Grace Institute: Bible Study Methods: Making Observations

Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership

Bible Study Methods

Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership

Spring 2005

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Making Observations

Observing the Scripture

When studying a passage of the bible, we begin by observing that passage. We begin our study by asking, what does the text say . It requires that we be good readers. It requires that we be detectives. And, it requires that we look at the big picture. But we always want to know what does the text say .

Learning to Read

Read better and faster. Some of us struggle with our reading skills. Some of us devour books. All of us could learn to read better and read faster. Reading better means retaining more of the meaning. Reading faster allows us to see the bigger picture, but should never be such so as to sacrifice our reading comprehension.

Read as if for the first time. – Use an unmarked text without study notes.

Read it inquisitively. – Ask questions while you are reading. The key is to be active and engaged as you read, and if you keep asking questions your mind will remain on the text.

Read Prayerfully . - We tend to think of Bible Study and prayer as separate disciplines. But prayer is the key to effective Bible study. Learn to pray before, during, and after your reading of scripture.

Read Repeatedly – Don't settle for just reading a passage one time. Read it again and again. Try reading an entire book at one setting. Try reading different translations. Try reading aloud, or listening to the Bible on tapes. Be creative and work to make it interesting. But give yourself repeated exposure to the same passage. Set a regular time each day to read the Bible and pray.

Impress them (God's commandments) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)

Read Meditatively - Don't just read it, but think about it. Mull over it. Contemplate the passage over the course of the entire day. One very effective way to meditate on God's Word is to memorize a verse or a passage of scripture.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97)

 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:72)

Read Purposely - Purposeful reading looks for the aim of the author. Every word of every verse is there for a reason. When reading we want to read to understand the author's purpose in writing. . Look for:

Things which are emphasized – How much space is devoted to a topic? Does the passage tell you its purpose plainly? What is the order of topics or events? Does the passage increase or decrease in intensity?

Things that are repeated – Are there words or themes that are repeated? Are there patterns that are followed?

Things that are related – Is there a movement from the general to specific? Does the passage use a “question and answer” format? Does the passage state a cause and effect relationship?

Things that are Alike and Unlike – Does the author use a simile or a metaphor? Are their contrasting words used, like but or however? Is the author using irony? Always keep in mind, as we read, that we want to know What Does the Text Say .

Read Strategically - One of the biggest mistakes people make when reading the Bible is selecting a passage at random, or choosing books without considering why they want to review a passage. Taking a little time to strategically read through the bible is important. Try choosing a reading plan, and stick with it.

Making Observations

The first exercise in inductive bible study is to make a list of observations from the target passage. An observation is a complete statement of one thought that is true according to the text.

Observations do not try to determine meaning. Meaning comes from the interpretation phase. Therefore, observation statements use the same words as the text and does not make any assumption about the meaning of those words by replacing them with synonyms.

Where the process of observation become difficult is when the text doesn't make sense. But observation doesn't try to create meaning or sense of the text, but merely observe what it says. Avoid short circuiting the process by beginning to assign meaning to early.

Finally, the task of observation is an on-going task, and one should never think they have exhausted all there is to observe.

Observation Guidelines

Observational Questions

The key to the observational process is to continually asking questions as you approach the text. Some of your questions will have to wait until the interpretation step to be answered. Other questions will result in additional observations about the passage.

You have to learn the difference between “observational” questions and “interpretive” questions. Observational questions answer the questions, “who, what, where, when, why, and how.” If the text answers these questions, write them the answers as observations. Interpretive questions ask, “what does this mean?” On a separate sheet of paper, write down your interpretive questions for answering later.

Here are some questions you can ask to help spark additional observations in a passage:

Where?
When?
Who?
How?
What?
Why?

Assignment

Write down at least 25 unique and legitimate observations of Ephesians 2:4-7. Do not consult with others on this assignment.

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