how to do a topical Bible study

7 Simple Steps for Doing an Awesome Topical Bible Study

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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 the meanings of certain words, word studies are best. To understand the theme and flow of a book, then book study is what you need. And to understand the heart of God and the teaching of Scripture on a specific topic, then you need to know how to do a topical Bible study. So let’s dive in!

Prepare to do a Topical Bible Study

Before you begin a topical Bible study – or any Bible study – you need to prepare yourself. That means praying for guidance & clarity. It means confessing sin. It means praying for a heart geared to obedience, not only a mind geared to accumulating knowledge.

Once you’ve prayed about your heart attitude, you need to spend some time thinking & praying about what topic to study. You could choose to study something that just interests you or something that came up in a sermon you heard. Or you might choose a topic based on a need in your life, such as a recent discussion with your children, or because you want to think Biblically about current events. One popular way of choosing a topic is to study a problem you are personally struggling with. Below are examples of possible topics that would fit in each of these areas.

  • Something that interests you: vineyard/vines; animal pictures used to describe aspects of God’s nature (“under His wing”)
  • Something you heard in a sermon: the priesthood of the believer; caring for widows & orphans.
  • A discussion with your children: Biblical explanations of good & evil (after the “why can’t we watch that?” question); truth & lies
  • Current events: Biblical instructions on sexuality; racism & discrimination;
  • Personal struggles: gossip; health & weight;

After choosing a topic, brainstorm related words and terms that you might want to research. For example, when studying ‘truth & lies’ you might want to include truthfulness, true, honest(y), faithful, upright, deceit, deception, false witness, and dishonest(y). Make as long a list as you can. Later you can decide which words or phrases to include and which to not pursue at this time.

Finally, get your supplies ready. Because Bible study is study! At the very least you’ll want something to write with and something to write on. I use several other supplies. Some of my favorites are below.

  • Zebra Mildliners (they don’t bleed through my Bible pages)
  • Colored pencils (I color-code lots of words in my Bible)
  • A hardbound journal. Sure you could use a spiral notebook – and I have. But I prefer something a little sturdier because I keep my notes and refer back to them. Of course, you might be a digital-only gal, in which case paper is not for you! Still, take the time to set up your online document with a header (at least) and auto-save. You don’t want to lose your hard work!
  • Bookmark the websites you might use. Here are some suggestions:

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.

REFERENCESUMMARY OF THE VERSE(S)
Matthew 7:21Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord will enter heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father
Mark 3:35Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister
Romans 12:2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind so you can prove the will of God
2 Corinthians 8:5Gave willingly of money, but first gave of themselves by the will of God
Galatians 1:4Jesus 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.

how to do a topical Bible study

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:

  1. What is the will of God for believers?
  2. Why am I to do God’s will (motive, result, reward)?
  3. How am I to do God’s will (attitude, action)?
REFERENCEANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Romans 12:2A.      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 8:5A.      (no answer)

 

B.      (no answer)

C.       By first giving myself to the Lord, and serving others

Ephesians 5:15 – 21A.      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.

AbideMight
AngerName of God
Blessing GodObedience
Blessings of GodPeace
CommandmentsPower
DelightPraise
DiligencePrayer
EvangelismPrayers of Jesus
FearProphecies about Jesus
ForgivenessPurity
FruitfulnessRighteousness
GivingSin
GraceThankfulness
HolinessThe Word
HopeWaiting on the Lord
HumilityWealth & Possessions
JoyWisdom & Foolishness
Love of GodWorship

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