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Laying out the Text for Study, Teaching or Preaching

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Laying out Bible text for study and teaching

If you have access to a computer or laptop with a word processing package, a very helpful part of the process of studying a passage of the Bible when preparing for teaching a class or preaching in church is to lay out the text and print it out. This is an aid in the study of the text, as well as becoming the text you can actually use in giving your message.

It is very helpful to have a copy of the text with a larger font size than in most printed Bibles. It can be difficult to teach or preach from a normal printed Bible when you are standing in front of a larger group of people, as your eyes are continually having to change focus from close-up reading to distance vision. This is why older churches normally had very large pulpit Bibles with a large print size.

You can use a word processor to lay out the text in a fairly logical manner, giving more space in the margins and between the sentences. You can lay out the text according to the sentence structure, so a new line is started for each sentence, when someone is speaking, or where there are quotations from the Old Testament. Lists can be set out in a column, reasons or results can be indented, and contrasts can be shown clearly in the layout.

This is a simple version of a more complex technique of analysing the grammar and syntax of a text, called ‘syntactic analysis’.

Laying out the text

These steps described below are suggestions to help as a basis for you to develop your own system of study.

1. Copy the text from an internet site such as BibleGateway.com into your word processing package. This has the text of the Bible in many different languages, as well as a variety of different translations and versions in each language.

2. Set the font size so it can be easily read when standing in front of a class with the text on a lectern. You will need to be able to read the text clearly at a distance of 60 cm (2 feet). A font size of 14 or 16 is good.

3. Widen the page margins to 3 or 4 cm left and right.

4. Remove any headings, titles or comments from the text.

5. Start each segment (group of paragraphs) on a new page using the hard return.

6. Insert two blank lines between each paragraph.

7. Insert one blank line between each sentence.

8. Each sentence can be laid out using new lines and tab indents, as follows:

a. In conversations, start a new line for each speaker, and indent the words of the speaker.
b. For quotations from the Old Testament or other writings, start a new line and indent them.
c. For conjunctions such as ‘but’ or ‘or’, start a new line, so contrasts are clearly shown.
d. For reasons, results and conclusions, using words such as ‘so’, ‘so that’, ‘in order that’ or 'therefore', start a new line and indent.
e. Show lists as a list, with either one or two columns.
f. Show phrases by starting new line where the phrase is separated by a comma or semi-colon.

9. When you are ready, print out the text on one side of the paper only.

This method will work well with most parts of the Bible, particularly in prose sections as found in the OT narratives and law, the Gospels, the Book of Acts, in the letters, and in the Book of Revelation.

For poetic writing, such as found in the Psalms or prophets, this process is not so necessary. As long as the poetry is printed as poetry with each line of the poetry on a new line, there will plenty of white space on the page, so widening the margins is not necessary. It can be helpful increase the font size, and to add a blank line between stanzas of the Psalms or prophetic oracles.

Examples of text layout

Three examples are given below, from a letter, a gospel, and some poetry from one of the prophets.

Example 1: (Gal 3:6-14)

Original text

6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” - 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Laid out text

6 Just as Abraham
	“believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,”

	7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.

	8 And the scripture, 
		foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith,
		declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 
			“All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 

	9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.


10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse;
for it is written,
	“Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey 
		all the things written in the book of the law.” 

	11 Now it is evident
		that no one is justified before God by the law;
		for
			“The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

	12 But the law does not rest on faith; 
		on the contrary, 
			“Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” 

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us
	- for it is written, 
		“Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” -

	14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles,
		so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Example 2: (Mk 1:14-20)

Original text

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Laid out text

14 Now after John was arrested, 
	Jesus came to Galilee, 
	proclaiming the good news of God, 
	15 and saying, 
		“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
		 repent, and believe in the good news.”


16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, 
	he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea -
		for they were fishermen. 

	17 And Jesus said to them, 
		“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 

	18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 

	19 As he went a little farther, 
	he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, 
		who were in their boat mending the nets. 

	20 Immediately he called them; 
		and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, 
		and followed him.

Example 3 (Is 1:1-3)

Original text

1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.

4 Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!

Laid out text

1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, 
	which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem 
		in the days of 	Uzziah, 
				Jotham, 
				Ahaz, 
				and Hezekiah, 	kings of Judah.	


2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.


4 Ah, sinful nation,
    people laden with iniquity,
offspring who do evil,
    children who deal corruptly,
who have forsaken the Lord,
    who have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    who are utterly estranged!

Colour coding the text.

The next stage is to use the printed version of your laid out text for further study. It is very helpful to use a set of coloured pencils for your study.

1. Write your paragraph title or paragraph summary above each paragraph.

2. Use the observation questions to colour code the text.

3. Add notes and comments to the text, such as: references for OT quotations, cross-references to same theme, add numbers to each item in lists

4. Use the margins to show helpful comments, summaries, key points, contrasts

5. The left hand page can be used for notes, cross-references, historical information, maps, photographs, drawings etc. etc.