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the power of accurate observation in bible study

Details Bring Meaning

God’s Word has a lot to communicate. It is packed with revelation, lessons, instruction, and theology. You may study it your whole life, and you will never be able to absorb all that it has to teach. Often times, small and easily missed details of a text bring so much meaning to the passage. This is where careful reading and good study habits can reap a huge reward for someone who wants to understand the Bible. The power of accurate observation can often make or break the results of your personal Bible study.

And although the words are there on the page, we tend to rush through whatever we are reading without picking up all the impactful details. Our eyes skim ahead, trying to pick up “the important stuff”.

The Power of Accurate Observation: Don’t Miss the Good Stuff

A well renowned and illustrious literary figure once said, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Can you guess who it is? Here’s another of his quotes: “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”

With this mindset,  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of Sherlock Holmes solved mystery after mystery. Details and seemingly unimportant happenings make up life, but most do not have eyes to notice them. Because Sherlock took note of these trivial things, he was able to have more insight into the lives of those around him than the average person.

The same is true as you study the Bible. Becoming a person who has eyes to notice the details will give you more insight into the meaning and correct interpretation of any passage.

The Purpose of Observation

Using the power of accurate observation is the first step in studying Scripture. It’s not necessarily applying or drawing conclusions. It is simply gathering the facts. Ask yourself, “What do I see in the text?” 

We often read through a passage of Scripture without absorbing a lot of what it is saying. Careful reading and observation within the text will help you to note details. Being familiar with the details of a passage enable you to draw better conclusions. The more informed you are from the beginning, the more accurate your interpretation in the end.

So How Do We Do It?

When in the observation phase, focus on the facts of the passage, grammar, and sentence structure. This step will require you to carefully and repeatedly read a passage to glean as much information as possible.  Ask questions such as:

  • What are the repeated words, phrases, or themes, in this passage that may emphasize a concept or point?
  • Are there any noteworthy lists?
  • What is the tone of this passage? Does the author seem to be joyful? Angry? Mournful? Afraid?
  • Are there any figures of speech that the author is using to convey a certain image or idea?
  • Is the author comparing or contrasting opposing ideas to make a point?
  • Does the author use passive verbs, or strong active verbs?
  • Does the author express himself by using descriptive adjectives and adverbs?

Write down your observations in an organized way to help you break up the passage. Read and re-read the passage until you are confident that you are very familiar with it.

A Practical Example

Let’s observe the facts about 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 

Using the questions above, what observations can we take away from this passage?

  • God is noted to be both the Father of Jesus, and also the Father of mercies, as well as a God of comfort.
  • “Comfort”/”Comforted” is used nine times
  • “Affliction”/ “Afflicted” is used three times
  • “Suffer” / “Sufferings” is used three times
  • “Abundantly” is used twice
  • Both the author and the audience seem to be acquainted with trials and suffering
  • The tone of the passage seems to be hopeful and consoling, as the words/phrases “Blessed”, “Father of mercies” , “God of all comfort”, “able to comfort”, “we ourselves are comforted by God” , “patiently endure” , “Our hope for you is unshaken”, and “You will share in our comfort” seem to indicate.
  • The author is bent upon God’s comfort despite the affliction that affects both himself and his audience
  • The verbs are in the present tense: “comforts”, “are comforted”, “share”, “are afflicted”, “experience”, “endure”, “is”, “know”. This indicates that the ideas being presented are happening in the here and now. Most of the verbs seem to indicate things happening to either the audience or author, things that may be out of their own control.

After examining the passage and writing down some of the basic facts it is made up of, we are more set up to understand what it is trying to communicate.

Just from a few minutes of simply reading and rereading the text and using the power of accurate observation, we know the tone, themes, the attitude of the author, and atmosphere of this passage a lot better.

Observation Is A Learned Skill

The art of observation is a skill that can be acquired. It may seem clunky or foreign at first, but the more you practice seeing details in God’s Word, the better you will get at it.  It will take a willingness to slow down and take your time, and you will have to be intentional about doing so. But as you repeatedly apply this skill to your personal Bible study, you will see how the tiniest details can often bring enormous meaning to the passage. The work is worth the reward!

At Ethnos360 Bible Institute we take the power of accurate observation very seriously in our Bible study. To learn more about how to accurately study the Bible and gain other valuable study tips, sign up for our free email course below: