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Observation: Summary February 24, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
Tags: , ,

Hello again. In studying a passage of scripture, observation is the first and most important step. There is so much you can learn about a passage simply by looking at it and making observations. I have already talked about a lot of the things to look for when observing a text, but today I want to bring everything together in a summary of the observation step. I want this post to be a guide to the overall process of observation. Because a lot of these things are in earlier posts I am not going to go into detail about them here.

1. Set the boundaries of your passage

The first step to studying a passage of scripture is defining your pericope. (The pericope is the section of text that contains at least one general unit of thought, such as a paragraph or a chapter). Make sure your passage is long enough that you can get the idea of the text.

2. Read the passage

You should read through the passage at least once (preferably multiple times) to get a general feel for the passage. Don’t try and analyze it or make notes/questions, just read it.

3. Observe the facts

After you have read the passage a few times, go back and read through more carefully looking to discover what is going on. Go through the five “w”‘s.

Who are the characters?

What is going on in the passage?

Where is this taking place?

Why are they doing or saying these things?

When is this happening?

4. Observe the words

Read the passage again looking for the “key words” and “transitional words”. Make note of any words that are repeated or compared/contrasted. Look for the transitions in the text that may help see the flow of the passage. If you see any patterns make note of them. If it helps, make charts or tables to help analyze the words.

5. Observe the genre

What genre are you reading? Are there multiple genres at work? How can the specific characteristics of the genre help you interpret the passage?

6. Observe the historical/cultural issues

Read through the passage looking for things that relate to the history and culture of that time. I made a fairly large list in my previous post, but to summarize: look at the people, professions, objects, rituals, customs, buildings and geography mentioned in the passage. List anything that is different today then back then.

7. Observe the tone

How do you feel when you read this? What do you think the author is feeling as he is writing this? Is it happy or sad? Is it upset or concerned? How can this help us understand the text?

8. Observe the context

Look at what comes before and after your passage. Does the surrounding context shed light on your passage. How does your passage fit into the overall flow of the book.

9. Dissect the passage

Read through the passage taking a specific look at the transitional words and try to establish natural breaks in the text. Remember in the originals the verse, chapter, and paragraph breaks were not there. If it was up to you, where would you put the paragraph breaks. Can you break your passage into smaller units. Where are the logical breaks in the text? Look at these smaller sections and see how they relate to one another.

10. Summarize the passage

Try and come up with a short one sentence summary of your passage. This summary should be simple enough to state the main idea of the passage, but complex enough to incorporate the ideas of the smaller sections of your passage.

11. Additional questions/thoughts

Write down any additional questions you may have about the passage. Is there anything that seems weird or anything you didn’t understand? What words would you want to study further? What Cultural/historical issues would be helpful to know more about?Is there anything interesting that you noticed as you were reading?

Going through this process will give you a pretty good idea of what a passage is about. It does take time though to get the full benefits. Don’t rush through this step. Not every passage will enable you to go through all 11 of these steps, so don’t worry if there are some questions you can’t answer. The goal is to understand the passage as a whole. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you miss the big picture.


The only way to truly understand these concepts is to apply them. Find a passage that interests you and go through these steps. Give yourself no less then one hour to go through this process. If you finish early, go back through and read the passage again looking for more stuff. Make sure you are writing down everything you are observing.



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