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Hermeneutics part 4: The 3 Steps of the Observation Phase

Do you remember the four steps of hermeneutics? Here is a quick reminder:

  • Grasp the text in their town - what did it mean to the original audience?
  • Measure the width of the river to cross - what are the differences between the Biblical audience and me/us? 
  • Cross the priciplizing bridge - what is the theological principle in this text?
  • Grasp the text in our town - how should the individual Christian today apply this text? 


Welcome to the beginning of the first step–Grasp the text in their town. Today, you begin the actual process of interpreting a Biblical text. So let's get ready!

In our last hermeneutics post we discussed the importance of observing the text. Today, I would like to briefly discuss the three steps to the observation phase.

Someone once said that in order to really understand something you first must read it. Then, when you are finished you must read it again. Afterwards, to really begin to grasp the meaning you read it again...and again...and again.

You get the idea. Reading a text over and over will help you understand the flow of thought and argument an author is presenting. Therefore, we could say that the first step in observation is:


  1. Read the text. In fact, you may want to read and re-read as many times as you need in order to really understand what is going on. I would personally recommend that one read the text at least 10-15 times before going any further. This is especially helpful if you are beginning a book study. Ideally, it is better to read the entire book in one sitting, if at all possible. There are several short books where this could be easily accomplished. Again, I cannot overstate how important this first step is. If one cannot grasp the flow of thought & the meaning of authorial intent then the rest of the study will be fruitless.
  2. Observe the text. This next step is just as important! Observing the text means you are reading the text, but with intent. That is, you are now reading to look for specific things: coordinating conjunctions, repeated words/phrases, verbs of action, figures of speech, comparisons, and many other clues that will help you better understand and apply the meaning of the text (pp. 30-38 in Grasping God's Word). One helpful way (and this is also suggested in the book) is to copy & paste your text to a text document such as MS Word or Pages, or even a plain text and then print out the text to mark it up. Mark them in a way that is unique for you to understand so that you will know what you are looking at later on. Below, I've submitted my own example from a sermon in Acts that I preached a few years ago. I hope it will be helpful for you to see a real example. Examples are also provided in the book. 
  3. Evaluate the text. One sure way to quickly gain the main points or thoughts of an author is to Phrase or Block Diagram a text. Phrasing is a method that takes all of the main thoughts and clauses and puts them on the left while indenting all of their subordinating clauses underneath of them. The example below is a a Phrase or Block Diagram, though at the time I was still perfecting the methods. It is a tool that I continue to use to this day. For more about phrasing just visit Biblearc.com (Phrasing) as well as their video examples. This English example video is excellent!




Your next step is to find a passage and begin to observe. I recommend a something simple to start with. 1Peter is a good place to begin. Copy & paste and print out the first 9 verses and begin the observation phase. Remember to leave at least 2 spaces between each line so that you have plenty of room to note any significant points, such as comparisons, conjunctions, contrasts, etc. Happy hunting!

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