Step 2: Start Big and then Zoom In
Are you a verse browser? Do you read a verse in Philippians and then a couple in Romans and finish your “study” time off with a few encouraging verses from the Psalms? Do you skip around because you do not know what else to do for the 30 minutes you have set aside for your daily Bible study? I used to be the worst verse browser of all. Weeding through a long book in the Bible never seemed productive because half the time I would forget what I had just read by the time I reached the end of a chapter. Some of Paul’s sentences would drag on for half a page and I, admittedly, would be lost. How helpful it was to find a technique that taught me not only to read the Bible the way it was intended to be read, but to be able to understand it. It’s an easy technique and it’s similar to one you’re probably already familiar with. In the art world, you admire a piece of fine art by looking at the whole picture, then a section at a time, then down to individual brush strokes. Similarly, when studying the Bible, we start big with reading the entire book and then zoom in and look at paragraphs, sentences and lastly words.
Learn to think in terms of entire books
Each book of the Bible was given in its entirety and was intended to be read that way. The Letters were actually read aloud to the whole church from the beginning to the end as written (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It is important that we learn to think in terms of entire books and try to explain and understand how the first chapter fits with the last chapter and how every section is connected. When starting the study of a book, it is beneficial to read through the entire book first in one sitting. I find it helpful to listen to the book on audio. If you do not have the Bible on audio, there are many sources including Biblegateway.com (click here for audio versions).
While reading through a book, try to summarize what you have just read. (You can make notes in the margins of your Bible or start a notebook specifically for your Bible study notes. When I am teaching this material, I tell my ladies to buy a pretty notebook that will be special to them and fun to write in. mentally or on paper?). Summarizing will help sort out the main thoughts of each section. (Note: do not forget that the chapter breaks we find in our Bibles were not included in the original text and do not necessarily mark the end of a thought). Summarize each paragraph or section. While looking at a paragraph, make note of the transition statements and connections from one paragraph to another.
Observation of a single sentence at a time in the Biblical text can be the foundation for great exegetical work. One assignment given in an Exegesis text book called, Grasping God’s Word says,
Find a minimum of thirty observations in Acts 1:8. List them below [paper numbered 1-30]. Avoid making interpretations or applications at this stage. That is, stay with observations. For example, an observation would be to note that the passage starts off with the conjunction “but”. This conjunction connects the sentence to the one above it in a contrasting way. If, however you were to note that the Holy Spirit empowers us for evangelism, that observation falls into the category of interpretation or application. Do not enter into the interpretation or application phase yet. Limit all thirty of your observations to details. Work hard! Dig hard! Read and reread the passage…happy hunting (Duvall 7).
I would encourage all of you to try this assignment on your own. Observations can be anything from finding reoccurring words to noting punctuation and grammar. As you get better at this you can expand from one sentence to a short section of two or three verses at a time where you will make these same types of observations. You will not do this in list form when you have a longer section of scripture, but instead can write out the verses you are studying or print them out from the computer. Skip lines and leave plenty of room to mark up the page. Use colored pens, pencils and highlighters to circle, underline, connect words, draw arrows and write notes above the text and in the margins.
Start big and then zoom in by thinking in terms of entire books, summarizing paragraphs and sections and making observations about sentences and words. Be determined to no longer be a verse browser, but a book dweller…trying to study deeply each book in its entirety.
Step 1: Investigate
Step 2: Start Big and then Zoom In
By Aimee Lemus
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Duvall, J. Scott and Hays, J. Daniel. Grasping God’s Word. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.