Want good answers? Ask good questions.
We all bring own questions and interests and beliefs to Scripture when we read. To understand its message well, set your agenda aside for a while, bathe in the text, and let it raise questions for you.
Try it with this short story:
Matthew 8:1–4 (ESV)
1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
What questions does this story raise for you?
You might ask:
- Why did the leper kneel before Jesus (v.2)? What did that action mean for him?
- Why did he ask to be made clean rather than to be healed (v.2)? Was he sick or dirty?
- How come a holy person like Jesus touched an unclean person (v.3)? Wouldn’t that defile Jesus?
- If the guy had been cleansed by Jesus, why did he still need to go and offer a sacrifice (v.4)?
- Why was he to say nothing to anyone (v.4)? How was that ever going to work? (Think about his family life.)
So how do you find answers to your questions? Ask more questions! For example, you might research how and when other people knelt in ancient times. To whom did they kneel? What did it mean for them? Which of these meanings seems likely for this man?
To understand this man’s problem, you might look for passages for Old Testament about lepers. There’s quite a bit in Leviticus 13–14.
It’s okay if the text raises more questions than it solves. That’s how you grow. Curiosity cures stagnation. There’s no cure for curiosity.
What others are saying
Richard A. Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading (London: SPCK, 2005), 21:
The gospels invite readers to enter their world, to listen to Jesus’ words, to watch his great deeds, to appreciate their understanding of him, and to ask ourselves the same questions as the people in the text: ‘who is this man?’ (Mk. 4:41)
Bruce Corley et al, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 132:
People read the Bible for many reasons. The kind of truth one seeks in it inevitably shapes the questions the reader asks of it.
Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1991), 10:
We must know the meaning of the Bible before we can know its message for today. We must understand its sense for then before we can see its significance for now. … The first step, observation, asks, What does it say? The second step, interpretation, asks the question, What does it mean? The third step, application, raises the question, How does it apply to me? Interpretation is perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming of these three steps.
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