One of the most important things I learned in seminary is how to break down the flow of thought in a text phrase by phrase using a method called “tracing the argument.” I learned this in classes taught by Jim Hamilton, who apparently learned it from Tom Schreiner, who learned it from John Piper, who learned it from Daniel Fuller.
- Break down a passage into propositions.
- Identify those propositions most closely related logically. (Is it a simple series of propositions? A conditional, if/then relationship? An action and it’s purpose? etc.)
- Continue linking together propositions and sets of propositions until the whole passage is “traced.” The end result is something like the picture to the right.
- Summarize the sections, determine the main point, and build the sermon/teaching outline from the way the argument is actually written in the Bible.
No other skill has been so helpful in teaching me to slowly, meticulously work my way through Scripture line by line. This allows an expositional teacher/preacher to not only say what the Bible says, but to say it the way the Bible says it. I have far more confidence teaching what the Bible says the way the Bible says it than I do teaching a lesson I’ve created purely from my own mind. I teach tracing each summer to our church’s interns. If you’re interested, there’s a site devoted to the skill.
So I’ve just started this with our intern this summer. Here are the outlines we developed from the first half of Romans 1.
The Gospel of God in the Promised Christ (Romans 1:1-7)
1. The Gospel of God has been fulfilled in accordance with the Scriptures (1:1-2)
2. Jesus is the promised messiah and incarnate God, in accordance with the Scriptures (1:3-4c)
3. Jesus brings about the obedience of faith, as promised in the Scriptures, to all nations, including us (1:4d-7)
Eager to Preach the Gospel (Romans 1:8-17)
1. God is at work in all the world, calling people to faith through the gospel. (1:8)
2. We should pray to be used by God to build up gospel faith around the world. (1:9-12)
3. Preaching the gospel through all the world is our desire and our duty. (1:13-15)
4. The gospel is the power of God to save all who believe. (1:16-17)