Bible Study – Step One “Observation”

Bible Study – Observation Techniques

Today we are looking into how to observe Scripture to better understand its meaning.
We want to become like a detective searching for clues to the way Sherlock Holmes or any other detective of note. We all love a good mystery story, especially the chase scenes with the successful capture of the bad guy(s).

A good mystery is when the detective shows the ability to uncover truth through the power of observation, seeing facts that no one else can see and understands inferences while connecting to the truth.

In Bible Study, we read the Scripture to understand the details expressed within the passage. This requires paying attention to the small details while still keeping the big picture in focus. Through the study of Scripture is more than just looking at a passage for a short time, it is a lifelong process of discovery making the journey interesting each time we discover a new truth. As we delve deeper into the meaning of Scripture, we discover little-known facts.

Here are little-known facts.

  • Though the Bible was originally written in three languages Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the Old Testament was mainly written in Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek
  • The longest book in the Bible is Jeremiah while the shortest book is 3 John.
  • Authors of the Bible came from diverse occupational backgrounds.
  • The writers of the Bible came from three continents

The Bible Study process breaks down into three stages;

  • Observation, What does the passage say?
  • Interpretation, What does it mean?
  • Application, How does the passage impact me (and others)?

So what are we looking for as we read the passage? Begin with the five W’s; who, what, when, where and why the questions basic to information gathering or problem-solving. They make up a formula for gathering the complete story.

Look at Mark 2:3-5, ” Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four men. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they cut an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The paralytic man had been brought to Jesus, no record of the man speaking appears in the passage, the man was an adult since required four men to carry him, what was the roof made of? He obviously needs physical healing, but Jesus forgave the man’s sins first making a connection between sin and illness. This is a small example of how to observe what the Scripture explains.

Though it is not a requirement, you have a language degree in Greek, Aramaic and/or Hebrew to interpret the Bible. You must, however, understand the context of the passage and see the true meaning of the words and sentences. Languages change over time, so you must learn about the speech patterns of time when the passage was written along with the cultural elements of the time.

The 5 W’s and an H

As we approach Scripture to gain understanding it is difficult to not arrive at our own assumptions as to the meaning of the passage.

Making our own assumptions as to the meaning of the Scripture is the most common error leading to misinterpretation.

Always consider who, what, where, why and how questions to assure the correct interpretation.

Asking these questions will put the Scripture in the proper context

  • WHO is speaking? Who is the Scripture about? Who are the main characters? To whom is author speaking?
  • WHAT is the subject or event covered in the passage? What do we learn about the people, events or teaching?
  • WHEN do these events occur or will the events even occur? Did or will something happen to anybody in particular?
  • WHERE did or will this happen? Where was it said?
  • WHY is something being said? Why would or will this happen? Why at that time? Why to this person or these people?
  • HOW will it happen? How is it to be done? How is it illustrated?

Mark Key Words and Phrases

A keyword or phrase is one which leaves the passage without meaning if removed. Often the author will repeat a keyword or phrase throughout the chapter for emphasis or explain the purpose of the passage.

Using pronouns (”he”, ”she”, ”we”, ”they”, “I”, “you”, “it”, “our”, etc) often shows a direction or emphasis change. Watch for synonyms which are different ways of referring to the same place person or event. An example of the use of the many names for “God” and different names for “Jerusalem, these hints the different character traits of an entity, trying to teach us more about it.

Look for Lists

Throughout the Bible lists appear which contain additional words grouped together to describe a keyword, they can also be about someone or something or related to thoughts or instructions grouped together.

As you study Scripture, you will want to develop a list of characteristics regarding the topic of interest such as “sin”.

This will broaden your view of the whole meaning of sin, giving you the big picture and help to avoid incorrect interpretation based on a single passage.

Lists are the foundation for developing something often described with intimidating terms “theology” and “doctrine”.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the “Seven Deadly Sins” is a prime example of the use of lists in Scripture.

Once you have created a list of important topics, you have the basis for personal theologies and doctrines, which come from studying a specific theme throughout the Bible.

Doing the places the foundational layers of your faith in their right and proper context.

Watch For Contrast and Comparisons

A contrast is a comparison of things that are alike and unlike, such as rich and poor, day and night, young and old.

The comparison is most often indicated by the use of words such as “like”, “as”, “as it were” to point out the similarities, providing insight into the observation process as they place words on either side of them in the proper context.

Identify Terms of Conclusion

When you see these words, “wherefore”, “therefore”, “for this reason” or “finally” it is important to note these are terms of conclusion a connection between the teaching and the application often spelling out the proper meaning and the context of the Scripture.

Expressions of Time

You will find time is the most-overlooked part of the observation process. To understand context, you must understand when something has, is or will happen. Look for a term such as “during the reign of”, “on the tenth day”, “at the feast of”, etc. The context is sometimes as much about when or the relationship to past or present event as the person, place or thing mentioned in the passage.

Words such as “until”, “then”, “when”, and “after” reveal a relationship of one event to another.

From this, you will begin the see in the Gospels the acts and miracles of Jesus’ are an extension of teaching which appears just before or after these words helping to connect actions with teaching in the proper context

“The More Time You Spend in Observation the Less Time You Will Spend in Interpretation.” Howard G. Hendricks


Lord, we are searching for a better understanding of Your Word, we humbly as You open our hearts and minds so we may come to understand how the writings from long ago apply to us today. We know that your love, patience, and guidance will always be with us as we draw closer to you through studying Scripture. We ask for your guiding hand on our journey through observing the messages offered in the Bible. Amen

Barry Featheringill


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