O. I. A. and Saturation: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

O.I.A. and Saturation

As you grow up you learn things. Some lessons are harder than others. Some enable you to look back and say, “I should have done it this way.” As I said in my last post (Read Here), I have noticed a disturbing trend within Christian circles where sincere devotion in Bible study amounts to personal conjecture. What I feel the text means, has authority over what the text actually says. What you may feel the text means to you is irrelevant unless of course you mean, “After I saw what God meant here, I realize that this is what He is saying to me.” From what I have witnessed that is not the typical sense of the statements in bold above.

Normally, you would take the two methods I am about to present and do them in a different order than how I learned to use them. In other words, O. I. A. should come before Saturation. Both are specific methods for studying the Bible to be of the most benefit to the student. When I started pastoring though I first encountered Saturation Bible Study before O. I. A.

Saturation Bible Study…

When you dip a squeezed sponge in water and then release it under water, what happens? The sponge soaks up the water and reaches saturation point (unlike the picture above). Which means what? That when you pull the sponge above the surface of the water it is heavier than it went in because it is loaded with liquid. Immediately, the water begins to pour out.

To saturate yourself in the Word of God, then is to submit to it, draw it in, and the end result is you are heavy and dripping from it. Such an abstract statement of fact might not mean much to you at this moment, so please permit me to give you an illustration that you will recognize and then in turn see the tie in with what I just said a moment ago.

Illustrative Aid…

Have you ever met a sports nut? No, they don’t grow on trees, but they are fruit off of sports proverbial branch. A person who loves sports (whether it be football, soccer, baseball, basketball, etc.) is one whose only subject matter seems to be the sport that they are nutty over.

In my younger days, you could have called me an NFL nut. I was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and for a time I followed them religiously. I knew all about their players, all about their stats, all about their franchise. Every week I watched ESPN for any little nugget I could get about them. I would watch NFL Matchup on Sunday mornings, and when they were playing, I was watching. Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night, if they were on, I was in front of the tube (no, not YouTube it didn’t exist then or if it did, I was not aware of it—give me a break I’m 40). Pittsburgh Steelers is what I studied, what I yearned for, what I spoke about; it poured out of me like a soaked sponge.

Over the years God changed my heart, and removed that idol from me. I’m not saying loving sports is idolatry, it can be, it was for me, but that doesn’t mean everybody who watches their favorite team is guilty of that sin. Evidently, it was for me because I no longer have a yearning desire to watch or follow them or any other football team for that matter. In short, I know longer saturate my life in that scene and so I am a bit of a bore to some of my friends who still love and follow football, NFL or otherwise.

While the illustration here is about sports, any subject will suffice. In any conversation, given enough time, it won’t be long  before the person who is speaking will reveal what it is they are saturating their lives in (work, celebrities, movies, games, animals, etc.).

What it’s all about…

Saturation Bible study is all about taking a portion of Scripture and digging deep into it and soaking it up. It might be one verse, a section of verses, an entire chapter, a section of an entire book or the book itself (this includes epistles, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). The point of Saturation Bible study is not reading the entire Bible but focusing on smaller portions of it for an extended period of time. You dwell on what is written. You act like a cow and chew the cud, so to speak. The point is that through careful observation of the text you put your effort on letting that passage sit and sink in your heart and mind. All the while prayerfully seeking the Lord.

The end result is a deeper appreciation of what has been written. The goal is not quantity of study, but quality of study. What you are pursing is being so inundated with the Word of God that it pours from your life. There is nothing wrong with devotionals, and I am not against reading through the Bible in a year or less, but the goal is to be a turtle rather than a hare in studying God’s Word. His Word is the devotional, and He is the focus to years end.

This does not mean, however, when you focus on one passage—let’s say John 6—that you do not reference what is being spoken of their in other passages. Interpreting Scripture with Scripture is the only way to be safeguard against reading too much of your own thoughts into a passage. It doesn’t prevent it, but it does help. So, using John 6 as an illustration, you may saturate in the first part of the passage (vv. 1-15) for a week or two (maybe a month or longer, I don’t know I’m not you). Well as you are saturating in that passage you will notice that a great crowd is following Jesus, and so you may look back through the rest of John’s gospel for reasons why. You may pick up on the Passover (v.4) or the statement found in verse 14 about “…the Prophet who is come into the world” and look who into the meaning of that from the Old Testament? Which may cause you to wonder why the feeding of the hungry prompted this (v.10-12)? Why they wanted to crown him as king (v.15)? Or the meaning of the twelve baskets filled to the top with left overs from a kids packed lunch (v. 13).

The point is you take your time with this passage before you move on. You come to know it personally, and are able to recall the details of it without much effort. It just pours out of you. That’s Saturation Bible study.

Perhaps you are wondering, “What in the world is O. I. A?” O. I. A. stands for Observe, Interpret and then Apply. Many errors could be avoided in learning from Scripture if people did not rush to Interpretation and Application. However, as I noted above Christians who have not been sufficiently taught tend to read the text before them and then immediately draw their own private conclusions about what is being said. This is also the reason I came to realize that teaching Saturation Bible study after learning O. I. A. would be more beneficial to Christ’s church.

O. I. A. is really just the classic historical-grammatical hermeneutic method of exegesis. Exegesis means to “flesh out” what is in the text. Whereas, hermeneutics focus on the question: “What does this mean?”

The first key step in studying your Bible is O—observing

You need to take time in the observation stage of studying Scripture, before you attempt to move on to the “I.” Observation is taking time with the text in an effort to identify the flow-of-thought (i.e., context) of the author as he presents his message to his audience. This would also include some minor background work prior to reading the passage. Many study Bibles today offer a brief examination of the context (historically, culturally), the author, his audience and key themes, some even dealing with difficult theological/textual issues which greatly aids the serious biblical student.

As you observe the text you also notice key words, repeated phrases, key concepts (like “Son of David”), and identify allusions or direct citations of other portions of Scripture (i.e., prophetic passages and such). The whole time you are thinking about and writing down questions of what you’ve read: Who, what, when, where, why, how?

Again, think of turtle versus the hare approach to reading your Bible. While, you want to finish the race you started you take only one day at a time, leaving tomorrow with its own worries.

The second step in studying your Bible is I—interpreting

Once you’ve taken the time to observe the text, you are ready to begin interpreting the passage before you. In this step you begin researching the things you identified earlier in the observation stage. Your goal is to begin answering questions that were raised (which you hopefully jotted down) as you went through the text. Defining key words, concepts, themes and any theological/textual issues that may have sprung up. The first step is using Scripture to interpret Scripture. While the Bible was written by human writers, it is the Holy Spirit’s document not man’s (cf. 2Pet 1.19-21; 2Tim 3.16-17). Look and see what God has said on specific issues before jumping to conclusions. If you find apparent contradictions, weigh them with what else was said on the subject. Use clearer passages to aid in interpreting harder passages.

Another key point that needs to be made is with the use of grammar. Different genres, different emphasis being given, gives different meanings. A given term may have a variety of ways it can be used depending upon the context. Thus, context is key. The less a word is used in Scripture, the harder it can be to define it. For example, the Hebrew word translated for “gopher wood” in the building of Noah’s ark is a bit perplexing to some since we are not sure what type of tree is being referenced.

This raises another important step in the interpretative process in light of secondary tools (e.g., commentaries, dictionary’s, original language dictionaries, lexicons, etc.), these can be helpful to the student of Scripture but they are not Scripture. They are therefore secondary for a reason. We want to turn to them after we have been doing the hard work first. I cannot express how frustrating it is to see people look at the notes in their study Bible’s before they have given time for Scripture to soak in by sitting in an observing the text.

We all have blind spots in our field of vision and this includes even godly individuals who have written books. Yes, they provide wonderful tools at our disposal. Yes, they might be right on 80% of what they’ve written, but don’t take their word of granted. If the Holy Spirit thought that the Bereans were more noble than others because they weighed the words of an apostle with Scripture (Acts 17.11), then we better make sure we do the same. God’s word is the foundation, it is the standard by which all other things are measured. We are to test all things first, before we call them good or right (1Thess 5.21).

The final step in studying the Bible is A—apply

We apply what we have learned, but if we have not truly learned the truth, we dare not apply it; therefore, this has to be our last step. I won’t wag my tongue very long here. If you want justification for this step, I merely turn you to 2Tim 3:16-17 where we learn that God’s Word—the very breath of His mouth as it is uttered, written down for us in the pages of our Bible’s—is useful, profitable and of exceedingly great benefit to the humble believer. Having taken the time to flesh out what was written (observation), in order to determine what was/is meant (interpretation) we now seek to apply it to our lives in one or more of the following ways: teaching—being taught the way we should go, reproof—being challenged for the way we were going, correction—having our hearts and minds conformed to God’s way of thinking, training—being shown the proper steps to take to live a righteous life (good in God’s sight).

Closing thoughts…

If you’ve read my stuff for any amount of time you may have noticed that some of these things I have said here, I’ve said before. To that I say, “we learn through repetition.” My children did not learn to tie their shoes on their first attempt, and we as people need to be constantly be reminded of what is necessary and good to get the most benefit out of our time with God’s Word.

I’m still learning, and hopefully so are some of you…

NOTE TO READER: I apologize if you received an email of this post with the title reading “O. I. P….” rather than starting with “O. I. A.” This was a blunder on my part. I realized it this morning before it posted, but did not get to it in time to correct it in the title and throughout the post. There is a similar abbreviated form that I use having borrowed it from Jason Lisle’s work “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” where he uses “A. I. P.” to refer to Assumption, Inconsistency, and Pre-Conditions of Intelligibility. Having written something recently somewhere else I had got in the habit of typing that. And so, from habit I finished the last letter with “P” rather than “A.” Again, I apologize for the confusion. Thanks for reading,


Image by Jose Miguel Guardeño