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Studying Scripture Is People Watching

A marked-up manuscript study of the Gospel of John.

“Observations are the foundation of Bible study,” said Janelle Look, Servant Partners staff in South Los Angeles, who ministers to interns. “Observing scripture means that you’re slowing down to look at the text—digesting it, meditating on it, and noticing new insights about the scripture.”

Janelle Look leads interns and works with SP partner Church of the Redeemer. She co-leads one of the church’s small group Bible studies. Comprised of experienced Christians and people new to the faith, Janelle’s group lends itself to a diversity of perspectives when observing scripture.

“Every time I’m studying scripture with others, someone will point out something I haven’t seen,” she said. “And the longer you look at the text, the more connections you’re able to make. It’s like a treasure hunt!”

Observations entail who the characters are in the scripture, how they relate to each other, where the story is happening, what words are repeated, and more. While the practice is common in inductive Bible study, observations deepen any study of scripture by helping us to sit longer with the text.

“Making observations in scripture is like people-watching,” Janelle insists. “When we’re in parks, coffee shops and restaurants, we look at people around us and their interactions. And we’re often wondering about who they are and what their lives are like. In the same way, the text has a story that we read together—but there are many other stories beneath the surface that only emerge once you sit and dwell in the text for some time.”

Janelle cites John 4 as an example. At an initial glance, the story is about Jesus offering living water to a thirsty woman. When making observations about time, place, and interactions, however, it’s clear that Jesus is severing cultural, gender, and religious norms to talk to the woman. This way, the story unravels its many layers and exposes divine truth.

“John is full of long speeches by Jesus that can feel overwhelming,” Janelle said. “But for that reason, being able to fixate on a certain part of scripture and sit with it—that’s when you’re really able to soak it in.”

For more information on observations and inductive Bible study, visit

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