look for repeated words

How Patterns Reveal Deeper Meaning in Bible Study

“Do we have to paint them like that?”

“Like what?” the instructor asked. We were in a coffee and canvas party. You know the ones where everyone sits down with a blank canvas and the instructor guides the class in creating the same painting? They never turn out the same, but that’s part of the fun.

We had finished painting red, yellow, and orange bubbles for leaves and were getting ready to paint the trunk of the tree. The instructor swished her brush effortlessly on the canvas, creating swirly branches in a beautiful abstract form when someone spoke up,

“Curly, like you made them,” the dissenter asked. “I always thought branches were more pointy and scraggly.”

“Well,” the instructor replied, measuring her words, “It’s your painting, so you can make them however you want. But the curly branches go with the bubbly leaves. They kind of have the same feel and they unify the painting.”

I continued brushing brown paint on my canvas as I thought about her words. Master artists put careful thought not only in what they create but how they create it as well. They often include subtle patterns that aren’t obvious at first but work on a deeper level to unify the entire work. 

Painters do this all the time. So do writers.

Uncovering those hidden patterns is like a treasure hunt for adults! 

The Bible is full of patterns that work on a deeper level to unify God’s Big Story from beginning to end. It’s like a beautiful painting that includes subtle repetition, visible only upon close inspection of the brush strokes, the hues of the colors, or the direction objects are facing. This is why connoisseurs can spend hours standing in front of a painting, How Bible study is like a Treasure Huntrelishing every last detail while the casual museum-goer walks past it in a matter of seconds.

In literature, writers often use repetition to draw attention to an important point. Sometimes it’s obvious because the same words are repeated verbatim (like “it was good,” in Genesis 1 or “light” in John 1). Other times, it’s more abstract and requires careful study to see the connections. Those more difficult connections, though, are the most rewarding, because like an art connoisseur, you will see patterns and details that make the passage come alive and sear its theme on your heart.

So today, we’re going to study the Bible like an art connoisseur studies a painting or a kid goes on a treasure hunt:

  • Read the passage once, just to get an idea of what the text is about
  • Pick a shorter passage to focus your study on, and reread it, looking for repeated words or ideas
  • Using colored pencils or crayons, mark important repeating words or themes to color-code the passage. Here are some color options to get you started:
    • every time life, resurrection, or living is mentioned, you could shade in the word or passage with green;
    • you could use yellow for heaven, eternity, and the kingdom of God;
    • you could use red for love, kindness, and goodness.
    • Use that color consistently throughout the book while you’re studying different chapters, and see the themes emerge and repeat throughout the book.
  • Write the repeated word or idea in your journal. Why did the writer choose to repeat that word or phrase? Why is it significant?

Are you ready? Let’s go treasure hunting!

Your Turn

  1. Begin with prayer (see here for some ideas to get you started).
  2. Read John 4 and use the method above to stud the passage.
  3. Is there a word of phrase that’s repeated? Write it in your journal and jot a sentence or two explaining why that word is important in the context of the passage.
  4. End with prayer, thank God for what He has shown you and asking for strength to put it into practice.
  5. Share with a family member what you studied today.

31 Days to Deeper Bible Study