In my last post, I mentioned that studying the Bible is like appreciating and discovering the meaning behind a beautiful piece of art. We begin our journey by connecting with the artist/writer: God Himself. Prayer prepares us with the mind of Christ.
The second step to good Bible study is "observation." This is the discipline of seeing, and it's not easy. Truth is, most of us are not very observant of life around us. We can't describe the order of instruments on our car dashboard though we sit behind the wheel every day. Moreover, we approach the Bible with presuppositions, bias, background, ideas--a whole host of baggage that has potential to lead us to wrong interpretations. So, we must stop, resist jumping to conclusions [literally] and ask, "What do I see?"
This exercise begins with larger questions about the text: Who wrote it? To whom? Why? Knowing that a letter was written to combat a known heresy rather than to provide encouragement through persecution might cause us to read the phrase "be strong" as "don't give in to the lies" rather than "don't be afraid."
Next, begin to observe the pieces:
* Which words are repeated in the text?
* Are there conditional [if/then] clauses?
* Are there cause/effect statements [since, because]?
* What verb tense is used?
* How does this passage fit with the surrounding context?
* What is the "flow" of this passage?
* What is the tone of this passage [stern, hopeful, etc.]?
* What words are unclear [need to be defined]?
* List commands, promises, warnings.
Yes, I know it sounds like alot of work. But, as with any discipline, the more you do it, the more intuitive it becomes. Fortunately, as we slow down and begin to observe, we will see things we have never before noticed in God's Word.
To learn more about this method of Bible Study, go to one of my favorite sites for serious Bible Students: Precept Austin.