I gave you an awful lot of information last week so I thought it would be helpful to show you an example of a word study and what it can do for you.
In case you haven’t already figured this out, serious Bible study takes preparation. You don’t just sit down, open the Bible and start reading. A couple of years ago I decided to do a study on faith. It took me weeks to complete the research and then a year or so afterward to actually finish the study. But on the way I made some wonderful discoveries that have seriously changed my attitude and my life. Follow along with the directions I gave you in last week’s post and watch how this developed.
First I bought a large loose-leaf notebook and a brand new pack of notebook paper. You cannot be a tree-hugger and study the Bible seriously. You need paper and a lot of it. I opened the concordance and wrote down every passage I could find containing the word “faith.” I left room next to each passage for a later note, then wrote the next passage on the next line. I did not write on the back of any sheet—you must be able to shuffle papers, lay them out, and look at them all at once, and you cannot do that if you are constantly turning them over. You will inevitably forget to do so once and miss something, or you will check the same side twice and waste time. In this case I did not want to delete any passages at all as I showed you how to do last week. The study was too important, so I wrote them all down, and when I finished I had 20 sheets of paper.
Next, I looked up and read every one of those passages, including a few surrounding verses, and wrote a short phrase from the pertinent verse to remind myself at a glance what it said. That much alone—the writing down, looking up, and reading--took me three weeks. I am talking about 6-8 hours a week, but tell me you don’t spend that much time either watching television or sitting at the computer.
The next step was organization. I looked over the phrases several times. Do not try to do any of this with shortcuts. The point is to study the scripture not to see if you can avoid reading it. Eventually I came up with several categories. Now it was time to get out more paper and write those categories down and the verses that fit in them, this time leaving more space after each word because I was getting really close to beginning the deep part of the study. My categories included things like:
> Positive verbs associated with faith
> Negative verbs associated with faith
> Things that take more faith to handle
> Things that make faith grow
> What increasing faith can lead to
> Things that faith is NOT
> Synonyms and metaphors for faith
> Things that a person who has faith WILL do
And that’s not even half of them. I found other ways to organize the passages as well, like all those passages that include “O ye of little faith” and “such great faith.” It became obvious that I would need to study some chapters as a whole, like Romans 4, James 2 and Hebrews 11—the word “faith” was sprinkled throughout them. I also needed to study the life of Abraham and Sarah in depth, and I discovered that hope was so bound up in faith that it needed a quick study as well. When I finished the sorting, about a month later, I had already learned more than I ever knew about faith, but then I was ready to really start digging on each individual verse or passage.
That’s where you do the meat of your work. Don’t forget things like context and purpose. Write down the obvious things the passage tells you. Later, you will make common sense, “necessary” conclusions. You may find connections between passages that show up best in a quickly scratched out chart. Depending upon the word you are studying and the number of passages on your list, it could take as long as a year to finish this final part.
Now write out a simple conclusion for each group of passages. If you cannot do that, you did not learn anything from those passages. Now you have completed your word study.
You may have a special reason for the study you are doing. Maybe you are just curious about something. Maybe a friend has asked a question. Maybe the preacher made a statement you didn’t understand. My study eventually became a 15 lesson, 65 page workbook for our women’s Bible class, and going over it yet again to teach I learned more, grew more, and understood more about faith than ever before. If ever you get a chance to share what you have discovered, the same thing will happen for you.
I hope this example has helped make sense of some of the things I have shown you in previous articles. Next week: expository studies.
Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law, Psalm 119:18.