Holy Spirit Interactive
Friday, August 17, 2018
Inside Holy Spirit Interactive

Direct Bible Discovery

Chapter 9 - Pitfalls and Perseverance in Observation

The first pitfall is the tendency to miss the meaning expressly stated in a passage because you are busily looking for minute details and hidden clues to the meaning of the passage. Many passages will say exactly what they mean in language that is clear enough to be understood at the very first reading. Do not overlook the clear, straightforward statements of the passage.

The second pitfall is a subjective or biased personal approach to the Bible. If you come to the Bible desiring to prove your side of the debate, or looking only for a particular set of evidence, you will probably "find" it there whether it is really there or not. If you are hoping to find some particular statement in the text, you will surely miss much of the rest of what the text says. If you prefer a certain view, you will probably interpret some passages incorrectly to maintain your view. These approaches are a misuse of the Bible. Instead, we need to be as objective and detached as possible during the observation and interpretation phases of Bible study. In other words, personal desires and preferences must be set aside to ensure completeness and accuracy of observation and reasonableness of interpretation. Later, when the best interpretation is finally determined, and when that interpretation has practical implications for your life, then your approach should become quite personal as you submit your will and your life to the Word of God. But up to the point of application, objectivity is the only safe approach to take.

The third pitfall is the temptation to get more out of the text than is actually there. Quite often a person feels he must come up with striking (fresh, new) observations or profound (deep, far-reaching) interpretations. Or, he may be disappointed if he does not get a "blessing" every time he studies the Bible. If you aim for spectacular results you will always end up getting more out of text than is really there, which means that those additional ideas are coming from somewhere other than the biblical text. Your task is not to make something profound out of the text. Your task is to find out exactly what the text says and means. There are enough profound ideas in the text so that, as you discover them, your Bible study will automatically be quite profound. You do not need to try to create profound interpretations. Instead, discover them.

Do not add to His words
Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar (Proverbs 30:6)
Some people mistakenly take their clue to Bible study from the way many Bible experts teach or the way many pastors preach. However, Bible study should not follow the same pattern as teaching or preaching. It is not uncommon for a speaker to carry on as though he were getting volumes out of one verse. He may begin by reading a verse and then discuss all the implications, ramifications, translations, transliterations, manifestations, interpretations, misinterpretations, applications, and misapplications of that single verse. The person listening to all of this may feel that the speaker was very observant indeed to get all of those thoughts out of the verse. But, of course, he didn't. Many of those thoughts came from the speaker's extensive background and training, and from his knowledge of the whole Bible and the whole field of theology, and from his years of experience. And, of course, it is good for the speaker to bring all of this to bear on his explanation of the text. But you must not try to adopt this pattern as your approach to Bible study. Your task during the observation phase of Bible study is to get all the information any text has to yield - no more, and no less.


Making observations requires time and hard work. Keep looking. Never assume that you have seen all there is to see. Concentrate and keep looking. Then concentrate more and keep looking more. Then set it aside and come back later for some more concentrated searching. Keep looking. Sometimes observations will come to mind faster than you can write them down. Other times observations will come painfully slow. Keep looking.

During the 1800's Louis Agassiz was a science professor in Europe and later at Harvard University. He made major contributions in the field of natural history, including zoological classification, especially of fish. He became famous for his approach to teaching, which stressed the student's study of nature itself rather than the study of previously published information. Agassiz felt that the goal of study was not to acquire facts through contact with others' lectures and books, but to built one's own set of facts through direct contact with nature. This approach revolutionized the study of natural history and his students became the leading teachers of natural history during the second half of the 1800's. Below is an example of how perseverance plus a few key practices in observation paid off for one of those students.

The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz

by the Student (abridged)
It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.

"When do you wish to begin?" he asked.

"Now," I replied.

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic "Very well," he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol.

"Take this fish," said he, "and look at it; we call it a Haemulon (pronounced Hem-yú-lon); by and by I will ask what you have seen."

With that he left me, but in a moment returned with explicit instructions as to the care of the object entrusted to me.

"No man is fit to be a naturalist," said he, "who does not know how to take care of specimens."

I was to keep the fish before me in a tin tray, and occasionally moisten the surface with alcohol from the jar, always taking care to replace the stopper tightly. . . . The example of the professor who had unhesitatingly plunged to the bottom of the jar to produce the fish was infectious; and though this alcohol had "a very ancient and fishlike smell," I really dared not show any aversion within these sacred precincts, and treated the alcohol as though it were pure water. . . .

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum, and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of the normal, sloppy appearance. This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face - ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view - just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.

On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me - I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.

"That is right," said he, "a pencil is one of the best eyes. I am glad to notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet and your bottle corked."

With these encouraging words he added, "Well, what is it like?"

He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me: the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:

"You have not looked very carefully; why," he continued, more earnestly, "you haven't seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!" and he left me to my misery.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor's criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and then, towards its close, the professor inquired,

"Do you see it yet?"

"No," I replied, "I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before."

"That is next best," said he earnestly, "but I won't hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish."

This was disconcerting. Not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory. . . .

The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring. Here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.

"Do you perhaps mean," I asked, "that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?"

His thoroughly, "Of course, of course!" repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically - as he always did - upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.

"Oh, look at your fish!" he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.

"That is good, that is good!" he repeated, "but that is not all; go on." And so, for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. "Look, look, look," was his repeated injunction.

This was the best . . . lesson I ever had - a lesson whose influence has extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part. . . .

The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume. . . .

The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into view; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the descriptions of the various parts, Agassiz' training in the method of observing facts and their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.

"Facts are stupid things," he would say, "until brought into connection with some general law."

At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.

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