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7 Simple Steps for Doing an Awesome Topical Bible Study

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Learning to do a topical Bible study can open a world of wisdom for you. A topical Bible study is exactly what it sounds like: you study what the Bible teaches about a single topic.

One reason topical Bible studies are so popular is that life is hard. Whether you’re facing parenting challenges, questions about ethics, concerns about job requirements, or wondering who to vote for, studying topics can give you insight into God’s heart about your concerns.

closed bible on open laptop

Another reason many believers learn to do a topical Bible study early in their faith journey is that it is fairly simple – especially with all the online resources available. You can go as deep as you want with a topical study. Or you can keep it short and simple, just scratching the proverbial surface because that’s all you’ve got the bandwidth to do right now.

The twin benefits of topical studies being both personally relevant and simple, make this a method of Bible study you’ll want to learn and use.

Choosing a Topic to Study

If you’re a beginner at Bible study topical studies are a great place to start. But it still helps to have a basic method on which to build your topical studies. This method is simple and easy but will grow with you. It’ll also help if you know where to find great online Bible study resources.

Since topical studies are often done because of personal relevance or need, deciding what to study isn’t usually a big concern. However, sometimes it helps to do some studies on topics that don’t have an intense emotional connection, especially as you are learning to do one.

If you’d like to take that approach, I’ve listed 20 topics that cover a wide range of interests below. Some of these may be more interesting to you than others, but all of them will help you to learn the process of doing a topical Bible study without overwhelming you.

bible, notebook, and coffee

Twenty Ideas for a Topical Bible Study

It’s helpful to consider a biblical topic in the form of a question, so that’s how the list below is written. The key term is each question is in bold.

  1. How are God’s people like sheep?
  2. What does Proverbs teach about speech?
  3. What does it mean to be holy?
  4. What did Jesus teach about prayer?
  5. What did Paul pray for in his letters?
  6. How is God described in Psalms?
  7. What are the characteristics of wisdom according to Proverbs?
  8. Why should a believer be baptized?
  9. Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
  10. How can I use my time wisely?
  11. How should I act towards unbelievers?
  12. What did Jesus teach about the family?
  13. How can I be more self-controlled or self-disciplined?
  14. How can I have more peace?
  15. What is sin?
  16. What does the Holy Spirit do for and in believers?
  17. How can I glorify God?
  18. What does the Bible teach about judgment?
  19. How does God want me to live?
  20. Why is thankfulness important?

This is only a partial list of topics and hopefully, it will help you to think of other topics to study. The important thing, as you’re learning, is to choose a topic that interests you but that is neither too big and overwhelming nor too personal and emotional.

For example, a terrible topic to study for your first try is love – because it’s such a BIG topic! And if you’re going through a divorce, don’t study marriage, husbands, or wives! You get the idea.

Questions to Ask in Choosing a Topic to Study

After you’ve done one or two topical studies, you may want to study a topic that has more personal meaning. Before choosing a topic, ask yourself questions about what’s going on in your life. These questions might guide you to great topics to study.

Here are some ideas to get you started thinking:

  • What recent sermon touched you? Study that topic.
  • Your child wants to read Harry Potter. So do a study on witches or story-telling or parables.
  • You read an article about how many families in your area use food pantries. Do a study on caring for the poor.
  • You have trouble paying your bills every month. Do a study on money.
  • You love gardening. Do a study on vines and vineyards.
  • Your cousin announces he’s gay. Study what the Bible teaches on sexuality.
  • You’re accused of being racist. Study what God says about impartiality.
  • Someone tells you about a mutual acquaintance’s struggle with alcohol. Do a study on gossip.
  • Your 8-year-old is caught lying frequently. Study about honesty and then share what you learn with her.

Life will hand you plenty of opportunities to need the wisdom of God’s Word. Consider each of those opportunities as an invitation to do a topical Bible study.

Getting Ready

You only need to do two things after choosing your topic and before starting your study: expand your topic and gather your supplies.

Expand Your Topic

For the remainder of this article, we’ll be using the example of doing a study on honesty to discuss each step.

After you’ve chosen a topic, brainstorm related words and terms that you might want to research. In doing a study on honesty, you’d want to include the following terms: honest, lie, lying, truth, truthful, truthfulness, deceit, deception, and possibly swear. When you first make this expanded list, don’t worry about whether all the words work. Just list as many as you can.

Gather Your Supplies

When you study, you always need three things: a Bible, something to take notes on, and something to take notes with. It’s possible that you could use just your laptop for all three of those, but below are a few other ideas.

A Bible

Choose a Bible that is easy for you to read and understand. I like the English Standard Version (ESV), but other good options include the New American Standard (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), or the Christian Standard Bible (CSM). Paraphrases such as The Message or The Living Bible should be used only as commentaries to help you understand, not as your primary Bible.

Something to Take Notes On

I use a blank journal. But you may want to use a spiral notebook, a 3-ring binder with notebook paper, or a legal pad. You could use a computer, but there’s a strong connection between the physical act of writing and your brain’s ability to remember, so consider going old school.

If you like the idea of having a worksheet to guide you through the process, click this link for a basic one to help you. It’s not fancy, but it includes all the necessary steps.

Something to Write With

For writing in your Bible, which is something you should definitely do, I prefer pencils. Regular pencils for notes and colored pencils for highlighting. Other options include gel highlighters or pens made especially for Bibles so they won’t bleed through the pages.

For taking notes, I like having at least two different colors of pens. Although sometimes I use three, four, or even five colors. It really depends on what I’m learning and how I want to mark my notes so that I can best remember. Since I use a blank journal, I don’t worry about bleed-through and usually use either these pens or these markers.

What you use doesn’t matter nearly as much as that you write your notes!

Look Up Verses & Passages

Your goal in this first step is to find all the verses or passages related to the topic you’re studying. Sometimes, you’ll limit your search to just one book or maybe just the New Testament. But usually, you’ll want to get all the verses in the entire Bible.

Finding all those verses, especially since you have all those related words, could be overwhelming. Thankfully, technology is your friend here. Online Bible study websites make this part of your study so much easier than previous generations had it! I use two different websites for different reasons as described below:

Bible Gateway

Although most of Bible Gateway’s study tools are only available to paid subscribers, I use their free version for one reason: the search results will return portions of words. That means I don’t need to search both “honest” and “honesty” because “honest” will bring up both.

Sometimes that can be a nuisance, but usually it’s very helpful. As you search each term, list the verses that apply to your study. In our example of honesty, when you search “lie,” you’ll probably find lots of verses about laying down. Obviously, those are irrelevant and won’t go on your list.

Search every term you brainstormed and list all those references in your notebook. Don’t worry about doing anything else with them yet; just make the list.

Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible is my second go-to website. It has been around a long time and is free. They have a ton of study resources, but I most frequently use Strong’s concordance. Using Strong’s and other study tools helps me to more fully understand what different terms mean.

Other tools they have will provide you with historical and cultural background information. That type of information is priceless if you’re studying, for example, sheep and shepherds or family relationships. Understanding the context in which various books were written matters a lot when studying the Bible.

Read ALL the Verses You Listed & Take Notes

bible and coffee on pink and white tablecloth

Look up the verses and passages you’ve listed in a good translation, such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New International Version (NIV), or the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). Paraphrases such as The Message or The Living Bible are best suited to reading, not studying.

If you’ve collected an extremely long list of references you have two options: (1) break your list into shorter sections and spread this part of your study out over several day or (2) limit your study to only a section of Scripture. Spreading this out over several days will give you the most complete understanding. However, limiting to one section of Scripture, such as “What does the book of Proverbs teach about speech?” or “Miracles in the New Testament” gives you a more manageable task.

As you look up each reference, take notes on what the verse says. I prefer to do this in a table format, as shown below, on my computer. A table keeps everything nice and neat for me.

The table below shows a few examples using the topic of “God’s will.” Note that only two columns are needed: the reference and your notes. Sometimes, as you’re going through this process, you’ll find that some verses or passages don’t fit the topic. Simply cross them off your list but don’t add them to your table (unless you do so with a note of “not applicable”).

When you’re taking notes about passages, include not only a summary of the teaching but also any questions that arise from the verses. Be as thorough as possible without getting bogged down. It may help to set a timer and tell yourself, “I’ll get through at least 15 verses or passages in the next 30 minutes.” Or maybe 30 passages in 30 minutes. Having a timer can help you stay focused.

Example notes table: God’s will passages

Matthew 7:21Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter heaven, but only those who do God’s will
Mark 3:35Whoever does the will of God is my mother, brother, and sister
Romans 12:2Renewing your mind will make you able to “prove” the will of God (how?); is there a “good,” “acceptable,” and “perfect” will of God? Or do those terms mean something else?
2 Corinthians 8:5Giving is connected to God’s will, by giving yourself to God first
Galatians 1:4Jesus gave Himself according to the will of God

Gaining Focus and Getting Details

You’ll want to reread your table a few times during your study. I usually reread the passages as well, but that depends on how thorough your notes are. Maybe you actually copied the entire passage into your table and included notes!

As you reread and review your table and notes, you’ll want to do a few things: (1) eliminate irrelevant passages; (2) ask yourself questions to focus your study; and (3)

Eliminate Some Passages

blue bible, notebook, tea

Depending on your topic, after you’ve made your table you may not want to eliminate any passages from your study. However, if your list is extremely long, of if you found it confusing, eliminating some passages can bring clarity to your study.

To decide what, if any, passages to eliminate, you’ll need to reread your notes first, and then reread any passages you think might not apply to your topic.

For example, if you’re studying God’s will, as in the example above, you might want to eliminate the verses that talk about Jesus doing God’s will. You may choose to do that because you’re interested in finding out God’s will for your life or because Jesus was God and had a unique mission.

Conversely, you could choose to keep the verses about Jesus doing God’s will so you can learn from His example about how to embrace God’s will even when it’s hard. The point should not be to get as few passages as possible, but to get only relevant passages.

Ask Yourself Questions

Questions will guide your study, so this is a step you may return to several times. If fact, your study may have started by asking questions!

  • Maybe your pastor preached about gossip and you asked yourself, “What makes talking gossip or not?”
  • Maybe your daughter asked why she couldn’t take communion, and now you’re studying about the Lord’s Supper to answer her question.
  • Maybe you disagree with your spouse about giving to charities other than the church so you’re asking, “Is it OK to give to other charities as part of or instead of giving to my church?” And now you’re studying about giving and money and taking care of widows and orphans.

Now that you’ve started studying a topic, however, questions can help you focus on different aspects of that topic. It’s like wanting to know the weather forecast for tomorrow. You don’t just want to know the temperature; you might also want to know if it’ll rain (or snow), be windy, and the humidity. Just knowing the temperature is good but knowing all those other things helps you understand the forecast better.

When asking questions to expand a topic, try to focus on the journalistic 5 Ws & 1 H questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. For example, if you’re studying worship, you might ask:

  • Who should worship?
  • Who should I worship?
  • What are the characteristics of true worship?
  • What might look like worship, but isn’t?
  • What could be some results of worship?
  • When should I worship?
  • Where should I worship?
  • How do we worship – or does it matter how?

You want to strike a balance between having enough questions to get a good understanding of the topic and burying yourself in questions so deep that you’ll give up every finishing – so you quit! Fewer questions with thoughtfully researched answers and references to support those answers are better than having dozens of questions and giving up.

Find Answers

Once you’ve got your list of passages, with the notes you’ve taken and a list of guiding questions, you’re reading to dig deep into the Word. Your goal is – or should be – to understand what God’s Word teaches and then to align your life with that teaching. Along the way, you’ll most likely find yourself praising the Lord. It’s just a natural outgrowth of being in the Word.

There is no right or wrong way to find your answers. You could do one question at a time or have several questions in front of you and keep them all in mind as you study different passages. You could take notes in paragraph form or in a bullet list. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.

The format below is just one way to take your notes and is included as an example only. I prefer to keep my questions in front of me and refer to them as I read through my passages.

On the computer, which is where most of my notes end up, this would mean having the questions all at the beginning of a document. Then my table of passages and answers follow.

My table always includes references and notes about the topic. If I’m answering several questions, I usually number or letter them. Then my answers in my table are listed by that number or letter.

Example: God’s Will

  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)?
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)

Summarize Your Topical Study

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 all of your answers to get a complete perspective of what the Word teaches on the topic you chose.

Just remember: if you repeat this topic study in a year or ten years, you’ll learn more and summarize differently. You’ll ask different questions and come to different applications. That’s normal and to be expected because God’s Word is “living and active.” The Spirit of God will meet you in your study with exactly what you need to learn and know and live for where you are in your life and faith at that moment. What a privilege to have the personal tutelage of the Holy Spirit!

Live What You’ve Learned

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. You should never study with Word without making a deliberate plan for changing your life to match what you learned. Preaching to myself here!

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 that was part of God’s plan for me. And that means making some hard choices about what I spend my time on – or don’t.

Topical Studies – Choices, Choices!!

Deciding what to study may be the hardest part of a topical study – there are so many good choices. Here are a few more choices to get you thinking.

AngerName of God
Blessing GodObedience
Blessings of GodPeace
EvangelismPrayers of Jesus
FearProphecies about Jesus
HolinessThe Word
HopeWaiting on the Lord
HumilityWealth & Possessions
JoyWisdom & Foolishness
Love of GodWorship

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