Bible study is one of the most crucial parts of Christian life, for how can a believer live as God desires without knowing what God desires? In order to find out, one needs to spend time in the word of God. There are many ways to study God’s word, and one of them is a topical Bible study.
The purpose of a topical study is to get an in-depth view of a specific topic mentioned in the Bible. It encourages a more accurate understanding of the subject. These often include important issues that Christians face in life. While some in-depth Bible studies can seem like too much, a topic study can be as thorough or as basic as desired. Revisiting a topic later can usually turn up further information, though some is likely to be repeated. Still, repetition is a good way to learn.
The tools needed for this study method are a Bible (a topical Bible may be the best option), an exhaustive concordance, and a Bible dictionary to aid with knowing whether a word in a verse has the same meaning as the same word in other places – or if the original word was translated differently in other verses. A notebook for writing down the references and making notes as the study progresses would also be a good thing.
Start by choosing a topic. There are broad topics and specific topics; be aware that broader topics will take longer to complete and have many subtopics embedded in the study. Those who are new to this type of study should start with a smaller topic and work up to larger ones. It is possible to find lists, but you can easily create your own; consider starting with the topics found in Revelation 14:6-12. There are a surprising range of topics in those few verses, such as “fear God” and “everlasting gospel.”
Once a subject has been chosen, the next step is to find every Scripture that relates to the topic. A concordance is likely to be useful for this, but unlike a word study, this type of study will cover more references because it is a topic rather than only a word. Each passage should be examined in context and analyzed for complete meaning. Consider statements, reactions, and other related material throughout the study. If you find that the quantity of results is overwhelming, consider breaking the topic up into several related topics, instead, and choose just one of those.
Write down all words and concepts that relate to the topic. Go through and note the meanings of the words – both primary and secondary meanings – and consider contrasts, as well. See how often words or concepts are repeated. Remember to include context, as the whole meaning of a verse can change based on the verses that surround it, which may affect the audience, the reasoning, and other factors. Remember that Biblical times were different than today, so the culture of the day may have some bearing, too. Make a note of key verses from each passage and note definitive statements that qualify the content or concept. Be as systematic and organized as possible; perhaps use columns of “for” and “against” statements.
Find the first time the topic appears in the Bible. The first place in the Bible where something appears, it often explains or defines the thing. See if anything about it changes from Old Testament to New Testament, as the covenants changed and many things that related to them have also changed. Figure out what are the main points being taught; pay attention to clarity. Be careful not to build an entire doctrine on verses that are not clear about a teaching. If it seems difficult to understand, keep reading and collecting Scriptures until it becomes clear; if it does not become clear, that aspect of the content can be set aside for further study later.
The Bible should be the final authority about the subject; sources such as tradition or other people’s opinions should not be the basis for a doctrine. Remember that the New Testament (new covenant) replaced the Old Testament, so check the New Testament to see if something in it supersedes the Old Testament information about a subject. For example, the Mosaic Law was fulfilled by Christ and supplanted by the new covenant. Other than things that are superseded in the New Testament, all else should harmonize. If there are apparent discrepancies, look more closely to determine how they intertwine; the Bible always agrees with itself.
While other books such as commentaries may be available, it is recommended to wait to read what others gleaned from the topic until after your own study is nearing completion. This gives a chance to discover what God has to say personally, rather than doing the study in the light of what someone else has already said, which could prevent one from finding more personal applications.
Paying attention to God’s emphasis on the subject, consider how what you have found will apply to your life. Pray about what God would like you to learn from this subject. Write down anything that comes to mind that relates to the subject and can be applied to life. A key verse or some way to remember the application that has been found can help to remember to apply the concepts; consider using sticky notes or a dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror to keep them in front of you regularly.
Whatever type of Bible study method you choose, the important thing is to spend time regularly reading and studying God’s word. The Scriptures are essential to the Christian’s daily life and God expects believers to study them. During your study, mark verses that stand out, and make an effort to memorize them. God says that memorizing Scripture is how Christians can help to keep themselves out of sin; it is the weapon for believers to use in the fight against temptation. Faithful Bible study is the armor. Bathe the whole thing in prayer for best results!