By Chris Hulshof
If you’ve been to an eye doctor, you’ll recognize the centerpiece of the office.
The phoropter is what the doctor puts in front of your eyes to adjust dials while saying, “1 or 2?” As you respond, the doctor changes the lenses to tweak your prescription until your eyesight is corrected.
The better your vision is, the better you’ll be at noticing the things around you. The same is true about reading the Bible.
The better you are at seeing what you’re reading, the better your observations on what you’re reading will be.
Becoming a better observer of the Scriptures will help you more astutely answer the question “What do I see?” as you’re reading God’s word.
There are two strategies I practice that help me be a better observer of the Bible text I’m reading. Think of these strategies like the 1’s and 2’s of your eye doctor’s phoropter.
1. Repeat your point of view.
For most of us, our Bible reading is consecutive. We read a few verses today, and tomorrow we’ll read the verses that come next.
The challenge with this approach is that it often favors reading rather than studying the Scriptures.
Instead of consecutively reading the Scriptures, why not commit time to repeat what you’re reading. Rather than moving through the first five chapters in a week, why not repeatedly read chapter 1 for a week?
By repeating your point of view, you’ll begin to notice things you missed in only a single reading of that chapter.
You could even switch up the translation you’re using throughout the week.
When using a different translation each day, you’re bound to notice words, phrases, and ideas that are similar and different.
These similarities and differences are often crucial to understanding the passage.
2. Don’t take notes, draw instead.
Perhaps it’s because of our training, but our default mode of engaging the Scriptures is often through note-taking.
Whether it’s bullet points or short sentences, we usually record our interactions with the Scriptures in written form.
However, drawing out the passage may help you better observe what you’re reading as you study that particular passage.
Our oldest form of communication involved storytelling and picture drawing. As language and alphabets shaped the means and methods of communicating, we lost the two very visual elements of storytelling and picture drawing.
Sadly, a large majority of people never consider the option of visually representing a passage of Scripture because their art class experience taught them that they couldn’t draw.
The goal of this strategy isn’t to produce museum-quality pieces. Instead, the goal is to recognize the way things in the passage are presented, connected, or explained.
If you can draw basic shapes (circles, squares, and triangles) and use connecting markers (lines, arrows, and dots), you have all of the skills you need to draw out a passage of Scripture.
Regardless of what I’m reading, this has become my “go-to” way to understand anything I’m reading. I’ve found that my understanding and retention has improved by making a simple sketch of my reading.
The next time you sit down to read something from Scripture, rather than listing things out in pastoral point form, why not show the relationship visually through connected shapes.
Before you reject the idea, consider this: if you learned how to diagram sentences in hermeneutics, you learned how to visually represent a passage using lines, sticks, and stilts. This isn’t much different.
To be a better student of God’s Word, you need to be a better reader of God’s Word. To be a better reader of God’s Word, you need to be a better observer of God’s Word.
Studying, reading, and observing God’s Word go hand-in-hand.
The next time you’re working through a passage that just doesn’t seem to be adding up, stop and consider how being a better observer of the text might help you understand what you’re reading and studying.
CHRIS HULSHOF (@US_EH) is an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity where he teaches Old Testament Survey, Inductive Bible Study, and a Theology of Suffering and Disability.