even a book in the Old Testament.

You are not expected to use all the questions above on every book. Use as many as apply in your case. The questions are there to guide you. However, some questions must be answered for every passage. For example, you cannot understand a passage unless you know the audience that it was written to.

A lot of false interpretation of the Bible occurs when people take something that should be applied locally and make it universal. Other kinds of false interpretation occurs when we don’t identify the audience well and so take what applies to believers alone and apply it to unbelievers.

We need to also note the occasion of the writing. It will help to clear up a lot of misunderstanding. When you keep in mind the circumstances of the author as he was writing, you understanding of the words he uses will become much clearer.

For example, the Book of Philippians repeatedly has phrases like “rejoice in the Lord,” “trust in the Lord,” and “be anxious for nothing.”

If you remember that those words were written by someone who was in prison, awaiting a possible death sentence for nothing that he did wrong except for preaching the gospel, then the words will become more meaningful to you.

Also, if you remember the main purpose for which a book was written, it will help you to interpret its incidental exhortations in their proper relationship. If you can get all the answers to the questions, they will add value to your work.

When you have finished your own work in this line, and not until then, it is advisable to compare your results with those reached by others.

The introduction that you prepare for yourself will be worth many times more to you that anything that you can gain from the work of others.

Step 4: Divide the Book into Proper Sections and Make a Chart

A section is either a chapter or a paragraph depending on the size of the of the text of the book overview. If the book is long, we will use chapter divisions. If it is very long, we will group chapters together. If it’s a short book, it’s preferable to use paragraph divisions. The main divisions will be groups of sections that share the same thought or where the content is similar.

a) Identify and tittle each section.
Read the book and note chapter divisions. Then go through the chapter divisions and identify any paragraph divisions. Many Bibles* today have divided their text into paragraphs, which are units of thought making this process easier to do.  The title should be as precise a statement of the general contents of the section as possible. Make it also brief and as impressionable as possible so that you will easily remember it. To determine the best title, pose and answer two questions:  1) what is the basic topic of this section? 2) What is it saying about that topic? For example, if the basic topic is “grace,” the answer to the second question will narrow things down. It may be “the grace of God saves us from sin”. It’s important to avoid making a title too broad or too short. The title should remind you of the specific topic of that section.

b) Identify and title the main divisions.
Study the titles of each of the sections and compare them to those of adjacent sections. To determine the main divisions, ask: what do these sections have in common? As stated above, the main divisions will comprise of several adjacent sections that have a content and thought in common. The main divisions can occur between chapters and are usually marked by changes in time, characters, themes, or geographic locations. See sample chart for how to write main entries.

c) Find the main theme of the Book.
Compare the main divisions and find out what they have in common, their common message. That is your main theme. Keep it to just one sentence and enter it in the chart as your theme.

*If you are using a Bible that doesn’t have these divisions, you will need to mark them yourself. That may actually be profitable because it will give you added practice in discerning the author’s thought units. Note that the paragraph divisions may be different for different versions of the Bible. Chose only chapter and paragraph divisions that you agree with. If you don’t agree with the translators, determine the place where the thought ends and use that instead of the chapter.


Step 5. Summarize the Book by Doing

You can do that in two ways 1) Write an outline sketch of the Book 2) Write a summary in composition form in a few paragraphs.

Step 6. Application

At this point write down one personal application.