3 Ways to Uncover Biblical Themes

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The key to understanding a Scripture passage is often to first understand the larger theme of the book it’s in. Commentaries or study Bibles may point out major themes for you, but you can find them yourself if you know where to look. Here are three ways to find a biblical book’s theme:

  1. Read through the opening and closing paragraphs of a book. The writer may leave a clue for you in the opening or closing paragraph of a book. This is especially common in the epistles. If you notice a common theme in both the opening and closing paragraphs, you know you’re on to something. For example, Peter speaks to the process of growing “in the knowledge of God” in the first and last paragraph of 2 Peter. This theme ties together everything in between. Study 2 Peter with that in mind, and many complex passages become easier to unravel.
  2. Look for repeated words, phrases, or ideas. Remember that when the biblical writers penned Scripture, emphasis markings like bold, italics, and underlining were not used because they took up valuable space on the page. Romans 8, a well-known passage, draws special attention to the Holy Spirit, mentioning it 20 times in 38 verses.
  3. Look for a purpose statement. There isn’t a clear statement of purpose in every book, but when a biblical writer spells out his reason for writing a book, or his hope for how it will impact the reader, take special note. Luke provides a clear purpose statement at the beginning of his Gospel (Luke 1:1–4). Any study of Luke will benefit from regular references to this introduction and statement of purpose.

If you’re studying with the Faithlife Study Bible, these markers and much more are explained in its three layers of study notes. Download the Faithlife Study Bible app for free from your app store of choice.

Comments

  1. says

    Be very careful of searching for a post enlightenment literary form that played no role whatsoever in the mindset of ancient thinking either Greco-Roman or Jewish. Pressing this search hard sets up a sure fire path to eisogesis rather than exegesis of a scripture text.

  2. Jerome Weaver says

    Also, one should pay close attention to the context, noun, pronoun, subject, verb, clause, phrase, past, present, future, preposition, and conjunction.

  3. says

    The Jewish mind in the ancient world functioned more like a kaleidoscope than any other modern analogy can depict. Try outlining in a I. A. II. A pattern the image created in a kaleidoscope some time. Having multiple cross culture experiences in one's background can open up brand new worlds in how to think.

    • Edouard says

      I think that the author use “it” to refer to the the H.S. as a _subject_ or _theme_, not the H.S. per se. In that case, “it” is proper.

  4. says

    Yes indeed, parts of speech are good to recognize. Even the occasional use of sentence diagrams is not out of the question. But most important is to develop a holistic view of then scripture we study. Only then can we proceed to interpretation and application for ourselves and our church families.

  5. Richard J. Woerner says

    This is basic Biblical Hermeneutics. Luther said, let scripture interpret scripture. How true this is. We must be careful NOT to read outside the context of what the writer was trying to convey. What is a good practice is try and forget chapter and verse separations and read it as a whole. When I took my Romans class for school, I have been using Kenneth Wuest’s Word Study books. At the end of the Romans section, he writes is translation as it was originally written, a letter, one whole idea from Paul. This made it easy to follow thought and easier to know when Paul changed is topic of discussion. If you are a KJV reader as I am, the chapter and verse separations do not always follow the flow of the writer. This can make reading difficult. But the key is, context. Let me also give a warning as well; “Text without context is nothing more than a pretext to mean whatever you want it to mean.” In other words, A TEXT, TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT, IS A PRETEXT, FOR PROOFTEXT

  6. Jane Harring says

    Steve Nickell That would be a dangerous precedent. The Holy Trinity is spelled quite clearly in the NT scripture. They are persons.

  7. says

    I am cool with this – in the German language the word for "girl" is Mädchen, and always occurs as "das Mädchen" – it is a noun of no gender. But it does not make "the girl" any less of a person …

  8. Mark Diane Engle Henzler says

    Bingo! This is great. I teach all 3 of these but had never seen anyone (including me) put it together so simply. This will be included in both my Principles of Bible Study and OT Survey classes this week – thanks!

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