The Difference between a Main Point and a Summary

A main point is not the same thing as a summary.

In Bible study, it’s important to find the author’s main point.  If you miss the main point, you’ve missed the main point.  You’ll get caught up in secondary issues, questionable interpretations, or divisive doctrines.

One of the most difficult struggles for people in learning to study the Bible is to figure out the author’s main point.  It requires them to learn how to think.  They must learn how to ask good questions, and how to get the answers they need.

In addition, it requires them to learn how to figure out why the passage is there.

The most common counterfeit of the main point is the summary.  It’s not all that difficult to read a passage and summarize it.  We do it all the time.  We summarize news articles, blog posts, novels, and movies.

Note, however, that a summary is not a main point.

A summary may be the climax of observation, but it is not the same as interpretation.

A summary captures what was said, but not why it was said.

A summary restates a passage; a main point explains the passage.

Let me give an example.

In Hebrews 7:1-28, the author writes a profound theology of Jesus’ high priesthood.  There’s your summary: “Jesus is a high priest like Melchizedek.”  He contrasts Melchizedek with Aaron.  He engages with a few obscure Old Testament texts.  He provides fodder for our debates on Bible interpretation, the relationship between old and new covenants, and the relevance of the law.

However, he is crystal clear about his main point.  Look at Heb 8:1, ESV:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest…”

The theology serves a purpose.  It ought to inspire hope and confidence.  Those who fear God’s displeasure ought to rest assured in Christ.  Those who presume on God’s graces ought to tremble at their indifference.

The author desires to move his audience to action.  He doesn’t seek to inform their thinking (and then stop there).  He wants to inspire them to set their hope on the only one who can give what he promises.

What does he say?  Jesus is a great high priest, greater even than the Levitical priests.

Why does he say it?  So you might trust him more confidently and draw near to God through him.

Do you see the difference?  Do you see why it’s important to understand the main point (and not just the summary)?  Unless we really hit the main point in Bible study, application remains far off and obscure or disconnected from the text.

The good news is that, once you have a summary of the passage, it’s not complicated to get to the main point.  Just take your summary and ask “Why?”

  • http://gospelfundraising.blogspot.com Tom Hallman

    I really appreciate this point, Peter. In Bible Studies I’ve led in the past, I’ve discovered that it’s very easy to come up with a summary rather than an actual main point. I find that it’s especially difficult in narratives. In some sense, the author’s point is to convey what actually happened. However, there are many ways to do that; the details that were focused on or left out point us to a particular theme that the author is going for.

    Nonetheless, it can be difficult!

  • Alison Amaismeier

    I’m curious what kind of summary & main point you’d come up with for Colossians 3:18-4:1. I would love to see another example because your post kind of makes me wonder if I usually come up with summaries instead of main points when doing Bible study. This is a passage I studied recently, so it is fresh in my mind and I’d really be interested in comparing my summary/main point with what you think.

    • http://www.knowableword.com/author/biblestudyhelp/ Peter Krol

      I appreciate you asking, Alison, but it’s been a while since I’ve studied Colossians. Would you like to share what you think the main point is? Then others could comment on whether it seems more like a main point or a summary.

    • http://gospelfundraising.blogspot.com Tom Hallman

      Hi Alison,

      I looked over those verses you mentioned and my inclination is to say that verse 23 captures the essence of a main point: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”.

      However, in case that’s a summary instead of a main point, in following Peter’s advice above, I ask “Why?” and then get verse 24: “[because] from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (or “[because] you are serving the Lord Christ.”)

      What do you think, Alison? Peter? Internet community? =)

      Tom

      • Alison Amaismeier

        Hi Tom & Peter,

        Thanks for your responses. I was thinking that the summary would be something like “in all relationships and work, we are to serve and glorify the Lord Christ.” I struggled with the main point/why of the passage, because it seems like there are several different “whys” listed (almost a different one for each of the groups of people addressed in the passage): as is fitting in the Lord, this pleases the Lord, you will receive the inheritance, you have a Master in heaven, etc.”

        Any further thoughts?

        Ali

        • http://www.knowableword.com/author/biblestudyhelp/ Peter Krol

          A few more thoughts come to mind.

          A summary states concisely what the passage says. Pretend that you just finished studying Col 3:18-4:1, and someone who’s never read it asks you what it’s about. You might say something like: “Paul gives instructions to people in different roles (especially in the family and workplace) to help them relate to other kinds of people in a godly way.” That would be your summary.

          Now, why does Paul give those instructions to those people? The answer to that question will get us closer to the main point. In context, Paul already gave some rich theology in Col 1-2. He introduced his main application in Col 3:1-4. He gave some specific applications in Col 3:5-16 and then broadened it back out in Col 3:17. Now he’s getting really personal by applying Col 3:1-4 to specific kinds of people in Col 3:18-4:1.

          So, I might state the main point as something like: “What it looks like, in the family and workplace, to set our minds on things that are above.”

          What do you guys think?

  • Michael McManigal

    Is this a main point for Gen. 1? God is the eternally existing creator who made all things including man who is made in his image and is to be his image bearer creating and ruling the earth. We owe God everything.

    • http://www.knowableword.com/ Peter Krol

      I think that’s a good start at a main point, Michael. I might take it even a little further so as to include all those details before you get to Day 6. How does God’s work of creation set a pattern for those humans made in his image?

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