Return to AOCI     Click to print this page

Studying the Bible: Outlining



As you study the Bible, you may find it useful to write your notes in an outline. The Bible Surveys we are going to study later include outlines of each book of the Bible.

An outline provides an overview of the general content of each book. These outlines are only a starting point for you to develop more detailed notes for each book of the Bible. To do this, you must know how to create a proper outline.

An outline is a form of summary that helps you organize your study notes. An outline helps you "hear with your ears and receive in your heart" the Word of God (cf. Ezekiel 3:10 and Matthew 13:15). An outline focuses on a selected subject (e.g., book, topic, or character).

The main points in the outline tell you something about the subject. There are also sub-points that tell something about the main points. The prefix "sub" means "secondary or lower position". In an outline, sub-points provide more detailed information about the preceding main point or sub-point.

There are many ways to outline. I have selected one that uses Roman numerals for the main points. We use capital letters, for the first sub-points beneath the main points, then regular numbers for the next level of sub-poits, then lowercase letters, and so on. It helps if you indent each sub-point beneath the point to which it refers. Study the following example of an outline:

  1. Roman numeral for first point
    1. Uppercase alphabetical sub-point that provides additional information about the first point above.
    2. Second uppercase alphabetical sub-point for different information about the first point above.
      1. Numerical sub-point for different additional information about the alphabetical sub-point above.
      2. Next numerical sub-point that provides additional information about the sub-point above.
        1. Lowercase alphabetical sub-point that provides additional information about the sub-point above.
        2. Next lowercase alphabetical sub-point .
          1. Parenthetical numerical sub-point.
            1. Parenthetical alphabetical sub-point.
              1. Lowercase Roman numeral.

If you need yet another level of sub-points, you start over with the uppercase alphabetical sub-point indented under the last sub-point, then numerical characters, and so on.

The following list of Roman Numerals will assist you in creating and expanding outlines:

Putting It into Practice
For a practice outline, I have selected Romans 8:28-39. First read the verses:

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here is an example of an outline you could develop from those verses. Remember, everyone writes outlines differently. As you dig deeper into God's Word, your outlines will change and expand also. There is no one right or wrong way to write an outline.

The Spirit Assures Future Glory

  1. All things work together for good: 8:28-30
    1. To those who love God: 8:28
    2. To those called according to His purpose: 8:28
    3. Predestined to be conformed to Christ's image: 8:29-30
    4. He called those whom He predestined: 8:30
      1. He justified those whom He called: 8:30
        1. He glorified those whom He justified: 8:30
  2. The Spirit Assures of Final Victory: 8:31-39
    1. No one can oppose us: 8:31-34
      1. If God is for us, who can be against us: 8:31
      2. He gives us freely all things: 8:32-35
        1. It is God who justifies: 8:33
        2. Who condemns? 8:34
        3. Christ makes intercession for us: 8:34
        4. No one or nothing can separate us from the love of God: 8:35
          1. Shall tribulation or distress separate us? 8:35
          2. Shall persecution? 8:35
          3. Shall famine, nakedness, peril, sword? 8:35
    2. We are more than conquerors: 8:36-39

You can see how this outline summarizes the confidence we have in Christ, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28-39.

No matter how well you outline your subject matter or how many times you've gone over it, you will probably never complete your outline study of God's Word because "...the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) The Holy Spirit will constantly give you new understanding about the Word which you will want to add to your outlines.

ABTI Professor PoolQuestions/Comments?
If you have a question or comment, please
send us an email. If this lesson is one in a
series of lessons, please write the lesson name.