If you were going to hike a mountain, you would first want to find a qualified guide. You would want someone who knows the trail like the back of their hand, helps you avoid hazards, shows you the best viewpoints, and brings you safely home.
The same is true when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible. People can venture out on their own, but they may end up lost, confused, or frustrated. When approaching the Bible, a trusted guide can make all the difference.
At BibleProject, we want our resources to serve as guides that are both academically rigorous and accessible. For every video, we create a set of official BibleProject Study Notes to help our audience go deeper into the ideas presented in the video. But what are these notes on the Bible, and how can they benefit you?
A Closer Look at BibleProject Study Notes
All of the content that becomes the foundation for BibleProject’s videos, podcasts, and more begins with time spent researching and writing. That’s the work of our scholars—Dr. Tim Mackie and Dr. Carissa Quinn. We compile this research and design it to make it more accessible. These are our Study Notes.
“Study Notes begin life with a very functional purpose,” Tim shares. “They’re an outline that serves content creators—Jon, myself, and now Carissa in that mix—as we have conversations on script development.”
Tim and Carissa spend large parts of their week in research, using their skills in biblical scholarship to serve as qualified guides. “We have a very high view of Scripture and the authors of Scripture and the cohesiveness of the story,” Carissa shares. “We use literary skills and original language skills to pay close attention to things like genre and how they work.”
Once outlined, BibleProject Study Notes get compiled and cleaned up to become a free resource that we offer with our videos. Our Study Notes for the Bible often look different depending on the kind of video they’re produced alongside. We currently have three primary categories of videos: Themes, Word Studies, and Visual Commentaries. Let’s take a look at how our Study Notes come together for each of these categories.
“Theme videos are really fun,” Tim shares. “Usually I just sit down and start with Genesis 1 and work my way through the whole canon. I’ll take as much time to do it as my schedule will allow me to.” Three days a week, Tim tries to not take any meetings until noon so he can focus exclusively on research and writing. “For me, I’m just trying to read the Bible as much as I can, so that whenever I’m doing a theme study, I already have a framework for where I’m going and what I want to connect.”
Tim also relies on scholarly works to help inform and shape the research for theme videos.
“I’m usually reading a stack of books that goes along with whatever theme I’m studying, and I’ll pull in quotes and stuff that I’m learning. There now exists a lot of new fruitful book series doing theme studies that didn't exist 20 years ago. There's a growing set of scholarly resources on theme studies, and those are often the books we recommend when we release videos.”
Because our Study Notes for the Bible are intended to help shape a script outline and serve as a companion to the BibleProject Podcast, sometimes the notes are more fleshed out, and sometimes they serve more as an outline. “It’s usually just about time,” Tim shares. “Sometimes I have a lot of time, and I’ll really fill it out because it’s something I know I’ll draw on again one day. But sometimes I don’t have the time and it’s still more of an outline.”
Examples of Theme Study Notes on our site include shorter documents like Generosity Study Notes and longer works like the 50-page Study Notes on Sabbath.
Word Study Videos
Word Studies focus on how a word is used in the Bible. Carissa works largely with Word Studies and Visual Commentaries and shares her process for researching Word Study videos.
“With a Word Study, I'll notice patterns in the text of how the word is used, and I’ll develop categories for thinking about the word and its meaning. Then I’ll organize it into notes that span the Old and New Testament, as well as an overarching category of how to view the whole story through the lens of that word.”
For example, Carissa’s Word Study Notes on the word Faithful in the Bible look first at the basic meaning of the word faithful in the Old and New Testament before examining how this word is used in the storyline of Scripture from Genesis through the New Testament. The notes then end with an application for modern Bible readers.
For those interested in word studies and how to do them, BibleProject is currently working on a mini-class that will be released through our Classroom platform later this year that will take a look at how to do a biblical word study yourself.
Visual Commentary Videos
In contrast to Word Studies, our new Visual Commentary series dives deep into a specific passage or chapter of Scripture. The first step in this process, Tim shares, is simply immersing yourself in the Greek or Hebrew of the text until you know it like the back of your hand. “That involves dictionaries, translation, interpretation—that’s a whole stage.”
Carissa shares her research process for the Visual Commentary videos.
“I do a detailed reading in Hebrew, noticing structure and themes and repeated words. Then I try to discern the main point of a text and write research notes about all of those things, thinking about why this matters to the author’s audience and our audience.”
Tim shares that most of the commentaries and scholarly works he consults come from 20 years of exploring, reading, and collecting different resources. “It’s a judgment call,” Tim shares.
“Different commentaries have different goals. I gravitate toward ones that have a biblical theology approach and that focus on literary artistry and design. That's actually a select group of scholars out there. Some commentaries are just cultural background, so I use those when I think I need to.”
These researched notes on the Bible come together to form brief commentaries on the literary structure and message of a text, and these notes serve as the foundation for a video. For a great example of Visual Commentary Study Notes, check out our recent studies on Psalm 8 and Proverbs 8, which unpack more detail than we can cover in a six-minute video.
These Study Notes are a great resource for our audience. Tim compares the Study Notes to the first stages of writing a book. “If you were going to write a biblical theology or commentary, this would be like a draft. I don’t do all the additional layers of editing to turn it into a polished book.” Instead of turning into a book, these Study Notes become foundational for BibleProject’s podcast and the eventual script used for BibleProject videos.
An Invitation to Curiosity
Exploring the Bible is about more than getting a list of answers to life’s big questions, just as hiking a trail is about more than getting to the destination. “We’re on this journey as staff members here at BibleProject,” Carissa shares. “We’re all exploring these texts and asking questions about them ourselves.”
Through Tim and Carissa’s research, BibleProject is able to offer resources, like our Study Notes for the Bible, that help readers navigate their way through the story of Scripture, seeing themes, unpacking words, and diving deep into biblical passages. “For me, what I trust about the conclusions that we draw is the process and approach we’re using to get there,” Carissa says. “We’re paying really close attention to what the authors are doing and how they’re making their point, the main idea of a text, and how it all works together and fits into the bigger story.”
What we offer at BibleProject through our videos, podcasts, and Study Notes is an invitation—an invitation for you to come and see, to investigate Scripture with us and to be changed by the biblical story. “We think the Scriptures are beautiful and divine and human and point to Jesus and can change the life of a person in community,” Tim shares. “So join us. Let’s read these texts and learn about them together.”
You can explore the full collection of BibleProject’s Study Notes here. If you’re interested in more about BibleProject’s process, we encourage you to check out our Process video series here.