Time Out (by Jerry Schmoyer)
A good detective, a scientist, a doctor and a Bible scholar all share one trait in common – they know how to ask the right questions. If the correct questions aren’t asked, it is impossible to come up with the right answers. That’s especially true in Bible study. The most important step in Bible study, and the one we are often weakest on, is observing a passage. Our application is only as good as our interpretation, and our interpretation is dependent on our observation. The best way to observe is to ask questions. If the author of the passage you are studying were sitting next to you, what questions would you ask him about what he wrote? If you were one of the original recipients of the letter or Bible book, what would you need to know to accurately understand what was written?
The best way to begin a good Bible study is to get a pencil and paper (or computer) and write down as many questions as you can about the passage. Some may seem very simple and taken for granted, but write them down anyway. Others questions will never be answered, but still write them down. Just write down every question you can think of. Don’t try to answer the questions. That comes when you do your interpretation of the passage. Now you list questions. What does a word or phrase mean? (What exactly was the life of a shepherd like in Psalm 23:1?) Look for cause and effect, the reason something happened. (Why did Jesus come to earth in Luke 19:10?) Or the question could be about the process in which something happened. (How do we know about God’s power in Ephesians 1:19-20)? Then, too, you can ask questions about an attribute, person, place or idea. (For example, what was John the Baptist really like?) Questions about how things compare are also insightful. Asking about the differences or similarities between people, objects, events of aspects of the verse are helpful. (In John 1:17 you could ask, what is the difference between law and grace?) Finally, you can ask questions which classify ideas, events, attributes, etc. (You might ask what different kinds of people followed Jesus if you are studying a passage that speaks about His followers.) Be creative and imaginative. No question is a “bad” question. Ask any and all that you can. Your product will only be as good as your process, and this is the key to having a good start to your process.
When it comes time to interpret the passage you do so by answering the questions you asked. Don’t flippantly and quickly just jot down what you already know – you aren’t learning anything new then. Instead search for a more complete and detailed answer than you already have. Pray for wisdom first. Then use footnotes and Bible dictionaries or any resources you have on hand. But remember, you can’t rush the time you spend observing if you want to have a meaningful study. And asking questions is the key to good observation.
Jeremiah 5:21, “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear…”
Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
- Open your Bible to a verse you have recently studied and start writing down some questions. Start with simple who, what, when, why, where and how questions, then go deeper.
- If the author was with you, what questions would you ask Him? If Jesus Himself were her, what questions would you like to have answered to better understand the passage?
- Try doing this with a mate or friend. It is an enjoyable way to do Bible study together. Creativity feeds creativity.
Jerry Schmoyer has been a minister in Pennsylvania for over 25 years and has worked with teenagers for 14 years, ever since I became one myself. He authors the weekly Time Out series here at Life in Student Ministry in hopes to spiritually refresh your soul as you continually pour so much of yourself into students. God bless!
Posted on June 30, 2008