Step 2 – Structure and Summarize The Text

Written by Lennon Mazonde

26 May, 2017

Step 2 Structuring and Summarizing The Text

Step #2 in the 7 steps on how to prepare a sermon, is to Structure the Text, or using the analogy of a human body, Outline the “bones” of the text.

In this step, you are trying to figure out how the text has been put together. What are the main thoughts in the passage, and how are they connected? Then having outlined the structure, you will go on to summarize the different parts of the passage

1.1    Part A: Structure the text

In a human body, bones are connected together by means of joints. There are big joints which link big bones together (e.g. your arm is  connected to the torso by the shoulder joint) and there are small joints which link smaller parts of the body together (e.g. the joint connecting your finger to your palm).

In the same way, a text or passage will major points and minor points. There are two types of “joints” or key words that link the words/phrases together, namely, grammatical and content cues/keys.

1.1.1     Grammatical Key/Joints

These grammatical keys or joints are called conjunctions. Conjunctions are often very short words which seem like they are insignificant, when in fact, they often hold the key to understanding a passage. So it is important not to neglect them.


“Luke went into the kitchen to make a sandwich”            

The conjunction “to” is only two letters long, but it gives meaning to the entire sentence. It joins the two phrases “Luke went into the kitchen” and “…make a sandwich”, combining them to make a meaningful statement. So not only do you now know that Luke went into the kitchen (answering the question what did Luke do) but you now also know that it was because he wanted to make a sandwich (answering the question why Luke did do it?).

There are many grammatical keys that indicate structure in a passage. This list is taken from Scripture Sculpture by Ramesh Richard, page 56.

Grammatical Keys Indicating Structure

Meaning Little Words as Structure Indicators
Cause For, because, since, as
Reason For, because, since, as , that
Result That, so that, so , which, for
Purpose In order that, which, to , unto, until, towards, for
Means By, from through, out of, in
Time Until, till, to, when, whenever, from, through, of, in , b, according to, against, with, concerning, to, out of
Place Where, wherever, from, in, through, into, upon, with, concerning, till
Manner Just as, just, as, with, to


This list is not exhaustive, but these are probably the most commonly occurring grammatical keys. Punctuation marks are also key grammatical keys, so do not ignore them. Take note of commas, colons and semi-colons, question marks, full stops etc. Also, you need to take note of how your particular bible version splits passages. They’ve already done half the work for you J


There are most likely going to be many grammatical keys in each passage you deal with, especially the longer ones. My advice is to stick with the ones the split or connect whole phrases together.

1.1.2     Content cues

Another way of outlining the structure of a text is by observing changes in the content or in the subject of a passage.

For example:

“John went to buy bananas and apples in the grocery store. Then he went to the mall to get his hair cut”

The content of the paragraph changed from shopping for fruit to paying for a haircut.

1.1.3     Four steps for structuring a text

To structure a text, follow these four steps (Scripture Sculpture, Ramesh Richard, page 7)

  1. Identify all the possible grammatical or content keys or joints in the text
  2. Separate major keys from smaller keys
  3. Understand the meaning of the major keys
  4. Outline the text according to the relative importance of the markers.

Learn More - Major vs. Minor Keys

Not all grammatical or content keys are equally the same. Some joints are more important than others.

Using an earlier example,

“Luke went into the kitchen to make a sandwich”            

There are two grammatical keys in this sentence “into” and “to”. “To” is a major grammatical key because it tells us the reason why Luke went into the kitchen. Its impact on the meaning of the passage is greater than that of “into”, even though it is the smaller of the two keys. Ultimately, you have to decide whether a joint/key is major or minor.

2     Summarizing the Text

Summarizing the passage is quite simple. You do this by restating each section of the passage (or each major point), but using your own words and mainly focusing on the major joints of the passage. Central to this will be using the definitions of the key words and phrases which you studied in Step 1.

Imagine if someone were to ask you what that particular scripture is talking about. In summarizing, you are trying to explain the meaning and main points in a way that they would understand.

Don’t be surprised that when dealing with short passages, your summary might actually be longer than the actual passage itself. The important thing is that you restate the text in your own, clear and simple words, using the definitions from step 1.

See these principles in practice with the following examples of how to outline Ephesians 2:1-3

Practical Example: Major and Minor Keys in Ephesians 2:1-3

1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-

3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.

Grammatical Keys

Verse Major Keys Minor Keys
Vs. 1


And you were in the trespasses and sins
Vs. 2


in which you once…

, following the course…(the comma)

, following the prince… (the comma)

, the spirit…(the comma)


Vs. 3 And were by nature – Among whom (the hyphen)

, carrying out… (the comma)

Of the body

And the mind



Content Cues

Verse 1 – You were dead

The passage is talking about the former lives of the Ephesian Christians before they came to know Jesus. The rest of the verses go on to describe what that looked like. So the main content of this passage is about the former lives of the Ephesian believers.

Practical Example: Structuring Ephesians 2:1-3

So, by splitting the text by its major joints, you can make a basic, general outline of the passage as follows:

  1. The Ephesian Christians were once
    1. Dead in their sins (vs. 1)
    2. In danger of the terrible judgment of God (vs. 3)

You can expand this outline to include the minor joints because they explain in greater detail, the major points of the passage. It would then look like this

  1. The Ephesian Christians were once
    1. Dead in their sins (vs. 1)
      1. They lived sinfully like the world around them (vs. 2)
      2. They lived like the obedience to Satan, indulging in their fleshly desires like everyone else (vs. 2,3)
    2. In danger of the terrible judgment of God (vs. 3)

Notice how i used the meaning of words in step 1 in structuring the text. We’ll do the same for the next part of step 2.

Practical Example: Summarizing Ephesians 2:1-3

Before they came to know Jesus as their Lord, the Ephesian Christians had no spiritual life in them. They lived completely trapped in terribly sinful ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. They lived like slaves, blindly imitating the immoral behavior of the world around them and they lived in obedience to the will of Satan. As a result, they were in danger of suffering the terrible judgment of God, when he shall punish all wickedness and sin.

Next, we are going to learn how to discover the main point of the passage, the Heart of the Text


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  1. Jane Thabang

    This is very important to us young growing preachers.
    I would therefore kindly request if Step 3 to 7 on preparing expository sermons could be added as well.
    Step 1 and 2 are well explained. Thank you.

    Warm regards

    • Lennon Mazonde

      Hi, I will be publishing the rest of the steps over the next few weeks. I’ve been on a hiatus for a while but I’m working on a major refocus and redesign of the website that I’m hoping will be even more useful to everyday Christians, especially preachers and teachers. Watch this space!

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