Note this is part 3. (Part 2 here.) This final post is about becoming a better Bible reader (that is, comprehending what you are reading) through the power of…observation.
Observation. The fictional character Sherlock Homes said to Watson: “You see but you do not observe.” He was explaining to Watson how he solved the case when others failed to do it. Psalm 119:18 says: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” – It is there. The question is, can we see it?
Too often we only glance at Scripture. We read a passage, either personally or in a group setting, and then we close our Bible…a jump is made to thought or discussion. But if we have not properly observed, we may have misguided discussion. We may misinterpret and misapply based on inaccurate or incomplete facts.
Imagine a crime scene. The detective arrives, takes a casual stroll through the scene, and then tells the coroner to take the body. That’s it! The victim’s family will not be pleased. The detective should more carefully observe the scene. Questions should be asked. A CSI should dust for finger prints and bag evidence. Modern day forensic science has taken observation to a whole new level from the days of Sherlock Homes!
Too often we are like careless detectives when it comes to our Bible. The point here is not to turn Bible reading into a difficult or overly complex endeavor that we dread. But these steps can open up the Bible for us. As Psalm 119:18 said: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” Will we miss the wonderful things??
Here are some ideas, as you read a passage or chapter.
→ Look for key words. Is a certain word or phrase repeated? This can indicate an emphasis or theme.
→ Look for the verbs. They communicate the action of the passage. Take special note of imperative verbs – they are often commands, something to do. Is there a progressive idea with the verbs? Such as in Psalm 1, where there is a progression of 3 verbs (walk, sit, stand) and associated implications.
→ Look for conjunctions or connecting words. Words such as: therefore, because, and, since, but, for. These words can indicate a connection, a contrast, a conclusion. What thoughts are linked together? Conclusions are important.
→ Look for cause and effect relationships. Simply put these statements indicate “If you do this, then that will happen.”
Similarly, look for purpose/result statements. These sentences describe the reason or result of an action. Psalm 119:11 says: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” If the Scripture is a focus of our life, it will help keep us from sin.
→ Look for contrasts and comparisons. Such as in Psalm 1 where the wicked and righteous are contrasted.
→ Look for emotional terms and the tone of the passage. For example, “plead” is more emotional than “ask.” What is the overall tone of the passage: encouraging? Sorrowful? Scolding? Joyful?
→ Ask questions: who, what, where, when, why?
Who: Who wrote it? Who are the words addressed to?
What: What kind of passage is it? Poetry? Narrative? Teaching? Prophecy?
(This is a critical observation for proper interpretation to take place! You don’t interpret poetry the same as a doctrinal passage.)
What do I learn about God in the passage? What happens in the passage? What is before and after the passage? If there are difficult words, what do they mean?
Where: Where does the action in the passage take place?
When? When did the action occur? When was it written?
Why? Why were these words communicated?
I taught this once to an adult Sunday school class. After presenting these observation ideas, I divided the class into 3 groups and each group got a passage from either Psalm 19 or Psalm 119 to look at and observe. Each group was told to spend several minutes with each person privately and independently noting observations, and then go around and share observations. Usually this is quite helpful, and you will find that others observed things you completely missed!
I hope these 3-part series provided some helpful and practical ideas for becoming a better reader. Why bother reading if you aren’t comprehending?
Build a basic framework of knowledge before you start reading the book; know what you are jumping into before you jump! Be an active reader. Interact with the text. Observe.