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Saturday, August 23, 2014
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Direct Bible Discovery

Chapter 8- Sample Observations

This chapter provides a few sample observations on Mark 2:1-12. These samples will have much more value to you if you study the passage quoted in the next section, then write out some of your own observations before reading the samples. At this point write out only observations. You should set aside at least one hour to study the passage and write out your observations. As you do so, remember the following.

  • Keep the distinction between observation and interpretation clearly in mind.

  • Do not try to make striking observations. Concentrate your efforts on being accurate rather than being spectacular.

  • Do not bother writing out observations on the mechanics of the English text. Of course, for those who can study the Bible in the original languages, that is by far the best. But if you study the Bible in an English translation, your Bible study can still be very meaningful and rewarding. However, you should be aware of some aspects of the English translation that are not in the original manuscripts. For instance, the earliest known manuscripts of the New Testament books were written entirely in letters the same size without spaces between the words. Also, they were written without our modern English type of punctuation, without paragraphs, without quotation marks, and without chapter and verse divisions. Thus the translators and editors must supply all these as they feel they best fit their understanding of the text. (The chapter divisions that appear in our present Bibles were added to the text in the 1200's, and the verse divisions in the 1500's.) It is not wise to base your interpretation of a passage solely on such things as capitalization of a certain word, punctuation, sentence and paragraph divisions, quotation marks, or verse or chapter divisions. Don't waste your time making observations of such aspects of the English translation. Such observations are pointless because they do not come from the original manuscripts. Thus, they form a flimsy basis for interpretations. Also, don't waste your time observing certain superficial aspects of the text that are unique to the English language, including the longest or shortest word in a passage, the longest or shortest sentence, the middle sentence of a paragraph or the middle word of a sentence, etc. These are all pointless.

  • Focus your efforts on writing out observations of relationships between facts and patterns of relationships. Do not be satisfied merely to write out isolated facts that would be obvious to any reader at first glance. (Concerning Mark 2:1-12, such obvious observations might include, "This happened in Capernaum," or "There was a crowd there," or "Jesus healed the paralytic.") Naturally, you will observe such things easily the first time you read the passage. Since these facts are so easily accessible, you may not even need to write them down. Later, of course, you will probably combine such obvious aspects of the text with your other observations to help form the basis for some of your interpretations. Your interpretations will be based on all you know about the passage, both the obvious (which you may not have written out) and the not-so-obvious (which you have written out). Most of your observations should be observations of relationships and patterns, not merely isolated facts.


The text of Mark 2:1-12 that follows is respaced, based on thought units within the sentences. (We explain the reason for respacing a passage and give some guidelines regarding respacing in chapter 17.)

The purpose at this point is not to try to be exhaustive, but only to illustrate a few observations and some possible interpretations based on those observations.

Mark 2:1-12 (NASB)

Observations on Mark 2:1-12

  1. Jesus sees their (plural) faith, yet he responds by addressing just one man, the paralytic (v. 5).

  2. The passage does not say why the paralytic was brought to Jesus, and no words of the paralytic are recorded (entire passage).

  3. The paralytic obviously needed physical healing, but Jesus forgave his sins first (vv. 3-5).

  4. Jesus' question to the scribes was not "Which is easier to do?" (forgive or heal), but "Which is easier to say . . . ?" (v. 9). Also, Jesus' question to the scribes contrasted something that could not be checked (saying "your sins are forgiven") with something that could be checked (saying "arise . . .") (v. 9).

  5. The labels for inner functions differ from our customary usage. We often say that thinking is in the head or mind while feeling is in the heart. However, Mark and Jesus talk about perceiving in the spirit and reasoning in the heart (v. 8).

  6. The scribes' response to Jesus' statements and to the healing is not recorded (that is, no scribal response is singled out or distinguished from the general response of "all" the people recorded in v. 12), although Jesus asks them two questions and the crowd's response to the healing is recorded (entire passage).

Possible Interpretations and Questions Based on These Observations

The first three interpretations below are negative. They are meant to show two things: (1) that interpretations must be based on the evidence from the text rather than on assumptions that are brought to the text, and (2) that all varieties of interpretations must be considered before you come to a conclusion. Obviously, these interpretations are far from exhaustive.

  1. First (based on observations 2 and 6): We cannot interpret this to mean that the paralytic did not speak, or that the scribes did not have a distinct response. Nor can we assume that the scribes are included in the "all" of verse 12. All we can say is that no speech of the paralytic and no distinct response of the scribes is recorded. Both the paralytic and the scribes may have said much more than is recorded in this passage. Arguments and interpretations that are based on silence of the record are often very weak. (We say more about the dangers of using arguments from silence in chapter 13.)

  2. Second (based on observation 1): Again we need to be very careful lest we try to get too much out of this observation. For instance, we cannot conclude that the paralytic himself did not have faith, for he may be included in the word their. Also, we cannot conclude that Jesus did not address the men who brought the paralytic. To conclude this would be another argument from silence.

  3. Third (based on observations 2 and 3): It could easily be assumed that the paralytic was brought to Jesus so that he could be healed. But it is also possible that the paralytic was brought simply so that he could hear Jesus teach. Was this why Jesus responded to their faith by forgiving his sins? When we combine all the information in the passage with the information from the context and from the parallel accounts of this incident in Matthew and Luke, it appears quite likely that the paralytic was indeed brought so that he could be healed. The point is: don't assume anything. Don't take anything for granted. Consider a wide variety of ways of putting the evidence together. All the different interpretations that come to your attention, from whatever source, should be tested against the evidence of the text.

  4. Fourth (based on observation 4): Whereas it is debatable whether forgiving sins or healing is easier, there is no question that saying "your sins are forgiven" is easier than saying "arise, . . . walk." Telling someone his sins are forgiven is easy because it can be said without anyone being able to check. There is no visible evidence available for people to see whether you have authority in that realm and whether what was spoken has actually taken place. However, it is not easy to tell a paralyzed person to walk because everyone can readily see if you have authority in that realm by simply watching to see if the paralyzed person gets up and walks. Although Jesus had authority in both realms, he knew that the scribes could not check up on him in the realm of forgiving sins, which they had questioned. So he showed them his authority in another supernatural realm, healing, in which they could easily check his authority. Having seen a demonstration of Jesus' authority in one supernatural realm, the scribes would logically be forced to consider the possibility of Jesus having authority in the other.

It is especially important that you understand what an observation is and how it differs from an interpretation, because, in the actual Bible study procedures suggested in chapters 17 and 18, observation and interpretation are not differentiated for you. It is impossible to organize the actual steps of Bible study so that a certain set of steps incorporates only observations, while the next set of steps incorporates only interpretation. Rather, varying degrees of both observation and interpretation may at times enter into many of the steps. Since you cannot neatly separate them in your procedure, it is all the more important that you can separate them in your thinking. You need to know during any step of the procedure when you are observing and when you are interpreting so that you can truly make your observations the basis of your interpretations.

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