Have you ever read a chapter of the Bible or maybe even a whole book, and then when you’re done you realize you didn't understand a verse of it? Like cool, Joel, nice book, but if we’re being honest here, you lost me with the locust and sackcloths. Or maybe you even understood what was going on, but just really couldn’t relate to any of it or see what can be learned from it. If nothing else, you can likely at least relate to reading something in the Bible and knowing what’s going on, but then if someone asks you five hours later what you read, you literally don’t even know what book you were in. So yeah, relate to any of those? Yes? Good, well I’m here today to introduce a new way of studying the Bible that can hopefully help us all understand what we're reading and see how the Bible (even the Old Testament!) is still incredibly relevant and valuable.
By now I’m sure you’re sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to hear more about this lovely Bible study method. Here are the basics... It’s called SOIA (I’ve heard it pronounced “soy-uh” in case your one of those people that like to know how to say what you’re reading). SOIA is an inductive method of studying the Bible. Inductive is a “bottom-up” approach which means that you start by understanding the text deeper and then bringing it to modern day application. The opposite – deductive – would be when you start with the theory or topic and then further prove the point by observing.
SOIA stands for survey, observe, interpret, and apply. What works best for me is to first survey the book/chapter and then read the chapter once or twice before going any further. A journal or notebook is definitely needed here. Writing down my thoughts for each sections becomes helpful as I move to the next one and need to reflect back. Here’s a little bit about what survey, observe, interpret, and apply entail...
The goal of this part is to answer the question, “What do I need to know about this text before engaging it?” Basically, here you would want to get an overview of the chapter or book. Many Study Bibles will have a page or two at the beginning of each book that gives a good survey of what’s coming. Specifics to look for include: author, date of writing, historical background, setting, audience, and other biblical passages that cover the same time period.
The observation section of SOIA, is a lot like elementary-age Sunday School. Think about the questions teachers would ask after reading you the story. They tended to be general reading comprehension questions that made sure everyone understood the basic of the story. Not reading into anything or jumping to any conclusions, just looking at the words and answering all the W questions (who, what, when, where, and why) while also taking note of repetition, contrasts, cause and effect, progress, quotes, arguments, etc.
Here is where we begin to think more deeply into what was being said. We are looking for the meaning of the text, but only in its original context. Don’t think about yourself or the world today just yet. Look for themes and consider how this all relates to the narrative of the Bible. Ask a lot of why questions. Think about the specific wording the author chose, of all the words in the world, why were these chosen? Combining the context of the survey section and the information from observation, one can interpret the text by simply letting it speak for itself.
Lastly, we turn to application which involves applying our interpretation to our own lives/context. Often we are too quick to jump to this section without first taking the text for what it is. After using SOIA for a few weeks now, I can see the necessity of surveying, observing, and interpreting before getting here. Application includes considering what the passage can teach us about our relationships with God, ourselves, others, and even Satan. Along with this, it is also helpful to think about how it can change our way of thinking or beliefs about life.
I now realize that attempting to explain how to study the Bible in an article that shouldn’t be much longer than 500 words is not an easy task. If you were intrigued by this and want to learn more about how you can study the Bible better using SOIA, here are some resources.
All that I learned about SOIA has been through a five week CCO series on Bible Study Training lead by our CCO campus representative Sam Levy. The same study will be starting up on Monday afternoons again after spring break, so keep your eyes open for posters or emails about it. Sam also is on campus a few days a week and I’m sure would be happy to explain it better! Lastly, I can also provide you with more of the resources that I received from the study, so shoot me an email if you would like them! Also, check out this link for a little more about SOIA.
"Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" - John 8:31-32