A Mechanical Layout of Scripture




Outlining the Bible is the primary means to prepare one to understand the precepts of Scripture in a clear and logical way. This is intended for the Bible student to learn how to examine the text and then draw out what is there in a logical and systematic way. In this way, well refined studies that are personally edifying and impactful can be had for the individual. Outlining will enable one to “exegete” and then write out what the Bible is saying.

“Exegesis” is examining the passage and discovering the principles and ideas that are represented there. This helps prevents someone from adding their own thinking, prejudices, and ideas into the mix that would take away from what God is actually saying. Our responsibility is to observe, study, interpret, correlate, and apply God’s Word from what is there, not add in something that is not there. Also, we should not leave out what we do not want and thus miss what God has clearly described for us. Exegesis is a tool that helps one stay focused and centered upon God and His precepts and then be edified that in turn could edify others.

The Mechanical Layout

What is a mechanical layout? A mechanical layout involves the rewriting of the text in a form that will reveal the grammatical structure of that text.

“There are to marks which characterize the efficient observer:  awareness and thoroughness.  He is not mechanical in his observation.  Rather he is alive to the contents of a passage.  He perceives, he actually sees.  And he sees all the components of a passage.  He takes nothing for granted.  He disciplines himself to absorb consciously the entire unit.  He marks attentively each term, because he knows that any artist who is worthy of the name makes a thoughtful and purposeful selection of terminology.  He also notes carefully the relations and interrelations between terms.  He keeps his eyes open to the smallest as well as the largest connections.  He pays close attention to the general literary form and atmosphere of a passage.  In brief, all the constituents of a Biblical unit become part of the consciousness of the proficient observer.”[1]

The mechanical layout is a phrase-by-phrase chart of the text to show the grammatical relationships. To begin, copy the text phrase by phrase, placing independent clauses (complete subject/predicate constructions) toward the left, with the subordinate phrases more to the right. Usually set the connecting words (and, but, etc.) off to themselves and line up ideas that are equal in weight.

The mechanical layout is made up of the following components:

  1. The main statements of a paragraph (declarations, questions, or commands) should be placed at the extreme left-hand margin of the page.
  2. Each line contains only one main statement and its modifiers, provided — there is not more than one modifier in each clause AND the modifier is not of extraordinary length.
  3. Subordinate clauses and phrases are placed below the lines of the main statement to which they refer. In doing this, think about “Does this statement amplify or expand the statement above it, or does it begin a new thought?”
  1. Two or more modifiers, including subordinate clauses or phrases or plural subjects, are usually written beneath that on which they depend, unless they are so brief they can be retained conveniently in the original order of the text.
  2. Coordinate clauses (clauses connected by and, but, either, or, neither, nor, and for) are generally regarded as containing main statements and are therefore placed as far left as the statement that they are coordinating. NOTE: Lists of names, qualities, or actions should be tabulated in vertical columns for the sake of clarity.

You don’t have to be a grammarian to do this, by the way, but a brush-up on some basics will help, especially if you had to think hard to remember what a subject and a predicate are. A Bible with paragraphs clearly marked will also help keep the chunks bite-sized.

Stripping away all the details on the right side of the page, you can see the main thrust of the text.

[1] Robert Traina, “Methodical Bible Study,” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 79.

philemon mechanical layout chart


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