Every Bible student struggles with a primary question no matter what book he or she is studying: “What is the purpose of this book?” It is a fair question. Actually, it is the right question. Our goal is to discern God’s message to us. That being the case, approaching any book with a desire to discover its purpose is essential.

In my years of teaching Biblical Exegesis, I struggled with a way to help Bible students discover the purpose of Bible books. I was able to narrow it down to four key aspects. I then took those four aspects and had each of them begin with the letter ‘P.’ Ah, The Four P’s! If you can learn to look for “The Four P’s,” it will help your personal Bible study.

In the previous two articles, we discussed the first ‘P’: Prevalence. Much more could have been said about this important step, but we need to move on. Time to look at the second ‘P.’

The Four P’s. #2: Purpose Statement

This is where the author states his purpose of writing. For example, in John 20:30, 31 John states the purpose for writing his gospel.

He says:

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (NAS95)

What a blessing it is when the inspired writer tells us specifically the purpose of his book! Earlier, I talked about “Bible Marking.” I pointed out there that we frequently underline too much and often mark things that we will later regret. However, I promise you will not regret underlining purpose statements. Since there will be a few texts that are underlined, it will really stand out and will make you slow down and remind yourself why those verses are underlined. They form a purpose statement!

The value of purpose statements

First, they provide a direct link from the inspired writer to us. We can now study the book with absolute certainty that we know what his goal is. God has told us He wants us to know the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; John 8:32; 17:17). These purpose statements are God giving to us a clear understanding of what that book is about.

Second, it enables us to view all of the given information in the Gospel through the lens of his purpose statement. That is, when we look at the miracles Jesus performed, we know that John recorded that particular miracle to help prove that Jesus is the Christ. As the Christ, Jesus is worthy of our faith and devotion. When Jesus teaches, it provides further information regarding what a disciple of His is expected to be and do. Many of the miracles are “signs.” That is, they are designed to point us to something beyond the miracle itself. A good illustration of this is the turning of the water into wine. John explains the threefold lessons that “sign” provides (John 2:11). That is why, then, John says, “many other signs did Jesus perform…but these are written so that you might believe…” (John 20:30).

Third, it provides us with a head start on finding prevalent words. Our first “P” (of ‘The Four P’s’) was “prevalence.” Finding prevalent words can be a challenge. However, it is logical that when the writer gives us a purpose statement, that statement is going to include keywords for his book. Such is clearly the case in the Gospel of John. Look at this list of words that are found just in the purpose statement of John 20:30-31. In parentheses are the number of times that word is found in the Gospel of John:

  • πιστεύω (101) – to believe, entrust

  • ὄνομα (25) – a name, authority, cause

  • υἱός (55) – a son

  • θεός (83)- God

  • σημεῖον (17) – a sign;

  • σημαίνω (3) – to give a sign

  • μαθητής (79) – a disciple

  • Ἰησοῦς (254) – Jesus

  • ζωή (56) – life

  • ἔχω (87) – to have, hold

Think about what a bonanza of information this purpose statement provides, just in the area of key (prevalent) words!

Fourth, we can evaluate our interpretation of a text and see if it aligns with the purpose statement. If we cannot explain how our interpretation of a particular teaching or event fits with the stated purpose, we need to go “back to the drawing board” and find an explanation that fits. Here is an example and a challenge for you. In John 6:16-21, John records that Jesus walked on the water. Most commentaries will minimize the significance of that miracle by simply saying, “That is what happened next chronologically.” Really? That was all that John had in mind was to tell us what happened next??? Of course not! Fit that miracle into the purpose statement of John 20:30-31, and then you are on track with the apostle John.

Fifth, purpose statements keep us on track. I like to write a purpose statement down on a 3×5 card and then put that card in a prominent place where I am studying. I want to see it continually and be constantly reminded that this is what the inspired writer said his book was all about.

I love purpose statements!! What a great tool they provide in our study of God’s wonderful word. We’ll say more about them in the next article.

Denny Petrillo
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Denny is married to the former Kathy Roberts.  They have been married since January 1978.  They have three children (Lance, Brett, and Laura) and Six grandchildren (Chloe, Ashlyn, Sophie, Easton, Brelyn, and Kyson).  He has served as the President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute since 2004 and has been a full-time instructor since 1985.  He has preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.  He has taught numerous classes for the World Video Bible School and has authored several books and commentaries.  He graduated from the Bear Valley School of Preaching (now the Bear Valley Bible Institute), received an AA degree in Bible (York College, York, Nebraska), BA in Bible and Biblical Languages (Harding University), and an MA in Old and New Testaments (Harding Graduate School of Religion), and a Ph.D. in Religious Education (University of Nebraska).