Thursday, November 30, 2023

8 - Book Background Bible Study Method

Big Idea: Introduction to a Bible study method that guides you to research the background of a book of the Bible, taking into consideration the geography, culture, world events and key characters regarding that particular book of the Bible.

Series note: We are taking 12 weeks to feature summaries of the 12 Bible Study Methods featured in the book by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Getting to know a place

I love to travel, learning about different cultures and lifestyles. Half the fun is preparing. I check travel books from the library, look at maps online, learn about the customs and politics of the area, and check out local foods.

In the same way, when we want to understand a book of the Bible we should get to know the place a little. 

Where did the book take place? 
What time period was it? 
Who were the political powers and what were the customs of the day.

Check out a book at the local library or borrow one from your pastor. Look at maps online. Research any archeological findings on the time period. Find out what you can about how they lived, worked and ate.

To understand the Bible better, it helps to understand the context. Try to put yourself in their place and ask yourself how God revealed Himself to them and worked in their midst.

This is invaluable to applying God’s message to our setting today. 

Tools needed:

Usually the Bible is our primary source. This study is dependent on Bible tools. Your study Bible will have some notes and maps.

A Bible Dictionary
A Bible Handbook
A Bible Atlas

Other books about the Bible times are also valuable. Scripture Spy notes that there are a lot more tools online regarding our needs to do this study also.


Steps for doing a Book Background Study

1. Choose the subject or book of the Bible.

2. List your reference tools.

3. Obtain insights from geography. Check out Biblical lands topography, water sources, cities, borders. Ask about neighboring countries that had an influence.

4. Get insights from history. Find a good timeline of Bible times. Familiarize yourself with who was in power, and what kind of hold they had. What was going on in the world then? Where was the Jewish nation in history? In the New Testament what was happening to the emerging church?

5. Discover some insights from culture.

Types of clothing people wore • Professions and trades in biblical times • Music in the Bible • Architectural styles in the Near East • Manners and customs in Scripture • Recreation in ancient times • Family life in the Middle East • Art in the Bible • Languages and literature of surrounding nations • Religious ceremonies in Israel and among pagan neighbors • False religions of the area • Weapons and tools used by the people

6. Research insights from the political environment. As you discover political powers that had an influence, look up their leaders. King Nebuchadnezzar. Caesar. etc.

7. Summarize your research. Review what you’ve studied as answer these 2 questions.
  • How does this background information help me understand better what I am studying?
  • What influence did any of these factors have on the subject (or book) that I am studying?
8. Write out a personal application. This may feel awkward, but reflect on what you know so far of the book of the Bible in question, and ask how this information sheds more appreciate for what the author wrote. Is there something you can relate to?

Books or Subjects to consider:

The book of Philippians, Colossians, Ruth.
You could make a sub-group your study, such as Pharisees and Sadducees, or the Romans in Palestine.

Helpful resources

The webpage has a page for Book Background on Warren’s Biographical Method. A form is also there. 

Here is an online PDF of the book by Rick Warren, Bible Study Methods: 12 ways you can unlock God's Word
Previous: Nine Strange Thanksgiving Moments in the Bible
Up next: Book Survey Bible Study Method


1. Where might I find some tools to use for my research? Who might I ask? How might an internet search help?

2. What background information do I think might be helpful for understanding the Bible better?


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Nine Surprising Thanksgiving Moments in the Bible

The big idea: Giving thanks in hardship was how our Thanksgiving day was born. It made me think of 9 strange occasions of thanks in the Bible.

America’s Thanksgiving Declared During War

Give thanks even when it hurts.

That has been modeled for us in America. The first time of giving thanks was ordered was in the middle of the Revolutionary War in 1777, after the Battle of Saratoga.

In November of 1789 George Washington declared a national day of Thanksgiving reflecting on the birth of this new nation.

In November of 1863 in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving should be declared a national holiday.

9 surprising Thanksgiving moments in the Bible

1. King David in pain

But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me.  I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgivingPsalm 69:29-30 NIV

2. Though ruin was coming

The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. Isaiah 51:3 NIV

Isaiah saw the destruction for God’s people but he anticipated God’s compassion in the midst of all the destruction and loss they would surely experience.

3. Rebuilding 70 years after total destruction

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:11 NIV

This is a great story. (Ezra 10-13) This thanksgiving moment occurs when they have laid the foundation of their temple after all these years. People laugh and cry.

4. When giving thanks risks death

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Daniel 6:10 NIV

This is when Daniel goes to the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6). It is all because the Persian King declared anyone who petitions anyone other than him be sentenced to death. Never stop thanking God no matter what.

5. During a 2 week storm at sea

 "Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.”  After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. Acts 27:34-35 NIV

Paul was travelling the Mediterranean by ship and the storm was so bad no one could eat for 2 weeks. They were sure the ship would splinter to pieces (Acts 27).

6. Facing hardship, persecution and death in ministry

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Cor 1: 10-11 NIV

This is thanks in anticipation for what God WILL do, like Isaiah 51:3

7. Instead of obscenities and vulgar joking

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4 NIV

Paul was telling the Corinthians in a foul mouthed culture how to act as Christians. Prone to swearing? Say thanks to God instead.

8. Thank God for evil leaders

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. I Timothy 2:1-2 NIV

When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy it was the mid-60s A.D. The Roman World was ruled by Emperor Nero who took delight in torturing people. He even poisoned his own mother. Many Christians were burned to death or thrown to lions at his command.

9. In the End Times

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. Rev 11:17 NIV

In the middle of mayhem on earth, thanks is being given. Another example of anticipation that God will make all things right.

Our world has a lot of angst. There are wars of atrocities. Random acts of violence. Foul movies and TV shows. Polar positions against every idea fed by social media laced with fear and anger. Politics? Oh boy.

In the midst of all of that, give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18). Rise above the mayhem and lift up your eyes to the Lord.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The usual post in this series will be posted next Thursday on Rick Warren’s Book Survey Bible Study Method. In the midst of everything take time to learn how to feast on God's Word. 

If you’d like to get the Scripture Spy blog in an email, subscribe by writing to me at

Scripture Spy on Bible Study Methods 

Previous: Word Study Bible Study Method
Up next: Book Background Bible Study Method



1. What is something you can give thanks for today, though it might be a little hard to say it.

2. When have you been in a difficult situations and you were reminded, in your spirit or by someone else, to give thanks?

Thursday, November 16, 2023

7 - Word Study Bible Study Method

 Big Idea: Introduction to the Word Study Bible study method guides one to examine the use of significant words found frequently in the Bible, exploring their usage in its original language and in the Biblical context.

Series note: We are taking 12 weeks to feature summaries of the 12 Bible Study Methods featured in the book by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life

The Word Study Bible Study Method

Our kids have always loved word plays like anagrams, cryptograms and word scrambles. They are much better at it than I am.

Words are fascinating and words matter. They are at the core of good communication.

The importance of studying words in the Bible

There are words in the Bible that occur frequently with key ideas associated with them. Words like grace, and faith. To ignore their meaning or be unclear about what it says hinders our better understanding of God’s message to us.

The study of words related to key ideas will unlock a deeper understanding of the Bible. A correct interpretation of biblical truths is based on understanding the words.

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

Of course the Bible was written originally in primarily Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament). Bible translation into other languages (like English) try to best convey the meaning but word equivalents don’t always exist.

That is why it is invaluable to study a word’s meaning in its original language and examine the context. The English use of a word is not enough.

Tools needed:

Study Bible
Several translations (but not paraphrases)
Exhaustive concordance   (Scripture Spy: How to use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance)
Bible dictionary or encyclopedia
A good English dictionary
A set of word studies
If you have had an introduction to Biblical Greek or Hebrew, their Bible concordances and tools may be useful.  Ralph Winter’s Word Study Concordance and The Word Study New Testament are helpful.

Three Common Difficulties listed by Rick Warren

1. Sometimes several Greek words are translated by just one English word.

2. Sometimes one Greek or Hebrew word is translated several ways in English.
  • List the different ways the word is translated
  • List how many times it is translated each way
  • Give examples of each translation if possible
  • Write down how the different meanings might be related
  • Determine if the writer of the book is using the word you are studying in a single sense or is giving it a multiple meaning
3. Sometimes an original word is translated by a whole phrase in English.

Simple steps on doing a word study

1. Choose your word. Maybe there is a word you have been mulling over in your studies.

2. Find its English definition. Check a good English dictionary.

3. Compare translations that have that word. (Scripturespy: This is fairly easy on Bible with a single word. At the bottom it gives the option to see all translations.) 

4. Write down the definition of the word in the original language. Find this using your exhaustive concordance.

5. Check the word’s occurrences in the Bible.
  • How many times does the word occur in the Bible?
  • In what books does it occur?
  • What writers used the word?
  • In what book does it occur most?
  • Where does the word occur first in the Bible?
  • Where does it occur first in the book I am studying?
6. Find the root meaning and origin of the word. Use a Bible dictionary, a theological word book, etc.

Here are a couple of tools for that, that Rick Warren recommends.
The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study: New Testament, 3 vols. (Victor) • The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study: Old Testament, 4 vols. (Victor) • Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Hendrickson) • Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology (Kregel)

7. Discover the word’s usage in the Bible

a. Find out how the word was used in the time the book of the Bible was written?
b. Find out how the word was used in the Bible?
    • How does the writer use the word in other parts of the book?
    • How does the writer use the word in other books he has written?
    • How is the word used throughout the whole testament?
    • Does the word have more than one usage? If so, what are its other uses?
    • What is the most frequent use of the word?
    • How is it used the first time in the Scriptures?
c. Find out how the word is used in the context of the passage?
    • Does the context give any clues to the meaning of the word?
    • Is the word compared or contrasted with another word in the context?
    • Is there any illustration in the context that clarifies the meaning of the word?
8. Write out an application. Keep your goal application, not interpretation. This is for your personal study and growth, not an academic paper. Pray over it.

Include a list of resource books you found useful in studying this word.

Helpful resources

The webpage has a page on Warren’s Word Study Method with a form also available on that page.

Also Scripture Spy has a number of blogs about tools both in book form and online that can be used, as well as helpful information about the process.

What is a Word Study 
Choosing a Bible Translation
Lost in Translation 
Word Study using the Blue Letter Bible 

In the New Year (2024) Scripture Spy Blogs will be about various tools to use for Bible study.  Some are hard copy books and others are electronic sources. Many of the resources are useful for this kind of study. Some of the resources mentioned by Rick Warren are old and out of print. We will look at more update or electronic tools. 

Here is an online PDF of the book by Rick Warren, Bible Study Methods: 12 ways you can unlock God's Word

Previous: Topical Method of Bible Study
Up next: Book Background Method of Bible Study


1. Do you have any experience learning or speaking another language? If so, think about some of the words that are difficult to translate into English or vice versa.

2. Rattle off 5 important words used in the Bible. Is there one that you would like to study more carefully?


Thursday, November 9, 2023

6 - Topical Bible Study Method

Big Idea: Introduction to the Topical Bible study method which details a Biblical topic through the study of pertinent verses, cataloging their uses and drawing life application from the observations.

Series note: We are taking 12 weeks to feature summaries of the 12 Bible Study Methods featured in the book by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life

My Pet Topic 

Do you know someone with a pet topic? They bring it up no matter what the conversation is about.

One of my favorite topics in the Bible is peace. The peace that is beyond comprehension that comes from God (Philippians 4:7).

The Topical Bible Study Method

The Topical Bible Study Method is like the Thematic (Themes) study from 2 weeks ago about verses related to a subject. You gather understanding by asking questions.

But the Topical Bible Study and the Thematic Bible study are different in a couple ways. The topical study is broader, and takes longer. All the verses are looked at and the questions are not limited. Each verse is examined for all their insights and compared.

Since the topic may be so broad it would take months to finish, you may want to limit your particular observations to a single book of the Bible, or just the Old Testament or the New Testament.

The importance of topical study 

Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word . Zondervan.

1. It enables us to study the Word of God systematically, logically, and in an orderly manner.

2. It gives us a proper perspective and balance regarding biblical truth. We get to see the whole of a biblical teaching.

3. It allows us to study subjects that are of particular interest to us.

4. It enables us to study the great doctrines of the Bible.

5. It lends itself to good and lively discussions. The results of a topical study are always easy to share with others.

6. It allows us variety in our lifetime commitment to personal Bible study. The number of topics in the Bible that we can study is almost limitless.

Tools needed:

A study Bible                           (Scripture Spy blogpost:   Resources in your Study Bible)
An exhaustive concordance     (Scripture Spy blogpost: How to use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance)
Topical Bible

A note on specialized topical Bibles: The Thompson Chain Reference Bible was written over 100 years ago. It remains tried and true for discovering Bible themes.

Advice from R.A. Torrey, How to Study the Bible, Witaker House.  The kindle version of this book is currently free at 

1. Be systematic
2. Be thorough
3. Be exact

Simple steps on doing a topical study

1. Compile a list of all the worlds related to the topic. Think of synonyms and antonyms, phrases and events.

2. Collect all the references. Use your reference tools to gather all the verses you can find on the topics. Use a concordance or the search feature in an online Bible.

3. Consider each verse individually. Use a comparison chart to look up, read and study each reference, writing down highlights and insights. Check the surrounding verses for context. Ask yourself lots of questions.

4. Compare and group the references with one another. You will find there are multiple verses that go together or are used in the same manner.

5. Condense your finding into an outline. Logically arrange your main divisions as you put together an outline. Group related ideas by their logical pattern.

6. Conclude by summarizing and applying the topic. Try to summarize your findings into brief paragraphs. Then meditate on them and write out practical application you see for your life.

Making a Form

Chart 1: For steps 1 and 2. Place topic on top, then words related in the next slot. Next list all the Bible References you find.

Chart 2: For steps 3 and 4. Make a comparison chart. Have 3 columns labeled reference, cross-references, and observations/insights. The third column should be the widest for more room to write.

Chart 3: For step 5. Make your outline here.

Chart 4: For step 6. Summary and application

Helpful resources

The webpage has a page on Warren’s Topical Method.  A form is also available here.

Here is an online PDF of the book by Rick Warren, Bible Study Methods: 12 ways you can unlock God's Word


Previous: Biographical Method of Bible Study
Up next: Word Study Method of Bible Study


1. What topic would you like to study? Why?

2. How do you think the Word of God can speak to you through a topical study?

Thursday, November 2, 2023

5 - Biographical Bible Study Method


Big Idea: Introduction to a Bible study method that trains us to explore Bible characters for ourselves observing both their strong points and weakenesses, learning from their example (both positive and negative).

Series note: We are taking 12 weeks to feature summaries of the 12 Bible Study Methods featured in the book by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.

What Makes People Tick?

Queen Esther is my favorite Bible character. Introduced as a shy teenage Jewish girl she wins hearts and finds her voice to speak up for her people.

At the heart of the Biographical Bible Study Method is the study of a Bible character’s attributes in their unique life situation, watching their growth or groaning at their failures. 

The New Testament tends to have more instructive teaching and the Old Testament tends to teach by telling stories we can relate to.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. I Corinthians 10:11 (NLT)

The people of the Bible are not all heroes. Even the heroes are complex human beings. Their stories are not sugar coated but rather, raw emotional stories of real human beings.  This supports that the Bible is an accurate source, not one that puffs up stories of key individuals.

God has created man and woman. We are important to Him and He wants to enter into our daily life.

This method helps us examine people, reflecting and comparing them to ourselves as we seek to discover what makes them tick. We can learn from them for our walk with God in our own life experiences.

The Biographical Bible Study Method

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 15:4 (NLT)

Tools needed:

A study Bible                           (Scripture Spy blogpost:   Resources in your Study Bible)
An exhaustive concordance     (Scripture Spy blogpost: How to use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance)
Topical Bible
Bible dictionary or encyclopedia

Tips for a good biographical study

1. Start with a person on whom you can do a simple study. Don’t start with a major character like Abraham or Moses for your first study.

2. Imagine yourself in their shoes. As you study, imagine you are visiting their life in your mind.

3. Be careful not to confuse people who have the same name. There is an Old Testament Joseph and a New Testament Joseph. Totally different guys.

4. Some Bible characters have more than one name. Sometimes this is because their name is different in another language. Abram/Abraham. Peter/Simon/Cephas

5. Focus on what the Bible says about them and try to stay in the Bible first. After you’ve learned about them already you may look up biographical sketches of them in Bible Dictionaries, Commentaries and so on.

Ten Simple Steps for doing a Biographical Study

1. Select the Bible person you want to study. You may look for someone who struggles as you do, or with qualities you want to emulate.

2. Make a list of all the references regarding that person

3. Write down first impressions (first reading)

4. Make a chronological outline (second reading). Often people grow and change. Note that.

5. Get some insights into the person (third reading). Don’t forget location, family, career, period of history.

6. Identify some character qualities (fourth reading). Make a list of positives and negatives.

7. Show how other Bible truths are shown in the person’s life. It may be something like “You reap what you sow,” or a life reflecting prayer.

8. Summarize the main lesson(s) Try to explain the person’s life lessons in one or two short sentences. Is there an outstanding characteristic?

9. Write out a personal application. You may want to refer back to the devotional method. Ask here if you see yourself in that person, strengths and weaknesses that give you something to work on…

10. Make your study transferable. Are you able to jot an outline of what you have observed and learned that you could use to share a devotional or teach a class?

Helpful resources

The webpage has a page on Warren’s Biographical Method.
A form is also available at this webpage. HERE.

Start with a simpler Bible character for your first one. Examples: Ruth, Caleb, Andrew, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha)

Something for everyone 

There are so many personalities in the Bible, just like we are all different with our quirks. We experience different stages of life. One character may be more meaningful to you now than when you were younger. We walk through different life situation from others. The Bible tells of many difficult life circumstances.

Even a Bible character completely different from you has something you can learn. It is all about how God reaches out to us as human beings and wants to work in and through us. 

Here is an online PDF of the book by Rick Warren, Bible Study Methods: 12 ways you can unlock God's Word

Previous: Thematic Method of Bible Study
Up next: Topical Method of Bible Study


1. How might you learn from a person who is a bad example in the Bible?

2. Do you have a favorite character in the Bible? Why might you gravitate to that person? At first thought, what might you learn from him or her?