On Sunday, our church passed out a 40 Days of Prayer & Reading to takes us through the book of Acts together. Each day provides a section of Acts to read and one thing to pray over. It’s a small step in helping people get into the Word consistently, intentionally, and prayerfully. (You’ll notice the text sizes start short and get longer as we walk before we run.) What sorts of questions should we ask when reading the Bible?
While there’s no one-way to do Bible study, one thing we can do is ask questions as we’re reading to help us better observe, interpret, and apply the text. These questions should help us discover the meaning of the passage itself (“what did the author mean?) and move us to how should I live this out?
In his book One-to-One Bible Reading, David Helm provides questions to ask when reading Acts. See pages 2-3 of this sample for those questions as you read through Acts.
I wanted to provide a list of questions I’d recommend asking when reading the Bible. The list is neither perfect nor exhaustive, but hopefully, it helps provide a starting place. First, I’ll list a short series of questions (not overwhelming). Then, for anyone wanting a longer list of questions, I listed those at the bottom. For a helpful example of studying the Bible, watch one of John Piper’s Look in the Book videos.
Short List of Questions to Ask
- What do I notice in this text? (Observation)
- What is repeated, emphasized, or crucial to the story/logic?
- What are keywords, metaphors, references, or allusions?
- What are the commands, promises, truths, or statements?
- What’s the author’s meaning and purpose of this text? (Interpretation)
- What is the main idea(s)? How would I summarize the main point in 1-2 sentences?
- How do the sentences, statements, and segments of stories work together and lead to that main idea?
- What did the author want his readers to understand and to do?
- How should I apply this text? (Application)
- How are God’s glory, grace, and goodness revealed to help me better worship, obey, and love Him?
- What idols or behaviors (words, thoughts, deeds, desires) that need repented off and put off? Are there any actions or behaviors I need to do or put on?
- How would this lead me to better love those around me (family, friends, neighbors, church members, coworkers, unbelievers)?
- How do I need to pray—for myself and others—in response? What do I need to meditate on throughout the day in prayer, thought, and conversation?
Longer List of Questions to Ask
- What are the basics of this book and passage (author, audience, reason for writing, key themes, historical situation the people lived in)?
- Where is this book of the Bible in the story of redemptive history?
- What genre am I reading (ex: narrative, epistle, apocalyptic, history, etc.)?
- What has happened prior to where I am in this book or narrative? What happens after this episode or passage that might give insight as to the author’s meaning?
- What is the overarching argument of the book and the section of the book I’m reading?
- What do you notice in this passage or what stood out to you?
- Are there keywords, themes, repeated words or ideas, connecting words, transitional statements, or parallel sentences?
- What is the structure of this passage?
- Who are the main characters in this section or story? What are they doing?
- What do you think is the main point of this passage?
- What, and how, does the author’s story develop to lead towards a certain end or what is the logic behind the author’s argument?
- What metaphors or allusions does the author use?
- Is there anything new that I’ve not noticed before?
- Are there any words you need to look up, find a definition for, or read cross-references to better understand? Any terms that had a different meaning to the original audience?
- Does this section contain commands, promises, warnings, theological truths, ethical imperatives, indicative statements about who we are, or habits to develop? How are they used and what role do they play in the passage?
- Where in Scripture might I see similar ideas?
- Is there anything I don’t understand? What questions and concerns are raised for me by reading this passage of the Bible
- Is the author drawing on something from an earlier part of the Bible or the redemptive narrative of Scripture?
- What does this passage tell us about God (his attributes, actions, promises, purposes, heart, etc.)? How is God at work? How might this text create in us greater trust, worship, and love for God? How is God the hero of this story?
- How does this passage point us to Christ and the gospel of grace?
- Why is this passage in the Bible?
- Was there anything God impressed on my heart through this text that I need to respond to (conviction, encouragement, etc.)?
- How would this passage apply in today’s world? How does it apply to my own circumstances?
- Are there any sins I need to confess and put off (words, thoughts, deeds, desires, patterns)? Are there any behaviors I need to put on?
- What promises or truths do I need to cling to today?
- Are there ways I can better serve, love, and encourage those around me as I apply this? How so?
- How is this lived out among God’s people? How do I live it out better in community?
- How can I better know and walk with God because of this?
- What do I need to pray about or meditate on in response to this?
- How does this stir up worship and love for Jesus? How does this reveal the loving heart of the Father? How does this point out my dependence on and need for the Spirit?
- How might my life look new or different because of this passage from God’s Word?
- How should this part of the Bible send me into the world with greater compassion, to seek justice, to love others in word and deed, to make disciples, and to share the gospel in evangelism?
- Does this passage provide any models of how to or how not to follow and obey God? What can I learn from them?
- What idols of the heart are revealed through this text that I need to turn from?
- Do my beliefs, theology, or understanding of God and the Bible need to change because of what I’ve learned?