Archive for February, 2017

A Guide for Studying a Theme (or particular word) in a Book of Scripture

  1. Read through the entire book of the Bible to see where it mentions the theme. If the book is very long, consider using a concordance instead to see everywhere the book uses the word. Trace the theme’s use and development through the book as a whole. Look for repetition of key nouns, verbs, phrases, images, and ideas. Remember that a theme can be expressed in many different ways. Keep in mind that a key word in Greek might be hidden behind two or three different English words in translation (if you have access to the Greek text and/or Greek concordance, try to use these).
  2. Notice how this theme intersects and overlaps with other key themes in the book. For instance, if you are studying trials and temptations in James, what other themes in James shed light on these themes? Also, does the book contain contrasting or opposite themes that shed light on the theme you are studying? For example, if you are studying “endurance” in Hebrews or Revelation, how does the book contrast endurance with another theme?
  3. How does the theme relate to the book’s rhetorical situation and aims, and what role does it play in achieving the author’s aims? For instance, John states his aim in writing his Gospel in 20:30-31, and he mentions “belief” and “life”, and other key themes in John tend to relate to these themes.
  4. Attempt to arrive at this book’s specific understanding of this theme by making use of all the book says about the theme. Be open to variation and complexity, and to seeing things you didn’t expect. What observations can you make regarding the theme’s role in the overall theology of the book?
  5. Be careful not to assume that this book of the New Testament (NT) speaks about the theme in precisely the same way that another NT book deals with the theme. Can you pinpoint clarifying comparisons or contrasts between the theme in this book of the NT versus other NT books?
  6. What does your study of the theme reveal about this book’s perspective on the Christian life? Has your study shed light on how the Christian life works, according to this book?
  7. During your study of this theme, have there been particular ways that you relate personally to this theme? Are there ways the theme helps you see your life a little differently or more clearly? How does this theme speak to you personally? How might this theme speak to your family? How might it speak to your church?
  8. After you have followed through on the above steps, consider secondary sources that might help you gain greater insight into your theme (a study Bible, commentary, Bible dictionary, an article, etc.) or correct any misperceptions. If you are writing a paper and take an idea from such a source, you must reference that source and clarify exactly what you took from it.
  9. If you are writing an essay or preparing a teaching, read and reread your observations until you can develop an outline that organizes your material in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Paul’s Way of Imparting Christ Crucified


Today I submitted an essay I’ve been working on for a book project called “Making Sense of Jesus”, written by scholars related to the University of the Free State in South Africa. Here’s what my essay is about…

What would it mean for us, in Southern Africa today, to know what Paul knew of Christ crucified, and to give this knowledge and experience to others? To serve those who might wish to reflect more deeply in answer to such questions (for Africa or elsewhere), I ask the more preliminary questions: What did Paul mean by knowing Christ crucified, and especially, how did he approach imparting this knowledge?

For Paul, knowing Christ crucified means having a relationship with Christ and the gospel in which Christ’s death becomes, for believers, our dying; that is, Christ’s death becomes our way of life, our gospel-shaped identity and vocation.

While acknowledging that Paul imparted this relationship with Christ’s death through preaching the gospel, I demonstrate that he imparted it by embodying the gospel’s pattern in his own life. I maintain that 1 Corinthians represents Paul’s written attempt at imparting the identity and vocation which arise from knowing Christ crucified. Paul uses his own self-portrayal, as an extension of embodying the gospel with his life, to impart a way of thinking and living that makes space for God’s power in the midst of weakness and sacrifice. This impartation of Christ crucified seems to be the heart of what Paul has in mind when he calls believers to imitate him. For the apostle, “making sense of Jesus” means coming to know Jesus Christ in such a way that his crucifixion (and life and resurrection) becomes our way of life. Writing 1 Corinthians was Paul’s attempt to transfer this same reality from himself to the Corinthians, so that knowing Christ crucified would shape the Corinthians even as it had shaped his own life.