4 Questions You Should Ask When Reading the Bible
by Dr. Matthew Harmon
1 John 1:5-9: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from alla sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
What Questions Are You Asking?
What we get out of the Bible largely depends on the kinds of questions we ask when reading the text. But how do we know what are the right questions to ask? Jesus provided a good starting point when he summarized the two greatest commandments: (1) love God with our whole being, and (2) love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). From these two commandments we can ask four basic questions to help us grow in our relationship with God.
What Do We Learn about God?
God is the main character of the Bible, the hero of the story. So it makes sense that the first question we ask is what we learn about him. Scripture reveals who God is in different ways.
First, it shows us his character, or his attributes. Sometimes the Bible states these directly (e.g., Isaiah 6:3). At other times you need to infer truths about his character (e.g., 1 Kgs. 22:1-40). Even in a book like Esther, where God is never directly referred to, there is much to learn about him.
Second, the Bible shows us God’s conduct. What we see God doing in a passage tells us who he is. A good example is Psalm 23, which describes several things God does for his people: lead, restore, comfort, prepare, and anoint. Paying attention to what God is doing in a passage helps us grow in our understanding of God.
What Do We Learn about People?
Every passage has something to tell us about humanity. Let’s approach this question from different angles.
The first angle is looking in the text for aspects of what it means to be created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). What longings or desires does the passage reveal that are expressions of being made in God’s image?
The second angle is to look for the fallen condition(s) it exposes. The fallen condition refers to the sinful beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, or tendencies mentioned or implied in the text (e.g., Prov. 6:16-19). As fallen creatures we experience the same kinds of temptations and battles with idolatry described in the text, even if they take different forms in our lives today.
What Do We Learn about Relating to God?
Loving God with our whole being takes many forms. A good place to begin is considering what we should praise God for (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Often this will flow out of what we learn about God—his character, conduct, and concerns.
Second, reflect on what sin you need to confess and repent of (1 John 1:5-9). Consider the ways you see the fallen condition at work in your life and confess that to God. What tangible steps of repentance do you need to take in light of what the Spirit has shown you?
Finally, look for promises that you need to believe (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Think through what aspects of the gospel are present in the passage and how God wants to change you through it.
What Do We Learn about Relating to Others?
God made us to be in community with each other. He makes us part of the body of Christ and calls us to be a light to those around us. God has placed people all around us that we must interact with: family, friends, coworkers, classmates, neighbors, etc. Some are believers, others are not. Regardless, the Bible has much to say about how we should interact with others (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:11–25).
Remember, the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is to have our lives transformed by God so we resemble our Lord Jesus. Asking these four simple questions focuses our attention on the main message of the Bible and prepares us to apply biblical truths to our lives in meaningful ways. Why not try it out for yourself?
*Editor’s Note: The following is an abridged version of 4 Questions You Should Ask When Reading the Bible by Dr. Matthew Harmon. To read the full article, follow this link. Content originally published at Crossway.org; used with permission.