THEMATIC OR TOPICAL BIBLE STUDIES
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
Theological themes/topics of the Bible
When we study ‘theological’ themes or topics we are studying things like:
God [theology proper] – sub-topics include:
God as Creator
God as Sustainer and Provider
The sovereignty of God
The character of God
The Holy God
The only God
The names of God
Man [anthropology] – sub-topics include:
Image of God
Man the sinner
Salvation [soteriology] and the work of Christ – sub-topics include:
The people of God – the church [ecclesiology] – sub-topics include
The body of Christ
The bride of Christ
The role of the church in the world
The last things [eschatology]
The person of Christ [Christology]
The Messiah/Christ concept
The Son of God
The Son of Man
The two natures of Christ
The Holy Spirit [Pneumatology]
The person of the Spirit
The work of the Spirit
The baptism of the Spirit
The indwelling Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit
As indicated above, each one of these has a list of sub-themes which are also legitimate topics of study. These sub-themes also can be spit up into list of sub-themes. The deeper in one goes the deeper in there is to go, because God, whom we are discovering as we study, is eternal and infinite.
Lifestyle themes/topics of the Bible
Under the heading of ‘lifestyle’ themes or topics are Biblical themes that relate to the human response to the truth about God. These human responses include those responses that affect our thinking [our mind, emotions, soul, spirit, heart, or whatever you like to call that essential human part of your being], and also practical responses in the down to earth reality of daily living and relating. Here we are studying such things as:
Fruits of the Spirit
Contemporary and practical topics
It is also necessary for Christians to learn what the Bible has to say about practical and contemporary issues. Here we are asking the question ‘what does the Bible say about …?’
Examples of practical issues are:
The marriage relationship
The Bible and money
Dealing with anger.
Examples of contemporary issues are:
Tolerance and discrimination
How to prepare a thematic/topical bible study
Although they might sound simpler than an analytical study, thematic/topical studies require a lot of research to prepare them adequately, particularly if you are looking at your theme or topic as it occurs in the whole Bible or either Testament. Even to study, for instance, the word ‘faith’ in Paul’s teaching, requires heaps of research.
Not only do you have to carefully look at all the occurrences of the key word that defines the topic, but you also have to know and research the other biblical words and biblical words and phrases which teach the same topic. For example, if you are preparing a study on ‘prayer in the Psalms’ you need to look at such words and phrases as ‘seek the Lord’, ‘cry’, ‘call unto you’, ‘wait’, and so on. And if you wanted to include the praise aspect of prayer you would need to include ‘thanksgiving’, ‘praise’, and ‘worship’.
The best approach if you are not yet experienced in preparing Bible studies is to start with limited boundaries. If you want to study, for example, ‘loving your neighbour’, limit it to ‘what Jesus taught about loving your neighbour’.
Here are some suggestions on preparing thematic/topical studies.
Choose a theme/topic
Choose a boundary – for example - in whole bible, Old or New Testament, book or writer
Use a concordance to find occurrences of the theme
Use a Bible dictionary for a summary of the Bible’s teaching
Note the different Greek or Hebrew words used in reference to the theme
Use other books as appropriate – commentaries, studies on the theme or doctrine, Hebrew and/or Greek word studies
Gather the Biblical data on the theme
Arrange the material in categories of similar content/meaning. For example – Old Testament concepts on the theme, New Testament concepts on the theme, life applications of the theme.
Many thematic/topical studies also by nature fit under the heading of ‘analytical studies’, because in them we are actually analysing the Bible’s teaching [in whole or in a selected part] on a particular theme or topic. Studies of a particular Bible word are also very analytical studies.
The principles stated in the session on analytical studies should therefore be also applied to theme, topic and word studies.
Specific notes on preparation of ‘word studies’
To take an analytical study of a book or passage deeper, or to take a thematic/topical study deeper, significant words, verses or concepts can be analysed in depth.
Here, as with topical studies, we need to be acutely aware that the Bible uses different words to teach about the same thing, and also, that the English translations are not always consistent in their choice of words to translate the one Greek or Hebrew word.
For example, if we chose the word ‘grace’, we would:
Decide if we wanted to study grace in the whole Bible, or just, for example, in Paul’s letters.
Do a concordance search, or software search, for the word ‘grace’. [If we were doing a really comprehensive study we would also look at related words like ‘mercy’ ‘love’ ‘freely’ ‘free’, for example.]
Look up a Bible dictionary article on ‘grace’
Look up Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words.
Compare different English translations
Check out Old Testament background of New Testament words
After we had sifted through all the information we had the time to gather, we would decide what we wanted to include in our study or series of studies. We might develop our study into sections like:
The meaning of the words used
Old Testament use of the word
[If and] how Jesus used the word
How Paul used the word
Key passages in which the word is used
The importance of this word for understanding salvation
Life implications of this word.