Being Biblical - A Process for Topical Bible Study

When we refer to something as “biblical” we obviously mean that we are seeking a way of doing things that (positively) pattern themselves after the way the Bible teaches us things should be done and (negatively) does not contradict Scripture.  We should seek to do things Biblically because 1) as sinners we are prone to believe and do things wrongly and 2) as redeemed people God calls us to go about His work correctly.  The Bible helps us to alleviate false ideas and adopt right ones.  Because we are sinful and God is Holy, His ways are the right ways.  As the record of His ways, the Bible is our standard of truth (as opposed to our own opinions, thoughts, or feelings which can easily lead us astray).
If we are seeking to be biblical with any subject, the obvious question is then, “What does the Bible say about ___________________?”  As an example of the process, let’s ask this question about prayer.  Here is a simple process for a topical Bible study on prayer.[1]  One could apply this same process to any subject. 
1.       Gather a list of all the verses that speak to the chosen topic. 
a.       You may want to use a concordance which will give you every verse in the Bible that contains certain words.  For example, a concordance will give you every verse in the Bible that contains the words “prayer, pray, or prayed.” 
b.      You may want to use a Bible dictionary which will give you a definition of a topic derived from references found in Scripture.  If you look up the word “prayer” in a Bible dictionary it will give you a listing of the most meaningful verses to the topic.  This may help you narrow the listing down quite a bit from a concordance.
c.       You may want to use a topical Bible index.  In an index you can look up a topic and it will give you a list of subject and verse references that have important bearing on the topic.

Fortunately we live in a day of readily accessible electronic media via the internet.  Instead of investing a great deal of money and time in print resources, we can download content that is cheap (or free) and integrates several books into one.  For example, eSword ( is a free Bible study resource (I would suggest donating to the project).   By simply entering a word in a search box the program will display entries from concordances, indexes, and dictionaries instantly.  This could save you hours of searching and researching in print resources.
2.       Create an outline that helps give an overview of what the Bible says about your topic.  Our search is going to begin with “prayer.”  You will find that the amount of verses that speak to this are more numerous than we can count or read in one sitting.  So from your search, try to outline (or index) the major points on prayer.  For example:
a.       The Bible commands us to pray
b.      There are various types of prayer
c.       There are many examples of prayer
d.      God answers prayer

Now expand the outline.
a.       The Bible commands us to pray (list three or four verses that emphasize this point, preferably with a balance of Old and New Testament references).
                                                               i.      OT verse 1
                                                             ii.      OT verse 2
                                                            iii.      NT verse 1
                                                           iv.      NT verse 2
b.      There are various types of prayer
                                                               i.      Intercession
1.       (OT verse)
2.       (NT verse)
                                                             ii.      Petition
1.       (OT verse)
2.       (NT verse)
                                                            iii.      Thanksgiving
1.       (OT verse)
2.       (NT verse)
c.       There are many examples of prayer
                                                               i.      Moses’ prayers (list verses)
                                                             ii.      Jeremiah’s prayer (list verses)
                                                            iii.      Jesus’ prayers (list verses)
                                                           iv.      Paul’s prayers (list verses)
d.      God answers prayer
                                                               i.      Example 1
                                                             ii.      Example 2
                                                            iii.      Example 3
3.       Take time to go through your outline, interpret the passages correctly, and make notes.  This could take a great deal of time and paper, but that is Bible study!  The difference between Bible reading and Bible study is a pen and a piece of paper.[2]  Depending on your time constraints or attention span, you may want to narrow your study down a bit at this point.  Instead of studying prayer, make it a study of Paul’s prayers or a study of intercessory prayer.
4.       Conclude your study by doing the following:
a.       Create a concise statement that summarizes what you have found to be Biblical about your topic.  For example, “Prayer is a key to relating to God.  He commands it.  Throughout the Bible God’s people pray.  There are many types of prayer.”
b.      Write a few paragraphs that expound upon your study.  These paragraphs should relate back to your summary statement(s).  For example, write a few paragraphs on why prayer is key to relating to God.  Write a few paragraphs on the people in Scripture who prayed, their background, the occasion of their prayer, and God’s response.  Write a paragraph that describes or defines each type of prayer that is found in Scripture.
c.       Apply your findings to everyday life.  If we cannot assimilate Scriptural truth into action, we have not adequately studied the Bible, nor have we chosen to obey it.  Gathering Scriptural truth without any intent to act upon it is dangerous:
                                                               i.      Gaining knowledge for knowledge sake makes us arrogant.  Applying Biblical truth is a loving and humbling process.  Read the example of Paul instructing prideful attitude of some Corinthians in a debate over meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).
                                                             ii.      Failing to apply Biblical truth is not the saving version of faith.  Just knowing about something without acting on that knowledge is fruitless.  Read the book of James, or more specifically James 2:14-26.  The Book of James is a stern warning against a prideful but useless knowledge of truth.  James encourages us to do the hard work of application by finding ways to do the difficult task of changing our sinful habits and attitudes according to Scripture.  If we really believe something is true, we will surely act on that knowledge.
This is a great process to use for your own personal Bible study or for preparing to teach or preach.  If you take the time and do the work the Word of God will speak strongly on the topic you are investigating.  Your soul will be stirred.  Your life will be changed and you will have a lot of great notes you can pass along to someone else.

[1] We are engaging in topical or doctrinal Bible study.  In asking the question of what does the Bible say about a topic we are literally seeking a “theology” on the given topic.  Wayne Grudem has an excellent discussion of this type of Bible study in the first chapter of his Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (pp. 1-43).  If we were studying a Book of the Bible, a character, or a certain verse or chapter this is called exegesis or hermeneutics (rightly interpreting the Bible).  This is a different process all together as it seeks to find the way certain words, historical background, and the Scriptural context come together to give us the meaning of a certain text.
[2] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life


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