In the Toolshed: Ways to Read for Deeper Connections

In today’s post I want to look under the hood of one of my reading habits. You may find this useful for your own practice or perhaps it will spark an idea to help you read your Bible for deeper understanding. There’s nothing super fancy in my approach today. You don’t need to know Hebrew or Greek or even how to use a concordance. Just a pen and a notebook will do. Or if you like to capture things electronically, your laptop/computer is great too.

I find when reading larger chunks of Scripture it helps A LOT if I’m outlining the book of the Bible I’m reading. I retain way more. Also, patterns and deeper themes are revealed way more easily. If I simply read through a book without outlining it, it’s easier to get confused, lost, and otherwise miss connections or repetitions that prove important for understanding the significance of what’s happening.

Before you roll your eyes at how much this will stretch the time it takes to read a chapter, I encourage you to give it a try for 1 whole week. Once you get into a rhythm, you may find it goes quite fast. The few extra minutes it takes to jot down some notes is well made up for in retention and connections. Not to mention having a ready outline of a whole Bible book ready to go the next time you study Deuteronomy in your small group. 

So, following is a short sample of outlining the last 3 chapters of Leviticus. I follow a fairly strict habit in order to keep things quick and efficient. Here are my rules for outlining a book of the Bible

  1. Summarize each paragraph in 1 line. You’ll notice below I have the verses referenced to the left. You may know that the paragraphs are somewhat arbitrary. They weren’t in the original texts. They are supplied by the translator but are still a helpful guide when seeking to sum up a chunk of writing. I find the NASB paragraph breaking helpful but you can use whatever translation you’re comfortable with. 

  2. And ONLY 1 Line. This is emphasized to force me to keep things brief. If I can’t do it in one line then things will get out of hand. I need things concise. Remember, we’re just summarizing here. 

  3. Summarize the whole chapter after summarizing all the paragraphs. Now that I’ve got a line for each paragraph, I can now give a quick summary of the whole chapter. I’m less strict about this having to be just one line. I’m OK if it spills over because this summary is a bit more robust and is doing more work for me. 

  4. Summarize larger Sections. As you summarize multiple chapters you’ll start to notice shifts and breaks within the structure of the book. Mark these out and summarize the contents. 

  5. Summarize the Whole Book & Note Major Themes: Once you’ve outlined a whole book and have broken it up into larger sections, take a shot at summarizing the whole thing. And then note the major themes that come up throughout the book. This will greatly help you get a sense of the whole and inform your reading when you go back over particular chapters and verses in the future.

Example from Leviticus 25-27

25-27: Living Well in the Land & What is Holy to YHWH  - The Most Holy Place (Douglas):

Chapter 25: Land rights and citizen Rights in the Land

1-7 - The Land shall have a sabbath (year) to YHWH

8-12 - The Year of Jubilee

13-17 - Returning property in the year of Jubilee

18-22 - YHWH providing Israel extra in the 6th year for Sabbath year

23-28 - No permanent sale of property in Israel

29-34 - Exception is houses in walled cities. No reverting in Jubilee unless Levite

35-38 - Caring for the poor among you

39-46 - Israelites shall not be slaves in Israel - may be hired servants only

47-55 - Redemption rights for Israelites who sell themselves

Chapter 26: Consequences of Disobedience: Exile - But YHWH will Remember Covenant

1-13 - YHWH promises to provide for and be with His ppl if they obey

14-20 - Consequences of disobedience: Pestilence, enemies, Famine

21-22 - Wild beasts will attack

23-26 - If no repentance - further curse - scarcity of resources

27-33 - If no repentance - you will eat the flesh of your children & I will scatter you

34-39 - Land will enjoy the sabbaths it missed. Even those who remain will fall

40-46 - Yet I will not break covenant with them and will remember when they repent

Chapter 27:  The Things which are Holy to YHWH

1-13 - Votive offerings and valuations

14-15 - valuing and redeeming houses

16-25 - Valuations and redemptions of property

26-27 - Redemptions and Consecrations of animals

28-29 - On things that are “banned”

30-34 - The tithe is holy to YHWH

You can see above that I’ve summarized these 3 chapters allowing Mary Douglas’ breakdown of the book influence my breakdown of the structure. “YHWH” is the divine name for God in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and only the consonants are used here for 2 reasons: 1) That’s all that was used in the Hebrew Bible and 2) its convenient for saving space in my concise summary line. I like to bold or italicize important or recurring words and phrases to help me remember emerging themes and ideas.

Now let’s look at a completed summary of Leviticus. I’ve taken out the paragraph summaries to save space and draw attention to the larger themes and structure:



YHWH Reveals how to be HOLY - Set Apart to YHWH from the Nations and Living with YHWH in the LAND.


Living with YHWH. Glory of YHWH. Holiness of YHWH. What separates from YHWH. Separates from Nations - HOLY. 

1-7: Instructions for Performing 6 Offerings in Israel - Outer Court 1

Chapter 1: Procedures for Burnt Offerings (Total Consumption by YHWH) - A Soothing Aroma to YHWH

Chapter 2: Grain Offerings - Remainder given to Aaron & Sons

Chapter 3: Peace Offerings - Fat, Liver and Kidneys offered up to YHWH

Chapter 4: Sin Offerings - Atonement for Unintentional General Sins

Chapter 5: Sin Offerings - Atonement for Unintentional Particular Sins

Chapter 6: Regulations regarding the Burnt, Grain, Ordination and Sin Offerings

Chapter 7: Regulations for the Guilt, and Peace offerings

8-10: The Ordination of the Priests & The Glory and Holiness of YHWH - 1st Screen

Chapter 8: Ordination of Aaron and his sons

Chapter 9: Aaron sacrifices on behalf of all Israel. Glory of YHWH appears and consumes offering w/ fire

Chapter 10: YHWH consumes Nadab & Abihu. Aaron not allowed to mourn.

11-17: What Defiles and How to Atone - Outer Court 2

Chapter 11: Clean and unclean animals for consumption or detestation

Chapter 12: Purification Laws for childbirth

Chapter 13: Diagnosing Leprosy and dealing with Skin Infections

Chapter 14: Cleansing a leper and dealing w/ a house with a mark of leprosy

Chapter 15: Unclean discharges and cleansing instructions

Chapter 16: Instructions for the Day of Atonement

Chapter 17: Rules around slaughtering animals and eating blood

18-24: How to be Holy - The Holy Place

Chapter 18: Sexual Boundaries as Key to Staying in the land

Chapter 19: How to be Holy: Relation to God & Neighbour

Chapter 20: Consequences of Violating YHWH’s commands

Chapter 21: Rules for priests and those with defects - Profaning the Sanctuary and the Name

Chapter 22: Rules Regarding Holy Gifts

Chapter 23: Calendar of Holy Days in Israel

Chapter 24: Profaning the Name

25-27: Living Well in the Land & What is Holy to YHWH  - The Most Holy Place

Chapter 25: Land rights and citizen Rights in the LAND

Chapter 26: Consequences of Disobedience: Exile - But YHWH will Remember Covenant

Chapter 27:  The Things which are Holy to YHWH

And there you have it. Now I have a ready to go outline of Leviticus for quick and easy reference. This can serve as a map for when I want to jump back into a specific chapter in the future and will help me locate the specifics within a wider framework of the whole book. 

If you’re gearing up to read the Book of Numbers with us starting this next week, take this opportunity to try outlining the book and see if and how it helps you with the larger understanding of God’s words to His people and to us!