Studying The Bible: The Topical Method


After having written many articles about the importance of studying and understanding the Word of God, my brother in Christ Ready4Change posed a simple question: “Which bible study method do you prefer?”

Thanks to R4C’s “gentle nudge”, I decided to share some of my bible study techniques in hopes of encouraging the sheep to study the Word so as not to be taken by the wolves of the day – and to hopefully avoid biblical ignorance. As I’ve said on many occasions, I’m no biblical scholar (and I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer – if you know what I mean), but I thirst for God’s Word, and these methods help me approach the Word to seek God’s truth.

Noted pastor and teacher R.A. Torrey penned a book called “How To Study The Bible” (Torrey died in 1928, but the book based on his notes was published in 1985). One of the methods that Torrey discussed is a method that I use – the topical method.

Studying the bible topically means literally going to the Word to see what God says about a particular topic (or subject) – for example homosexuality, marriage, raising children, etc. “Nave’s Topical Bible” is a great resource to use in searching through the bible based on topics – along with a few other translations of the bible for cross referencing purposes (your favorite translation along with another one you respect or use secondarily).

There are four primarily rules of topical bible study, and it would behoove you to remember them as you approach scripture:

  • Study systematically: develop a series of interrelated topics that flow logically (e.g. grace, salvation, repentance) so that you’re not “jumping all over” the bible – or focusing only on the topics of immediate interst.
  • Study thoroughly: don’t just look for the word “grace” and study the first 3 references – you must read and study every reference to the word “grace” in order to get a holistic view.
  • Study exactely: find the exact meaning of the passages related to your topic(s), use a lexicon to learn more about the words used in those passages, and look at how those passages are treated in the different translations you’re studying (e.g. crossreference with the NASB, NIV, and NKJV).
  • Study academically: write down what you find, not in thesis form but notes to help you reference what you’ve learned in further reading

As always, pray for clarity before you study, and pray for discernment on how to apply what you’ve read when you’re finished.

11 Responses to “Studying The Bible: The Topical Method”

  1. 1 escapeetoo July 10, 2008 at 10:21 pm


    Good post! The body needs more “nudging” in topical studying. More studying will put some of these pimps out of business. God’s word has 66 books to address any and every issue we could ever encounter including heretics in these last days:

    May I also encourage our brothers and sisters to leverage multiple translations i.e. Greek, Hebrew and Latin. “The English language is a bastard language”, is what an English teacher told me. I find the following site great for multiple cross language references:

    As you know it is so important to understand the “true meaning” behind scripture. I cannot tell you how many times I heard a preacher (My own Pimp) mess up the story about Cain and Able. The message is not about one offering being better than another. Instead, the true essences of the story focuses on the fact that sin can only be atoned via the shedding of blood and God hates when innocent blood is shed, this gets His attention. The death of Able is a type and shadow of the coming Christ (As is all of the O.T). See how the pimps twist this story! [Source “Exploring Theology”, Clarence H. Benson & Robert J. Morgan pg 78, “Sacrificial Death of Christ”]

  2. 2 ready4change July 11, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Wonderful start ST!!!!…Please credit that “gentle nudging” to the Holy Spirit, as there is no good in me, and I can’t possibly take credit for His doings. However, your kind and gracious words are definitely an encouragement to me brother…Love Torrey’s work, especially “How to Pray”, which really helped put things in perspective for me when I was becoming pimp free…I was also able to russle up some more helpful info from Torrey on principles of biblical interpretation. He gives these 15 rules:

    1.Get absolutely right with God yourself by the absolute surrender of your will to Him.

    2. Be determined to find out just what God intended to teach and not what you wish Him to teach.

    3. Get the most accurate text.

    4. Find the most exact and literal meaning of the text.

    5. Note the exact force of each word used.

    6. Interpret the words used in any verse according to Bible usage.

    7. Interpret the words of each author in the Bible with a regard to the particular usage of that author.

    8. Interpret individual verses with a regard to the context.

    9. Interpret individual passages in the light of parallel or related passages.

    10. Interpret obscure passages in the light of passages that are perfectly plain.

    11. Interpret any passage in the Bible as those who were addressed would have understood it.

    12. Interpret what belongs to the Christian as belonging to the Christian; what belongs to the Jew, as belonging to the Jew, and what belongs to the Gentiles, as belonging to the Gentiles.

    13. Interpret each writer with a view to the opinions the writer opposed.

    14. Interpret poetry as poetry and interpret prose as prose.

    15. The Holy Spirit is the best interpreter of the Bible.

    By the way, what’s up with that amazon link? Your readers can gain a free copy of Torrey’s excellent book right here:

    I don’t know ST, I think you’re getting a cut from the book sales!!!! LOL!!!! 🙂 (Just kidding brother!!!!)

    Seriously, you’ve once again allowed God through Jesus Christ to use you to enlighten our hearts and provoke us to truth and holiness. For that I am grateful my friend…Keep it comin’…

    Soli Deo Gloria,


  3. 3 speaking truth July 11, 2008 at 9:58 am

    By the way, what’s up with that amazon link? Your readers can gain a free copy of Torrey’s excellent book right here

    HA! 😆

    Yup – you figured out my secret R4C…I really use this blog to push Amazon sales 😆

    Seriously, thanks for the link to the free book (a few months late for me BTW), and I’ll replace the Amazon link with it. Like you, I am a wretched man if/when left to my own devices and it’s only through my daily repentance and renewal through Jesus Christ that I can passionately chase after Him. I thank the Holy Spirit for using you to assist in His “nudging”…

  4. 4 Douglas K. Adu-Boahen July 12, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Great stuff, bro! There’s a cool series of sermons I first heard of when I was getting into the Scriptures more often from a Reformed Baptist pastor when he goes step by step through 12 methods of Bible study. I have put them on CD and given them to heaps of folks.

    You can get it at Victory Baptist Church (Reformed) – How To Study The Bible Sermon Series. Best part is it’s free…just like Torrey’s book…

    Speaking of books, the two books you sent me arrived this morning!

  5. 5 speaking truth July 12, 2008 at 10:44 am


    I cleaned up the link to the sermon series you referenced – thanks for sending it, I’ll be downloading them to my MP3 player!

    BTW – praise God you received the books. I pray that they inspire you to continue to share the Gospel!

  6. 7 speaking truth July 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks Alan – these are great resources.

  7. 8 Bible Study Verses November 1, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Excellent post.Follow up the eminent work,You should definitely have to keep updating your site

  8. 10 speaking truth December 18, 2008 at 9:15 pm


    Feel free to use th image you referenced above.

  9. 11 Chris Esparza July 28, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Excellent articles on studying the bible! I referenced them in a similar article I recently published. Keep up the good work!

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