What Does It Say? (First Step to Understand Your Bible)
Updated: Feb 12
by:Pastor Matthew Mitchell
“The first key to understanding is to open your eyes and seeing what is in front of you.” (Pastor Matthew Mitchell)
Observation, Interpretation, and Application are commonly known as the Inductive Method of Study. They are the three essential to hermeneutics, and to your understanding of scripture. To take them out of order is to confuse your understanding. They should be done in order and used to build off each other, so the you can have complete understand.
In our journey to glean all that we can from God’s Word we start with Observation. Observation is the act of recognizing and noting a fact or occurrence. Your Observation will require you the right mental attitude and it will take an act of the will on your part. You need the desire and will to be aware of what is there. Be determined to know and learn what you are reading. It requires persistence, a diligence and discipline to see what you are reading. Patience is a virtue. It is patience that you will need. To understand what God wants you to learn is important, so the process is as important as the product. The process is the journey, and the product is your destination. Enjoy the journey, so that your destination can be the greatest you have ever had. Take your time, there is no rush. We have a lifetime to understand God’s Word.Observation is the art of making a list. List every fact that you see, remember no detail is too small. In Observation you need to be diligent in your recording. The smallest detail can mean everything.
In our Observation we need to be cautious. This is only the first step. Details are important, but don’t get lost in them, so divide your time proportionately for all parts of the passage. Don’t stop at observation, but finish all the steps, so you can find meaningful answers. Finally don’t give equal weight to everything, you must discern what is more important. The author has given you a road map so follow it to help you discern the importance.
In Observation there are six Basic Questions must ask yourself: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. When using these six basic questions in our Observation make sure you list. Who do you see is in the context or passage? What is happening or What the ideas are? Where is it being written or Where things are taking place? When is it taking place, so you can see the time period and circumstance of the time? Why is the author writing? Finally How should things be accomplished? These questions will help you greatly in your understanding. When you understand these question you will start to see through the eyes of the author, and or the reader. When you start to see from their perspective you will come to a greater understanding.
We must also keep in mind in our Observation how something is said. How something is said is just as important as what is being said. We know how something is said by understand the Genre of what has been written. Genre is the style in which something is written. Styles of Genre are as follows: Poetry, Narrative, Parable, Logical Argument, Discourse, Practical Advice, History, Drama. The Genre will reveal the content of the mind and method of the writer, and will give you insight into the meaning of the author’s intent. We will look more closely at Genre when we get to chapter 5.
As you are making your list of Observations always be looking for things like the key words. The key word is a word that locks the door to the purpose of what and why the author is writing. The key word is usually a word that repeats, or is one word that embodies the entire meaning of the authors intent. For example look at 1 Corinthians 13 we see very clearly the key word. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;” (NASB) Now looking at the passage do you see one word that occurs over and over, or one word that embodies the authors intent? Yes! We not only see the word “LOVE” occur more than once, but the word “LOVE” embodies what the author’s intent is. Noting the word love in our observation of 1 Corinthians 13 we see that it is the key word, because it brings a key understand to the passage. We know what love is, because of this passage. Now look at Hebrews 11. You would see a similar occurs with the word, “FAITH.” We get a beautiful picture and understanding of how to be a man or woman of faith.
Also note comparisons and contrast in your Observation. Comparisons show how things are alike. Some word indicators that you can look for that will help you are: even so, as, or likewise. They words will help you indicate that something is being compared. Contrast shows how things are different. Contrast can be more difficult to find then comparisons. Word indicators for contrast that will help you are: but, nor, and not. Comparisons and Contrast will help in your understanding by helping you get a visual of what the author is trying to communicate by what something is like, or what something is not like.
In Observation always watch for the chain of thought, or how the progression of ideas are flowing. Look at 2 Timothy 1. Paul is writing to his young disciple in the Lord trying to encourage Him in His call and ministry that God has given to him. In verse 8 we see Paul tell Timothy not to be ashamed, in verse 12 Paul tells Timothy that he himself is not ashamed, and finally Paul says that Onesiphorus was not ashamed. This progression of thought that Paul is trying to communicate to Timothy is that the gospel is something that we are not to be ashamed about. Following the chain of thought will help you to see exactly what the authors intends for his reader to understand. In understanding what the reader is to understand we find the truth that God is wanting us to understand.
Finally some things that you need to take special note of and record in your Observation are word andphrase that repeat, illustrations, explanations, and connection words. Recording these will help you with the flow of thought, and help you in keeping with the context. Observation is the longest part of the process and the most detailed, but it is an essential part of Bible study. Without Observation you can completely miss some of the most important piece that communicates the truth of God’s Word.