Most preachers I know are forever on the lookout for good sermon outlines. Of course, those who preach expositionally will (or should be!) taking their outlines from the text itself. That does not mean the outline will be in the exact form or wording of the text. It does mean that the outline, as a structure for the sermon, should clearly reflect the structure and content of the text.
Take the following sermon outline for Acts 2:41-47:
The early church in Jerusalem had a:
1. Converted Membership (41)
2. Consistent Ministry (42-47a)
3. Continual Multiplication (47b)
I first heard this outline and recorded it in my Bible as a young teenager in my home church when my pastor, Dr. Jerry Vines, was preaching through the book of Acts. Recently I asked Dr. Vines about this outline and he indicated as far as he could recall that it was original with him. Let’s examine whether this three point outline accurately reflects the text or not.
The context of Acts 2:41-47 is Peter’s Pentecostal sermon (Acts 2:14-36), followed by Luke’s narrative comments concerning the audience’s response to Peter’s sermon (v. 37) and Peter’s exhortation to the audience in answer to their query concerning what action they should take (vv. 38-39).
This is followed by Luke’s concluding summary narrative statement (v. 40) indicating that Peter made many appeals for his audience to respond which Luke has not recorded. The final paragraph of the discourse unit is vv. 41-47. This paragraph constitutes a summary description of the interior life and activity of the church in Jerusalem in the weeks and months following Peter’s sermon.
From the Greek New Testament, two reasons tip the scales in favor of viewing v. 41 as introducing a new paragraph. First, the use of the inferential conjunction oun (“therefore”) logically marks new paragraph onset. Second, the use of the rhetorical device inclusio (inclusion), where the same word is used at the beginning and end of a paragraph to bracket the paragraph, often indicates the boundaries of a paragraph unit. Notice the repetition of the verb prostithēmi (“to add to”) in v. 41, “and there were added,” and again in v. 47, “the Lord added….” Acts 3:1 clearly begins a new paragraph unit.
There is good linguistic justification for considering Acts 2:41-47 as a preaching unit. The sentence structure in this paragraph is clearly marked by the use of the conjunction de in Greek. A new sentence is introduced with de in v. 42, v.43, and again in v. 44. The sentence begun in v. 44 ends at v. 47a. Verse 47b begins a new sentence with the conjunction de as well.
On the basis of the analysis, Acts 2:41-47 can be divided into three sub-paragraphs: 41, 42-47a; 47b.
Notice several things in the text.
1) Luke focuses on conversion as the precursor for entrance into the church.
2) Those who were converted became actively involved in the local church in Jerusalem.
3) The Lord Himself was adding an ongoing stream of new believers to the church.
It would seem reasonable to “group” the verses in the text together, and the propositions they communicate, in the following three-fold way:
1. Verse 41 contains three propositions, all related to the notion of conversion and its aftermath:
- People received Peter’s word in that they believed it and obeyed it.
- Those who received the message were baptized.
- The number of people added to the church was 3000.
2. Verses 42-47a contain several propositions stating activity within the church and influence on the people outside the church:
- The people devoted themselves to doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. (42)
- Fear came over everyone (apparently within and without the church). (43a)
- The apostles performed many wonders and signs. (43b)
- All believers were together and shared their goods with each other. (44)
- Believers sold possessions and property and distributed to those in need. (These are actually two propositions combined.) (45)
- Daily they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple and in homes. (Two propositions combined.) (46)
- They ate their food with gladness & simplicity. (46b)
- They praised God and had favor with all the people. (Two propositions combined.) (47a)
3. Verse 47b contains the final proposition in the paragraph:
1) The Lord added to their number daily those being saved. (47b) (Notice the final proposition in point 3 differs semantically from the previous ones in the second point in that the Lord is the subject.)
Therefore, linguistically there is good justification for dividing Acts 2:41-47 into three sub-units:
- Verse 41
- Verses 42-47a
- Verse 47b.
The structure of the text indicates the early church in Jerusalem had a:
- Converted Membership (v. 41)
- Consistent Ministry (vv. 42-47a)
- Continual Multiplication (v. 47b)
This seems to capture accurately Luke’s point concerning the early church. The outline is more of a content outline than a communication outline in that the lack of a verb/verbal in each phrase makes it a bit static, but it does communicate with reasonable accuracy the content of the passage. One could convert the points into a more contemporary communication outline by adding something like “A church should be characterized by….”
The use of alliteration works well in this case, though I am not a fan of using alliteration in outlines very much these days. Notice each parallel word in the three two-word phrases begins with the same letter and points 1 and 2 have a triple-syllable rhythm.
This outline is workable because it 1) accurately reflects the Greek structure of the paragraph; 2) accurately reflects the overall semantic structure of the passage by grouping the propositions as the text itself does, 3) accurately reflects the summary content communicated in each sub-division of the paragraph, and 4) accurately expresses Luke’s focus in the paragraph.
So, . . . preach it! . . . and thank Dr. Jerry Vines.
 Luke makes use of summary statements and summary passages throughout Acts. In one sense, verse 41 is a summary statement that serves a dual function: to close the previous paragraph and introduce a new paragraph. Acts 2:41-47 constitutes a summary passage. Notice that everything in this paragraph is repeated in one fashion or another in the remainder of Acts, especially in Acts 1-7.