Hit the Books, And Give Me 20!

January 13, 2009

A simple but astonishingly helpful ‘exercise’ I use during initial passage study is what I call 20 observations. The idea is simple. Take one verse of the text at a time and force yourself to make at least 20 observations of each verse, soley from the text.

The beginning observations might be easy enough. Eg:

1) ‘Paul’ wrote this letter.

2) Paul is ‘an apostle’: a commissioned representative/messenger

3) Paul is specifically an ‘apostle of Christ Jesus‘ .

Usually, however, the last 5 or so observations really force you to look at every possible aspect of the wording in the various translations. For example, this morning in my study of 1 Timothy 1:1 I made the following observation

18. The reference to “our Saviour” and “our hope” now draws Timothy in. Paul may be an apostle. Timothy does not have that authority. Yet Paul says, ‘Timothy, we are no different in this way: God is our Saviour and Christ Jesus is our hope.’ Paul and Timothy share a common author of salvation, and a common hope in the culmination of that salvation through Christ. (Possible Application: – You may not feel that you share in the same opportunities or the same giftedness as others within the church. But you share in the same Saviour. You have the same hope in Christ Jesus. That’s something we all have in common!)

Of course, if your passage is rather sizeable, you may need to limit yourself to maybe 5 observations per verse, or whatever number is appropriate. If you’re preaching a large narrative, however, you might still want to look for 15 to 20 observations from several key verses within the text.

So, why not give this a whirl next time you seriously study Scripture?

And let me know how you get on…


  1. This is a useful idea Colin, I also approach texts or rather I suppose, the concepts and ideas within a text with a hybrid of this method and Hall’s 10 Questions (from the Art of Divine Meditation).

    It all just helps to drill into the text…..the downside (which I’m facing right now) is which of the 11 applications will I deal with, which one will I leave to the next time I preach or will I preach two or three sermons on the one text!

  2. Great idea! Thanks for sharing.


  3. At Bible school the first assignment for “Inductive Bible Study Methods” class was to find 15 legitimate observations from Eph.3:8-10. Once we handed that in, we were sent away to come up with at least 35. I think the record at the time was 350. After helping to grade the assignments for a couple of years after I’d gone through the class, I became convinced 1000 were possible. At a certain level it becomes redundant – sort of a logic puzzle rather than genuine observation. But at the level you are suggesting, I believe this is a critical and underrated approach to the text. Thanks for making it better known, Colin.

  4. great idea! i think i might use this! blessings, fireball

  5. i did this last night with matthew 21, and posting on it now :o)

  6. […] Get into the text and give me 20 […]

  7. Yep, I remember that exercise in Cemetery, I mean Seminary. And I actually used it to a certain degree when I taught homiletics in Bible College.
    And I believe it is actually a good exercise for teaching and learning the principles of observation.
    Thanks for the post,

  8. That’s good stuff, I’ve never heard anyone approach it quite like that before, although I have heard some other strategies to doing biblical observation and exegesis.

  9. A wonderful idea. Thank you.

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