14 Questions to Ask Your Bible

On Thursday I posted an article entitled “Glory In the Details”, encouraging us to search out the little details of every passage of scripture. Here are fourteen questions to help you find the glory in the details.

1.    Who is the author of the passage?

2.    Who were the recipients?

3.    What is the historical background of the passage?

4.    What is the outline/structure of the passage?

5.    Are any words repeated? Any significance to the repetition?

6.    Are there any unusual words in the passage that call for more exploration?

7.    How does the passage fit into the surrounding paragraph? Chapter? Book?

8.    Why did the author place the passage here and not somewhere else?

9.    In one sentence, what is the main point of the passage?

10.  How would the original audience have been affected by the passage?

11.  How does this passage connect to the overall storyline of the Bible?

12.  How does this passage reveal Jesus as savior?

13.  How does God want this passage to function in my life?

14.  What kind of response does this passage call for?

Now that we’re all comfortable with comments, what would you add to the list?

Note: These questions are not my own. They were taken from a very helpful class on hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible).

+photo by liber

  • http://thebluefish.org dave bish

    More for narrative than letters…

    a. Who is here – and who are they related to – genealogies unlock a lot of books, e.g. Esther – Haman the Amalekite vs. Mordecai the Benjaminite = Agag vs. Saul…?
    b. Where is this happening – think geography in Genesis for example, or Moab in Ruth?
    c. When is this – in the year, in the salvation story – like in Ruth 1 with ‘the barley harvest’ ?
    d. What ‘unnecessary’ things are we told – often they’re the keys to understanding – Ruth 1 – the Lord “visits”, or Esther with Mordecai having his name put in the Chronicles of Xerxes, or Esther keeping her id secret…?

  • http://paulhuxley.blogspot.com Paul Huxley

    A few more more:

    1) How did the New Testament writers use this passage (if applicable, this is authoritative)

    2) How have the greats of history understood this? (no ultimate authority there, but we aren’t autonomous individuals but rather members of Christ’s body)

    3) How do members of my church understand this (again, no ultimate authority, but an important safeguard against going crazy).

  • http://thebluefish.org dave bish

    Paul – the historical one is so helpful – I’m studying a bit on charismatic gifts and its so helpful to read outside of the last 40 years and get the puritan/reformers and earlier perspectives. They ask different questions and find different answers.

  • John Mark

    The others already hinted at this, but of the OT I like to ask “How does Jesus fulfill this?” It forces me to piece together salvation history, theology, historical background, etc.

    All the commandments Jesus himself fulfilled; many of them he fulfills in us through his sanctifying Spirit; a few he fulfilled for us in such a way that we need not keep them (think food laws, etc.).
    Many promises and predictions from the OT Jesus accomplished and we benefit solely by faith. For instance, Isaiah 49 was fulfilled by Jesus but also is taken up by the Early Church as something like an OT-based Great Commission (Paul’s use of Is. 49 in Acts 13 is breathtaking!).
    The NT sets a pattern for (cautious) typology as well.

  • http://spurgeon.wordpress.com Tony

    Genre is important. Is this passage acrostic, allegorical, an allusion, annunciation story, anthropomorphism, antithetic parallelism, apocalyptic, apostrophe, archetype, a beatitude, benediction, biography, climactic parallelism, comedy, creed, denouement, diatribe, docudrama… you get the point. Leland Ryken says the number of identifiable biblical genres in Scripture “readily exceeds one hundred.”

  • http://thebluefish.org dave bish

    John Mark – the Jesus question has to be THE question… the one that has to frame all others. Before unfolding the other questions

    “Father, I believe this passage is about the gospel of your Son. Help me see how!”

  • http://garyboalnireland.blogspot.com Gary Boal

    Already hinted at in ’14. What kind of response does this passage call for?’

    I’d probably ask ‘What prayer this passage demands?’
    Is it of repentance; thanksgiving; asking for help; can i use the passage in adoration of Christ etc…

  • Jen

    Why am I just nowwww getting this list? Printed. In Bible. Thanks lovie, this is going to really serve me, especially in my journey through Leviticus.

  • beth

    thanks stephen. this is very helpful.
    this question is always really good:
    “Are any words repeated? Any significance to the repetition?” i think it was our dad who originally taught me that one…

  • Martin T

    With acknowledgements to the excellent teaching of Bryan Chappel (audio lectures available free on iTunes!) and Haddon Robinson, before 12, 13 and 14 ask: what is the fallen condition the Holy Spirit focuses on in this passage that is common to mankind – it makes the transition to personal application a lot easier.

  • http://judyrodman.com Judy Rodman

    Thanks for this illuminating list… some great comments I’m reading as well. What was the “very helpful class on hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible).”? It would be good to name your source for a list like this.

    Presybeterian theologian and author Shirley Guthrie offers similar guidelines:

    “Scripture is to be interpreted…
    1….with confidence in and openness to the Holy Spirit
    2….in the light of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, with openness to hear the WHOLE Word of God, not just selected parts of it. (called “the scripture principle”.
    3….in light of God’s central self-revelation in Jesus Christ. (called “the Christological principle”.)
    4….in the light of the one commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments, love for God and for all our neighbors. (called “the rule of love”).
    5….with respect for the church’s past and present interpretation of scripture (called “the rule of faith”)
    6….in light of the literary forms and historical context in which it was written.
    7….seeking the word and work of the living God in our time and place
    8….with awareness of our limitations and fallibility and with openness to change our mind and be corrected. Reformed, in the presbyterian tradition, means always being reformed afresh by the Word of God.

  • HeartAfire

    wow, tony…..

    But, back to the original question…

    I truly believe scripture is, what it says it is: God-breathed, and containing everything necessary for our salvation, instruction, rebuke, life, health, etc.
    So when I don’t understand something, it causes me to seek deeper (the questions so far, are great to ask, BTW–esp.MartinT) and also makes me pray for greater wisdom to be revealed in the many things I don’t understand.
    This fundamental belief is necessary, however, that every word of the Bible is “God-breathed.” If I don’t believe that, and if I want to pick apart all of the things that don’t “fit” my belief-system, or that cause me to doubt my own sovereignty (my personal opinion about non-Christians), then why bother reading at all? Or, in the case of Tony, why comment on a Christian blogsite?

  • Paul S

    Looking at the earliest church writings (extra-Biblical) and seeing how the first Christians understood these passages should also be helpful. I mean, if our understanding runs counter to the first and second century Church’s teaching then maybe we should step back a bit and delve into why the early church believed what it did.

  • http://www.redeemedforum.com Redeemed

    I’m happy to have discovered this blog via stumble. I am giving it a thumbs up and bookmarking it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Stephen Altrogge

    Thank you all for sharing these excellent thoughts. So helpful. All the additional questions were excellent.

  • Jeromy Adams

    It gives me a warm feeling to see such educated interpretation of the bible. I live in the middle of the Bible Belt, central Kentucky, and am an Atheist(sorry guys…) but I do not look down on or laugh in the faces of those who have faith. In fact, several of my closest friends and family members are devout Christians. In all honesty, what I dislike are those who wish to believe in something out of convenience or habit. This list is a breath of fresh air. It shows me that somebody, somewhere is looking at things logically instead of going solely on the words of a preacher. Thank you for being an insightful human being, it has honestly made my day.

  • Frank

    Jeromy,
    Firstly, thank you for your response. It is much more mature than the majority of responses I see from atheists.
    Secondly, I am not going to force faith down your throat, but I will pray for you.

    “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:19

  • Dennis

    GREAT questions!
    One I always ask (personal bent):
    Are there any apologetics in or relevant to the passage?

  • Joe

    Great list! Also, for a more thorough study and learning, try to look for what is not said. For example: the Bereans. Almost all of the ‘guidelines’ concerning worship and churches are derived from churches that have major problems. I was thinking about it yesterday, and, wondered what a church would look like if they actually listened and obeyed. As far as I know, and as far as they NT says, the church is Berea was noble…no arguments, no divisions, no super apostles, no ‘leaders’, no issues. They just heard what the apostle said and made sure that what he said was true…they all wanted to know God, Christ and the scripture as much as the messenger did. Freakin’ Awesome!

    Faith Experiment: Does God’s word really exist in hearts and minds?…like he said it would…

    Conclusion: It’s true for the Bereans

    Hypothetical: Can this be true today, and is the current system of church gov’t conducive to encouraging it?

    Challenge: When faced with Milk and Meat on a table, which one would you choose to feast upon?

  • Stephen Altrogge

    Jeromy –

    I really appreciate your respect even in the midst of disagreement. Thanks for commenting on the site. You’re welcome back any time.

  • Timothy

    Hi HeartAfire,
    I have to respectfully disagree with you on the statement: “This fundamental belief is necessary… …then why bother reading at all?” (I shortened it for brevity’s sake) based on my personal experience. I started reading and studying the Bible while not holding any such beliefs that it was God-Breathed or even true. The wonderful miracle for me was that the Word was revealed to me and my journey of faith started from it. Luckily God has mercy on those who seek him, and I’m definitely one of the lucky ones!

  • http://www.Squidoo.com/russellpj Russell Parker Jr

    Hello All, Russell here.
    The Bible: The Bible is the word of God, and that its original
    manuscripts are free from errors and contradictions.
    It is the one and only infallible, authoritative and
    trustworthy rule for faith and life. (2 Peter. 1:21, 2Tim. 3:16)

  • Britt

    Hey guys, a conservative Baptist pastor here. Thanks for the encouragement that there are people who are wanting to study God’s Word, and study it more deeply than most. You know, God told us to study so that we can be approved a workman. I pray that more will find this blog, and put these study principles to use. Keep up the faith!

  • Tom

    Also: Are there any logical paradoxes between this passage and others in the bible?

    Does this passage use slippery argumentative methods, such as the classic ad hominem reflexive argument? (i.e. by disagreeing with the passage, does it automatically and reflexively condemn your person either as a nonbeliever or as a fool?)

    Does the original Greek or Hebrew mean something totally different from the translation in English?

    How might the passage reveal that Jesus is NOT the true savior?

    How might MAN have wanted the passage to function in my life?

  • Jonnell Liebl

    HeartAFire, Your beliefs about non-Christians is very off-putting. Where does that belief come from. As an agnostic I was offended by the implied insult of your comment. Quite personally I enjoy these questions and will use them to continue my journey through faith. I am even thinking of taking a Biblical Ministries minor to help my understanding of Christianity (I am a Sophomore at a Christian University). Your comment is one of the reasons I have yet to ‘convert.’

    To the other questions in this thread, fantastic. I usually like to ask myself which of my current beliefs, if any, are challenged by the passage.

  • http://cross-core.blogspot.com/ John

    Some practical questions to ask when ‘hearing’ the Word:

    What does this mean for me today?

    What does this mean for me for how I spend my money this week?

    What does this have to do with what I look at on television and on the Internet and in a movie theater?

    What does this say about how I spend my leisure time?

    What does this have to say about how I love my wife (or husband or child or neighbor)?

    What does this have to say to me about how I honor my parents?

    What does this mean about the clothes I choose to wear as the weather gets warmer?

    What does this have to do with how I respond to people who sin against me?

    Taken from Sovereign Grace Fellowship senior pastor Rick Gamache’s April 6, 2008, sermon on Hebrews 5:11-6:8 titled “Consider Jesus: The Problem, the Pathway, and the Peril” (audio timeline 25:31 to 24:50).

  • leonine

    Intelligent site , sound exegesis, can pantheism subsume acknowledge, respect, and build on all of these facts and events?

  • http://www.christianhermit.com Christian Hermit

    Have I read the full context in which the passage is written?

    In the late 70′s, the Spirit led me from LA to Lodi California. As I stood on a street corner in Lodi, I looked down the street. As I stood gazing, I began to see several men and women leave their Churches. As they exited their several buildings, I closely watched, they kept their focus away from those leaving the other buildings. I began to weep, I then turned to the side and the Lord stood next to me also weeping. Through the many years that followed I ministered in many different Denominational Churches, I found that what had caused this great divide between Christians was how each Denomination was formed by someone who had taken Scripture out of context. When those around this person refused to agree with their new found interpretation, they simply used the Scripture to separate themselves and founded a new Denomination. When man attempts to increase his knowledge of God based on carnal efforts alone, he is doomed to cause death, no matter how intelligent he may believe himself to be. To those who study in this manner, the Anointing means little, they base the truth on the limits of their mind.

  • http://www.aplogansr.com Andrew Logan

    The list is awesome. I would like to have you consider adding #15 – How does your understanding of this passage on xyz, mesh with the understanding of all of the other references to xyz in the Bible (i.e. Scripture interprets Scripture)

    Keep up the great work…(all y’all)

  • http://www.twitter.com/nickcobb Nick Cobb

    Why did God create evil by way of creating Satan?

    Why is it that Satan can oppose the will of God at all in the first place?

    Why can’t God defeat evil all at once?

    Why does God create people imperfectly and then punish them for their inadequacies?

    Why doesn’t God just create people as perfectly good to begin with?

    Why are we supposedly paying for the sins of Adam and Eve?

    Why did God place a temptation in the Garden of Eden to begin with?

    Why aren’t we omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent if we are created in “God’s Image”?

    Why must people suffer eternal torture, pain and anguish just because they don’t believe in God?

    Why does God demand that we feed his ego with eternal worship and praise?

    Why in the bible does God command and directly cause the murder of over 2 million men, women and children?

    Why does God demand the death penalty for petty reasons like working on the sabbath or children for cursing their parents?

    Why does the bible order rape victims to marry their rapists?

    Why does the bible condone the obvious evil that is slavery?

    Why do innocent children suffer and die from cancer, murder, starvation, accidents and a multitude of other reasons?

    Why can’t God heal amputees and other obvious afflictions like baldness, rosacea, psoriasis, skin cancer or visible tumors?

    Why are faith healings always some invisible condition like back pain, deafness or diabetes?

    Why can’t faith healers come forward with numerous conclusive proofs of healing from credible doctors?

    Why can’t faith healing be reproducible and definitively proven by the scientific method?

    Why can’t answered prayer be reproducible and definitively proven by the scientific method?

    Why does God (and the church) require 10% of your income if he could just miraculously make money appear?

    Why are there so many mistakes, outright fallacies and contradictions in the bible?

    Why are there at least 38,000 denominations of Christianity if Jesus specifically prayed for unity?

    Why aren’t there numerous contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life from well known local historians?

    Why does the bible say that God is unchangeable and then gives numerous instances where he changes his mind?

    Why couldn’t God see the fact that he’d need to change his mind in the first place?

    Why is it that on one hand it is by faith that one gets to heaven and then on the other hand that good works must be done?

    Why would God write a second set of ten commandments if the first set was divinely inspired to begin with?

    Why would God write the first covenant (the old testament) if he could see the need for a second covenant in the future?

    Why is it that Christianity is so similar to the “mystery” religions such as the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and the worship of gods like Mithra and Zeus?

  • http://WebsiteURL tj

    wow…no one since August.Poor Nick Cobb…I will try a few of those “tough” ones:
    Satan was given free will….he used it to become evil. If he did not have free will, God would have been evil. But God only does what is good, so free will must be there.
    God destroys Satan through man…who also has free will…this means delay.
    God has given EVERY man a salvation from his imperfections that originated with the abuse of free will. If YOU reject His salvation, it is your own fault. (His salvation is Jesus)
    “Perfectly good” people have free will. Robots are not perfectly good. God created man and angels perfectly good with free will.
    The tree of knowledge was a choice. Free will means there are choices. No choice means no free will. Not only are we paying for Adam’s sins, I am paying for my sins from yesterday, last year, last decade, etc. We live in a cause and effect universe, which means what you decide with your free will MATTERS!! My mistakes hurt the whole universe
    We are in His image…He did NOT make us HIM. He has certain attributes that are not communicated. Others are communicable. If I were God I would explain more, but…
    Actually, all of these “tough” questions are very easy!!!
    I am getting cramps from typing so fast!!

    Well, one more….Let me pick an interesting one.The one about no local well known historian…Jesus was in Judea with a small band of close followers. Where were these local historians? Some people passionately HATED Jesus and wanted him dead. Some loved Him to the uttermost. Most, as today, didn’t even know what was going on! The Son of God was walking on earth and most were more interested in the gladiator matches! No surprise from me that the “historians” missed Him. Instead, the four gospels record eye-witness accounts from four different angles. Luke especially was written in the standard format of 1st century history. Luke was the most famous local historian. Many more people have read Luke’s accurate history of Jesus and the early church than Josephus’ politically motivated (and slanted) accounts. Who is more “well known”?

  • http://williedale.blogspot.com/ Willis Ward

    If the segment is narrative writing:
    -How much of it is action?
    -How much is speech or conversation?
    -How much is editorial comment?
    If the segment is generally doctrinal:
    -How much is factual?
    -How much is command or exhortation?
    -How much is warning?
    If there is a time pattern in the segment:
    -How much is past? Present? Future?
    [Irving L. Jensen Independent Bible Study p.136]

  • http://WebsiteURL Michael Seifert

    This is refreshing. Most churches these days don’t even consider what the above when it comes to interpreting the Bible. This may tie in with a couple of those mention, how about this one;
    -How about understanding the Old Testament better in order to understand the New Testament. For example, when studying some verses in the New Testament, how about did the OT say about that particular passage in the NT? Let’s take John the Baptist as an example. if you take a passage such as Matthew 11 where Jesus says that John is the Elijah that is to come. You can trace that back to Malachi 4, where it says ” See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” This is one method I use to help interpret scripture.

  • Hope

    Covenant, Character of God, Christ.

  • rph2odbp

    good questions. Why wouldn't you seek to study how the first Christians interpreted these versus? The books of the New Testament were written to particular people or Church communities. Why wouldn't you go to the Church Fathers? Why isn't one of the questions, "How did the early Christians interpret this verse?"

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  • Chuck Swanson

    Context shapes meaning. These questions really help one to understand context! Thanks.

  • Shawn

    Hi there

    I found this through a radio program call wretched radio covering it on their show and giving you credit.

    You are pointing the credit somewhere else.

    could you put the link / course / book / lecture link up online please?

    • StephenAltrogge

      Hey Shawn,

      It was from a course I took at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastor\’s College, taught by Mark Mullery.

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  • L.W. Dickel

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, "Brethren, what's this I heareth about me being a human sacrifice for your sins? May I asketh, Who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!?
    Blood sacrifice!!!??? Are you all fucking insane!!?
    What are we, living in goddamn Stone Age!!!??
    Listen brethren, you can taketh that ridiculous, pathetic, immoral, vile, wicked, evil, sadistic pile of Cro-Magnon donkey shit and shoveth it straight up thy fucking asses!!"–Jesus H. Christ, the Thinking Mans Gospel