People love stories and the Bible is full of stories of real men and women living for God. Learn from their lives by doing a biographical study. Sometimes called a character study, doing a biographical study of Bible character can yield tremendous benefits as you learn how others navigated a life of faith in this fallen world. Whether you are studying a godly person or a wicked one, you can learn many lessons that will guide your life. From godly characters, we can learn how to face trials and disappointments, how to face failure and personal sin, and how to live in a godless society, among other things. From wicked characters, we can learn how to handle pride and selfishness, how to avoid living by human standards, and what to do – or not to do – in trying circumstances.
Today, we will learn one method of studying a person in the Bible.
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Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Preparation
There are thousands of people mentioned in the Bible. Most are minor characters, some with only a part of one verse containing their names. However, even eliminating those one-verse wonders, leaves dozens of characters with enough information to study. When choosing a person to study, consider the following:
These are real, historical people who lived at a specific time and in a specific place in history. You cannot separate their lives from their time and place in history. Therefore, studying the historical context of the person’s life is very advantageous. Do not be hesitant to google background information, but also use print resources if you have them.
If just starting out with biographical study, choose a person with a limited amount of information available. You may feel a special kinship with David, Joseph, or Moses. Even so, do not start with these major persons. Start small and build your biographical muscles. Suggestions for study are at the end.
If you have done biographical studies for a while, and wish to tackle a major person, consider dividing his life into sections and doing just one section at a time. For example, Joseph could be studied in the following manner: (1) in his father’s house; (2) as a slave; (3) in prison; (4) ruling over Egypt; and (5) reunited with his family
When doing a biographical study – or any study for that matter – it helps to have the right tools. Tools you will need or may want include:
- A good study Bible
- At least one other version of Scripture (may use an online tool)
- A concordance or online searchable Bible
- A “Who’s Who” type of book for Biblical persons
- A Bible handbook, encyclopedia, dictionary, or cultural backgrounds book.
- A notebook
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step One
After you have chosen the person to study, you need to identify all the relevant Scriptures. Make a list of every verse that mentions or refers to the person you are studying. For example, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, is only mentioned in one chapter of the Bible, so the list of Scriptures for Elizabeth would be limited to Luke 1.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Two
Next, you want to read the passages in at least two versions. I would choose a literal translation such as the New American Standard Bible and a more modern translation such as The Message. Another good alternative is The Amplified Bible. Read over your Scriptures at one or two times without a break. You are aiming to get a good sense of the person without doing any study just yet. You can read as many versions as you like but do at least the two suggested. Record what versions you read. This could be all you do for one day’s study.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Three
Then begin answering the basic WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and HOW questions. Before answering any questions, however, re-read the Scriptures again. Use the example questions below to get started, but don’t limit yourself just to the questions I’ve listed. For simplicity’s sake, I am using all female pronouns in the following questions, although they can be used just as easily for a male character. These questions are not exhaustive, but examples of the types of questions to which you might find answers. For a very thorough list of questions which can be used for biographical study, refer to Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods.
- Who impacted her life? Who was her spouse, mother or father, sister or brother, or another relative? Who had a large impact on her? Who helped her to serve the Lord? Who hindered her from serving the Lord?
- What is she most famous for? For what was she commended or condemned by God? What was her major accomplishment or failure? What are her primary strengths and weaknesses?
- Where did she live and what was the political environment like? Where did she serve the Lord? Where was she born? Where did she die?
- When did she live? When was she born? When did she die? When did she receive a call or commission from the Lord?
- Why did she respond the way she did to the Lord? Why did she have such an impact for the Lord (or against the Lord)? Why is her story included in the Bible?
- How did she live her life? How did her character change throughout her story? How big was her faith in God? How did she show her faith in God?
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Four
Once you have answered all these questions, ask some questions. After re-reading the passages, what unanswered questions do you have about this person? Make a list of questions and then begin searching for answers in the passages you listed in step one, by using a concordance or using resources such as Bible commentaries, Bible handbooks, a Bible dictionary, or a Bible encyclopedia.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Five
Re-read the passages you listed in step one. Then make a list of character traits shown by the person you are studying. Each trait should be followed by a verse reference on which you are basing your conclusion. Returning to Elizabeth, I would list some of her character traits as follows:
- Righteous (Luke 1:6)
- Blameless (Luke 1:6)
- Hospitable (Luke 1:40, 56)
As you make a list of character trait be comparing your life with this person. How are you alike? How are you different? What strengths does he have that you need more of? What weaknesses does he have that you need to reduce in your life? This list will directly affect the next step.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Six
Now it is time for application. You should never study the Word without having an application, otherwise, you are just collecting intellectual knowledge and not cooperating with the Holy Spirit to grow in your faith. You can use the SPACEPETS application acrostic to help you, or you can just follow the prompt below.
Name one area of your life that needs to be more like the person you studied. Brainstorm five ways to make that change in your life. Choose one or two to implement in your life this week. One should be implemented within two days, so you don’t lose momentum. A second could be a longer-term project.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Seven
You can do this step either before or after the application; whichever suits you. For the last step in doing the study, you need to write a summary of what you’ve learned. This should be a mini-biography of the person, hitting the high points of his life. The summary needn’t be too long, although if you are studying a major person, then it could be more than one paragraph. The key to the summary is to keep it short enough that it covers the basics of what you’ve learned. A good summary will also make the last step – the post-study step – easier.
Doing a Biographical Bible Study: Step Eight
Share what you have learned with someone else, preferably someone who can keep you accountable for the changes you’ve identified in step six. Even better, arrange to teach a lesson based on the person you studied. Perhaps your small group leader would let you lead a three-week study or you could do a one-week study for the youth. If you cannot imagine where you could teach what you learned, ask God for an opportunity. And be prepared by condensing your notes into a memorable outline or handy acrostic. Anything to make the lesson easier to teach, to remember, and to apply would be helpful.