Learning the Bible is important for every Christian and learning from other people is a wise way to learn. The biographical Bible study method combines learning the Bible with learning from other people by studying people in the Bible. There are hundreds of people mentioned in the Bible; some have complete stories while others have only vignettes. All of them have something that can be learned from them. In some cases, they are an example of how Christians should live, while others are examples of what should not be done if one’s desire is to honor God and serve Him.
Things that will be needed for this type of Bible study include a Bible, a concordance, and English and Bible dictionaries. Some may find a topical Bible helpful. It is recommended to use a notebook and some sort of writing implement, in order to keep the information learned available for review.
Choose a person. There are such a huge range of people in the Bible that it can be daunting to choose just one! It may be easier to think of well-known men and women, such as Abraham, Paul, or Mary (the mother of Jesus), but remember that lesser known people also have thing to teach believers and will take less time to study since there will be fewer verses about them. Someone like Barnabas or the Shunamite woman who helped the prophet may be a better starting point, since a study about someone like Jesus or Abraham will take much more time.
List references that pertain to the person. When searching for the person in a concordance, remember that there are sometimes other ways used to reference people. For example, Matthew was also called Levi, and Saul became Paul. Also, keep in mind that several people may share a name, such as Mary (the mother of Jesus, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Magdalene).
While a concordance will be very helpful in finding the person in the Scriptures, it is also possible to learn more about some of them by reading other areas. For example, Timothy has two letters that Paul wrote to him that can give further insight into the man.
If a notebook is being used, write the verse references at one side and leave a space or two between references so notes about the person from those references can be added.
It is okay to use a highlighter or pen to mark things in your Bible. It can help to find them again later when you are going back through, or to remind you, while you read, what was learned when you did the study.
Write down the first impression of the character after reading what Scriptures are listed about him or her, next to the references in the notebook. You may have questions that arise; write them so they can be answered as more information is uncovered during your study.
Craft a chronological outline of the person’s life. For some people, this may include their birth and death, but for others it may just be an excerpt of their life because that is all that is clearly delineated in the Scriptures. If preferred, a timeline may be helpful to put somewhere visible (on a facing page, perhaps) to help with chronology. There may not be enough information for a full outline but make it as complete as possible.
While studying the person, imagine yourself in their place. Attempt to view things from their perspective, to help get a better understanding of their thought processes and feelings. Read and reread the verses as you outline their life.
Make a note of insights observed in the verses. If something in particular stands out about the person and the way they handled things or something they did or said, write it down.
Identify both positive and negative character qualities about the person. Sometimes a quality may be noticeable in both its positive and negative version – for example, stubbornness and steadfastness – for a given person. Be sure to write down both qualities, as they work together to make up the character of the individual.
Bible truth(s) that can be learned from the person may be obvious, but it may take a bit of consideration. Summarize what has been found about the person and examine it for how it illustrates one or more truths found in the Bible.
Write down the lesson(s) that can be learned from the person. Consider things the person did, did not do, said, or did not say in the situations in which the person found him or herself, and whether that was the proper way to handle the matter. If the person learned a lesson in the process of the story, write that down, as it can be important for any Christian to learn. If the story is a cautionary tale, be sure to note what problem has been exposed.
Consider how to apply the lessons learned to personal life. Be specific and be sure that it is doable – even if it is difficult. God expects us to follow Him, but He is well aware that we are human, as He made us! Be as clear as possible in writing out how the lesson(s) can apply to relationship with God, others, the church, and in personal life. Some things may apply in one area but not another, and that is okay.
Review the entire study, comparing it with other Bible scholars. See what lessons and applications they found that may have been missed in yours. Summarize, adjust, and prayerfully go over the information compiled.
Share what you learned with others. It has been said that retention is best when the lesson is retaught to another, and this applies here. Tell it to a friend, your family, or a church group – or all of them! Preparing the lesson to teach it will aid you in clarity and will help you to be sure you comprehend what you have discovered.
Where to Buy
There are several “Who’s Who” books about Bible characters that could be a helpful aid in biographical study, though it may be enlightening to do your own study first and compare afterward.
All the People in the Bible: An A-Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture