This article defines and explains the biographical method of Bible study, and I have also included an example of a biographical study of King Saul.
THE METHOD DEFINED
A biography is the story of someone’s life. The biographical method of Bible study focuses on the lives of Bible personalities. By studying the lives of Bible characters you can learn from their experiences. The Bible states:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (I Corinthians 10:11)
Events which happened in the lives of Bible personalities were recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for our benefit. Their experiences can teach us great spiritual lessons. By observing their failures we can learn of spiritual errors to avoid. By observing their successes we can develop positive spiritual qualities in our own lives.
THE METHOD EXPLAINED
STEP ONE: SELECT THE PERSON TO BE STUDIED:
You may choose a personality that is of special interest to you. You might want to choose a person from the list in Hebrews 11, Galatians 3:7 or Luke 4:27. You might study an important person in the Bible book which you are presently reading or studying. Remember that the greatest biographical study of all is the life of Jesus Christ.
Be careful not to confuse names. For example, there are some 30 Zachariahs in the Bible, 20 Nathans, 15 Jonathans, 8 Judases, 7 Marys, 5 James, and 5 Johns. Be sure the verses you study are about the person you have selected and not another individual with the same name.
Also be alert for people who have more than one name. For example, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, and Saul’s name was changed to the Apostle Paul.
STEP TWO: GATHER THE INFORMATION:
Gather all the information in the Bible on the person you select. If you have a concordance available, look up the name of the person and find a list of all references to him/her in the Bible. If you do not have a concordance, gather the references directly from the Bible. Most of the references concerning a selected Bible personality are found within one book or a series of consecutive books. List all the Bible references about the person you are studying, then look each one up in your Bible and read it.
STEP THREE: ANALYZE THE INFORMATION:
The following list identifies some of the information you should gather and analyse in a biographical study. The Bible may not give information on all of these items in every biography, but try to include everything it does reveal about the person you are studying.
Biographical information to obtain includes:
- Name and meaning of name.
- Relatives: Parents, brothers and sisters, ancestors, children.
- Birth: Location, importance of birth, unusual events surrounding birth.
- Childhood and early training.
- Geographical setting: Where does the story of this person’s life occur?
- Friends and associates, personal relationships.
- Occupation or vocation: What position or office did they occupy? How did they earn their living?
- Physical description.
- Positive character traits.
- Negative character traits.
- Significant spiritual events:
- First encounter with God
- Call to service
- Greatest crisis or turning point in the person’s life: (For example, Saul on the Damascus Road)
- Death: When, where, unusual circumstances
STEP FOUR: APPLY WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED
Make personal applications from the life of the person you have studied. For example:
What were the positive character traits? Ask God to help you develop them in your own life.
What were the negative character traits? Do you see any of these in your own life? Ask God to help you overcome them.
Compose one sentence which summarizes the greatest truth you learned from this life. For example, a statement about the life of Sampson might be “Spiritual compromise results in failure.”
EXAMPLE OF THE METHOD
STEP ONE: SELECT THE PERSON TO BE STUDIED:
STEP TWO GATHER THE INFORMATION:
The story of Saul is found in I Samuel 9-31. The information on Saul was gathered from these chapters.
STEP THREE: ANALYZE THE INFORMATION:
Name and meaning of name:
Saul. Meaning “Asked of God.” I Samuel 9:2
Parents, brothers and sisters, ancestors, children: Son of Kish who was the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah. Kish was a Benjamite and a mighty man of power. 1 Samuel 9:1
Saul had three sons: Jonathan, Ishui, and Melchishula. He had two daughters: Merab and Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam. 1 Samuel 14:49-50
Location, importance of birth, unusual events surrounding birth. The Bible does not state these facts.
Childhood and early training:
Cared for his father donkeys: 1 Samuel 9:3
Friends and associates, personal relationships:
The children of Belial despised him: 1 Samuel 10:27. He was close to Abner, the captain of his host, who was his uncle’s son: 1 Samuel 14:50. David became an associate of Saul. At first he was in favour, then Saul became jealous and their relationship was broken: 1 Samuel 18:6-9. When Saul first became king he had a band of men whose hearts God had touched. When Saul started adding “strong and valiant” men without direction from God, his problems began: 1 Samuel 10:26; 13:2; 14:52
Occupation or vocation:
First king of Israel.
From his shoulders upward he was higher than any of the people: 1 Samuel 9:2, 10:23 He was described as “goodly” which means handsome: 1 Samuel 9:2
Positive character traits:
Showed concern for family 1 Samuel 9:5
Choice man 1 Samuel 9:2; 10:24
Let spirit change his heart 1 Samuel 11:6; 10:6
Modest: Hides among the baggage 1 Samuel 10:22
Refuses to execute 1 Samuel 11
Leadership: Rallies people 1 Samuel 11
Man of the spirit 1 Samuel 11
Originally was obedient 1 Samuel 9:27
Aligned himself with godly 1 Samuel 11:7; 10:26
Bold for God 1 Samuel 10:6
Originally was humble 1 Samuel 9:21
Negative character traits:
Did what was expedient rather than obeying God: 1 Samuel 13:8-13
Disobeyed, lied, then refused to accept the blame: 1 Samuel 15
Grieved God’s people: 1 Samuel 15:35
More concerned with what man thought than God: 1 Samuel 15:30
Chose strong and valiant men to be close to him rather than the band of men God had touched: 1 Samuel 10:26; 14:52
Fearful: 1 Samuel 17:11
Judged by outward appearances: 1 Samuel 17:33
Trusted the armour of man: 1 Samuel 17:38
Jealous: 1 Samuel 18:6-9
Evil spirit: 1 Samuel 18:10
Spirit of revenge: 1 Samuel 18:11
Plotted against God’s anointed: 1 Samuel 18:20-30
Significant spiritual events:
First encounter with God: 1 Samuel 9:15-27
Conversion: 1 Samuel 10:9
Call to service: 1 Samuel 10:1
Greatest crisis or turning point: 1 Samuel 13
When, where, unusual circumstances:
1 Samuel 31: Died by his own hand. His three sons, his armour bearer, and all his men died the same day in Mt. Gilboa during a battle with the Philistines.
STEP FOUR: APPLY WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED:
Positive character traits in Saul’s life which I should seek to develop in my own life: When the Spirit of the Lord comes on me, I can be changed into “another man”: 1 Samuel 10:6. I should seek that type of anointing from God.
Negative character traits in Saul’s life which I should seek to avoid in my own life: God desires leaders after His own heart: 1 Samuel 13:14. Although Saul failed in this area, I desire to be such a leader.
Disobedience: Doing what is expedient rather than what God commands. Placing blame on others for my own sin. Caring more what man thinks than what God thinks of me. I would do well to review the entire list of Saul’s negative traits and examine my own heart from time to time.
God’s call was for Saul to be captain over the people: 1 Samuel 10:1. It was people who made him king instead. (1 Samuel 12:12-15; 10:24). God was to be Israel’s king. I should use caution, lest the praise of people turn me aside from God’s plan.
Although God was originally with Saul (1 Samuel 10:7, 9; 13:14), He later lost the kingdom. Even after his sin and the prophecy of losing the kingdom, however, God’s anointing still rested on Saul (1 Samuel 14:47). The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Saul still heard God’s voice (1 Samuel 15:1) and worshiped Him (15:31), but he had unconfessed sin and lost the kingdom.
David recognized the danger of touching a man anointed by God as a leader. I should heed this warning.
The greatest truth learned from the life of Saul is the result of disobedience to God. It is summarized in the statement of Samuel: “Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22
The result of such disobedience is summarized in David’s statement about Saul: “How the mighty are fallen.” 11 Samuel 1:19