I’ve written before about the importance of observation when reading and studying the Bible. Observation is step one, and really, it is THE most important step! Interpretation might be thought of as key, but if we don’t take the time to properly observe, our interpretation can go wrong or veer off course. And if we interpret wrong, our application will be wrong. A troubling, falling domino effect takes place!
Too often I find that in so-called Bible studies, the biblical text is given a cursory glance and a quick jump made to discussion about what the text means and how to apply it. What happened to observation?
Below is a handout I gave to an adult Sunday school class. I went over ways to observe a passage of Scripture and the handout summarized it. Then I had us divide into smaller groups, and each group was given a passage of Scripture to observe. I instructed that each individual in the group should independently record their own observations for a few minutes, and then go around and share their observations with each other. Participants found this surprisingly helpful, not only observing for themself, but noting how different eyes saw different things.
I actually just returned from being out of town a couple days, opened a file drawer in my office, saw this old handout, and decided to post it! Maybe it will be helpful to someone at this time?
The Steps of Bible Study
- Observation: What do you see?
- Interpretation: What does it mean?
- Application: How does it apply to life today?
Focus on Observation
“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” Psalm 119:18
Take your time. Read it again. Look carefully.
Look for key words. Is a certain word or phrase repeated? This shows an emphasis or theme.
Look for the verbs. They communicate the action of the passage. Take special note of imperative verbs, such as commands.
Look for conjunctions: therefore, because, and, since, but. These can indicate a connection between ideas, a contrast, a conclusion.
Look for purpose/result statements.
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
Look for contrasts and comparisons. See Psalm 1.
Look for emotional terms and the tone of the passage. For example, “plead” is more emotional than “ask.” 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? doctrinal?) What do I learn about God in the passage? What do difficult words mean?
Where: Where does the action in the passage take place?
When: When did the action occur?
Why: Why were these words communicated?
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