Want to get more out of your personal time in God’s Word? You can do better Bible Study through being an active observer.
Every Scripture passage in the Bible has just ONE meaning – what God meant when the Scripture was first written. Our task as students of the Bible, is to discover the original meaning of Scripture through proper study techniques (See “4 Guidelines to Help You Understand the Bible” and “The 4 R Bible Study Method”) and observation.
A Few Tips for Observing a Bible Passage
- Read the passage multiple times – Focus on one area of observation at a time so you don’t miss anything important.
- Choose a way to record what you observe – Depending on your preference, you can mark these in your Bible, takes notes in a journal, or record them in some other way. I use a journaling Bible with an extra-wide, lined journaling column. I make study notes there and I use a highlighting system to help me observe the passage.
- Develop your own system – If you have your own way of doing things, the system will work better for you in the long run. For instance, always look for the same area of observation first (maybe truths about God). Or use pen or highlighter colors that are significant to you. (I use purple to highlight truths about God because the color reminds me of royalty). Decide how you will take notes.
The observation tips below are not exhaustive, but they are a solid place to start. You won’t spot everything in every passage. But in every passage your observation will help you do better Bible study.
10 Things to Record for Better Bible Study
- Truths about God– The Bible is first and foremost a book about God. He is everywhere – in every passage, on every page. It may be blatant or subtle, but He will be there. Looks for truths about His nature, His character, His ways, and His purposes.
- Key Words & Phrases– Repetition in God’s Word is not accidental. If you see words and phrases repeated, take note. God is trying to point to something important.
- Important facts – Mark any facts you see in the passage that will help you understand what’s happening. Things like people, places, numbers can be key to comprehension.
- Connecting or Transition Words – You may have heard the saying, “when you see a ‘therefore,’ ask what it’s there for.” Words like “now, because, therefore, so, since, but” show a relationship, an explanation, or a cause and effect. When you see a connecting word, determine its purpose for being there.
- Questions and answers – We find this powerful teaching tool throughout the Bible. Jesus often asked questions and then fleshed out His answer (see Matthew 6:25-34. The apostle Paul also used questions and answers in His letters (see Romans 6:1-14). When you see a question in Scripture, be sure to look for the answer.
- Commands – The Bible is full of commands. Some are one-time commands for specific individuals at a specific time. Others are for all God’s people for all time. For instance, “love one another” is applicable to us today!
- Lists – When I read/study God’s Word, I watch for lists and groups that will help me understand a spiritual truth or topic. I mark things like characteristics, qualities, and reasons in the text and then list them in the margin of my Bible. For instance, in John chapter 5, Jesus told the Jewish leaders that the testimony/witness about Him was strong and came from multiple sources. Then He began to name those witnesses – John the Baptist, the signs Jesus performed, God the Father, and the Scriptures.
- Spiritual principles– There will be a lot of overlap here with “truths about God.” However, eternal spiritual principles impact our daily lives. For instance, Psalm 1 teaches that those who meditate constantly on God’s Word will thrive spiritually and live fruitful lives for God’s Kingdom.
- Contrasts and comparisons – The Bible often compares and contrasts to show how people or things are alike or different. These literary tools can more clearly show the reader the way that pleases God. For an example, see the contrast between godly Mordecai and prideful, evil Haman in Esther 6:10-12.
- Word pictures – Similes and metaphors paints pictures that help us better understand spiritual truths. For instance, Jesus’ description of Himself as “the true vine” in John 15 helps us understand what it means to constantly abide in Him.
What other things can we “observe” in Scripture? What helps you better understand a passage?