How to Find Background InformationSep 14, 2021
This post was originally published as Bible Study Made Simple podcast episode 8, How to Find Background Information. You can listen here.
When you are studying the Bible, it is important to know some background information on the book you are studying. What steps do you take to learn that information and how do you find it?
I am Eva Kubasiak, and this is Bible Study Made Simple. Have you ever felt intimidated or confused by the Bible? Or maybe you have started studying the Bible before but haven’t found a way to incorporate it into your regular routine. The Bible Study Made Simple podcast is here to help you move from intimidated and confused to confident and joyful in your approach to Scripture, and help you find a routine that sticks. The goal isn’t checking off a box perfectly, but instead, our goal is an intimate connection with the God of the Bible - plus having tons of fun along the way!
In episode 7 of the Bible Study Made Simple Podcast we talked about the 4 questions to ask when studying the Bible (blog post link). The first question to ask when approaching Scripture is “What is the background information?” When we talked in that episode, we talked about why it was important and even compared it to getting to know a friend’s background information when having a conversation.
So how do we ask those background questions of Scripture? Where do we go to look them up? How do we know what is important and what is not? Well, let’s break it down!
When you are looking up background information on a book of the Bible, I like to start with a good study Bible. Study Bibles often have a section before the book that introduces the book of the Bible and gives you some of these key things to look for when studying.
When reading this introduction, look for who wrote the book, when they wrote it, and why they wrote it. This will also lead into how the book fits into the larger context of Scripture, and you can also look up any key verses mentioned and mark those in the text.
If your study Bible leaves out the introduction or doesn’t answer one of those questions, the next place I would look is in a reference book, like How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart. That one is my personal favorite. They call it a guided tour of the Bible, and it really is just that. A great guide as you are walking through each book.
Now if you have looked in more than one book for some background answers, you might come across some different information. Different scholars have different reasons for their dating of the text as well as determining who the author might be. We can hold the information that we learn about the text loosely and cling to the knowledge that all Scripture is inspired by God as 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us. The goal for finding background information isn’t to come to a solid conclusion on the exact dating or authorship, but instead to give you a jumping-off point for understanding Scripture.
In fact, for some books of the Bible, this information is completely unknown. And that is okay. You don’t have to find an answer for every detail or question. In fact, “unknown” is a valid answer! But what you do want to know is how each book fits into the storyline of Scripture, and what that book reveals about who God is.
As you are uncovering this background information, these themes might start to emerge. What is the purpose of the book, how does it fit into the bigger picture of Scripture? What does this book teach us about who God is? Keep these things in mind as you are doing your research.
So now you have done your research, you know the background information and why the book was written, now what? Well, this is when I like to set aside a chunk of time to read through the entire book. Yep. The whole thing. Reading through the entire book of the Bible that you are studying will help you to gain some perspective before you start studying. It will help you grasp the bigger picture before you start digging deeper into specific verses or details. And it will add depth to the facts you just looked up. Remember, we aren’t studying the Bible to know facts, we are studying the Bible to know God, love God, and live like Christ.
Some books, like the letters in the New Testament, are easy to read in one sitting. Others, such as Jeremiah or Isaiah, might be a little harder to manage. What you can do is give yourself 20-30 minutes to read each day, and read for that time frame until you have finished the book. Again, this longer read-through is going to help you piece together why some of this background information is important.
I just want to remind you that reading is different from studying. You can read through the book in a day or two but it could take months to study through a book. If you want more information on the differences between reading and studying the Bible, check out episode 6 (blog post link).
So for background information, we have looked up some initial questions in our study Bibles, we have maybe even read through a reference book, and now we have read through the whole book. Now, what do you do with the information you have learned? How do you remember it?
I like to keep a notebook with the information I have learned about each book in the Bible. It helps me to refer back to it as I am studying. And then, in my daily Scripture journal, I rewrite some of the things I learned each day. This helps me to study each passage of Scripture with the background info in mind. It might seem repetitive, but it helps me remember.
And one more thing about remembering, friend, it’s okay to forget. It’s okay to have to look it up again. I would rather forget something I learned in God’s Word than to not have ever learned it in the first place. Make the effort to learn. Seek God as you are studying the pages of His Word.
Knowing the background information is so important as we are approaching our Bible study, but if we don’t then move that information into how we approach each book of the Bible, nothing will change. I cannot stress this enough. Facts about the Bible or about God won’t change us. Only God can take our hearts and make them more like His.
Here’s a prayer for you as you are looking up background information for your study time:
Father, I desperately want to know You more. I want to learn and love Your Word because it helps me learn about and love You. As I am looking up information about the book I am studying, help me to see what You want me to see. But even more than just learning information, help me to learn how to connect with You through Your Word. Amen.
This week, I challenge you to do some research on the book of the Bible that you are studying. Write down who wrote it and when. Write out any major themes from the book that you find in your research. And look for how that book fits in with the other books of the Bible. If you are feeling really brave, set aside some time to read through the whole book too. I would bet that book of the Bible will come alive to you in a whole new way!