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Long For Truth: Hermeneutics part 3: Beginning the Observation Phase

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hermeneutics part 3: Beginning the Observation Phase

I'm a big fan of the new Sherlock Holmes series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It's kinda like a modern twist on an old classic, which usually doesn't sit well with my taste, but somehow BBC made this really work.

One of the most impressive features of the show is Sherlock's ability to notice the seemingly insignificant things. These usually turn out to play a role in solving the crime. Something as simple as stain on a shirt, or a particular type of clothing always betrays the villain.

Bible study is the same way. It's the little things that add to the whole and make significant contributions to the story. For example, in John 4 we have the account of Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan women at Jacob's well. Jesus asks her for a drink and then launches into discourse about Himself being the Living Water.

This all seems a bit insignificant until we learn that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews! Normally, any self-respecting Jew that had to travel to the Northern part of Israel would travel all the way around Samaria to keep from "tainting" himself.

Samaritans were considered half-breeds, to some extent. During the Northern exile Assyria carried off most of the inhabitants of Northern Israel, leaving only the poorest of the land. Remember, Israel was split in two, Judah in the Southern half, and Israel in the Northern half during the reign of Rehoboam. When Assyria carried them off they re-settled the land with peoples from their other conquests. The people of Israel eventually began to inter-marry with these Gentile captives, and thus the Samaritans were born.

The Jews were not allowed to intermingle with other nations, hence their hatred for these people.

By the time of Jesus most Jews would go to great lengths to avoid them. When going to the Northern Israel they made it a point to walk all the way around their land. But notice the map above. The line represents Jesus' own journey. He didn't avoid Samaria. In fact, He took the most direct route. We know from John 4 that the entire village became believers on account of the woman's testimony. And it all started with Jesus' trip to Samaria.

My point is that I would not have known this significant piece of information without practicing the observation phase. This would have been just another lovely story about a woman accepting Christ as Messiah, and therefore would have lost its original impact.

Observation is the most important step in any Bible study. I can't overstate this enough. When we read we should be reading purposely, with intent, allowing our eyes to rest on every word, sentence, and paragraph.

Like Sherlock Holmes we need to break out the magnifying glass and begin to look for "clues" that will help us to grow in our relationship with Christ. In the next post we will discuss and lay out all the steps to the observation phase.

Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for the next post. But be warned–from here on out the real work begins!

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