Writing a paper on the theology of a biblical book is one of the best ways to internalize that book’s message. Not only will it require you to aquaint yourself with the entire book, but you'll also synthesize how the parts relate to the whole as you seek to explain the book’s theology and message.
There are six main steps to researching and writing a paper on the theology of a biblical book:
Study the Book Background
Basically every commentary will cover all of these items and more in their introductions, sometimes in great detail. You can also find this sort of information in study Bibles, dictionaries, and monographs (single books) about Bible backgrounds.
Written by a team of scholars with on-the-ground experience in Palestine, the Lexham Geographic Commentary lets you see the land through the eyes of the disciples as Jesus uses the surrounding landscape as the backdrop for his teaching. Each article addresses a particular story, event, or subject across the Gospels. (Acts–Revelation forthcoming.)Explore the Lexham Geographic Commentry on the Gospels
Outline the Book
Structure is a vehicle for meaning. Outlining a book is an exercise in identifying structure, which reveals a book's flow of thought.
Generally, the following are clues for identifying structure. It's best if you do this work yourself before consulting commentaries to see how others have outlined books.
Overeview of Ecclesiastes
Here is an example of how someone has outline Ecclesiastes. The Bible Project has many such videos, which will help you learn (among many things) how to spot structure.
Tools for outlining the Bible
Use the following to help you discern Bible book outlines:
In this work, each major outline level uses a literary device—such as alliteration, rhyme, etc.,—to help the point stick in your mind and heart, and the unique formatting for each level helps you easily recognize it on the page. At the head of each outline is a brief summary of the information covered under that outline. References have been provided at almost every level so that the reader can easily and instantly recognize all the verses covered under that point.Explore the Outline Bible
Identify Key Passages
After you're work outlining a book of the Bible, you probably have an intuitive sense of its key passage(s). A book's key passages are those that most densely back in its theology or communicate its purpose. For example, Romans 1:16 is widely regarded as the key verse of Romans, since it contains so many themes unpacked in the book.
Here's are a few things to pay attention for discerning a key passage:
Tools for discerning key passages
While this task is somewhat subjective, your best bet is to consult the introduction of a commentary on your book. Typically you'll find information about key passages under headings like Theme, Message, or Theology.
Again, consult the most reputable commentaries for trustworthy insights.Browse the best commentaries
Examine a Book's Relationship to Rest of the Bible
This is not a long step, but it is an important one. No book of the Bible is an island—the Bible holds together in a unique way, and every book is important.
So before you land on a theology of your book, ask, "What does this book uniquely contribute to the story and/or theology of the Bible?" For example, Genesis lays a foundation, introducing the covenants that run literally through the entire Bible (and are fulfilled in Jesus). Proverbs, on the other hand, has no narrative movement but is an extended reflection on the moral fabric of the Torah. And then the Epistles of the New Testament take you into the early Church as believers learned how to live together in the new covenant.
Questions you might ask on your way to discovery are:
Again, commentaries and good study Bibles will tip you off to these connections, but you might also consult a resource particularly about how parts of the Bible relate to each other.
Resources on the cohesion of Scripture
The Promise-Plan of God
In this book, Walter Kaiser Jr. works chronologically through the books of both testaments to demonstrate how God's main promise is seen throughout, how the various sub-themes of each book relate to the promise, and how God’s plan to fulfill the promise progressively unfolds.Explore The Promise-Plan of God.
Read More about the Book
After you've outlined the book and searched it for key passages, you are ready to delve more deeply into it. You probably won't have enough time to do an exegetical study of the entire book, so turn to resources that highlight what's most important about your book.
Particularly, pay attention to what these resources say about the theology of the book as well as important debates concerning the book. These are the primary focuses of your paper. Essentially, you want to show your professor (and for your own learning) that you are well versed not only in the book itself but the conversations surrounding the book. Of course, if your professor asks you to answer certain questions or present certain information, focus your research on those matters.
Resources for further study on books of the Bible
Logos Bible Software
Logos is a system for digital theological research. There are numerous guides that instantly load the most relevant information from across your library, as well as intuitive manual searching across your whole library. For example, you can search a certain topic (e.g. New Perspective on Paul) by resource type (e.g. Monographs) to quickly narrow your search results.Explore guides in Logos Bible Software
The Atla Religion Database is an index of academic journal articles in the area of religion. It is updated monthly and published by the American Theological Library Association. The database indexes articles, essays, and book reviews related to a wide range of scholarly fields related to religion.Explore Atla
Finally, it's time to report on all your findings. If you're new to theological writing, read this entire article. If you're familiar with it and just need a brush up, consult the top of the page to find the part of the writing process you need help with.
Generally speaking, though, you'll report on the following:
Congratulations! By the end of the process, you'll almost be an expert on a biblical book. And not only that, you've gained skills for comprehension, synthezing information, and conducting scholarly research. Now why not turn and teach what you've learned to others?