The Bible contains different types of literature. For example, there are history books, song books, books of poetry, prophecy, and letters. There are even four versions of the only type of literature in the world that requires the name of Jesus in the definition, the gospels.
There are different things to look for or different techniques to use when studying each genre. In this post we want to give you a helps for studying a New Testament letter.

1. In any letter two of the most obvious things to look for are the author and the recipient. By reading the letter and paying attention to them you will pick up the author’s point in writing the letter. So, it’s a logical place to start your study.

Not only are you going to look for the author and recipient but we recommend marking the text as you study for several reasons.

  • Slows you down and helps you read instead of scanning the text
  • Keeps you focused
  • Gives you reference points for listing what you learn

We have illustrated below in an excerpt from 1 Thessalonians by placing a blue circle over references to the author(s) and a red box around the references to the recipients. And you will notice in verse 3 we marked “our” with symbols for both the author and the recipient since in this context it refers to both.

An illustration of how to mark the author and recipients in a New Testament letter.

2. After marking references to the author and recipient the next step would be to make a list of what you learn about them.

The best way to do this is to keep it simple and take your description directly from the text. We have illustrated the two lists below.

Paul, Silvanus and Timothy

  • Thank God for the Thessalonians (vs.2)
  • Pray for you (Thessalonians) (vs.2)
  • God is our Father (vs.3)
  • Our gospel came to you in word, in power, in the Holy Spirit, with full conviction (vs.5)
  • Proved what kind of men (we were) among you (vs.5)
  • Were imitated (vs.6)

Church of the Thessalonians

  • In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (vs.1)
  • They have a work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope (vs.3)
  • Jesus is our Lord (vs.3)
  • God is our Father (vs.3)
  • They are brethren, beloved and chosen by God (vs.4)
  • The gospel came to Thessalonians (vs.5)
  • They became imitators (vs.6)
  • They received the word in much tribulation, with the joy of the Holy Spirit (vs.6)
  • They became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia (vs.7)

3. Watch for repeated words or ideas in the text.

Now that you have read the passage at least twice noting references to the author(s) and to the recipients you know the people involved in this letter, but why was it written? Or, to put it another way, what is the point the author is making?

Repeated words or ideas help you determine the subject of the letter. We call these “key words”. You may have noticed the word “gospel” in verse 5. Read the passage again looking for synonyms for the word “gospel.” You could use the symbol suggested on our Key Word Bookmark to mark the word “gospel” and its synonyms.

In verse 5 the gospel came to them. In verse 6 they had received the gospel or “word” with tribulation and joy. In verse 8 they were witnesses to the whole area, sharing the gospel or “word” with others.

The main point in these few verses has to do with the gospel and what it accomplished in the lives of the Thessalonian believers.

Wrapping it up

You will be surprised by how much you can learn by taking these simple tips and working through a letter on your own. Why not start with the rest of 1 Thessalonians?

We like to let you know about a resource or two we have which we believe will help you as you seek to discover truth for yourself.

Since we suggested you finish studying 1 Thessalonians it is only appropriate we let you know about our New Inductive Study Series (NISS) “Standing Firm in These Last Days”. This is a study of both 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. This is a great study which will guide you through these two letters in only 15 minutes a day, 6 days a week, for 9 weeks. Check it out, all of the NISS, they are great for family Bible studies.

Click to go to the NISS Standing Firm Study

If you thought these short hints were helpful, you should come to one of our training workshops. We love training people to study the Word of God. Check them out.

Find a Bible Study Training Workshop near you

One Comment, RSS

  • Staci

    says on:
    August 10, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Really helpful and well-written article! The NISS Thessalonians study is a great resource to learn about the study of Biblical letters, as well as an amazing study to dig deeper into God’s Word. Thanks!

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