When you don’t know a word, your first inclination is to find a dictionary definition of it. Although that information is helpful, you can learn so much more by hearing the word used in a sentence. When you experience the word being used, you learn how to use it for yourself. So, in this blog, I’ll tell you what a topical Bible is, but we won’t stop there. I’ll show you how to use one and how it can change the way you study the Bible.
WHAT’S A TOPICAL BIBLE?
Simply put, a topical Bible takes passages of Scripture and organizes them by topic. Our most recently acquired topical Bible looks like this in the app:
You can search through the resource like a dictionary, finding important Biblical themes, people, and places. When you pull one up, you’ll see a long list Scripture references. These are all linked. Just tap on it to open a pop-up window showing you the verse in context.
A TOPICAL BIBLE IN ACTION
I was asking myself this question not too long ago. I knew what a topical Bible was, and how I might use it… but I wondered how the authors of this resource envisioned others using it. Lucky enough, John MacArthur provides that information in the foreword of his MacArthur Topical Bible.
1. WHY USE A TOPICAL BIBLE?
When reading the Bible, we may first ask ourselves, “What does this mean to me?” But we should probably first ask, “What does the Bible mean by what it says?” MacArthur shares us the typical four steps for interpretation and which step he envisions his tool being used:
- LITERAL: The Bible often speaks in literal terms. Let it speak for itself! What plain observations can you make?
- HISTORICAL: The Bible talks about history. Learn about the historical context of the passage.
- GRAMMATICAL: The Bible was written in a different language. Is there anything you might interpret differently after looking at a definition of a word in the original language?
- SYNTHESIS: The Bible can interpret the Bible—it never contradicts itself! So, other passages of Scripture can help us understand the current passage we are reading… and this is where a topical Bible is handy!
When you’re doing your daily Bible reading, you can pick out the main themes and ideas you see presented. Then, look those up in a topical Bible. Then you can quickly read about the theme in other parts of the Bible by opening those pop-up windows we talked about earlier.
How does this help us? It keeps us from interpreting the Bible our way. Instead, we are looking to God’s Word for clarification.
1. HOW DO I USE A TOPICAL BIBLE?
We’ve already covered this a little bit, but I thought I could give you a real-life example!
Perhaps you’re reading Micah 6 and come across that well-know verse: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
God requires you to walk humbly. But what does “humbly” mean? Well, let’s see how God uses that word in other places in the Bible!
One example I pulled up is in Isaiah 57. This verse talks about God reviving or instilling joy in those who are low in spirit. Does being humble mean being sad or having poor self-image? Let’s check out another verse:
James 4 shows that when we are humble, God exalts us. What theme do we see between these passages?
- Micah 6: walk humbly with God
- Isaiah 57: when we are low, God will revive us
- James 4: when we are humble, God exalts us
Being humble appears to be more about our relationship with God. Do we try to exalt ourselves? Are we trying to please ourselves, puffing up with pride and acting like we have it all together? Are we doing things our own way?
Those actions and motives are the opposite of humility. You don’t have to be dreary and think poorly of yourself to be humble. But you do need to recognize your flaws and God’s perfection.