Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bible Study Methods: Topical Studies

Our first post in this series covered word studies. Word studies are when you study a specific word to learn how the Bible uses that word. Today we are going to dive into a second method of Bible studies called topical studies.

Topical studies are built off of word studies with a few variations. Because of this, the steps of a topical study are similar to a word study. As an example, I'll use one topical study I'm learning about on prayer.

Step One Do a word search for the key word of your topic with all English tenses (so for "pray" this would include praying, prayed, prayer, etc.)

Step Two Copy the passages that pertain to your search. Not every verse with the word “pray” is about our prayers to God, so breathe a sigh of relief that you don't have to copy ALL those verses.

Step Three Read each verse and surrounding verses for context. Context is especially important in a topical study. Would you pick a random line in a friend's letter or email and start reading what they had to say to you there? No, Why not? The same applies to God's letter to us. How will we know what He is saying if we don't begin when He first introduces the topic?

Step Four Investigate the verses/passages. Notice similarities between the verses. Ask questions. Make notes. My favorite way to make notes in a topical study is to jot down a sentence or two of summary below each passage or verse.

Step Five Take to heart what you have learned. Another benefit of topical studies is they usually take longer than word studies. I've actually been at this prayer study for several weeks...mainly because I'm a slowpoke and prayer is mentioned rather often in the Bible (smiles). Something about the longer period focused on God's word helps me listen anew to what God has to say about my prayers, my lack of dependence on Him and my gross ignorance of what He has commanded me to pray for.

Some Thoughts

  • Pay very close attention to the first time your key word is used. When God first introduces a word in His book, it's time for us to sit up and pay attention. Make careful notes of the verse where it's first used. We aren't normally taught this, so it may take awhile to get use to it, but asking questions similar to what we did in the word studies will take you a long way in understanding your topic.

  • It is helpful to jot down exactly what your questions are before you begin studying. My two main questions for this prayer study were how prayer is a spiritual weapon and how my misconceptions about prayer needed to be corrected.

  • To deepen the study, consider searching other synonyms (for prayer these would be words like supplication, request – even cry).

  • Be aware that there may be passages which speak to your study without ever using your key word. For example, many psalms are actually prayers even though the word prayer may never be used in them. Also two vivid examples of prayer in the life of Elijah is given in 1 Kings 18, yet the word is never once used in the chapter. Depending on the nature of your search, you may want to go to these specific passages and study them also.

The beauty of topical studies is you are seeing what God thinks, feels and says about what you are studying. You are also seeing the whole of Scripture instead of just an out of context verse here and there. My love of the Bible has grown so much from time spent in topical studies and I pray it is the same for you!

Have you done a topical study? If so, I'd enjoy hearing how you did it and what you studied. I've learned so much from how others study the Word and would love to learn from you!

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