Thursday, December 7, 2023

9 – Book Survey Bible Study Method


Big Idea: Introduction to a Bible study method that directs you towards a overall telescopic view of a 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

This method is the first of three providing a detailed study of a book of the Bible.

Bird’s Eye View of a Book

My first time to New York, our flight path took us over Manhattan. I cooed at the Empire State Building and other landmarks I could identify. I saw New York as a bird’s eye view.

Later when I moved to Manhattan, I got to know all the subways and bus routes. On Fifth Avenue my head strained up viewing the tall buildings.

The Book Survey Bible Study Method

This Bible study method is about getting a bird’s-eye view of a book. It reveals the shape and purpose of the book. It is a general view rather than a detailed view.

This is important because it shows how each part of the book relates to the other parts.

It involves a number of readings through the book with questions that will draw out the purpose, theme structure and content.

It is too easy, and erroneous, to take a few verses out of context. We need a balanced view of God’s Word in its’ wholeness.

Three phases developed by the Navigators

The book survey is the first of three steps developed by the ministry called the Navigators giving us a solid understanding of a single book of the Bible.
  • Survey — get a bird’s-eye view of the book.
  • Analysis — study everything in each chapter in detail.
  • Synthesis — put it back together again and draw some conclusions.

Tools needed:

Study Bible
Several contemporary translations
Bible dictionary or Bible encyclopedia
Bible handbook
Other background related tools may be useful also as mentioned in the last chapter.

Realize that Bible surveys on a book, and commentaries, represent opinions and thus different theological views at times. This is why it is so important to examine the Bible for yourself as primary, and then consult the opinions of others.

Steps for doing a Book Background Study

1. Read the book. Do not consult surveys, handbooks or commentaries at this point.
  • Read the book through in one sitting (break up long books like Psalms and Isaiah)
  • Read through the book in a recent translation.
  • Read it rapidly and ignore chapter divisions (these were not in the original copies)
  • Read the book repeatedly
  • Read through the book without referring to commentaries or someone’s notes
  • Read through the book prayerfully
  • Read through the book with a pen or pencil in hand.
2. Make notes on what you read
  • Category (poetry, history, prophecy…)
  • First impressions. Do you see a purpose coming through?
  • Key Words. Are there significant words the writer uses a lot?
  • Key Verse. Does a significant key verse jump out at you, showing the main thought?
  • Literary Style. (Narrative, drama, poem, letter…)
  • Emotional tone. (Angry, sad, happy, worried…) How does it make you feel?
  • Main Theme(s). What is being said? What seems to be the emphasis?
  • Structure of the book. Are there obvious divisions?
  • Major People. Who are the people mentioned most?
3. Do a background study. Look at the text itself first. Then check other tools.
  • What can I learn about the writer?
  • When was the book written?
  • To whom was the book written? Who were they? Who was he? Who was she?
  • Why was the book written?
  • What other background information sheds light on this book?
  • What is the place of this book in the Bible?
  • What are the geographic locations mentioned in the book? Where are they?
4. Make a horizontal chart of the book’s contents (Bible, ruler, 8 1/2”x11” page)
  • Make vertical column for each chapter in the book (may need more than one page)
  • Read the book again finding major divisions and noting on top
  • Read the book again creating a title for each chapter
  • Read the book once more by paragraphs making paragraph titles

5. Make a tentative outline of the book
  • Refer to the horizontal chart to help make the outline
  • Outline from major divisions to minor divisions
  • Use paragraph divisions for outline clues
  • Compare yours with other outlines you may find in a study bible or reference book
6. Write out a personal application

Consider the impressions of all you have looked at. What is one thing the Lord spoke to you about during your study? Write a personal application to it.

Rick Warren suggests these potential places to start:

1 Thessalonians • 1 John • Philippians • 2 Timothy • Ephesians • Mark • Romans • Habakkuk

Helpful resources

The webpage has a page on Warren’s Book Survey Method with the basic form at this webpage. HERE.

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

Previous: Book Background Bible Study Method
Up next: Chapter Analysis Bible Study Method


1. Are you an analytical personality or an artistic personality? Would this method be easy or hard for you to do?

2. What benefit might you find in doing this kind of study?

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