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So far, we have covered two methods of Bible study: the SOAP method and the Verse Analysis method. For the next few posts, we will be looking at how to do a book study. A book study, at least at the beginning, is usually done on a shorter book of the Bible, such as a shorter epistle like 1 John, Ephesians, or 2 Peter. As you gain confidence, you may wish to tackle a larger book, such as a gospel or one of the longer epistles. After you have done several New Testament books, you may wish to study some of the shorter Old Testament books, such as the minor prophets or portions of larger books, such as Genesis 12 – 25, which cover the life of Abraham. But I would encourage you to start with a smaller New Testament book to learn the basics.
A book study is usually divided into three basic parts: the book preview, the book study, and the book summary. Today we will cover the book preview.
A book preview gives you an overview of the book as if you were an eagle soaring over the entire territory. This big picture helps you to grasp the basics of when, where, who, and why the book was written. These facts form the foundation of your study, and you will refer to them, or recall them to mind, several times in the study. The basics will guide the questions you ask of the passage as you get into deeper study.
I do not keep my book studies in my Faith Journal. I find that there is not enough space for me to write everything I want to write, so I use the printouts I have created (the preview is found here) and keep them in a three-ring binder. I also don’t do book studies all the time. While I enjoy book studies and think there is something very valuable in covering one book in depth, they are also time intensive. I encourage you to try to do a book study every other month. This may seem like a slow pace, but in five years of slow and steady learning, you can cover 30 books or portions of larger books. That is more than the entire New Testament!
Now, on to the directions.
First, you must choose the book you are going to study. Stick with something with five chapters or less for starting out. I like 1 John, Philippians, or Colossians for beginners. For the sake of our illustrations, we’ll assume we’re studying 1 John. Once you have chosen your book for study, you will want to read it in one sitting at least three times. Also, if you have the time and resources, try reading it in different versions. Online Bible tools are great for reading passages in different translations – you don’t have to own multiple Bibles, and many of them have a parallel passage feature.
Next, you will want to read some background information about the book. Your Bible might have an introductory section; if so, start there. Bible handbooks, such as The MacArthur Bible Handbook or The Bare Bones Bible Handbook are valuable sources of information. You will want to read the background information and not focus so much on the outlines and meanings at this time. For example, in The MacArthur Bible Handbook, the chapter on 1 John covers author and date, background and setting, key people, historical and theological themes and more. I would encourage you to not read farther than what I have listed during the book preview. In The Bare Bones Bible Handbook, the chapter on 1 John covers basic background information in only one paragraph and then starts on the outline. Do not go past the outline during the preview of the book. Even if you know some basic information about the book and author, still read the background material. You never know what you might learn. This background information will help you complete the when, where, who and why of the book.
Theme and Application
Third, you will want to determine the main idea or ideas of the book. Many books have more than one main idea, while some books are all about just one thing. The background reading will help you in this but try not to copy from the handbooks you use. You might also want to identify a theme verse for the book.
Finally, as with all Bible studies you do, you will want to do a personal application. Remember to review the SPACEPETS questions to help with your application. Your application should be personal and meaningful, but you do not need to have an application that is always extreme. You will have an application every day; you cannot run a marathon every day.
Now that you understand how to do a book overview, you have a week to decide what book to study and get your resources for study. Don’t forget to get your overview printable here. Next Tuesday we will look at the heart of book study – examining each passage in detail. I will continue to use 1 John as my example book throughout these posts about book study. Join in if you can! Remember to get your book preview here.