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
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.
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.
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
"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
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
"Do you see it yet?"
"No," I replied, "I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw
"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.
(Appendix American Poems, probably Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Co. 1880. From Independent
Bible Study by Irving L. Jensen, 1963, Moody Press, Moody Bible Institute
of Chicago. Used by permission.)
Direct Bible Discovery copyright © by Ronald W. Leigh. All rights reserved.