Studying the Bible for Yourself: Observation

After getting the historical, cultural background of what we are studying, the first step in the inductive study method is observation. This includes finding the background, such as who is the author and who is the original audience that it was written to. In the stage of observation we are reading through the passage and asking lots of questions. To help get started in what questions to ask, several books recommend the 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When, and Why? You might not be able to get answers to all these but they are a good starting point to get the juices flowing.

Bombard the text with questions:
-Who are the people in the passage?
-Who is talking?
-Who wrote it?
-Who was it written to originally?
-What is happening?
-What is the author talking about?
-What is historically taking place at this time?
-What is wrong?
-What is right?
-What did the author intend?
-What is being emphasized?
-What is the style it is written in?
-What type of genre is this?
-Where is this taking place?
-Where is the author?
-Where are the original readers when they receive this writing?
-When is it happening?
-When was it written?
-Why is this being told? Why did the author write this?
-Why is this included in Scripture?
-How is it being portrayed?

Other things to look for in observing:
-Repeated words or phrases: what is their significance?
-Verb tense – how is the action portrayed (past, present, future)?
-The order of things mentioned – is there a significance to the order that is presented?
-Comparisons and contrasts – look for similes and metaphors
-Emotion or tone of the text
-Amount of time or space spent on a particular subject
-Does the author give a purpose statement?
-New Testament use of Old Testament passages
-Connections – look for conjunctions, relationships between words and sentences, prepositions
-General to specific or specific to general – how is the material presented?
-Conditions – if, then statements or consequences; cause and effect
-Question and answer – are the questions rhetorical?
-Lists – such as character traits or sins – why are these listed together?
-Major shifts – when the text takes a turn
-Pronouns – how do these connect relationships?
-What is emphasized in the passage? What stands out?

It is helpful in this stage to mark words and phrases and have a notebook to jot down all the observations that you make. If you’re not comfortable marking directly in your Bible, print out a copy of the passage that you can mark on. Repetitive reading is important- reading the passage several times through as you ask the different questions.

Summarize your observations using charts or lists. This helps to solidify them in your mind as well as organize the information. A lot of study Bibles have charts in them showing themes of the book or a timeline. Look at some sample charts or lists found in study Bibles if you feel stuck compiling one yourself at first. But eventually you’ll want to get to the point of creating them on your own.

The more time that is spent in the stage of observation, the more likely that the interpretation stage will be accurate. You may spend several days in the observation stage before moving on to interpretation and that’s okay. One aspect of Bible study that often frustrates people is that it involves delayed gratification, not instant. It takes time and effort to ask questions of the text and make observations. But the rewards are worth it if you will stick with it and work your way through the text.

Next we’ll move on to the second stage of the inductive study method: Interpretation.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

Previous Posts in this series:
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Genre and Context

3 thoughts on “Studying the Bible for Yourself: Observation

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