OBSERVATION: What does it say?
INTERPRETATION: What does it mean?
APPLICATION: How do I respond?
BIBLE VERSIONS How Literal is your translation?
“What do I see?”
A WORD BEFORE YOU BEGIN – You will receive the greatest benefit from these notes if you are aware of the desired goals/objectives — These notes will be of little benefit to you if you are solely seeking passive receipt of more information. Instead, you need to come with a humble childlike attitude (cp Jesus’ words Mt 18:2 3 4 Jas 1:21), and a desire for energetic engagement and true transformation. To help facilitate this goal of knowing God better (John 17:3) and growing more like his Son (2Peter 3:18–note), be alert for the “periodic pit stops” which we call Practice it! – these junctures will give you an opportunity to practice what you are reading and this in turn will help you to “internalize” what you are reading and will increase your retention and your confidence to apply these techniques in your daily time with God in His Word. As you become more comfortable with these techniques, you will increasingly experience the joy of self discovery of precious nuggets of Truth. Remember, that each time before you take a pause to Practice it!, also take a moment to beg your Teacher, the Spirit of Truth, to open the eyes of your heart so that it might not be just an intellectual exercise and you might be enabled to see the wonderful supernatural truths in His Word. You will also be pleasantly surprised to discover that observation in many of these practice exercises flows smoothly into interpretation and application, as the Spirit pricks your heart to believe and obey the truth He has just illuminated.
Observation describes the act of taking notice, fixing the mind upon, beholding with attention and as used in science includes the idea of making and recording one’s findings, a skill certainly applicable to fruitful inductive study of the Scriptures. Observation is not just seeing but perceiving what one sees, so that one becomes mentally aware of what one observes. We live in a fast paced society and honing the vital skill of observation is not the natural inclination for most of us. We want answers fast (How many times have you heard someone say “Just Google it”?) and are loathe to linger too long observing a section of Scripture. But frankly, what better object to linger upon lovingly and long, than the eternal Word of Truth, the very revelation from the Creator to His creatures! We dare not let His precious Word “bore” us! And so we need to learn and practice the art of observation for as Yogi Berra once said…
You can see a lot
just by looking.
Dr H T Kuist would agree with Yogi for he defined observation as
the art of seeing things as they really are.
Kuist goes on to add that observation entails seeing…
impartially, intensely and fearlessly.
Robert Traina rightly concludes that the goal of observation
is to enable one to become saturated with (Ed: filled completely with so that it permeates or pervades one’s entire being) the particulars of a passage so that one is thoroughly conscious of the (object being observed). Observation is the means by which the data (Ed: Don’t let that word “data” discourage you – observation should never become a mechanical, pedantic exercise, but should always be like a much anticipated journey which eventually leads to the matchless joy of discovering for yourself what God has said in a particular passage of the Bible) of a passage becomes part of the mentality of the student. It supplies the raw materials upon which the mind may operate in the interpretative process (Ed: As led by the Holy Spirit – Jn 16:13, 1Jn 2:27). (Methodical Bible Study. 2002. Zondervan)
You may be surprised and maybe even a bit insulted by the suggestion that most of us have never really been taught how to read a book, much less a divinely inspired book. (Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book is a recommended secular work and makes for fascinating reading on this topic). Most of us really don’t know what to look for in order to effectively and efficiently carry out the observation of a specific book of the Bible because we’ve never been instructed. To take an analogy from life, it’s hard to go fishing unless you’ve got the proper gear. The goal of this section is to present some general guidelines on “how to read the ‘Best Book'” but you will find the principles applicable to anything you are reading.
The Bible is unlike any other book for it is essentially a “love letter” from God to mankind. Stop for a moment and ponder this awesome truth. You have probably received a letter from your sweetheart when you were dating or courting. Do you remember how you responded when you received that letter? First, you were eagerly anticipating it. You couldn’t wait for it to arrive in the mail. You kept checking the mailbox to see if the mail had arrived. And when it did come, you blocked out everything, opened the envelope and devoured every word, every nuance, every innuendo, as you read the letter from your beloved…and you read it not just once but over and over and over. You permitted nothing to interfere with reading the letter from beginning to end. The phone might have rung, but you paid little attention to the ringing. You were far more focused on observing and interpreting what the the love of your life had written. Is not this the approach we should take to “the letter” called the Bible written by the One Who “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro 5:8–note)? Is this how you approach His word? Or have you “left your first love” (Re 2:4–note)? Jesus speaking to the saints at Ephesus told them to
Remember (present imperative = command to keep on remembering – it’s a good “preventative” for drifting) therefore from where you have fallen, and repent (aorist imperative = command calling for urgent action) and do (aorist imperative) the deeds you did at first or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place– unless you repent. (Re 2:4–note; Re 2:5–note)
For Productive Inductive Bible Study
(1) Willingness to slow down
(2) Desire to carefully observe what the passage is literally saying unbiased by prior experience
Martin Luther whom God used to return His church to a Sola Scriptura approach (only the Scriptures) which birthed the Reformation, described what in essence is an inductive approach to Bible study when he said…
I study my Bible as I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest might fall . Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf . I shake the Bible as a whole , like shaking the whole tree (~ Context). Then I shake every limb—study book after book (~ Overview of Book). Then I shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters when they do not break the sense (~ Observation of Chapters). Then I shake every twig, or a careful study of the paragraphs and sentences and words and their meanings (~Greek/Hebrew Word Studies).” (Ed note: my comments in green)
A T Pierson a well known 19th century preacher once wrote this comment regarding a passage he was studying
When I read this passage for the 100th time, the following idea came to me.
So here we see this great seasoned student of the Scripture saying “I’ve got to read it repeatedly and the more I read it the more I observe.” That’s the genius of the Word of God and why it is unlike any other book.
F B Meyer has an interesting suggestion if your “appetite” for the Word is at “low tide”…
Do not always read your Bible because you like to do so, or desire it, but because it is right to do it, and as a matter of simple duty to your own life. Study the Word under the light of the Holy Spirit, as the ancient saint, when blindness was setting in, was wont to carry his Bible to the window, and place the open page in the full beams of the western sun. And slowly the appetite will re-assert itself, and you will come to esteem the Word of God more than your necessary food (Job 23:12–note) . (Tried by Fire – Exposition of 1 Peter – Long for the Pure Milk)
Simple Overview of Inductive Study with example of how to mark a page