One of the most helpful tools I learned while attending Dallas Theological Seminary was how to create a Synoptic Study Chart. Some people call what I will describe in this post as a “Bible Chart” or “Synthetic Chart.” The name is not important. What is important is how powerful this tool can be for someone who will be teaching through a book of the Bible.
WHY I CREATE A SYNOPTIC STUDY CHART
Creating a chart of a book of the Bible is useful for several reasons.
One, it causes the Bible teacher to thoroughly know the message of the author. If someone begins to study a book of the Bible and maybe does not know the entire book well or does not have a thorough understanding of the book, then it is easy to teach a passage incorrectly.
Two, it helps a Bible navigate difficult passages in a book. When a Bible teacher knows a book and its entire message very well, he is going to know how to navigate difficulty passages in the book in light of the entire message of the book. Instead of him bringing his own preconceived ideas and questions to the text, he will instead think through the passage in the same way that the author had (because he knows the message of the author in other parts of the book).
Three, it is a helpful tool to introduce a book and summarize a book. When I teach Sunday School I always spend the first week of a study going over my synoptic study chart. A synoptic study chart provides a brief overview of the entire book of the Bible and it helps orient students about what will be studied. Additionally, a synoptic study also helps to show students a great summary of a book after they have studied. For me in my Sunday School class, after we have studied an entire book verse-by-verse I like to show the chart again to see if the class agrees with what I have summarized about the book.
HOW TO CREATE A SYNOPTIC STUDY CHART
Create a Summary Message for the Entire Book
This is what the book is “about.” Is the book about suffering, the spread of the church, correcting false teachings? In this section you set out to determine what the book is about as a general topic.
Compliment statements are the things being said about what the book is about. This is also known as a “predicate.” There should be several compliment statements that explain and enhance the subject statement.
Outline the Book
Provide an outline for the book. I normally like to outline the book to two levels. When I outline I use Roman numerals, in all caps, and bold for the first level (I. or II., etc.). In the second level of outline I use capital letters and headline capitalization in bold (A. The Title, B. The Description, etc.).
Layout the Structural Markers
Structural markers are descriptions of how the message of a book is introduced, advanced, summarized, etc. The structural markers that I use are the “Laws of Literary Composition” described by Robert Traina in his book, Methodical Bible Study. These laws help me see how the message and argument of a book are laid out by the author.
Discern the Major Themes
Every book of the Bible has several themes that recur throughout the book. For example, when I recently taught through the book of Philippians the themes were: Sanctification, Jesus’ Work, Suffering Because of Faith, and Suffering in Ministry. Those were four topics that Paul talked about through the entire book. Most books will have four to seven themes.
EXAMPLES OF CHARTS I HAVE CREATED
A SYNOPTIC STUDY CHART PREPARES THE TEACHER’S HEART
I realize that much of the material that I have shared in this post is available in a good commentary or good introduction to the New Testament. While it is good to consult a couple of commentaries, I firmly believe that nothing prepares a leader’s heart to teach the Bible like creating a synoptic study chart. The process of reading a book several times, looking for structural markers, outlining the book, discerning the themes, and creating a message statement is unlike anything else someone can do to prepare for a study.
Every time I create a synoptic study chart I am amazed at its fruitfulness and benefits to me as a Christian and as a teacher.