You have selected a biblical text to study and have read it numerous times. You have read it enough to get familiar with the text and see what is there to study and ultimately teach. Now it is time to start noting some of your observations from the text. The first thing you need to do is get several pieces of paper. If your text has five verses you need five pieces of paper. At the top of each page write out one verse of the text. So if you are studying five verses you will have five sheets of paper when you are finished. This can also be done using your favorite word processing program. You are going to note your observations underneath each verse on each sheet of paper.
1. Recognize you will have immediate observations. Look at the text and observe the details. Work slowly and do not be in a hurry. You want to look for significant words, theological words, parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, etc. . .), verb tenses, results, contrasts, figures of speech (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, etc. . .), and repeated words. It may help to underline all the verbs and use colored pencils to note other words such as repeated words.
2. Recognize you will have many observations. You will want to note theological words (grace, mercy, sin, salvation, etc. . .). Your text will have theological ideas that are part of a greater systematic theology found in the Bible. Look for ideas that the author is developing. Your text may be a paragraph within a chapter where the author is making an argument or giving a defense for some idea. For instance, Romans 12:1-2 begins a new section in the book of Romans (chapters 12-16) about what it means to serve the Lord. You will have observations about figures of speech. The Bible is full of figures of speech just like any secular literature. Biblical authors use metaphors, simile, exaggeration, humor and synonyms. Do not be afraid to write down everything you see. No detail is too small to note.
3. Recognize you will have all types of observations. What types of observations should you expect to note in a passage? This list is not exhaustive but consider these: themes, supporting material, conditional statements (“if. . .then” statements), progression of thought (“therefore”), comparisons and contrasts (“Your word is like. . .”), reasons, purposes, results, theological words (justification, sanctification, glorification), verb tenses (past, present, future), repetition of words, figures of speech and word pictures, commands (“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”), questions (“Who do men say that I am?”), declarations (“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”), and promises from God (“I will never leave you or forsake you.”).
4. Recognize you will have to learn how to do observations. This may appear to be odd, stilted or repetitious at the beginning. It will get easier and more natural the more you engage in this part of Bible study. As you are learning how to do this part of Bible study, here are some things that will help as you grow in this discipline:
5. Use one sheet of paper for each verse and write the verse at the top. I have already mentioned this but allow yourself enough room to write and brainstorm.
6. Pray for the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian possesses the Holy Spirit and He is our teacher as we study God’s Word (1 John 2:20, 27). Pray for God to reveal His truth to you as you observe the text closely.
7. Write down every observation that comes to your mind as you look at each phrase. At this point nothing is insignificant. Write down every observation that runs through your imagination. Every word and phrase is important.
8. Do not try to sort out good and bad observations. The only “bad” observations are the ones that do not get written down. If it comes to your mind write it down. You can sort through them later.
9. Focus on the writer’s words. Do not impose your own thoughts on the text. Do not think about how you would have written the text or if you would have chosen a different word. God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, inspired the original author and that inspiration includes the words not just the concepts. The words are significant in themselves. Words have meanings. Words make sentences that make paragraphs that convey biblical truth.
10. Reserve large chunks of time. It takes time to do Bible study right. None of these steps can be rushed. Think more like a crockpot than a microwave. Get some place where you can study unhindered by work, hobbies, children or the phone.
God’s truth is in the text. It is there to be discovered and it is not hidden. Part of this discovery includes reading and observing the text. The truth is in front of you but we must slow down long enough to just gaze into the text before we ever consult Bible handbooks, commentaries or other study helps.