As we continue our discussion of how to study Scripture, we’re going to look at methods of observation.
Observation is a critical aspect of Bible study. It not only forces us to look at the text carefully, but it helps us slow down and examine what is happening in the passage. The more time we spend observing a passage, the more accurate our interpretation and application of the passage will be. However, if we rush through observation, we are more prone to make mistakes in our interpretation and application later on.
Today, we’re going to focus on one simple question: What is an observation?
An observation is simply taking note of something you see. When you observe the world around you, you do so with your five senses: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. When reading the Bible, only one of those senses is activated, so we simply ask, “What do I see?”
Let’s practice this with today’s SOAP verse, John 1:14.
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
What do you see in this verse? Without looking ahead, write down five observations, or things you see.
Here are some things I observed:
- The Word became flesh.
- The Word took up residence among “us” (the speaker).
- The author saw the glory of the Word.
- The glory of the Word was full of grace and truth.
- The Word came from the Father.
A key element of observation is sticking with simply observing. It takes a great deal of discipline and practice not to jump to conclusions, interpretations, and applications. For example, if you said anything about Jesus, about John, about the disciples, or about Christians in your observations, you’ve already jumped to interpretation.
Observation asks and answers only the question, “What do I see?” What is the verse saying? You may be able to reasonably infer some conclusions, but that is not the practice of observation. Train yourself to ask and answer only, “What do I see?” when doing observation.
Here are some additional questions to ask during observation that will help answer the overall question of, “What do I see?”
- Who is talking? (If it is not explicit in the verse, make note that you don’t know and answer that question during interpretation).
- To whom are they speaking? (same as above – if it’s not explicit, note it and come back to it later).
- What are they saying?
- What is the meaning of this word?
- What action is accomplished or implied?
- How is the action accomplished?
- What literary devices are used?
- What is unclear?
- Is there an element of time?
- Are the events listed sequentially?
- Are there any repeated words or phrases?
- Are there any key words?
- Who are the key players in the passage?
- Are there any explanations?
- Are there any comparisons?
- What verbs are used?
- What other parts of speech are present?
When doing observation, I often ask questions that I will answer during the next stage, interpretation. For example, I’ll observe something like, “The Word became flesh.” Next to that observation I’ll write (sometimes in a different color) a corresponding question, “Who is the Word?” Disciplining yourself not to answer those questions during observations will make you a better observer, and a better student of Scripture. We’ll discuss more about interpretive questions next week.
Today, let’s take some more time to get familiar with observation. Write down as many additional observations as you can about this verse.
Remember, spending time in God’s Word is valuable. Our goal is not to come away from our time with God’s Word with a nugget of truth to get us through the day. Our goal is to know the Author. If it takes more time than you have today to write down additional observations on John 1:14, come back tomorrow and finish. It’s not only about quantity, it’s also about quality. It is okay to read the same passage multiple days in a row. Take your time. There is an incredible amount of value to be found in God’s Word, so let’s take our time and dig deeply!
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