Finding the main point tends to be one of the most difficult skills to master when learning to study the Bible, in part because of believing one or more of the following five misconceptions.
1. Your Bible study is solely dependent on the quality of your main point
Perhaps you think your Bible study is not worthwhile without a solid main point. And certainly, understanding the main point of a passage is crucial to understanding God’s word.
Yet God’s words are living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. The words that come from his mouth will not return to him empty.
This means that the God-breathed words in this book are not dependent on us. We definitely want to be careful and handle them faithfully, but the power in them is not from us but from God. This fact frees us from needing to have perfect main points.
If you’re tempted to cancel your Bible study because you’re not sure you’ve understood the main point, don’t! Trust in the power of God’s words.
2. The main point is a summary of the passage
A summary of the passage simply retells the facts. In contrast, the main point interprets what those facts mean.
For example, a summary of John 1:1-18 might be “Jesus is the Word, the life, the light, and the glory of God made flesh.” This statement communicates (summarizes) what the passage says. But to get the main point, we must ask what these things mean, and we’ll come up with something like, “God is making himself known through Jesus.”
Summaries of the passage can lead you to the main point. But don’t settle for a summary. Dig further to understand what the passage teaches about God.The Main point must answer the question: Why did the author write this?
3. Finding the main point is more of a science than an art
Finding the main point is not an exact science. There’s no formula that guarantees you a main point if you follow certain steps or ask certain questions.
Finding the main point is more of an art, where you use different tools to discover the author’s intentions. You put yourself in the author’s shoes.
And when we call Bible study an art, we’re speaking less of the art of creation and creativity, and more of the art of fine arts criticism. Or more specifically, the art of literary analysis. We’re not creating meaning, but simply uncovering the meaning already present in the text.
So don’t expect any series of steps to drop the main point into your lap. Rather, acquire the careful discernment required to understand the author’s intentions.
4. The main point is a precise phrase you’re looking to find
Don’t think of it as a treasure hunt for the right answer, nor as an encryption key to break a code.
Think of it like a gem—one beautiful idea with many facets. You can come at the main point from different angles. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get the wording exactly right. There is no secret answer key of main points for the Bible.
And note: While there usually is no single, “right” main point for a passage, there can certainly be many wrong answers. For example, possible main point statements for John 1:1-18 could be:
- God is making himself known through Jesus.
- Jesus reveals God to the world.
- Jesus is the God who created the world and now brings life to it.
But it would be incorrect to say the main point of John 1:1-18 is that “Jesus is the first created being” (poor observation) or that “Jesus was rejected by those who should have received him” (focusing on a sub-point of the passage’s argument).
5. Wise teachers should always agree about a passage’s main point
Because finding the main point is more art than science, and because the main point can have many facets from which to view it, we should expect some disagreement or differences in stating the main points. Commentators can state the main point differently, and yet still have a good understanding of the passage. Pastors can preach different sermons from the same passage and yet still be faithfully representing the passage.
So if you and your Bible study co-leader come up with similar main points, but you phrase them differently, don’t be surprised! As long as you’re looking at the same gem, it’s OK if you don’t frame the main point the same way.
The main point is not an observational summary but an interpretive statement. We’re looking in the text, not for a specific phrase, but for the author’s intention, which, like the facets of a gem, can be looked at from multiple directions.
Picture a miner digging down 20 feet and hitting copper. Though he isn’t thrilled, he figures it’s the best he can do. So he packs up and leaves, ignorant of the gold just a few feet further down. We’re like this when we study the Bible but don’t quite get to the author’s main point. And how much more valuable is the Lord’s word than gold?
So don’t give up! Keep digging to understand God’s word.