Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hundreds of observations

I heard this story some years ago, 3rd or 4th hand. At a certain theological seminary in Dallas, students are asked to write down 25 observations about a particular verse. An observation answers the question "What does it say?" -- in distinction to an interpretation, which answers "What does it mean?" or application, which answers "What does it mean to my life?"

The next week's assignment is to write down 25 more observations.

And the next week's assignment is (you guessed it) write down 25 more.

This prof has been giving this assignment every year for a long time, like over 20 years. He still gets a new one now and then. (This is, as I said, something I heard a long time ago. The professor might be retired by now.)
So when they got together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth"

Acts 1.6-8
The section highlighted in yellow is the passage upon which those thousands of observations have been written. What kinds of observations might be made? Well, I never went to seminary (I went to engineering school), but I'll try a few.

  1. The verse is in contrast to something he just told them -- i.e., immediately before, he said "you don't get to know this -- BUT you will get something else"
  2. They will receive power
  3. He does not tell them the power is about restoring the kingdom to Israel
  4. He's making a promise about the future
  5. They apparently have not had the Holy Spirit come upon them (whatever that means) yet.
  6. He's promising that the Holy Spirit will come upon them in the future.
  7. When the Holy Spirit comes, that's when they will receive power
  8. They will be Jesus's witnesses. (What does that mean? Oops, that's interpretation.)
  9. They will be Jesus's witnesses in Jerusalem.
  10. They will be Jesus's witnesses right where they are.
  11. "and in all Judea and Samaria" -- They will be Jesus's witnesses throughout the country
  12. They will be Jesus's witnesses all over the world
  13. The sequence was: witnesses in Jerusalem. Then in Judea and Samaria. Then the ends of the earth.
  14. Jesus gives a promise and a sort of prediction; it is not worded as a command.

OK, I ran out of gas there. I'm not actually sure that all of those are really observations; it's hard not to interpret. But what is a witness? I guess it's someone who sees something and reports it.

No comments: