Write Chapter Summaries

Big Bible

Ed Mitchell (2007), Creative Commons

The Bible is a big book. It’s easy to get lost or tired or – honestly – bored.

Some people love digging deep. They’ll read a few verses, chew on them, pray over them, and feel closer to God as a result.

Not me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of exploring the details. But I’m not naturally motivated that way.

I’m more of a reader. I like to read many different things. I get bored with too much of one thing.

Regardless of whether you are more of a chewer or a devourer, the Bible is still a big book. How do you keep tabs on the big picture even while processing the parts? How do you read each section in light of the whole?

I have an idea for you. This is not the only right way to do it, but it’s one tool I’ve found especially helpful.

Write Chapter Summaries

Get yourself a notebook.

On the first page, write “Genesis” at the top and the numbers 1 to 50 down the side (you’ll probably have to go on to the second page to get 50 lines).

Then, as you read Genesis, stop at the end of each chapter. Consider each chapter and write a one-line summary next to the number for that chapter.

For example:

  1. creation of the world
  2. creation of man & woman
  3. fall into sin
  4. Cain murders Abel and fathers a line of ungodly people; Seth replaces him
  5. genealogy from Adam to Noah

And so on, down the page.

Then start a new page for Exodus. Continue through the books of the Bible until you have a summary of every chapter in the Bible.

Why are Chapter Summaries Helpful?

Although content summaries are not the same thing as the author’s main points, they still have a helpful place.

  1. They help you to process what you’ve read.
  2. They help you to retain what you’ve read.
  3. They increase your familiarity with the Bible.
  4. They record God’s marvelous works throughout history (Ps 96:3).
  5. As you read back over the summaries, they give you a sense of how a book of the Bible unfolds.
  6. As you read back over the summaries, they give you a sense of how the whole Bible fits together.
  7. They document what you’re learning about the Lord.

An Example

Over the course of my life, I’ve done this exercise 3 times. Each time I gain more insight, which gives me greater delight in the Lord

I enjoy looking back over my notes to see how my understanding deepened.

For example, here are the summaries I wrote for 2 Peter in 1999:

1. God’s given everything we need –> qualities of fruitfulness; Peter direct eyewitness.

2. False teachers will rise up –> last state (betraying Christ) worse than first (not knowing Christ).

3. Remember words spoken –> day of judgment, elements burned up.

And here are the 2 Peter summaries I wrote in 2008:

1. God’s promises through the prophets will be fulfilled in Jesus & in our character.

2. False teachers deny Jesus; the Lord won’t let them get away.

3. Reminder of word of prophets & apostles; we can bank on promises to be fulfilled in the future!

These two sets are not drastically different. They simply show a maturation in my understanding. The second set is more clear and focused than the first set.

Sometimes I return to these notebooks when I study a book of the Bible. They give me a starting point from which to hone my insights and build my understanding.

Questions: How helpful have you found exercises like summarizing chapters to be? What other ideas have worked for you?

  • Mary Gray Moser

    I cannot recite from memory many Scriptures that I have worked hard to memorize. But I seem to never forget those Scriptures that I sing. I just make up my own tune, and it works. I learned this in a church I attended many years ago, where all the singing was actually word fpr word Scripture. –I am going to try summarizing chapters.