4 People's folded hands over their Bibles in a Small Group Bible study

The Thompson® Chain-Reference® Bible: An Excellent Tool for Small Group Bible Studies

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is a popular and beloved study Bible that’s been used by students of God’s Word for well over 100 years, starting with its first publication in 1908. After not being available for several years, the NIV is now available in the revised and updated edition.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is unique among study Bibles. Rather than supplying commentary on the text written by individuals from their own particular perspectives, it links Scriptures according to thousands of themes or topics that are embedded in the passages themselves. This allows Scripture to interpret Scripture and provides the reader with the tools they need to study the Bible independently.

In addition to sermon or lesson preparation, the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is a wonderful tool to use in personal or small-group study. In this post, we’ll explore how a small study group can use the Thompson Chain-Reference (TCR) tools to find and study a topic.

Choosing a Bible Study Topic

There are several ways for leaders and participants in a small-group context to search the TCR for topics to study. Here’s a look at some of the more prominent tools leaders can use to search for topics of interest to their groups.

Searching for Topics in the Alphabetical Index of Topics


Thompson Chain Reference

If the group knows the topic they’d like to study, or if they want to browse for possible topics to study, they can turn to the Alphabetical Index of Topics, which provides a detailed list of thousands of topics and subtopics for suggested study.

Each of the topics listed in the Alphabetical Index of Topics includes a topic number that will lead the group to find more information in the Numerical Index of Topics or the many other study other tools located in the back section of the Bible. This extensive study tool section includes charts, maps, verse listings for memorization, topics for discussion and study for specific types of groups, and much more.

Search for Biblical Characters

The back section of the TCR Bible features a study tool called Bible Character Studies. This index describes and outlines twelve prominent characters in the Bible for in-depth study. A small group leader, using the descriptions and outlines under each of these twelve, could tie together a study under several of their characteristics: leadership, ways they engaged with God, faithfulness and failures, spirituality, and the like.

The feature called Prominent Characters Classified lists many of the prominent characters in the Bible and explains the meanings of their names, which can be a useful description to help guide the group when choosing the characters to study.

These lists are divided into men, women, Old Testament, and New Testament, and the characters are listed according to their roles, many of which overlap. For example, David can be found under Kings of the United Kingdom as well as under Poets. This gives the group several ways to find a person or persons the members want to study.

Browsing for Topics in the Topical Treasury

Thompson Chain Reference topical treasury
The Topical Treasury is a list of practical helps for Christian workers. It is tailor-made for the small group leader to plan a course of study for a specific group, as it lists hundreds of topics that are very beneficial for a variety of small-group studies. Every one of these topics can be found in the Numerical Index of Topics so that small group participants can follow the lists of Bible readings associated with each topic. The small-group leader can spend time reviewing the descriptive titles of each topic for a subject that will interest their specific small-group. They’re helpfully sorted under specific types of meetings to assist leaders and participants to target studies to the specific type of group they’ll be leading.

Analyzing the Topic

Once the topic is selected, the study group can analyze the topic using the many helpful study tools in each TCRs. Let’s look at a few examples.

Studying a Topic in the Alphabetical Index of Topics

For our example, we’ll choose the topic of Prayer. The Alphabetical Index of Topics lists 58 subtopics for prayer. Drilling down a little, we find that the topic of Intercessory Prayer has three topic numbers: 1783-1785.

Thompson Chain Reference alphabetical reference
When we turn to the first topic number in the Numerical Index of Topics, we find this points to a larger topic called Intercession, which covers topic numbers 1783-1786. Each of the topics on intercession includes a description, and many of the topics include a heading for certain verses. The group can use this information to easily find the path of study that most interests them.

Let’s look at the first topic, number 1783. This topic displays a list of verses with examples of the intercessory prayers of Christ. It shows that the marginal notes description for this topic number is called Christ’s Intercession. It provides 13 Scripture references, nine of which are printed in red to identify them as the most prominent verses under this topic. These nine verses are also printed in full, so the group can read them directly from this list in the Numerical Index of Topics.

The verses are labeled with headings including:

•  For Sinners
•  For Weak Believers
•  For Enemies
•  For Sending of the Comforter
•  Special for the Church
•  Our Acceptance Depends Upon
•  Salvation Through

Thompson Chain Reference
At the end of the list is the suggested topic Priesthood of Christ with its own topic number identified. This suggestion provides the group with related topics for further study.

The study group can use this list to learn more about the intercessory prayers of Jesus. They can read the verses in the list, and then look them up in the biblical text to more thoroughly examine their context. Once they’ve studied these verses, they can move on to the other 3 lists on Intercession to learn more.

Studying Biblical Characters

Now let’s consider an example of studying a biblical character. Once the biblical character to be studied is chosen, the group can use the Thompson Chain-Reference tools to gain insights into the character. The Thompson Chain-Reference includes several tools that describe and allow in-depth study of biblical characters, including:

•  Bible Character Studies
•  Prominent Characters Classified
•  Outline History of the Apostles
•  Outline History of the Early Church
•  Bible Harmonies and Illustrated Studies

As an example, let’s take a look at Abraham. We see in the Prominent Characters Classified feature that Abraham can be found under topic numbers 15 and 4287.

Thompson Chain Reference prominent characters
Turning to topic 15 in the Numerical Index of Topics we see that this study of Abraham has 58 references, an outline with nine references, and a list of seven characteristics of his life. Together, they supply a detailed study of the life of Abraham.

Thompson Chain Reference character references

Thompson Chain Reference

Turning to topic 4287 within the Bible Character Studies section we find a short article about Abraham with an introduction, information about his divine call, an outline, a map of his journeys, and a list of outstanding events and experiences of his life.

Thompson Chain Reference
Under the Bible Harmonies and Illustrated Studies section we find that the first feature includes even more information on the journeys of Abraham under topic number 4301a. Here you’ll find a 2-page annotated map that covers his journeys in Genesis 11:31—24:10.

All these lists and maps are great resources for a group whose participants are interested in studying the life of Abraham. The same can be said for many other biblical characters that the group may choose to study.

Using This Method for Sermon Preparation

Preachers and teachers can use the same methods discussed in this article to prepare their sermons and class lessons, taking notes as they research to build their sermon or lesson outline. For each of the Scripture references they find under their chosen topic, they can analyze the topics and references in the margins for more information to create both topical and expository sermons or detailed lesson plans for their teaching.

Perfect for Small Group Study

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is an excellent study Bible for small groups. It doesn’t include commentary; instead, its tools categorize and list Scriptures under their related topics, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Its extensive indexes, along with its maps, charts, and other study tools simplify the Bible study process, making biblical topics easy to search for and explore.

Learn more about the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible.

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