SHARPENING YOUR OBSERVATION SKILLS

Dennis McBride

 

1. Be realistic

Select a portion of Scripture that is manageable yet challenging in length and content. There's no virtue in burning out before you've begun.

2. Don't assume you understand the text

Sometimes your Bible study will reveal that a text of Scripture doesn't mean what you previously thought it meant. So be careful not to bring wrong conclusions to the text.

3. Read the text carefully and repeatedly

Pay close attention to what is happening and/or being taught in the text.

Read from different translations, noting how the English words used to translate the original text may differ from translation to translation. Sometimes those differences will enhance your understanding of the text.

4. Take notes as you observe the text

Make a brief note of every observation you have. Write them in the form of a statement or question.

5. Ask questions of the text

Who?

What?

When?

Where?

Why?

How?

6. Things to look for in the text

a. Literary form - Is the text a discourse (John 5:19-47), narrative (Acts), poetry (The Psalms), parable (Matt. 13)? Try to determine if the writer is using literal or figurative language.

b. Tone - Note the overall tone of the passage. Is it tender (1 Thess. 2:5-12), intense (Gal. 1:6-10), urgent (Jude 3), joyful (Phil. 1:1-8)?

c. General structure - Note the arrangement of ideas in the text. Does the writer make a general statement then explain it with examples (Titus 1:5-9)? Does he give a list or series of ideas then summarize with a general statement (1 Pet. 3:8)?

d. Key words - Note the words most important to the passage. Often they will be repeated (i.e., "Word" in John chapter one).

e. Verbs - Verbs are words that show action. Often the main thoughts of a text will center on its verbs.

Example: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).

In addition, carefully note the overall grammatical construction of the text: nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, and so on.

f. Connection/connectives and prepositions

g. Similarities, differences - Comparisons and contrasts - ("not, but, however").

h. Illustrations - Does the writer illustrate his point (James 1:5-12)?

i. Repetitions - Heb. 11 - "by faith."

j. Cause and effect - Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-10

k. Movement - From general to specific, and vice versa (Acts 4-5; John 4).

l. Progression of ideas - May come in the form of a climax or persecution (Gen. 22; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).

m. Questions and answers - 2 Cor.; Rom. 6:1, 15

n. Emphasis by space or time - Genesis

o. Warnings - Jude 3

p. Commands - John 4:16

q. Promises - John 4:14

r. Attitudes - Toward God, Christ, oneself, others.

7. An Example: Observations from 2 Timothy 2:15

a. Paul is speaking to Timothy.

b. Does passage apply to others (me, for example)? How do I know?

c. What prompted Paul to make this statement?

d. Why was it necessary for Timothy to respond appropriately?

e. Does verse imply that Timothy wasn't doing what Paul tells him to do?

f. Define "diligent."

g. Define "present."

h. Define "approved."

i. What does it mean to "present yourself approved to God"?

j. Does this verse speak to how one gains God's approval?

k. Define "workman."

l. Define "ashamed."

m. What is the "word of truth"?

n. What does it mean to handle the word of truth accurately?

o. What are the implications if the word of truth is handled inaccurately?

p. Is "be ashamed" a reference to shame in general, or the ministry in general, or regarding our handling of Scripture, or none of those?

q. Other possible observation questions:

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