In Acts 17:10–15, Paul and Silas visit the city of Berea. “The [Christians] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.”
The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if things were so” (v. 11). They discovered the truths of the Bible and believed. Let us be like the Bereans and hold things up to the light of scripture to be sure they are reliable! Let us pray together: Oh God, help us to receive Your Word with eagerness and daily, give us understanding as we examine the Scriptures to uncover the truths found within. The observation stage allows us to examine the Scriptures. As we study the book of Philippians, we will begin each week by observing one chapter from that book. To observe the chapter, we will read it with the sole purpose of gaining information. This is going to be very challenging for those of us who love to jump straight to applying scripture to our lives. In this stage, we have to be patient as we gather information and make simple observations to better understand the text. We want to figure out what the chapter is saying. The observation stage becomes the foundation for our interpretation and application of the book, and it typically involves taking notes.
To thoroughly observe the text, we will focus on several different aspects of it. First, we will ask the five W questions—the who, what, where, when and why of the text, plus the all-important how (Precept Ministries International, 2000).
w h o
Who is the author?
To whom is the author speaking?
Who is involved?
w h a t
What is discussed throughout the chapter?
What do you learn about the happenings of the text?
What type of instructions does the author note?
w h e n
When does or when will the event take place?
Past, present, or future?
w h e r e
Where did the event take place?
w h y
Why is the author writing these specific words?
Why this event/person?
Why this time frame?
h o w
How did the events in the book take place?
Once we have read the text answering the five W questions (and how), we will read the text again highlighting the key repeated words, comparisons/contrasts, commands, and questions (Precept Ministries International, 2000).
– Key words are often repeated throughout the text to give the text meaning.
– Comparisons and contrasts help us understand the principles and teachings of the text. Contrasts compare opposite things, such as good and bad. Comparisons highlight similarities by using the word like and as.
– Commands help us understand what God is calling us to do.
– Questions help us dig deeper into the text.
Making a list is another effective tool when observing the text (Precept Ministries International, 2000). Lists stem from what is said about a key word. Lists help us discover the truths of the text, as well as the main ideas. For instance, in Philippians 2:2, Paul asks the Philippians to complete his joy by doing the following: “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” A list like this allows us to notice patterns and ask questions like, “What might the items on this list have to do with completing Paul’s ‘joy’?” Writing them out can help you reflect and take notice of parts of the text you may not otherwise see. Then, by reviewing your observation notes and lists, you will decide on a major theme for the chapter. The theme is based on the main idea of the text.
The observation stage allows us to really study the text by reading the passage over and over again. This stage might seem boring, but we don’t want to miss the richness of observation. By observing the text over and over again, we see things we’ve never seen before! God uses observation to open our eyes to the message and details of the text. Press on!