Major Themes in Scripture
The Bible is a large book, touching every major aspect of our lives. Not surprisingly, certain themes or concepts recur throughout the book. The key to understanding the Bible is to recognize the clear patterns established by these themes.
When you encounter one of these themes, note that the key principles are handled consistently, even though the details may vary wildly from one situation to the next. You'll notice that God seems interested in key principles, but refuses to be put into a religious box.
As you read through the Bible, ask yourself questions like these:
- Characteristics of God: What is He like? Is He described as an impersonal force or is He concerned with our lives and hearts? Does He seem to have emotions we can relate to? Can we piece together a mosaic description of God from the many separate accounts in Scripture? Can we understand what He wants from us?
- The Character of Man: Are individuals in the Bible described in a way that rings true to human nature as we observe it today? Can we relate to these characters as flesh-and-blood people? Can we see some of our own tendencies?
- The Love of God: This is a biggie -- one of the oddest concepts in Scripture. Can general benevolence explain His behavior? If God is so holy, how can He tolerate unholy humans? Does God have some kind of strange agenda for us? Why does God allow crummy stuff to happen to us? Why does God seem so interested in our spending quality time with Him in private devotions?
- Faith: This is not mere intellectual preference, as the English language permits. Faith is defined (in both Hebrew and Greek) as acting upon a command or promise of God, despite the circumstances. Who, in Scripture, acts positively on the promises and what are the results? Who fails to act on the promises and what are the results?
- Grace: Defined as unmerited favor -- something we receive that we didn't have to earn. When you encounter this word, ask what specific types of people qualify for grace and what types of gifts these recipients of grace actually receive.
- Atonement: Defined in the Torah as a "kapporeth" or covering. What are the Old Testament principles of atonement? Who or what needs to be atoned for? How is/was the transaction handled?
- Sabbaths: Periods of rest. How many different types of Sabbath observances are described in Scripture? Why was each type helpful?
- Hebrew Festivals: Feast days, commanded by God to be observed as national holidays, each with specific symbolism. Why does God specify them? Do they have prophetic significance? Do they refer to fulfilled prophecy or unfulfilled?
- Perfectibility of Man: Can human beings achieve moral and spiritual excellence through their own efforts? Was there any truth to the original temptation of the serpent? Can we achieve God-likeness by diligent pursuit of knowledge and good works? Can we discover God by looking at our own inner self? How perfect do we have to be in order to qualify for salvation? In addition to qualifying for salvation, are there specific additional activities that will bring us rewards from God? Is our best effort ever good enough for God? Are God's expectations within what we can do?
- Holy Spirit: Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force? What role does the Holy Spirit of God play in Scripture? Does the Spirit affect human behavior from the inside out or as an external influence? To what extent does the influence of the Spirit change the behavioral patterns of certain Bible characters? Can changes of that magnitude be explained by "rational" means? To what extent can the indwelling Holy Spirit change me for the better?
- Promises to Abraham's Descendants: What promises does God make to Abraham? To his kids? Have these promises been revoked by later Scripture? Have any of these promises come true?
- Promises to David's Descendants: What are these promises? Why did God make such extravagant promises to David? Have any of the promises come true? Are some still to be fulfilled?
- The Place: How fussy is God about how we worship Him? Is He fairly easy to please, as long as we are sincere or mean well? Or are certain places and procedures favored over others? Are some specifically forbidden? Obviously it must matter to God and therefore to us, but why?
- High Places: Term used to describe hilltop shrines where the people of Israel offered: (a) idolatrous sacrifices to Baal, or (b) rebellious sacrifices to the God of Israel (i.e. in defiance of the Scriptural rules for proper worship; see The Place, above). Are certain religious leaders still practicing "high places" religion?
- Repentance: Described as turning from one thing to something else. What specific steps are required and what specific benefits are promised? How do we qualify for "times of refreshing?" Can we obtain emotional healing as well as judicial righteousness by repenting and confessing our sins? Do we only need to repent of really bad stuff?
The single most important ingredient to Bible study is reading with comprehension. It's not enough just to find a readable translation. Pray to the Lord that the Holy Spirit will teach you every step of the way. And He will do just that, because God wants you to understand His will for your life. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."