Psalm 119:18 is a good place to start in your Bible study. It is David asking God to help him observe in God’s Word. That is the primary task in Bible study, good – no check that – great observation.
Don’t Skip Steps
We too quickly pass through a passage, especially one we know well, and move either to analysis, interpretation, or application. Doing so can create some significant opportunities for misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the text. The reason? We do not spend enough time observing the structure of the passage.
In a recent Bible study one of the participants did some great analysis of the passage we were in for the week. The challenge was that he dove right into parsing the Greek verbs and looking up definitions, without having made observations on the text as a whole. Now his work was excellent. I was loath to correct his approach for fear I would discourage his zeal. However, however for several days I struggled with how to communicate the reason for the need for observation first. A few days later I got some clarity.
If we dive into analysis before we observe – full disclosure here, I have been guilty of that myself – we may be diving into the wrong end of the pool. What I mean by that, observing the passage, looking for the repeated words and phrases, noticing the literary structure, gives us clues, insight into the purpose of the passage. If we have a handle on that purpose, there will be verses that are central to that purpose, terms and or phrases that the author uses to communicate that purpose. It is at those points where we should begin our analysis. We may get to all of the other verses in the passage, but we must deal with the central purpose initially. To do otherwise may put us in jeopardy of emphasizing things we see in analysis that are tangential to the purpose of the passage.
So I would encourage us, me included, to observe first, then analyze what we see.