Survey the passage, asking yourself questions like the following.
- Is this passage a complete unit of thought or a complete story? If not, how much context do I need to add into it to make it complete?
- What kind of literature is this passage: a story (narrative), a teaching (discourse), poetry, prophetic literature, wisdom literature (like the Proverbs), etc.
- How is this passage connected to the rest of the book it is part of?
- Is there anything else I need to make not of on this first pass?
Observe the passage carefully. I won't repeat myself here because last week I gave what you should be looking for. This is the step where you stop, look and listen, taking time to notice patterns, asking questions like who, what, when, where, etc.
Ask and Answer lots of curious questions! This is where I will add some new thoughts. How do you answer all those questions?
- Look again! Lots of times we can answer our questions by looking at the passage and its surrounding context a little more closely. For example, if we notice our passage starts with a "therefore" we can look ahead of it to see what is leading into it (see how the last verses in Romans 11 lead into Romans 12:1 ff.).
- Look at different translations. Many questions can be answered by seeing how another translation translates a passage. Also, comparing translations keeps us from building doctrine on something that a particular translation gets wrong. For example, the KJV (a shaky translation at best for many reasons) translates Psalm 138:2b as "thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name," leading some to teach that God's word is superior to His name, a theological impossibility since God's name represents Him and all that He is and His word flows from that. A quick look at almost any other translation (except the NKJV which repeats the error) shows us that it's better to blend name and word together. The Holman CSV translates this as "You have exalted your name and your promise above everything else."
- Look around the passage in larger and larger circles to see if the context will help you answer some of your questions.
- Look it up. Yes, there are times when it's okay to consult a study Bible or commentary after you have run out of your own answers, but do this last, not first!
Reflect in order to Respond. At some point you will need to summarize what you have discovered and listen to the Holy Spirit for His guidance as to how you are to respond to this new treasure. (For me, sometimes the responding is "automatic" because what I see is so amazing and fresh that I just can't help breaking out in praise or asking Papa how I am to make this part of my life). It is important for us to consider how we are to respond, of course. Otherwise we are like the person James describes in James 1:23-24, "For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was." (New English Translation). But consider the promise that follows this warning (v. 25), "But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out--he will be blessed in what he does."
Soaring more and more,
Tom, one of Abba's little children