Great questions are at the heart of any solid Bible study. Here are five characteristics of great questions that will guide the interpretation part of the conversation deeper and help your group unlock the core message.
Great interpretation questions are TIGHT:
The best discussion questions arise directly from the text itself. One helpful way to start crafting a good text-dependent question is to take your best observation and ask, “Why?” For instance, in studying Mark 2:1-12, you might notice that Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins rather than healing his obvious physical need. So for now we might ask, “Why does Jesus say ‘your sins are forgiven’?"
We are always more motivated to answer a question that we find interesting. Look for features of the text that stick out to you. In our Mark 2 example, the paralyzed man’s friends go to some extreme lengths to bring him to Jesus, including damaging someone else’s property. That’s striking. If you ask, “What motivates the paralytic’s friends to commit vandalism?”, your group will want to find an answer.
Because a goal of asking interpretation questions is to encourage good discussion, we want to avoid asking limited answer questions (especially ones that can be answered with “yes/no”, or a one-word response). Instead of asking, “Who is questioning in their hearts?”, we might try, "What bothers the scribes about Jesus saying, ‘Your sins are forgiven’?” The second question will lead to a much more lively conversation.
A compelling question captures the tension of the passage. Reflecting on our first question, it becomes clear that there is a contrast between the expectations of the paralyzed man’s friends (Jesus will heal his paralysis) and Jesus’ actual response (“your sins are forgiven”). So we can bring that tension into the question and rephrase it as, “Why is Jesus willing to disappoint the man’s friends who have worked so hard to see him healed?”
Tie observations or sections together
Since the goal of the interpretation phase is to uncover the core message of the passage, interpretation questions serve your group well when they help participants step back and consider how multiple parts of the text fit together. Asking, “How does Jesus handle the scribes’ displeasure?” helps us to ponder the connection between the man’s spiritual healing, his physical healing, and the increasing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders.
It takes extra time in preparation to sharpen your interpretation questions and make them TIGHT. But the effort is worth it when you see participants in the Bible study discover the riches of God’s Word.