Different Bible study methods exist for different purposes. If you have an interest in character qualities to teach your children, then biographical studies are perfect. If you want to understand what the meaning behind specific words are, and really get into the various shades of meaning, then go for word studies. To understand the flow of a particular book, then chapter studies or verse-by-verse book studies are in order. And to understand the heart of Scripture on a specific topic, then you need to know how to do a topical Bible study. That’s what we’re going to look at today.
As with any study, your first step is always to pray. Pray about what topic you should study, what verses will give you the most insight, how to apply the Word to your life, and with whom to share the results of your study. Pray also that the Spirit will open your spiritual eyes and guide your understanding.
Step #1: Choose Your Topic
Your topic should be something you are interested in. Perhaps you’ve always wondered about the topic, or it has been a subject of discussion in your home. Perhaps your pastor preached a sermon that piqued your interest or you’re facing a problem in your life. Maybe your small group is going to do a study on a topic and you want to be prepared. For whatever reason, you choose to focus on a topic because it holds your attention. You will have a much more thorough understanding of the topic – complete with how to apply it to your life – once you finish. A list of possible topics is included at the end of this post.
Once you have decided on your topic – joy – list all the synonyms that you think might relate to the topic. You might list rejoice, rejoicing, joyful, happy, happiness, gladness, and glad.
With this list of synonyms in hand, you are ready for step two.
Step #2: Look Up References
Use an exhaustive concordance or an online concordance, not just the concordance in the back of your Bible. An exhaustive or online concordance will give you every occurrence of the word (in the Bible version you’re using).
I suggest you look up your references in a literal translation such as the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, or the New King James Version. The New International Version could also be useful. Stay away from more dynamic translations and paraphrases such as The Message or The Living Bible. You can use those for studying, but it’s easier to find useful passages using a more literal translation.
You might also want to limit your study to a book or section of Scripture, such as studying miracles in the gospels, praise in the psalms, or prophecies of Christ in Isaiah. This helps to focus your study a bit more and can eliminate overwhelm. Write down all the references you find – this should be done on a piece of scratch papers, as it will eventually be thrown away.
Once you have your list of references – it might be very long! – start looking them up and making notes about what each verse says. An example using the topic God’s will is shown below. Your goal is to get an idea of what each verse says so that you can eliminate the less helpful verses and choose the most helpful in the next step.
|REFERENCE||SUMMARY OF THE VERSE(S)|
|Matthew 7:21||Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord will enter heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father|
|Mark 3:35||Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister|
|Romans 12:2||Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind so you can prove the will of God|
|2 Corinthians 8:5||Gave willingly of money, but first gave of themselves by the will of God|
|Galatians 1:4||Jesus gave Himself according to the will of God|
Step #3: Choose 10 – 20 verses to study
You want to whittle your long list of verses down to the most important, the most appropriate, the most helpful for the topic. These are the verses you will spend time studying closely, reading the context, and using to guide your thinking.
If you have the time and interest, there is no need to eliminate any verses -you can certainly do an exhaustive study. Also, if your topic is small, for example, “meekness,” then you might not want to eliminate any verses. The reason to eliminate verses from your list of references is to give yourself a manageable number to study and not overwhelm yourself.
In the list on ‘God’s will’ above, I eliminated the Galatians verse when I did this study because it was about Jesus doing God’s will, and gave me no insight into what God’s will for my life might be. The goal is to get a usable number of verses to study that will give you a good overview of the topic. Unless you’re going for an exhaustive study – then, more power to you!!
Step #4: Ask Questions
Second to choosing your topic, this step will have the most impact on your study, so take your time. You need to come up with a list of two to five questions to ask about each verse on your trimmed down list. The questions need to be focused on what you want to know.
For example, if you’re studying worship, you might ask: “When should we worship?” “Who should worship?” “What is worship?” “How is worship done?” “What are the results of worship?” Try to use the basic question-starters: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Try not to have more than five questions, as it can get overwhelming. You could find yourself asking and answering 100 questions if you have 5 questions and 20 verses to find the answers. Don’t make it too hard on yourself but do come up with questions that will give you insight into your topic.
Step #5: Read the Verses, Answer the Questions
This step is really the work step. It will take the longest to do. It will also be the most interesting and rewarding step because you will be in the Word.
You can list the answers underneath each verse, like an outline. I make a table on my computer, and write the verse in one column, the answers the second. The questions I asked for the study on God’s will were:
- What is the will of God for believers?
- Why am I to do God’s will (motive, result, reward)?
- How am I to do God’s will (attitude, action)?
|REFERENCE||ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS|
|Romans 12:2||A. Present your bodies a living sacrifice (v1), to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
B. It is my spiritual worship and service (v1); it is good, acceptable, and perfect
C. By the mercies of God (v1), humbly (v3), and with faith (v3)
|2 Corinthians 8:5||A. (no answer)
B. (no answer)
C. By first giving myself to the Lord, and serving others
|Ephesians 5:15 – 21||A. To live wisely (v15), make the most of your time (v16), to not be foolish (v17), to not be drunk but rather filled with the Spirit (v18), to worship the Lord with others and alone (v19), to give thanks (v20), to be subject to one another (v21)
B. (no answer)
C. With understanding (v17), by the Spirit (v18), in the name of Jesus (20)
Step #6: Draw a Conclusion or Summarize Your Findings
There is no one right way to do this. You might want to make a list of answers to each question. You might want to write a paragraph for each question. You might want to synthesize an answer that combines elements from several questions. The main point is to look at your answers all together to the complete view of what the Word teaches on the topic you chose.
Step #7: Write an Application
It is easy to skip this step, to be satisfied with satisfying your curiosity about a topic. But if you do that you are robbing yourself of the life-changing power of the Word. We should never study with Word without making a deliberate plan for changing our lives to match what we learned.
In the study I recently did on God’s will, I had two applications: one was to be in the Word daily, so I could renew my mind. I always read a devotional, but I don’t always make time for reading the Word. No excuses, just hard truth – I don’t make the time. The second application was to manage my time better, so I could get everything done.
Topical Studies – Choices, Choices!!
Deciding what to study may be the hardest part of a topical study – there are so many good choices. To help get you started, here’s a partial list of topics.
|Anger||Name of God|
|Blessings of God||Peace|
|Evangelism||Prayers of Jesus|
|Fear||Prophecies about Jesus|
|Hope||Waiting on the Lord|
|Humility||Wealth & Possessions|
|Joy||Wisdom & Foolishness|
|Love of God||Worship|