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Why OIA (Observation, Interpretation, Application) is the Best Bible Study Method


A few days ago, I outlined the OIA method of Bible study that we follow.  In short, it stands for Observation, Interpreation, and Application.

I’ve already made one audacious claim: that everyone has a Bible study method.  Today I’d like to make another: that OIA is the best method one can use to study the Bible.  Let me support this claim with three reasons.

1.  It works for any person anywhere of any age

It can be taught to PhDs and other “professionals” and get quite complex and profound.  It can be taught to 3 year olds just learning to talk.  Anyone in between can use this method to great profit, understanding the main ideas of what God has communicated and becoming more like Christ as a result.

2.  It’s the way God designed all communication to work

OIA is nothing new or innovative.  It is simply an attempt to outline the steps by which any human being communicates with another human being (observing what was communicated, interpreting the meaning, and responding appropriately).  God made communication to work this way, so of course the Bible works the same way.

Let me illustrate.  If I met you on the street, you might observe me walk up to you, smile, and stick out my hand.  You would interpret that I mean you no harm and simply want to greet you.  You would apply the gesture by reaching out your own hand, taking my hand with yours, and saying “hello” or some similar sentiment.  Communication has now taken place.

Let’s say I ask you a question.  You might observe the raised inflection at the end of my sentence (the question mark), a resultant silence, and raised eyebrows on my face.  You would interpret these signs to mean that I want you to answer the question.  You would apply the interaction by answering the question, frowning in thought, holding up a finger to request more time, or running away in terror.

We simply cannot escape OIA.  We do it all the time.  We should employ it when we study God’s Knowable Word.

3.  It’s how Jesus interpreted the Bible

Jesus is the Lord (Phil 2:11) and the author of Scripture (1 Peter 1:11).  We should learn from him how to read Scripture.

Look at Matthew 21:42-44 as an example.  Notice how Jesus observes the Old Testament text in verse 42, interprets it in verse 44, and applies it in verse 43 (implying that his listeners should believe the truth and make some changes in their lives).

Jesus often references Scripture, giving us a window into his understanding of it, but he rarely is as clear as in Matt 21:42-44.  Usually, he assumes or implies the Interpretation, and states the Observation and Application explicitly (for example, see Matt 13:10-17 or Mark 12:35-37).  One place where he Observes and Interprets but doesn’t explicitly Apply is Luke 4:17-21.

In suggesting that OIA is the best method to use, I’m not saying that there’s an easy one-size-fits-all way of plugging every text through an equation.  I’m merely saying that we have a valuable and clear way by which we can understand what God is communicating in his Word.  Our study of the Bible is not arbitrary.

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