Why the Early Content of Bible Books Is Significant for Bible Study

James Coakley
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Communicators know the value of the statement often attributed to Aristotle in book five of his work Politics, “Well begun is half done.”[1] In modern writing, it is critical to begin well if an author wants to draw the reader in. It is also just as important to introduce the topic or theme as soon as possible so that the reader has some notion of what the author is seeking to accomplish.

The challenge for Scripture reading is that the biblical authors do not use what modern-day readers are accustomed to in the introductions of their books. When we look at a book today, we have many ways to help us ascertain what the book is about: the book’s title, the back cover, and the table of contents can all reveal the book’s theme and the author’s agenda. Biblical books do not have these same components to help readers determine the author’s goal, but they do have other ways to assist the reader in determining the book’s themes. Instead of topic sentences and a table of contents, biblical authors carefully selected what content they wanted to include on the “Launching Pad” to introduce their overall thematic goals for the book.

So, as readers, we should slow down and ponder the book’s early content and see what themes are introduced. The author is leaving “breadcrumbs” in the early content so that the reader is prepared for a fuller development of those themes later in the book.


This technique involves looking closely at the content at the beginning of a Bible book, which sets the trajectory for the themes of the entire book. Just like rockets heading to space need a solid starting point to complete the mission’s objective, the beginning of a book propels the reader in the accurate direction for the journey ahead. The “Launching Pad” base of information serves as a sort of “table of contents” for what will be unpacked in further detail later in the book. This technique is a literary rhetorical device in which the author intentionally selects content to front-load at the beginning of the book, which serves as a primer for content that will be further developed later on.[2]


Even though it is not present in every book of the Bible, its presence is commonplace enough to warrant looking for it because it is not limited to a specific genre or Testament.

The beginning of a book propels the reader in the accurate direction for the journey ahead.


Focus on the content of the first chapters of a Bible book and then, as you read later chapters, look for how that early material helped set the table thematically for what followed. Once the entire book is read (and ideally reread multiple times), take time to reflect on how that up-front content prepares readers (similar to a table of contents in modern books) by signaling themes that the author wants the reader to focus on.


Structurally, it sets the thematic tone for what the reader is going to encounter later in the book. Practically, it underscores themes that the author wants the reader to ponder as they read, and even after they finish the book. This way the reader has more confidence that they are picking up on the themes that they should be identifying by following those early “breadcrumbs.”


There will be varying degrees of certainty and subjectivity as to what the intent and value of the “Launching Pad” material may be for the reader. When reading a biblical book with this technique, readers will not usually be able to detect those themes on their first reading, so it does require repeatedly reading the entire book.


The first chapters of Genesis contain clear examples of this technique. Since Genesis is the fountainhead of Scripture, it is no wonder that its opening chapters contain many of the grand themes—not just of Genesis, but of the entire Bible (creation, the image of God, sin, etc.).

[1]  Aristotle’s actual line, in section 1303b of book five of Politics, reads “the beginning, as the proverb says, is half of the whole,” but this line has been popularly simplified to “Well begun is half done.”

[2] See “Freshening Up Your Bible Study with Dr. Jim Coakley: Early On,” Mornings with Eric and Brigitte, Moody Radio, January 19, 2022, https://www .moodyradio.org/globalassets/radio-resources/c/coakley-early-on.pdf.

For Further Reading:

14 Fresh Ways to Enjoy the Bible

by James Coakley

The Bible is God’s masterpiece and gift to you—claim it for all that it’s worth. The Bible is the most read book in all the world....

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