A common approach to studying the Bible is the Inductive Method. The goal is to draw out and rightly interpret a passage, not read into it or force our own meaning into it. While people use various words or acronyms to explain steps in the Inductive Method, the most simple is Observation-Interpretation-Application. In this post, I’ll provide suggested questions for learning how to make observations in a passage of the Bible. The observation stage asks, “What do I see?”
Step 1: Read the passage as a whole
Before slowing down to make observations, read the entire section, chapter, story/narrative, or paragraph. See the forest before examining the trees.
Step 2: Make Observations
Your goal during making Observations isn’t to figure out what the passage means or how to apply it, but to simply note what you see. What things stand out? You don’t need to explain, merely notice. (Good observations should lead to good interpretation.)
*Note. You won’t always have time to ask and answer all these questions—these are simply possible tools to use—and over time they will become more instinctual. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the long list.
Answer Basic Journalistic Questions
- (People) Who: Who write this, and who was the original audience? Who are the people, characters, or groups in a given story or text?
Example: Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, or 1 Chronicles is written to post-exilic Israel.
- (Place) Where: Where did this story occur? What locations or geographical terms do I see?
Example: Jesus enters Nazareth, or the people camped near the Jordan river.
- (Time) When: What year was it written or when did this event take place? What time of year, season, day of the week, time of day is this story set in? Is a special day or season referenced?
Example: Jesus comes to his disciples at the fourth watch of the night (3-6 am), or Deuteronomy takes place as Moses is about to die and Israel is about to enter the promised land.
- (Events) What: What events are taking place or what events does the author reference?
Example: Jesus enters the temple, or the Feast of Passover is taking place.
Look for Important Clues
- What are keywords, themes, and repeated words or ideas?
- How are the thoughts related and connected within this passage? Do you see connecting words, transitional statements, lists, or breaks in the flow of thoughts? (ex: and so, therefore, now, after that, etc.)
- Is the author quoting, referencing, or alluding to anything else in Scripture? Does another part of the Bible or a cross-reference come to mind?
- Are there structural things to notice (example: first and last verse repeat; parallelism, such as ABCCBA or ABCABC)?
- What are the nouns, verbs, and adjectives? What metaphors, word-pictures, or allusions does the author use?
- Are there any contrasting words (ex: but, much more, nevertheless) or opposites stated?
- Are there any words with rich symbolism or theological meaning?
- What are the indicative statements (this is true) and what are the imperative commands (go do this)?
- Is God mentioned? What is He doing? What is said about Him?
- Are there any “purpose statements,” or cause and effect statements, indicated by words like so that, because, in order that, etc.?
Ask More Questions
- What stood out to me right away, or what did I notice? Is there anything new I’ve not noticed before?
- What is the structure of this passage? What is the main point?
- Is there anything new I’ve not noticed before?
- What questions immediately come to mind I should write down?
- Does another good translation use a different word that conveys something unique?
- Ask of a sentence, phrase, or word: “What purpose does this serve within this paragraph?”
A great example for seeing this is the Look in the Book Lab by John Piper on Psalm 100.