How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible

freely-10024

Want clarity in your preaching? Finding the Big Idea of a passage or biblical book is one helpful tool for doing just that. That’s why we teach it in the Training National Trainers program.

This clarity should make others take notice—like the wife of one Indonesian TNTer. She said this about her husband’s improved clarity in preaching:

“Even though you are only preaching a ten or twenty minute sermon [now], the message is very clear. Before TNT, you could preach for 30 minutes to an hour, and the congregation still didn’t understand anything!”

Finding the Big Idea of a book helps us see the focal point around which all of the ideas in the book are organized. It acknowledges that the writer had a message he was trying to communicate through the whole book, not just different ideas in separate passages.

Sweating through this exercise encourages greater fidelity in communicating what God is saying through His Word. What He says will be more clear to us, and we will be less prone to teach our own thoughts and ideas.

How Do We Find the Big Idea of a Book?

Finding the Big Idea of a book is hard work and a long process of working through a text with our hermeneutical principles in mind.

1. Read through the book several times.

There are no shortcuts for the hard work of Bible study. This can’t be a quick surface-level skim, but a deep and curious read.

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Try to understand the questions the book is deliberately raising and answering. We must move beyond the questions we have to the questions that the text is concerned to answer. The questions the text is raising and answering are the important ones for determining the meaning and the Big Idea.

The four questions below will help you discover what the author is communicating:

  • What does the author say?
  • How does the author say it?
  • Why does he say it here? Why in this way?
  • What is surprising about the text?

See more good questions under the heading: Asking Good Questions.

3. Look for clues to the Big Idea in the way the book begins and ends.

Often a writer introduces his reason for writing as he opens the book and comes back to it as he closes. Observing the way a book begins and ends will usually share themes that can be traced through the entire book.

At this point, it is vital to look for clues for the big idea, which is not the same as having a one-sentence Big Idea. That point will come, but there are a few more steps to take first.

4. Break the book into smaller sections and try to summarize what those sections are about.

This step finds the book’s structure and writes a big idea for each major part.

Looking for the structure of a book involves:

  1. the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage
  2. the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together

5. Ask: What are the connections of thought between the major ideas of each section of the book?

Understanding how each section relates to each other will help us to see what the author is getting at in the book’s overall message.

6. Look for patterns, like the repetition of key words and ideas.

The repetition of key words and ideas shows us what is important to the author. Contrasts and progressions also aid our understanding of the book and may play a key role in arriving at the Big Idea.

7. Capture the Big Idea by stating it as one complete sentence.

This step pulls all of your thoughts together into one clear sentence. In order to do that, ask two questions:

  • What is this book talking about?
  • What is it saying about what it’s talking about?

Combining the answers to those two questions will help us state the Big Idea.


Below is merely an example seeking to demonstrate this idea and not to be considered the “right answer.” (Perhaps you can come up with a better Big Idea for 2 Timothy.)

What’s 2 Timothy talking about?
Answer: Enduring in ministry

What’s it saying about enduring in ministry?
Answer: That it depends on God’s grace and power.

Big Idea: 2 Timothy is saying that we should depend on God’s grace and power in order to endure in ministry.

How Should We Use the Big Idea of a Book?

  • Work hard to understand how a passage in a book connects to the Big Idea of the book.
  • Allow the Big Idea of the book to shape the message we preach or teach.
  • When preaching, draw attention to the Big Idea regularly. That will bring clarity and power to our preaching.
  • It will also stay with many people as they read the book on their own in the future.

May God richly bless your study of His life-giving Word!


For information on Leadership Resources’ ministry training pastors, learn more about the Fellowship of the Word (US) or Training National Trainers (worldwide) programs.

This post has been adapted from a previous version of our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet. You can download our latest version in multiple languages.

Leadership Resources

Leadership Resources exists to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s word with God’s heart. Learn more about our work, our approach, and see how your church can make a worldwide difference with God's Word.

Latest posts by Leadership Resources

[latestbyauthor]