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OICA January 20, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in OICA.
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Hello, again. Last time we talked about doing topical studies. I want to start today with a series on how to study a specific passage of the Bible. Studying a specific passage of Scripture is the best way for the Bible to speak to us. It is where we dig into one part of Scripture and try to find out what it is saying. By starting with a Scripture instead of a topic, we are more likely to listen to the text and hear what it is saying. Today I just want to give an overview of this process and briefly describe the four steps involved.

OICA is an acronym that stands for Observe, Interpret, Correlate, Apply. This is the method I learned and so this is what I will share with you. There are other methods out there, but this seems to be the most straightforward and easiest to understand.


Before you can study a specific passage, you need to set the boundaries of the passage. This is the pericope. A pericope is a just a section of Scripture. It is a bunch of verses that make up a unit of thought. This could be a chapter, or a paragraph or even one verse (if you are reading Proverbs). Usually, Bibles have sub headings inside chapters letting you know when a new pericope is starting. Make sure your pericope has complete. Don’t pick a section in that ends in the middle of a thought. Setting the boundaries of the pericope is important so that you have the best chance of understanding the idea that is being portrayed.


Observation is the most important step in understanding a passage. Observation is simply asking questions and noting things in the text. You want to ask the “who, what, where, why, when and how” of the passage. Look for words that seem important or that are repeated a lot. Look for lists or patterns. Look for things that seem out of place or that the text is trying to emphasize. Maybe there is something that should be there, that the author is intentionally omitting. Try and find the tone or urgency of the passage. But, most of all your goal in observation is to see what all is going on in the pericope. To do this effectively you may need to see how it ties into the passage before and after it. As you go through observation, take your time and take a lot of notes. This step is so important that you should do it many times. After you read your passage through once and take notes on everything you can find, read it through again and look for more things. Take a break and come back to it and see if you find more things. I would say, you should go through the passage at least 10 times and each time go slowly looking for anything that you can. I will give a more detailed list of things to look for in a future post, but this should be a good starting point. The more time spent in observation the easier the other steps will be.


Interpretation is the step of understanding things about the passage that need external resources. This step is where you do word studies and historical or grammatical studies to understand the culture of the time and language of the passage better. There may be some questions that arose during the observation step that you can answer during this step. Unfortunately, this is the step that requires the most resources, and if you don’t have access to them, then it will be difficult to do it. At the very minimum, you need a concordance and a Bible dictionary. But, anyone who is even remotely interested in the Bible should have these two resources anyway and maybe even a Bible atlas. So, after this step you should have answered the major questions in the passage and come to a clearer picture of your pericope.


In correlation your job is to find passages or verses that correspond to your passage. This involves looking for two things. First, if you are reading the New Testament, look for Old Testament passages that are either directly or indirectly mentioned in your passage. Often, there will be verses in the margin that give this information. The second thing you want to look for is passages that say the same thing as the one you are reading. If you read parallel passages it can shed light on how yours is the same or different and hopefully lead to a deeper understanding.


Ultimately, everything you do should be to lead up to this step. You can understand everything about a specific passage, but if you don’t apply it, it is basically useless. You might as well study the dictionary. As you are going through the other three steps continually ask God to speak to you and see what He wants to say to you. Write down anything that your passage teaches about man, God, or God’s relationship with man. If there is any behavior you need to change then do it. Listen to what your passage is teaching and try to do something with that knowledge. You may want to reflect on your passage through some creative means, such as a poem or a picture. Finally, after you have studied and applied a passage to your own life, share that knowledge with others. Sharing what you have learned, will help you to make sure you understand it, and it will hopefully encourage someone else.


Have you ever said something that someone else completely misinterpreted? It is possible for people to take your own words and use them against you by twisting them into something saying something that you were not trying to say. If you are not careful with the Bible, this very thing can happen. People like Moses or Isaiah or Paul are probably shocked by the misrepresentation of their writings. People have justified all sorts of evil behaviors supposedly based on Scripture. We too are in danger of skewing the ideas of the Bible if we do not take the time to read it and understand it for ourselves. The process may take time, but in the end it is worth it.