Sherlock Holmes was known for his brilliant powers of observation. One day a stranger came into Holmes’s study. The detective looked over the gentleman carefully then remarked to Watson: “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”
Watson was so astounded by his abilities that he commented: “I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give you reasons,’ I remarked, ’the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as god as yours.”
“ ‘Quite so,’ he answered … throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe.’ ”
The first step in personal Bible study is to make several observations about the passage or book your are studying. Like a good detective, train your eyes to see the obvious and the not so obvious. You can learn to do this by bombarding the book or passage with questions. Rudyard Kipling once wrote:
I have six faithful men
Who taught me all I know,
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who
1. Who—Who is the author of the book? To whom is he writing? Who are the major and minor characters?
2. Where—Where do the events occur? Are there any references to towns, cities, provinces? If so, look these up in a Bible atlas or on a map. (Many Bibles include maps.) If you are reading a letter, where to the recipients live?
3. When—Are there any references to the time, day, month or year, or to when events took place in relation to other events?
4. What—What actions or events are taking place? What words or ideas are repeated or are central to the passage? What is the mood (joyous, somber)?
5. Why—Does the passage offer any reasons, explanations, statements of purpose?
6. How—How is the passage written? Is it a letter, speech, poem, parable? Does the author use any figures of speech (similar, metaphors)? How is it organized (around ideas, people, geography)?
By probing a book or passage with questions, you will uncover many important facts. As you discover them, write them down so you can refer to them later.
The importance of careful observation cannot be overstressed since your observations will form the basis of your interpretations. In one of his most baffling cases, Sherlock Holmes commented to Watson: “I had … come to an entirely erroneous conclusion, which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data.”:
Nyquist, J. F., & Kuhatschek, J. (1997). Leading Bible discussions (electronic ed. of completely rev & expanded ed.). Logos Library System; Lifebuilder Bible studies. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.