The most important thing any Christian can do is study the Scriptures. One cannot know what behavior God expects or how to properly worship Him without knowing what the Bible says. While this can be accomplished by simply reading it, one can glean more by doing an in-depth study.
There are a variety of methods that can be used to study the Bible. One of these is the book survey method. This involved reading and re-reading one book of the Bible and recognizing its general overview, as well as looking closer. It is best used in conjunction with two complementary methods: the chapter analysis method and the book synthesis method – each of which is detailed on this site on its own page.
The tools you may want to use for this Bible study method include a Bible in your preferred translation (or several translations), a Bible dictionary, a Bible encyclopedia, a Bible handbook (like Halley’s or Unger’s), Old Testament and New Testament surveys, and some tools to aid with cultural context.
If you have done a background study on the book previously, it may come in handy when doing a book survey, as the background information is also relevant here.
Start by reading through the entire book in one sitting. Depending on the size of the chosen book, it may be necessary to set aside an hour or more to read it without interruptions. The two largest books are Psalms and Isaiah, but either of those still only take a few hours. Consider using one of the translations that uses modern English, for ease in reading. Ignore the chapter and verse divisions, because the book is one complete book and the divisions are meant for ease in finding sections.
Plan to read through the book several times. It may surprise you what you find the second or third time through that did not pop out at you the first time through. Take your own notes as you read, but avoid other people’s notes until after you have finished most of the study, so you can learn what God has for you personally. Pray as you read, asking God to open your eyes to His truth.
Have a pen or pencil and a notebook by you as you read, in order to take notes and write down what stands out to you as you go through the book, each time you read. Write down the impressions you have and key details. Some things to note include:
- What genre fits the book? Is it history, poetry, narrative, correspondence, prophecy, biography, etc.?
- Can you determine the purpose of the book?
- Are there words that are repeated often or seem particularly notable?
- Are there one or two verses that are key verses, or that summarize the content?
- Does the writing style affect the message contained in the book?
- Do the author’s emotions show through in the writing? Does it affect your response, as a reader?
- Can you determine the theme(s) of the book?
- What is the central aspect of the book, in the perspective of geography, time period, events, people, and such?
- Are the people in the book the main characters or the audience? How do they fit in to the overall book?
Consider the background of the book. If you have previously done a background study on the book, it can be drawn in to this study; if not, now is a good time to do one.
Chart the books contents on a horizontal chart. If you have not made one of these before, here is how it works:
- On one or two pages (no more than a two-page spread), make a vertical column for each chapter in the book you have chosen. For Philippians, that would be four columns.
- Read the book again, noting major divisions. These are often the same as chapter divisions, but not necessarily. Make headings referring to these divisions as briefly as possible.
- Read again and title each chapter in its column, as subheadings of the divisions you made. These titles should be short (up to four words) but descriptive. Text from the chapter is ideal, when possible, but make it as unique as possible.
- On the next read-through, add a brief 3-4 word title for each paragraph.
The work done on the horizontal chart will make it easy to move on to make an outline of the book. This preliminary outline will be used in further studies of the book. When your outline is finished, compare and contrast it with outlines written by other scholars.
Determine personal applications from the book. These can be added to each time you read through the book; you may find something new in a later read-through that did not stick out in an earlier reading.
It is recommended that you move from this study to a chapter analysis and then book synthesis study of the same book, as these complement each other and add to your knowledge of the selected book. Even if you choose not to go on and study further, the book survey will increase your understanding of the Bible and the contents therein, and how it relates to your life and what is needed to glorify God as He desires of His people.
Some books that you may find are helpful for this type of study include these Bible handbooks:
Where to Buy
When you have finished your study, consider comparing your results with these scholars who have done similar studies and published them for the edifying of fellow believers: