10 Questions To Ask Any Bible Text
An accomplished angler knows not only that right type of bait and rod to use while fishing, but he also knows where to fish. An veteran Bible student must know where to look when interpreting the text.
One of the best ways to study a text is to ask it interpretative questions. Not fact based questions, those deal with observation.
I’m talking about questions that will take time to answer because they are part of the interpretation process.
Here are 10 questions to ask any text that helps to understand it better.
1. What Does This Text Teach About God?
God is the center of the Bible. He’s mentioned and discussed in almost every book. 1
If your study doesn’t teach you anything about God, then you’re doing it wrong. This can happen when we study the Book of James or Proverbs or the instructional sections of the epistles. Texts that deal with our actions and ethics.
But those actions and ethics reflect the nature of God and we need to pay attention to that.
It’s easier to talk about ourselves than it is God, he’s not like us in an infinite number of ways.
But, if we’re going to have a transformative Bible study, then we need to focus it on God.
It may not be on the surface, but every text teaches us about God.
2. How Does the Previous Section Connect To This One?
We can’t understand the text unless we know its context. It may seem that should be the other way around, but it’s not.
How many times will media share a sound bite and add their own context to make it seem like one story, but when you hear what was said before and after the sound bite, you see it should be the opposite story?
It happens all the time. And its not just the media. It can be the sermon you are hearing, the story your son is telling, and the report you are giving your boss.
Get the context or you can never understand the text.
All most all of the Bible has a structure to it, Proverbs 10-29 may not, but the rest of the Bible does.
Questions like, “Is this story part of a set of stories?”, “Does this text answer questions raised earlier?”, or “What previous events occurred to set up this one?” can help get a grasp on the structure of the text.
3. How Does the Next Section Connect To This One?
It is just as helpful to connect each text to what happens in the future.
Jesus talk a lot about being “lifted up” in John’s Gospel. He refers to his crucifixion. This detail helps us understand those texts.
Much of what was said in #3 applies here.
4. Is There Tension In This Text?
Especially in the narrative sections, tension plays a role. Tension moves the plot along. Tension keeps us watching.
Tension is the “What is going to happen next?” and “Why did that happen?” factor. It keeps us guessing.
When Abraham arrives in Canaan, there is a famine in the land. Didn’t God say this land would be for Abraham countless children? Why would God give Abraham a land that is so weak?
When Abraham arrives in Egypt, he lets his wife go to Pharaoh. Didn’t God promise Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars? What would happen if Pharaoh takes Sarah to be his wife?
When Abraham gets back to Canaan, even after the famine, the land can’t even support Lot and Abraham’s livestock. Again, why would God give Abraham a land so weak?
The epistles also have their tension as well. Paul uses questions to build tension in Romans. “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” “What benefit does the Jew have over the Gentile?”
Look for the tension.
5. Where In The Structure of the Book is This Text?
This question is similar to questions #2 & #3, but instead of looking at the immediate context, we look at the whole of the book as it relates to this section.
With Psalms, it can be hard to see how Psalm 100 or 51 relate to the rest of the book, but there is a structure to Psalms.
I may not know, but I know there is one. I listened to several lectures on the topic, I just forgot them.
Knowing the structure of the text helps rule out possible meanings, making it easier to know what’s going on. Looking up several outlines of the book you’re studying will help with seeing the structure of the book.
6. What Themes Does This Text Share With The Whole Book or Bible?
There are several big ideas, or themes of the Bible: Sin, The Messiah, God’s People, God’s Faithfulness, Man’s Faithlessness, The Remnant. These are some of them.
They are part of the main theme which is God’s Redemption of all things (Eph 1:10, Rev. 21:5).
Each text relates to one or more of these themes somehow. Seeing how they do helps us able to answer #1 better and understand the text.
Being able to answer this question comes this time spent reading the Bible and seeing the whole. So if you can’t answer this right away, that’s okay. It’ll come with time.
7. What Does This Text Show About Christ?
This is somewhat of a repeat of #1, but it deals with typology and Christ’s life on earth.
Christ said all of the Old Testament was about himself (Luke 24:27). Therefore we can connect any part of the Old Testament with Christ. And, the New Testament is all about Christ.
What do we know of Christ that is different from the Father? His life on earth. His crucifixion. These are reflected in the Old Testament, sometimes they are pointed out to us (John 3:14) and sometimes they are not, like the sacrifice of Isaac.
The New Testament also teaches us much of Christ, directly and indirectly.
8. What Does This Text Show About Humanity?
Places like Romans 3 and Genesis 3 are full of ideas we can learn about humanity. But so does Genesis 1. The Bible is the story of God saving man.
We can find stories or speeches that deal with not only Man’s nature, but also Man’s destiny. Most importantly, we can learn the different ways Man relates to God.
We are not animals. We are not angels. We are something in between. We are our own kind, to use the language of Genesis 1.
The Bible teaches who we are and who doesn’t want to know who that?
9. Does This Text Deal With Social Features of The Day?
I’m not saying is our day, but theirs. Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures are different from Greco-Roman cultures. My instilled values and the different cultures I live in are different from both.
This is an obstacle, but not a barrier. I enjoy world-building Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels. One of my favorite things about them is their authors build not just one, but many different cultures. It is fascinating to learn about other cultures. They provide us a mirror to looking at our own.
While the authors of Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels give us heavy exposition of the different cultures, the Bible barely does.
We get things such as:
for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” –Genesis 46:34
(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) –John 4:9
These are helpful, but we would need more information for other stories.
The story of Abraham’s servant finding a wife for Isaac sounds alien to us on many levels. It is an arranged marriage. Abraham has a servant. He prays at the well of the city. Rebekah is Isaac’s second-cousin.
None of Genesis 24 gives us any exposition on the cultural practices of father getting a wife for his son, let alone from his own family!
This makes it necessary for us to learn about their different cultures for us to understand why these things take place.
10. What Instruction Is This Text Giving?
This question sets up our applications of the text. But, just because the text gives an instruction, does not mean we follow it now.
But, it may mean there’s something in it for us to learn and even apply.
Adam and Eve were to “cultivate it and keep” the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). Does that have any implications for us? Should we also cultivate and keep a garden? Why or why not?
Sometimes there’s a principle to follow behind the command. What are we to make of God raising up Ehud to kill the king of Moab? Is this divinely sanctioned regicide? Are there situations for us to do the same?
These questions not only gives us a better grasp of God’s will for us, but they also provide an good applicable way interpreting the text.
These are ten solid questions to ask every text. Sometimes they won’t be worth asking, but sometimes they will open up the text to you.
Questions have a way of helping us look at the text with different sets of eyes.
What questions do you find helping when studying the Scriptures?
The Book of Esther doesn’t mention God and Ruth only once. ↩