Observation teaches you to see precisely what the passage says. It is the basic for accurate interpretation and correct application. Observation answer the question: What does the passage say?

Observation is the beginning point and foundation in all Bible Study. Unless we observe the text properly, there is no way we can interpret it correctly, let alone apply it appropriately to our lives.

If we try to apply God’s Word without thorough observation and accurate interpretation, we may become something that God never intended us to be. And if we try to proclaim God’s Word without first observing, interpreting and applying it to our lives, we may be in danger of proclaiming a distorted gospel and cruelly misrepresenting God!

We have to develop the mentality of a detective! A good detective begins with investigating all possible clues, and never with a pre-conceived conclusion. The detective’s job is to discover things that others haven’t seen in their failure to carefully observe all the clues. A good detective NEVER ignores detail. All clues are always meticulously explored.


The First Thing That We Will Do Is To Discover What The Text Says.

Observation Steps

Step One: Begin with prayer

Payer is often the missing element in Bible study. You are to learn the single most effective method of Bible study. Yet apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that’s all it will be--a method. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth, who takes the things of God and reveals them to us. Always ask God to teach you as you open the Scriptures.

Step Two: Ask the “5W’s and an H”

AS you study any passage of Scripture, any book of the Bible, train yourself to constantly ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These questions are the building blocks of precise observation, which is essential for accurate interpretation. Many times Scripture is misinterpreted because the context isn’t carefully observed. Asking these questions will help you to stay in the context of the passage.

When we rush into interpretation without laying the vital foundation of observation, our understanding becomes colored by our presuppositions -- what we think, what we feel, or what other people have said. We must be careful not to distort the Scriptures to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).

Accurate answers to the following questions will help assure correct interpretation.

Who is speaking? Who is this about? Who are the main characters? For example, look at the sample passage from 1 Peter 5. In this chapter, “I” is speaking. Verse 1 tells us that “I” is a fellow elder, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory to follow. From reading this and previous chapters (the context), you recognize that the “I” is Peter, the author of this epistle. You’ll want to mark the author in a special color (such as blue) to help you with your study.

And to who, is he speaking? Verse 1 refers to “the elders,” verse 5 to “you younger men,” and verse 6 to “yourselves” (the recipients of the epistle). You’ll find it helpful to mark the recipients in another color.

What is the subject or event covered in the chapter? What do you learn about the people, the event, or the teaching from the text? What instructions are given? In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter instructs the the elders to shepherd the flock and exercise oversight.

When do or will the events occur? When did or will something happen to a particular person, people, or nation? When is a key question in determining the progression of events. In 1 Peter 5:4, we learn that “when the Chief Shepherd appears,”the elders will receive their “unfading crown of glory.” Mark references to time (such as “when”) with a clock 🕒

Where did or will this happen? Where was it said? In 1 Peter 5, the only reference to a place is in verse 13, where there is a greeting from “she who is in Babylon.” Mark geographical locations by double-underlining them in green.

Why is something being said or mentioned? Why would or will this happen? Why at this time? Why this person? First Peter 5:12 explains why and how Peter wrote this epistle, establishing the book’s purpose: to exhort and testify that this is the grace of God, that they may stand firm in it.

How will it happen? How is it to be done? How is it illustrated? In 1 Peter 5:2, note how the elders are to exercise oversight: voluntarily and eagerly, according to the will of God.

Every time you study a passage of the Bible, you should keep the “5W’s and an H” in mind. Don’t be concerned if you can’t find the answer to each question every time. Remember, there are many types of literature in the Bible and hot all the questions will apply. As you ask who, what, when, where, why, and how, make notes in the margin of your Bible. Meditate on the truths God reveals to you. Think how they apply to you. This will keep your study from becoming an intellectual pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

Step Three: Mark key words and phrases

A key word is one that is essential to the text. It might be a noun, a descriptive word, or an action that plays a part in conveying the author’s message. A key word or phrase is one which, when removed, leaves the passage devoid of meaning. Often key words and phrases are repeated in order to convey the author’s point or purpose for writing. They may be repeated throughout a chapter, a segment of a book, or the book as a whole. For example, notice that some form of the word suffering is used three time in 1 Peter 5.

The key words wee have we have suggested are taken from the New American Standard Bible. If you are using the New International Version or King James Version, look at appendix seven at the back of this book. It lists many of the New American Standard Bible’s key words and the words the New International Version and King James Version use.

As you mark key words, ask the same who, what, when, where, why, and how questions of them as you did of the passage as a whole. For example, Who suffers? What caused the suffering? Etc.

    • Through the uses of color. Colored pencils or Micron pens work best.


    • Through symbols or a combination of colors and symbols


In the epistles mark every reference to the author in one color and every reference to the recipients in another.

Mark key words and synonyms such as God, Christ, Devil, Suffering

Underline in green all geographical locations

1 Peter Chapter 5

5 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, 1)exercising oversight not under compulsion, 2)but voluntarily, 3)according to the will of God; and 4)not for sordid gain, 5)but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. 12 Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

Identify simple lists:

1) Exercising oversight not under compulsion

2) but voluntary

3) according to the will of God

4) not for sordid gain

5) but with eagerness

Make lists from key words:


1- Christ suffered

9- Brethren are suffering

9- You will suffer

10- But God perfects confirms, strengthens those who suffer

Always mark each key words the same way every time you observe it. Then, in future study, the visual impact of your marks will help you track key subjects and quickly identify significant truths throughout Scripture. To be sure that you are consistent, list kay words, symbols, and color codes on an index card and use it as bookmark in your Bible.

Be sure to mark pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they and so on), synonyms (words that have the same meaning in the context), and other closely related words the same way you mark the words to which they refer. For example, a synonym for the devil in 1 Peter 5:8 is adversary. The pronoun him in verse 9 also refers to the devil. Notice how marking the synonym adversary for the devil gives insight into his nature.

Step Four: Look for Lists

Marking lists can be one of the most enlightening things you do as you study a section of Scripture. Lists reveal truth and highlight important concepts. The best way to discover lists in the text is to observe how a key words is described, note what is said about someone or something, or group related thoughts or instructions together. (Develop lists on a separate piece of paper or in a notebook.)

1 Peter 5:2-3, for example, contains a simple lists instructing the elders how to shepherd their flock. You can number simple lists within the text for easy reference.

Topical lists capture a truth, quality, or characteristic of a specific subject throughout a passage. One way to discover a topical list is to follow a key word through a chapter and note what the text says about the word each time it is used. (You may want to develop your lists on a worksheet.) See sample on 1 Peter 5:2-3 for how a lists could be made for the key word suffering.

As you write your observations on suffering, you will begin to have a better and broader understanding of God’s thoughts on this subject. You will learn that:

    • Christ suffered

    • The brethren in the world are suffering

    • The recipients of the letter may also endure suffering

You will also discover that God does several things in the lives of those who suffer:

    • Perfects

    • Strengthens

    • Confirms

    • Establishes

The application value of lists such as these is immeasurable. The next time you endure suffering, you will be able to recall these truth more quickly:

    • Christ suffered

    • Others are suffering

    • Ultimately God will use suffering to strengthen your own life

Discovering truths that apply to your daily life is what makes lists such an important part of the Inductive method.

Step five: Watch for contrasts and comparisons

Contrast and comparisons use highly descriptive language to drive home significant truths and vital lessons. The word pictures they paint make it easier to remember what you’ve learned.

Contrast shows how things are different or opposite, such as light/darkness or proud/humble. The word but often signifies a contrast is being made. You may want to note contrasts in the text or the margin of your Bible.

A comparison point out similarities and is often indicated by the use of words such as like, as, and as it were.For example, Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8: “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion” You may want to highlight comparisons in a distinctive way so you will recognize them quickly when you return to the passage in the future.

Step Six: Note expressions of time

The relationship of events in time often sheds light on the true meaning of the text. The timing of something can be observed in exact statements such as “on the tenth day of the eleventh month” or “at the feast of Booths.” These phrases can be indicated in the margin by drawing a simple clock 🕒 in a specific color, such as green.

Time is also indicated by words such as until, then, when, and after. These words show the relationship of one statement or event to another. Marking then will help you see the sequence of events and lead to accurate interpretation of Scripture.

Step Seven: Identify terms

Terms of conclusion usually follow an important sequence of thought and include words such as wherefore, therefore, for this reason, and finally. As the saying goes, when you see a therefore (or any term of conclusion), note what it is there for. You should be able to look through the preceding verses and summarize the message. For example, 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore humble yourselves…” If you will look, you will discover that you should humble yourself under the hand of God because God “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Step Eight: Develop chapter themes

The theme of a chapter will center on the main person, event, teaching, or subject of that section of Scripture. Theme are often revealed by reviewing the key words and lists you developed. Try to express the theme as briefly as possible, using words found in the text.

For example, possible themes for 1 Peter 5 might be Exhortations to Elders, Younger Mena,and the Suffering, or God Gives Grace to the Humbel. The point of observation is to answer the question: What does the passage say? The theme summaries the answer. Although many Bibles give chapter or paragraph themes, you may want to record the chapter theme as you understand it near the beginning of the chapter. If needed, record the themes in pencil so you can adjust them as your study deepens.

Step Nine: Discover lessons for life

In the process of observing the text and seeing how God instructed people and dealt with various individuals, the Holy Spirit will bring to your attention truths that God wants you to be aware of and live by in your own life. These “Lessons for Life” can be noted in the margin under the abbreviation “LFL,” or you may wish to create a distinctive symbol to mark your Lessons for Life throughout your Bible.

Recording these will add a “devotional” element to your Bible and serve as a good reminder (or legacy) of what God has spoken to your heart when you or others read it.

Step Ten: Complete the Structure of the chapter

    • Record the author of the book. Is the author is not mentioned by name, leave this space blank

    • Record the date the book was written if the date of writing is know.

    • Record the key words. The key words are listed for every book.

    • Copy the chapter themes that you recorded at the beginning of each chapter. Because chapter divisions were added much later than the Bible was originally written, they do not always fall naturally in the text. Occasionally you will find a chapter with more than one theme. If this is true, record both themes.

    • Look for and record segment divisions. See if any of the chapters can be grouped under a common theme or a common event. This is called a segment division. Segment divisions help you see the framework of a book.

The number and types of segments divisions will vary. A book might be divided

According to dates, geographical locations, reigns of kings, mejor characters or events,

topics, or doctrines.

When you gain a broad view of a book through its segment divisions, it is easier

to understand its content and purpose.

    • Record the purpose of the book. Discerning the author’s purpose for writing and the keeping this purpose in mind while you study the text will help you handle the Word of God accurately. Unless the author specifically states his purpose for writing, as in 1 Peter 5:12, you will have to discover it by other means:

    1. Look for the main subjects covered in the book. These can often be recognized as you study the key repeated words.

    2. Watah for any problems that are addressed. It may be that the author’s purpose in writing was to deal with these problems.

    3. Note exhortations and warnings that are given. These may be the reason for the book.

    4. Observer what the author did not cover in his writing. When you know what the author covered and what was left unsaid, you are better able to narrow down the real purpose of the book.

    • Record the main theme of the book. Once you have listed the theme for each chapter, evaluated the author’s purpose for writing, and observed the content of the book chapter by chapter and segment by segment, you will be prepared to determine the theme of the book.



The Structure of a Book

It’s there, but you've got to find it.

“A book comes to you with flesh on its bare bones and clothes over its flesh. It is all dressed up. You do not have to undress it or tear the flesh off its limbs to get at the firm structure that underlies the soft surface. But you must read with x-ray eyes, for it is essential for your apprehension of any book to grasp its structure.”

How to Read a Book, Adler & Van Doren, p 75

Types of Structure which communicate the ‘WHAT’:

Many elements could appear in the text, but we need to observe the main ones the author used to structure his book. So what we’ve seen here is ‘WHAT’ is being said. It is about places, time, people etc. However, we need to discover ‘HOW’ the above is being communicated. The following page discusses how the message is being communicated.

Genre of Literature

Literary genre is crucial to interpretation. Before ever launching into a study of a book, the first thing a reader needs to know is what that book’s author meant it to be. In other words, what kind of literature was he writing? What literary form did he employ?

Examples of literary genre used in the Bible:

( This is not a complete summary of all the books and the categories they belong to).

1. Drama : A work of literature that can be acted or read as a play. (eg. Revelation, Job, Song of Solomon, etc.)

2. Epistolary (Epistle) : A letter. An Epistle is a written communication between persons apart, whether personal and private or official. (eg. Pauline letters, etc.)

3. Parabolic literature (Parable) : A short, descriptive story usually designed to inculcate a single truth or answer a single question. Parables present the listener with interesting illustrations from which can be drawn moral and religious truths. (eg. Matt 13:24-30; Luke 15:3-10; Mark 12:1-12)

4. Anthology : A collection of poems, or of other writings, often on the same subject, chosen from different books or writers. (eg. Proverbs, Psalms)

5. The Gospel : Literally, “Good News”. One of four records which chronicles the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Characteristic of each Gospel is the apostolic tradition – i.e. the eyewitness account of Christ as written by one of the original apostles or by one of their closely trusted converts. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)

6. Poetry (Hebrew Poetry) : Various compositions in both Testaments characterized by several patterns of rhythm, rhyme and figures of speech. Many times, Poetry is laden with vivid imagery with some compositions originally having been set to music. Hebrew poetry, in particular, is rich in parallelisms, though metre (rhyme) as we know it today in the 21st century is non-existent. (eg. Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job)

7. Historical Narratives : A historical account written in story / Chronicle format. (eg. Genesis - Ezra, the Gospels, Acts)

8. Apocalyptic : A highly stylized form of literature marked by its own conventions of symbolism and terminology. This type of literature is full of dreams, visions, and symbolic imagery, often centered around the heavenly throne-room. Apocalyptic literature often exhibits a close but critical interaction with the international culture of its time. (eg. Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation)

9. Covenant Document : A piece of literature containing the conditions of a relationship between two parties. There are several types of Covenant Document in the Bible such as Parity, Suzerainty, Promissory, etc. (eg. Deuteronomy)

10. Didactic : A written teaching earmarked by logic and reason in its presentation of information. The purpose of Didactic literature is to bring deeper understanding and / or correction to specific situations and issues faced by those originally receiving its message(s). (eg. Romans; Galatians; Titus)

11. Logical & discursive : A piece of literature using reasons to persuade the readers or hearers. It’s often in a form of bringing a group of ideas together to prove a point or to present an argument. (eg. Romans)

12. Topical : Something that is related to, dealing with or being a subject of present interest to the original hearers or readers. (eg. Jeremiah, Matthew)

13. Wisdom Literature : It is not intended to be didactic and must always be read as a whole / in context. (eg. Job; Ecclesiastes)

Inter-relationships Between Terms

Exploring How Words are Related together.

There are six major areas of relationship:

1) Time: now, before, immediately, when/then, after, since, until, during,later, etc.

2) Reason/Cause: since, because, for, therefore, etc.

3) Purpose/Result: that, so that, in order that, for, therefore, etc.

4) Contrast: (association of dissimilar things) though, even though, but, however, in spite of although, or, etc.

5) Comparison: (association of similar things) and, as, also, too, etc.

6) Condition: If

The basic questions