Tips for Studying Bible Characters
Moses. Noah. Ruth. Hezekiah. These biblical characters can seem larger than life. Their stories are so grand, their significance so great, it’s easy to forget they were real people—with real struggles—that God chose to use in spite of their weaknesses.
That’s one reason character studies are so powerful. Whether you’re studying for personal devotion or preparing a lesson or sermon, when you dive deep into the lives of biblical characters, you realize that there was nothing special to set them apart; God didn’t choose these individuals because of any intrinsic greatness. In fact, God delights in using sinful, flawed people who nevertheless turned to him in reliance on his grace. In short, character studies remind us that God uses feeble people like you and me.
First off, when studying the lives of people in the Bible . . . pray. As with any kind of Bible study, you need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand. (1 Cor. 2:9-16)
Choose a Bible Character and Look up References.
Choose and list the passages of Scripture you will use for your Bible character. A good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia or an exhaustive concordance will tell you where the person is mentioned. The index in a study Bible may also help. (It is best to do your study in rough draft form first, and later to organize it neatly into final form.)
Some people in the Bible have little written about them, and you will want to include every reference to them in your study. Others, such as David, have so much written about them that you will have to select the passages you think are most significant.
Use scratch paper as you look up various references; eliminate some and keep the others. When you have decided on the passages you will use, list them, and add a key thought for quick identification of each reference.
Now develop a Biographical Sketch!
Read each of your selected Scripture passages several times and meditate on them.
For more insight, you may want to consult Bible reference books and commentaries. I especially encourage researching what Spirit of Prophecy has to say about the name and character you are studying.
Find out all you can about the place your character lived and the customs of the day from a Bible atlas, Bible encyclopedia, and commentaries. Begin to ask yourself how his or her life, times, and the choices he had to make are similar to yours.
Then begin writing a brief biography of the person—the facts of the character’s life, without interpretation.
In your biographical sketch, include such things as the meaning of his name, when and where he lived, and his family background. Record any unusual influences or environmental factors that shaped his life and thinking, as well as his occupation and his contemporaries and associates. What were the major events in his life?
Mention the growth of his relationship with God, his crowning achievement and contribution, his influence on his nation and family, and anything else of interest about him. Include positive and negative choices made.
When you have included everything you think belongs in his biographical sketch, rewrite it, condensing and rearranging parts as needed to make a one- to three-paragraph summary of his life.
Look for Life Principles that your Bible Character Practiced!
Look at the whole of their lives and ask how they responded in different situations.
Identify character traits. List both strengths and weaknesses. Determine the effects of their backgrounds and environmental influences.
Some of the particulars of their lives may be specific to their situation so you may not be able to literally apply everything to your life. By determining the general principles that come out of this study, you should always find something to apply to your life.
What do you see as the leading lesson or lessons of this person’s life? It might be positive or negative, something worthy of following or something that should be avoided. When you have decided on the leading lesson or lessons for your subject, write them down and give a little background of the passages from which you chose them. Then tell why you think these are the leading lessons to be learned from this person’s life.
Look for a key verse that might sum up their life!
Choose from your list of scriptures a key verse for your subject’s life. This will be a verse, or pair of verses, which more than any other sums up his life. If you cannot find such a verse, then choose one related to his outstanding characteristic.
For example, a key verse summarizing Noah’s life might be Heb. 11:7. ("By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.")
One characterizing the life of Mary of Bethany could be Jn. 12:3. ("Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair.")
NOTE: The key verse from your study might well be one you will want to memorize.
Remember Jesus, God, and the Great Controversy!
The Bible is about God, not Jonah, David, Paul, and all the other Bible characters.
The bottom line in doing a character study, then, should be to learn more about the Primary Person, or Primary Character, in the Bible. What can you learn about God as a result of this study?
Read through your Scriptures and your biographical sketch again. Ask the Lord to show you some principle you should apply or some characteristic you need to build or strengthen—or avoid—in your life.
Add a sentence or two about what needs to be corrected or improved in your life regarding the principles you’ve learned or the characteristic that you wish to emulate. If you can refer to a specific example of the attitudes or actions you want to follow, this will clarify your application and also help you see the changes in your life as you look back later.
Now record what you plan to do—in cooperation with the Holy Spirit—to help conform your life more to the image of Christ. Your part is to yield your will to Him and take steps to obey what He has shown you in His Word.
Your step of action might be to do more Bible study on certain subjects, spend a stated time in intercessory prayer, do something practical for the needy, praise God for His goodness, or any number of things, according to the need you have recognized. If, for example, your need is for self-sacrificing care for others, you might plan to deprive yourself of funds, leisure time, or privileges in order to spend those resources on someone who cannot repay you. Ideas for carrying out your application will come as you seek them.
As with other Bible studies, the Bible Character Study can be most rewarding when worked out individually and later discussed in a group. Groups of two to eight persons are best. Jot down any good ideas from others' studies that you can use in the future and share yours with your group.
These resources and inspiration for doing Bible Character studies was compiled and organized by Melody Mason and pulled from a variety of sources. While authors and contributors are not mentioned in specific, gratitude is nonetheless sincere!