Bible outlines help us simplify and organize the author’s message. That’s why expository sermons outline passages and study Bibles outline books. I can’t remember the last time I read an introduction to a book of the Bible that didn’t propose an outline for the book.
But some outlines are less helpful than others.
Take, for example, this outline of Job 4-14 from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible:
- First Exchange: Eliphaz (4:1-5:27)
- Job’s Response to Eliphaz (6:1-7:21)
- Second Exchange: Bildad (8:1-22)
- Job’s Response to Bildad (9:1-10:22)
- Third Exchange: Zophar (11:1-20)
- Job’s Response to Zophar (12:1-14:22)
This outline succeeds at observing Job’s structure, but it does little to help us understand Job’s message. Many outlines stop short of significant usefulness when they state all the “what” but little of the “why.” In other words, they outline content but not meaning. They outline observation but not interpretation. They give us summaries but not main points.
What’s usually more helpful is to outline the logic of the passage. Figure out how the main points of each section flow into and out of one another, constructing a theme or message that the author wants to communicate to his readers. When an outline packages the building blocks of the book’s argument, readers are more likely to benefit from it quickly.
For example, consider this outline of Job 4-14 from The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible:
- Eliphaz: You Strengthened Others but Now Are Fainting (4:1-5:27)
- Job: You Do Not Know the Weight of My Grief (6:1-7:21)
- Bildad: All Agree that God is Just (8:1-22)
- Job: But How Can Man Be Just Before God? (9:1-10:22)
- Zophar: Does Your Talk Justify You? (11:1-20)
- Job: I Know that I Shall Be Justified (12:1-14:22)
I might argue that the last statement should be broadened to better capture the main point of Job’s entire speech in chapters 12-14—I would state it as “My Dangerously Unpredictable God is More Trustworthy Than My Clearly Logical Friends”—but that would be a minor quibble. The point is that the editors of The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible give us more than the order of speeches; they attempt to state concisely the message of each speech. In doing so, they help us get farther down the road in our study of the book. And for this I applaud them.
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