Observe before interpreting!
If you’re like me, you probably read a Bible verse and then jump to the question, “What does it mean?” Let’s face it, we all want to know the meaning of what we’re reading. So we glance over the text and jump into interpretation.
But after reading the Bible, how many pause and ask, “What do I see?” before “What does it mean?” Asking “What do I see?” uncovers important details, which prove essential to figuring out what the verse means. Without discovering what we see in a verse, we can’t expect to know what the verse means. And without understanding what the verse means, we can’t expect to apply the verse to our lives.
So the first step in Bible Fun, is observation. In his famous Bible Exposition class, Dr. Howard Hendricks asks his students to make a list of observations taken from Acts 1:8. My wife and I had the privilege of taking this class and doing this exercise.
Just as an athlete must exercise his muscles, observing Acts 1:8 takes hard work. After about 30 observations, your mind becomes tired. But if you keep at it, you’ll observe more details that you previously missed. And the more details you observe, the more interesting Acts 1:8 becomes. Let’s take a look.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NET)
The first observation you encounter is the contrastive conjunction “but.” Because it is contrastive, you then need to ask, “What comes before Acts 1:8?” So you read Acts 1:1–7 to understand the context of Acts 1:8.
The second observation you’ll notice is the second person pronoun “you.” So you ask, “Who is the author referencing?” “Is it one person or a group of people?” Because you’ve already read Acts 1:1–7, you’ll see the author, Luke, speaks of “you” as being the apostles (vv. 2–3).
As you observe important details in the verse, you begin to discover important clues. But if you jump straight from reading to asking, “What does this mean?” you fail to uncover important clues, which may affect the meaning of the verse. So before you jump into finding the meaning of what you read, pause and observe. Ask yourself, “What do I see?” In doing so, you’ll likely come to a better interpretation of what the verse means.
Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org All rights reserved.