The single greatest secret to going deeper in Bible Study is to ask great questions.
There is something about a great question that pulls you deeper, makes you think, and unveils the truth. When you aren’t satisfied living on the surface, questions take you to another level. And this isn’t just true in Bible Study, but also in relationships. Do you want to take your friendships, marriage, and business associations to another level?—ask questions (and be genuinely interested in the answers).
I’ve found that asking great questions can reveal important things in a passage or relationship, cut through the fog and get to the heart of a matter, and can transform your perspective and life.
And it’s often the question behind the question that begins to give you greater depth. Let me give you two examples:
1. In Relationships
“How was your day?”
To stop without asking another question (the question behind the question) limits your understanding and doesn’t give you an opportunity for growth, greater relationship, and insight. So ask another question …
“What made the day good?” or “What could you do right now that would make this day fantastic and go beyond merely good?” or “What does good mean to you? And why use that term to describe the day?”
2. In Scripture
Ephesians 4:1 says, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, …”
What does it mean to “walk worthy of the calling”?
But to understand what that means, it’s often the second question (and sometimes the third and forth) that leads to understanding and depth. For example, you could ask the following:
- What type of life is considered “worthy”?
- How can I develop such a life?
- Where does such a life come from? Are people born with it, do they DO certain things to have it, is it something given, or ??
- What is the calling itself?
- How can someone “walk worthy” of such a calling? Is it even possible?
- What would such a “worthy” life look like practically lived out daily?
How To Ask Good Questions
Learning how to ask good questions doesn’t come naturally. It’s something, like any good muscle, must be exercised to see profit from.
One of the things I love to do with a problem, a passage, or a person is to “walk around” it in my mind and try to think through potential questions, solutions, or ideas. Trying to come up with more than one option or idea can be helpful. Trying to get into someone else’s shoes and see how they might process the situation can be a blessing, giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Asking questions from every angle can sometimes illuminate something we’d often overlook or miss.
Another tip in asking good questions is to ask open-ended questions. A “fill-in-the-blank” question will usually give you a one-word answer. So ask questions that give room for response.
That said, having a bunch of great questions in your metaphorical Bible Study Toolbox can help when you study a passage of Scripture.
My top 75+ go-to observation questions for Bible Study
Remember, the first step in Bible Study is to observe the text and ask the question: what does it say? In order to gain greater insight and understanding, ask more than one question, and keep asking questions until you discover the truth or concept of the passage.
Note: this is a series of questions you can use in your study. Not every question will be applicable to every passage. Also, most of these are starter questions … a good followup question is: “so what?” or “why?”
Overview (Big Picture) Questions:
- Who is the author? How does that help understand the book/passage?
- Who is the author writing to? What do we know about them?
- Who are the characters in the book/passage?
- What is the purpose of the book I’m studying and how does that give insight into this particular passage?
- When and where was the book written?
- When did this book, event, or passage happen in relation to other events?
- What is the context? (ie: What is happening before and after the passage?)
- What genre is this? (ie: biography, prophecy, narrative, parable, poetry, proverb, exposition/epistles, etc).
The Classic Journalist Questions:
- Is there any cultural background that would be helpful to know?
- Is there any historical background that would be helpful to know?
Old Testament Questions:
- How does this Old Testament passage reveal Jesus Christ?
- How does the passage/concept find its fulfillment in the New Testament?
New Testament Questions:
- Does this New Testament passage or verse show up in Old Testament? If so, how does the original context give insight into the New Testament passage?
- Can this New Testament passage be illustrated from the Old Testament? If so, how?
- What is the meaning of this word in its original language?
- How can I properly understand this word in light of its context?
- Does the original language give any pictures or illustrations that help me understand the word better? (ie: The Greek word baptizō – baptism – gives the picture of a cucumber being immersed in the vinegar solution and turning into a pickle)
- What are the key words in this sentence? Should I do a word study on them?
- Is there any repetition of words, phrases, concepts? (repetition often hows importance) (ie: God is holy, holy, holy)
- Is there a contrast? (things that are different)
- Is there a comparison? (things that are alike)
- Is there a list given?
- Is there a cause and effect? (note: sometimes the effect is given before the cause)
- Is there a conjunction? (ie: and, but, for, therefore, since, because …)
- What is the main verb?
- Who is the subject of the sentence?
- If there are pronouns, who do they refer to? (ie: he, she, them, they, you, me, etc)
- Are there any figures of speech or idioms?
- English Examples: it’s raining cats and dogs, he’s in a jam, underdog …
- Bible Examples: lamp unto my feet, harden your hearts, white-washed tombs, a double-edged sword
- What are the key words in this paragraph? Should I do a word study on them?
- Is there any repetition of words, phrases, concepts? (repetition often hows importance) (ie: “In Christ” shows up 30 times throughout Ephesians 1-3)
- Is something stated generally or specifically? (ie: general: “I like desserts” | specific: “I like chocolate cake”)
- Are there questions asked … or answers given? (note: sometimes you have a question without an answer, an answer with a presumed question, or both a question and its answer)
- Is there dialogue? If so, who is speaking? Who are they speaking to?
- Is there a purpose statement given?
- Does the means by which something is accomplished mentioned? (ie: “in the power of the Spirit”)
- Does the author give actions or roles of people?
- Is there actions or roles of God mentioned?
- Are there any emotional terms?
- What is the tone of the passage? (ie: affection, chiding, discipline, instruction, reproof, correction)
- What can the grammar of the passage tell us? (ie: examine each word and its contribution to the whole — nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, direct objects, etc)
- Should I diagram this passage? (remember 6th grade sentence diagraming? Sometimes this can help see how a passage breaks into its pieces)
Other Great Questions and Things to Look For:
- Is the passage prescriptive or descriptive? (ie: prescriptive: tells you what to do, a command | descriptive: tells what someone else did, narrative, story)
- Is a location mentioned? Where is it? (use a Bible Atlas) Is there any significant to the mention of it?
- Do other Bible translations use a different word or phrase? If so, why? (eg: Philippians 2:5 — “let this mind/attitude/lifestyle be in you”)
- Is there a logical order or progression in the passage?
- What do we learn about God’s character and nature?
- What do we learn about people? (ie: character, nature, attitude, behavior, etc)
- What do we learn about how to relate with God and/or others?
- How would you describe the before and after of an event or encounter?
- How long did something take?
- Look for key words
- Look for commands
- Look for warnings
- Look for comparisons — things that are alike
- Look for contrasts — things that are different
- Look for illustrations
- Look for causes and effects and reasons for doing things
- Look for promises and their conditions for fulfillment
- Look for progression from the general to the specific
- Look for progression from the specific to the general
- Look for steps of progression in a narrative or biography
- Look for results
- Look for advice, admonitions, and attitudes
- Look for connectives, articles, and prepositions
- Look for explanations
- Look for Old Testament quotes in the New Testament
- Look for paradoxes
- Look for emphasis through the use of space — proportion
- Look for planned exaggerations or hyperboles
- Look for the use of the current events of the times
- Look for the force of the verbs
- Look for anything unusual or unexpected
- Look for anything that is emphasized
- Look for things that are related
- Look for things that are alike or unlike each other
- Look for things true to life