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Observation: Summary February 24, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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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.


Observation: Historical/Cultural Issues February 10, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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Hello. Last week we talked about looking for specific words to help understand a passage better. Today, I want to talk about some other things to look for when you are trying to study a text. The Bible was written thousands of years ago to people with a different culture and worldview. One of the hardest tasks of exegesis is bridging the “gap” from their culture and time to our present culture. Although the Bible is applicable to us, it was written to an audience radically different than our own. If we are going to have any hope of understanding the message of a text we must try to understand it in light of its originally context in history.

Because this is still the observation stage, it is not necessary to figure everything out in regards to these issues. It is important to be aware of what they are and write them down. As you are reading through a text look for anything that relates to the history or culture of the time back then. Often, there are common things for us that were different back then. Here is a list of some of the things to look for:


Musical instruments


Articles of clothing – sandals, robes, armor, belts

Food – wine, salt, meat


Animals and their uses

Family roles (mother, father, son, slaves)

Professions – teacher, fisherman, shepherd, king, carpenter, farmer, rabbi, tent-maker, scribe, inn-keeper, guard, average wage

Customs – weddings, hospitality, feasts, laws, education, strangers, religious practices (sacrifice), governmental structures, jails/punishments, widows, cooking, inheritance/first-born, divorce, baptism

Travel – roads, inns

Money/currency and bartering

Beliefs – afterlife, monotheism vs. polytheism, idols

Housing – size, occupancy, cities, gates, what are they made of, roofs

Spices/minerals – gold, myrrh, perfume, oils, incense


These are just a few of the things to look for. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of the kinds of things to make note of. Also, make note of any historical figures or geographic locations. If there is a famous king or specific location named, mark that down. If you have a Bible atlas (or a map in your Bible), you can look at the area and check out the landscape and terrain. Sometimes, just knowing the geography of a region can help out a lot in understanding a passage. Some famous people, especially the kings, are documented historically and it is possible to learn more about them and their conquests.

Because this is still the observation stage, there is no need to look up information on any of these issues. The important thing is just to write them down so you can study them later. But, as you read your passage, you may come across information in the text that the author put in the text to help out the reader. If the author goes out of his way to explain something cultural this is important. You can also get clues from the text as to some of the cultural practices of the day.

One good thing about studying cultural/historical issues is that they are pretty much standard. Once you understand an issue, it is going to be basically the same when you come across it again in a different context. So, the more you study and understand about the cultural issues, the easier it will be to study future passages because there will be less to look up.


Think back to the year 1910. How has America changed in the past one-hundred years? What do you think life will be like in 2110? It is difficult to relate to our own society with only a 100 year difference in time. How can we expect to relate to a culture on the other side of the world, from over 2000 years ago.

Words: They are Important February 3, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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Hello again. Today I would like to talk about words. As you can tell from the title, they are important. Because the Bible, like most other books, is made up of words, we should spend time talking about them. Up to this point I have been talking about the importance of reading paragraphs and large units of text in order to study the Bible. Now, I want dive into more of the specifics of what to look for when you are studying that paragraph/section. Sometimes you need to study the small details in order to understand the bigger picture. Our goal though is not to stop at the small details, but to use the information we gain from them to get to the big idea of the passage. In my previous post I talked about OICA as a method for exegesetical study. I would like to use this post to begin a section on the “O” part of that, or observation. Observation is all about asking questions and noticing things. The first thing I look for in a passage is the word usage. You can learn a lot about the flow of the passage and what it is about just by looking at the words. I am dividing this post into two types of words. As you read you will want to find the “key” words and the “transitional” words. Noting these two things will be invaluable in understanding the text.

Key Words

Key words are words that the author is trying to emphasize. These are usually repeated or play a big part in your pericope. One key word in 1 Cor. 13 is “love”. Seeing these repeated words can help tie passages together. The end of 1 Cor. 12 (27-31) talks about Spiritual gifts. Verse 27 mentions the “body”. Although this word is only used once in this passage it is a key word because it sets the analogy that the whole paragraph centers around. And it helps tie the passage together with the previous section (12-26) where the word “body” is used many times. After analyzing the connection between these two sections you can see that the author is first of all describing the relationship between the body and its parts and then using that as an example of how the different gifts work together in the Church. Finding these key words can be helpful for finding the main themes in an entire book also. Even a brief reading of Proverbs will show that there is a contrast between the wise man and the foolish man.

Transitional Words

Key words will help you see what a passage is about, but key words will help you see how the thought progresses. Transitional words are the signals and signs throughout a passage that show you how it is organized and where it is going. Transitional words are the connecting words between clauses, sentences and even paragraphs. We need to define a few words here:

Clause – a single thought with a subject and a verbal idea (usually these also have a direct object)

Independent Clause – a clause that can stand on its own as a complete thought ex. The boy went to the store.

Dependent Clause – a clause that explains an independent clause (can not stand on its own as a complete thought) ex. after he ate breakfast

Sentence – the combination of all clauses that make up one complete thought ex. The boy went to the store after he ate breakfast.

Conjuction – a word or phrase that connects clauses together ex. and, but, or, yet, therefore, now, then, in order that, so that, because

Dependent clauses are important because these are the transitions in the sentences. There are two types of conjuctions: conjuctions that combine two independent clauses and conjuctions that combine a dependent clause to its independent clause. Whenever you find a dependent clause look for its relationship to the independent clause. How does it help explain the main clause? These conjuctions are the words you want to look for as transitional words. There are more, but these will give you a good idea of what they look like and how they function. We will get into basic diagramming in a later post, but for now, just find the conjuctions that seem the most important. When these words are at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph they show the transition from the previous idea.

Coming back to 1 Cor. 13, the last verse is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There are two transitional words in this verse: “and now” and “but”. The word “and” between hope and love is a conjuction, but it doesn’t combine clauses. The “and now” is a summary clause that helps us see the point the author was going for, namely that love is eternal and is the greatest thing you can aspire to. The word “but” in the verse shows the comparison between the two clauses. There may be 3 things that remain, but they are not all equal. Love is the greatest out of the three.


In this initial observation stage there are many things to look for. Looking at both the key words and the transitional words will help you, not only get to the meaning of the text, but also see how it ties in to the surrounding context. As you look for key words, keep an eye out in the surrounding contexts to see if you can tie them together through repetition of those words. As you look for transitional words look for the comparisons between independent clauses first and then see if there are any dependent clauses that seem important to the flow of the text.


Gal. 5:22-26 is about living in the Spirit. How does the transitional word help us tie this passage back to the previous paragraph? Looking at the key words where would you say this entire section begins? (which verse?) Just from that information, initially what do you think this passage is about?