The question: important tool for deeper Bible study
You cannot get very far going deeper in Bible study without asking questions. The quality of your questions determines the depth of your Bible study. Here are examples of good questions in each of three categories: the context, the meaning, and the application.
1. Questions about the context
The first questions to ask involve the circumstances surrounding the text. Who is the author? Who is the audience? What is the occasion for the writing? Can we determine the date of writing, and if so, what is it? Knowing the answers to as many of these questions as possible is important as a foundation for understanding the text.
Gaining correct answers to these questions, however, sometimes proves difficult. For example, we don’t know the author of Hebrews, and the authorship of the Four Gospels and Acts is based on tradition, not Scripture.
We have to determine the audience based on clues from the text itself, clues which are not always forthcoming and unambiguous. Likewise, determining the occasion for the writing often involves both a search within the document under scrutiny as well as any other biblical books that could yield pertinent information.
2. Questions about the meaning
Once we know as much as possible about these introductory matters, we can turn our attention to the meaning of the text. Where does the immediate context begin and end? How does this shorter context fit in the flow of the entire biblical book?
What genre are we dealing with (e.g., narrative, parable, proverb, vision, exhortation, diatribe, etc.)? Can we identify a figure of speech (e.g., simile, metaphor, hyperbole, sarcasm, etc.)? Do we know the persons or objects to which all of the pronouns refer? Can we identify the understood subjects of any passive verbs? Are we able to paraphrase the text, summarizing its meaning in our own words?
Only when we find answers to these and similar questions can we make progress toward understanding a passage more clearly.
3. Questions about the application
You will probably agree that some Bible passages are easier to apply than others. For example, what application can we find for the genealogy in Matthew 1? In order to make a proper application, we must ask whether the text involves a command, prohibition, warning, or promise aimed directly at us. If the answer is yes, then making the application is an easy task.
More often than not, however, the text does not target us directly, prompting us to ask whether our situation is similar and if so, how the text applies. Sometimes, finding the answer can be difficult, if not impossible. At the very least, we should acknowledge our uncertainty. Humility is an crucially needed attribute for a good Bible student.
You should approach every biblical text with a questioning attitude. If nothing else, it will help you slow down long enough to absorb what the text is actually saying. And that can only be good.