Two weeks ago, Stephen Manley talked about the need for expositional saturation. While topical study (studying a particular topic – ie: salvation, love, fruits of the Spirit, etc) can be a tremendous help to your spiritual life, I want to give you four reasons why you should consider studying through one book of the Bible at a time.
1. Wrestle with a variety of topics
When you engage in a book study you often come across passages that force you to wrestle with topics and concepts you might not otherwise study. When people study topics, they often do so because those topics are interesting or pertinent in their lives right then. What I’ve found with book studies is that as I study through the text, I come across topics that are important for my life that I would never have studied unless I was going through the book.
For example, when I was studying in Ephesians 2, the second half of the chapter is all about the division between Jews and Gentiles and how God has brought them together as one new deal (called “Christian”). I was tempted to jump over this passage because I didn’t see how this would benefit my life (and because I wanted to get to a more “exciting” section of Ephesians). I never would have studied this topic unless I was “forced” to while walking through Ephesians; and what I found was an incredibly rich description of what my life looks like in Christ.
2. Speeds study time
Book studies have the advantage of speeding up study time. When you study topically, every passage you look at needs to be taken within the context of the book. A good study (topically) requires that you look at the author of the book, the audience, why the book was written, etc. You also need to take into account the context of the passage itself (where it sits within the book).
When you study one book at a time, you save yourself time because you have already looked at the author, audience, and have been working through the book – thus giving you the context. Yes you do end up looking at other passages to deepen your study, but you don’t have to spend as much time looking up background information and context when you stay within one book.
3. Helps with context
As already mentioned, book studies help with establishing context. Context is absolutely critical to Bible study and when you study through a book, it is far easier to get the flow and tone of the author because you systematically study through the book (another reason why it is good to start at the beginning of a book and work through it).
While you can obviously start your study anywhere, when you begin in the middle of a book, it is all the more critical to understand the context so that you don’t misunderstand the passage. One thing I have found working through book studies is that my understand of certain passages are actually richer and, arguably, more accurate, because I have to interpret the passage in light of the context which I have been studying within.
4. You get in the mind of the author and get the flow as he builds his case
Topic studies that bounce between passages miss the richness of watching an author build a case. Each person who penned a book of the Bible had a purpose for writing and there is a reason they put certain stories in and left things out. There is a reason for why they start where they do and progress through the book like they do. Book studies also allows you to “walk the streets” with the author, hearing their voice, experiencing their tone and flow.
Having spent a lot of time studying Ephesians, I love the tone of Paul as he articulates truth. It is similar to spending a lot of time with a good friend and merely hearing their voice makes you smile. Paul has a different tone than Peter which is different than Moses writing the first five books of the Bible.
Question: What benefits or drawbacks do you see from studying one book of the Bible at a time? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.