Let’s say a friend asks you for your thoughts on a controversial topic. They come to you because they’re looking for a biblically sound answer. The problem is, you have no idea what the bible says about their question. You want to give your friend a solid answer. So, what should you do?
Let’s say you’re enjoying a meal with a close friend and she asks for your sincere thoughts on a controversial topic. She looks to you for advice because she trusts that you can give a biblically sound answer. The problem is, you have no idea what the Bible says about the topic she brought up. But you want to give your friend a solid and meaningful answer. So, what can you do?
Well, you probably can’t sit down in that moment and read the entire Bible to find the answer. But, it’s also not a good idea to use one or two passages to try and explain an entire topic. You want to stay faithful to what the entire Bible teaches and a few passages may not give you an accurate picture.
A Topical Bible Study can be really helpful in situations like these. Thankfully, they are pretty simple to do. I’ll show you how to do a topical study so that you can find biblical answers to important questions that you and your loved ones may be asking!
What is a topical Bible Study?
A Topical Bible Study approaches the Bible by looking at a specific topic or theme. You can do a topical study to discover what the Bible holistically teaches about a particular idea. For example, you may want to understand how the Bible views healing. Sure, you can choose one scripture about healing and come to a conclusion but it would be much better to look at healing throughout all of scripture.
Why choose to study the Bible by topic?
It’s really important to know that the things we believe about God is actually rooted in scripture. It’s too easy to run with an idea because you’ve heard it before or because it’s popular in Christian culture. But, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s Biblical. Instead of only learning about key Biblical themes from secondhand sources, you can go straight to the Bible with a topical study. Dig deeper and discover what God really has to say. Topical Bible Studies not only give you great clarity, they also help you to form a strong Biblical foundation for the things you believe.
Related: How to Study the Bible for Beginners
How to study the Bible by topic
1. Choose your topic
The first step in doing a topical study is choosing a topic that you want more clarity on. For example, you can study fasting, healing, sacrifices, or worship. You can also do a topical study of people and places. A topical study of the Apostle Paul will teach you all about his life and ministry.
Recently, I decided to study salvation by topic. I was curious to see what the Bible says about salvation across the board. This is probably one of the most important themes in scripture so it’s never a bad idea to look into it more deeply.
2. Search your word or phrase in a Bible Concordance
Your next step will involve searching your topic in a Bible Concordance. A concordance is simply an alphabetical index of words used in the Bible with their corresponding references. Strong’s Concordance is really helpful. You can get a hardcover copy on amazon or you can use the free online version through Bible Study Tools. I personally use an online concordance because I’m able to go through it much more quickly that I can go through a physical concordance. All you have to do is enter your word or phrase into the search box and allow it to pull up all related scripture.
Now, let’s saying you wanted to study healing. If you type in the word “healing,” you will only find results for that specific word. But, there’s also a lot to learn from other tenses of the word. So, here’s what you can do. Type heal + an asterik into the search bar. The system will pull up anything that starts with heal, including healed, healer, and heals.
You can also choose to exclude certain words that do not match your search. For example, if you search for “heal,” you may also get results with “health.” That may not be relevant for your search. To remove health from your search results, simply type in “heal*” AND NOT “health”. This will exclude results with the word health.
Finally, you can choose to only get results from certain books in the Bible or from only the Old Testament or New Testament. There’s a lot that you can do with the online concordance through Bible Study Tools. It may take a little while to get acclimated but play around with it and see what you discover!
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3. Gather your findings into a word document
Now, after you’ve searched for your topic, you can gather the related verses and put them into a word document. I personally recommend choosing a narrow topic so that you don’t have to go through hundreds of verses. If your topic isn’t narrow, you can select a few verses from each section of scripture instead of looking at all of them. You’ll still have a good breadth of information without going through everything.
4. Optional step: remove duplicate verses
This is an optional step and may only be necessary if you’re studying the Gospels. I say this because the Gospels have many verses that are almost identical since they are giving different accounts of the same event.
Of course, if you’re up for a challenge, you can keep similar verses and compare them for similarities and differences.
5. Write down all your questions
Now, you’ll write down all the questions you have about the topic so far. Think about what you’ve been taught about the topic, what people often ask you, what your church believes, and what society teaches.
Write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t leave anything out. Once you’re done here, you can put that aside and move on to the next step.
6. Study each verse in context
Next, you’ll study each verse within its context. I’ll admit, this may take some time but it’s worth it. Try to read a few verses above and below the verse you’re looking at so that you understand what it’s saying. Then, investigate the text. Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how. Circle key phrases, names, dates, and places. Define any words you don’t understand. Be sure to look at the original Greek and Hebrew languages as well. You may even find that you have more questions as you study. Write them down as you go.
Also make a note of important people, places, or symbolism. Define words you don’t understand. Pay attention to anything that stands out. You may find that you have more questions as you study. Write them down as you go.
Once you’ve investigated each verse in context, try to answer the questions you wrote down earlier according to what you gathered from scripture.
Write down as much as you can and don’t skip the obvious.
Remember, if you don’t have an answer, keep digging. If you’ve exhausted all your resources and you still don’t understand, that’s okay. Make a note of your question and all you’ve learned so far. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom and understanding. Trust that he can reveal the answer to you in the future.
You may also want to consider looking into commentaries from various scholars at this point. Now that you understand what the scripture actually says, you can look to theologians for more support. But, don’t just look to theologians who support what you agree with. If you want to discover truth, you need to look through an unbiased lens. As you read commentaries, look back to scripture to see if the commentaries align with what you’ve read in the Bible so far.
This part of the study is usually the longest and it can feel a little messy as you go back and forth between scriptures and questions. But, keep going because the more you dig, the more you’ll find.
Studying the Bible by topic is amazing. It encourages you to dig deeper into scripture and learn about topics you may have been curious about. It’s not wrong to look up your questions on google or look to your favorite Christian teachers and influencers. However, it’s so much better to consult the word directly and let the Spirit lead you to truth. Even though you may not find all the answers to your questions, you’ll definitely learn a lot. As you hunger and thirst for God’s word, he will fill you with knowledge and understanding.
Have you studied the Bible topically before? What are your thoughts? Did you like or dislike it?