Ok, let’s say you’re ready to do some genuine exegetical work and serious Bible study. Where do you begin? This is a question that has plagued Bible students for hundreds of years. The Bible is a big book, and it can be intimidating!

Years ago, I developed a simple way of identifying what each book was about. I called it “The Four P’s.” With a name like Petrillo, why go with, say, the four R’s? Just doesn’t make sense, right? Anyway, if you will put into practice The Four Ps, you will unlock the key to identifying the major ideas and themes of every Bible book.

The Four P’s. #1: Prevalence

Every book (Old Testament as well as the New Testament) has prevalent, reoccurring words. It is logical to think that a word that occurs frequently in a book must be an important concept. However, do not be ridiculous with this (e.g., count words like “and” and “the”). The words we are looking for are going to have some type of theological significance.

For example, the exegete will note that Paul continually comes back to the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune, δικαιοσύνη) in Romans. The word occurs in some form seventy-seven times in the book. One would also note a high concentration on the word “law” (nomos, νόμος), seventy-one times; “sin” (hamartia, ἁμαρτία), fifty times; “faith” (pistos, πίστoς) sixty-three times; and “Christ” (Christos, Χριστὸς) sixty-nine times. There are others, of course, and the exegete is going to work at finding all of them.

Then, he should be able to express how all those words define the purpose of the book, putting them all into a thesis statement…

Something like: “Because of sin, man needs to find the righteousness of God. This righteousness is not going to come through the law, but only through faith in Christ.”

In the book of Matthew, we find the word “kingdom” (basileia, βασιλεία) occurring numerous times (fifty-eight, to be exact). We will also note that many times, this word is coupled with the phrase “in heaven.” Thirty times, we will find the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew (ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν). In thinking about this word and phrase, we begin to see that the Gospel was written to convince the Jews that the Kingdom was not what they were expecting (an earthly kingdom) but was something that was going to be a heavenly (spiritual) kingdom established by Christ. The word for ‘judge’ or ‘judgment’ (krisis, κρίσις) is found 99 times, and the word “disciple” (mathetes, μαθητής) occurs 80 times. Be sure to use a unique color for each word. That is, color all of the “kingdom” words with one color and all of the “father” words in another color. It is crucial that it be done this way! Why?

  1. It will bring to mind that this is a key/significant word. I assure you that you will not remember the key words when you read through this book at a later date. You will read right past them, failing to see (and remember) that this was a word the author is using frequently. Sadly, when you miss that, you will certainly miss what the passage or section is about.

  2. It will help you find all of those words easily. They will all be marked in different colors! They will “jump off the page.” Have you ever read a passage that had a word in it, and you said, “I remember his using that word earlier!” But then, when you look for it, you cannot find it. If your Bible had been color-coded, you could easily find the earlier occurrence (or occurrences) of that word. In addition, you will be able to find future times the word is used as well. This is also helpful when you want to bring all of the passages (that use a particular word) together. Sometimes, we may wish to see all of the times Paul discussed “grace” in the book of Ephesians. A color-coded Bible makes such a project simple and fast.

  3. It will help you see the flow of thought and the writer’s emphases. Seeing a particular word being used again and again in a section is a clear indication that this is what is on the mind of the inspired writer. If the word “grace” is used again and again, it is clear that this is a key concept. Thus, the “flow of thought” is centered around grace.

  4. It will demonstrate the relationship between words. Frequently, the inspired writer will use multiple keywords in one pericope. What is the relationship between those words? Chances are, you will not even ask that question if you do not color-code your Bible. For example, in Romans 7, Paul strongly emphasizes the word “sin” (16 times) and the word “law” (22 times). What is the relationship between those two concepts?

  5. It will demonstrate key sections (lots of keywords vs. no keywords). Logic teaches that a section that has numerous keywords is going to be an important section. Equally, if a section has very few keywords, then it logically is not a key section. Instead, it is probably something like an illustration. For example, if you color-coded your Bible, you would see a virtual rainbow of colors in Galatians 2:15- 21. However, the section just before this (2:11-14) has only two keywords (“circumcision” and “gospel”).

  6. It will get you closer to the original texts in Hebrew/Greek. We are at a disadvantage because we do not work in the original languages. However, key wording is an excellent way of bringing us closer to reading the text as the original recipients did. They would easily see that the inspired writer is emphasizing a particular word. Sadly, that word may be translated three, four, or sometimes five different ways in the English text! Yet, when we color code our Bibles, we see the inspired emphasis on those words. This is true even when those words are translated differently because they will still share the same color. For example, in 1 Peter, the inspired apostle frequently uses the word anastrophe. That word (in the New American Standard) is translated as “behavior” (1:15), “conduct” (1:17), or “way of life” (1:18). However, if you picked to color the word anastrophe blue, then each of those variously translated words will all be colored blue!

NOTE: Since this is the hardest of The Four Ps, we have provided Prevalent Wordlists on Bear Valley’s website: www.WeTrainPreachers.com. Look for the link “Study resources.”

Denny Petrillo
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Denny is married to the former Kathy Roberts.  They have been married since January 1978.  They have three children (Lance, Brett, and Laura) and Six grandchildren (Chloe, Ashlyn, Sophie, Easton, Brelyn, and Kyson).  He has served as the President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute since 2004 and has been a full-time instructor since 1985.  He has preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.  He has taught numerous classes for the World Video Bible School and has authored several books and commentaries.  He graduated from the Bear Valley School of Preaching (now the Bear Valley Bible Institute), received an AA degree in Bible (York College, York, Nebraska), BA in Bible and Biblical Languages (Harding University), and an MA in Old and New Testaments (Harding Graduate School of Religion), and a Ph.D. in Religious Education (University of Nebraska).