Observe the Context

In this initial step of reading the passage, you'll want to identify the major components. Some of these components may include the name of the book, the actors in the passage, the primary topics being discussed, or the dominant, overarching themes of the passage. You may find the subheading of the passage helpful if your Bible includes it. Read through the passage a few times and underline or highlight any words or phrases that you find interesting or that stand out. In this phase, you should not see to go too deep. Instead, you simply want to brush through the surface of the passage and capture the main ideas and other primary elements.

Initial Questions to Consider

When observing the passage, you may find it helpful to answer the "5 W's and 1 H" questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. For example, consider trying to answer some of the following questions. As we have covered previously, the most important thing to remember as you begin your study is that you are not the original audience—the content of the Bible was not written to you. Instead, there was a unique context with an intended audience in mind. Your responsibility is to uncover that context and audience in order to derive an accurate interpretation and resulting application. The questions that follow can help you begin your journey to a deeper exploration.

(Speaker, Writer, Audience)
  • Who is talking or writing in this passage?
  • Who are they talking (writing) to?
  • Who are they talking (writing) about?
  • Who else is present or listening?
(Subject, Effect)
  • What is happening at this point?
  • What topics are being discussed?
  • What are the responses of the audience?
  • Was there a particular event that caused something to occur (see Why below)? Is so, what were the resulting effects?
(Timing, Order)
  • When did this passage occur?
  • What are the prior and subsequent events?
(Geography, Environment)
  • Where did the events in the passage take place?
  • Are there any other places—proper names (cities, nations, etc.) or generic locations (mountain, valley, stream,the shade of a tree, etc.)—mentioned in the passage?
(Cause, Motive)
  • Why did the author or speaker write or say what they did? Was it in response to something or someone?
  • Why did a particular event occur? What was its cause?
  • Why did someone perform a certain action?
(Method, Process)
  • How did something in the past occur? What were the events that took place, and is there any importance to their order?
  • How will something in the future occur? Is there a significance to how the event will take place in the future?

Don't Go Too Deep

The key to this phase is not interpretation but identification. In other words, you are not attempting to interpret any meaning yet. Again, as stated above, you need not go too deep yet. Instead, you are simply identifying some of the main elements of the passage. These elements will serve as your guide or compass when you drill deeper in the next phase of the POUR method.

Finally, do not spend too much time on this phase. You shouldn't be doing additional cross-referencing, word studies, or topical studies yet. You are just answering some basic questions based on the immediate context clues. Keep this simple. If it's helpful, consider making a checklist of answers to the above questions. Then, later, you can check each item off as you examine it more closely.

POUR Method
The POUR Method is a hermeneutical approach to studying the Bible.
It develops a healthy discipline of examining Scripture through its proper contexts.
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The POUR Method is a trademark of Discipled Church.