Twenty Questions to Ask the Text

Question mark painted on brick wall
Photo by Matt Walsh on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Although there are many different ways of reading the Bible, sometimes we still get confused by the text. Sometimes we’re not sure what God is saying to us through it or what we’re supposed to bring from it to our congregations. It can really help to have a structure to fall back on when inspiration is scarce. In order to facilitate my text study group, I created the following format. I call it “20 Questions to Ask the Text.” They are grouped into five categories. Here are my questions: 

Text—wider narrative

  1. What is the basic plot of this scene, and how does it fit in the larger narrative of this particular Gospel?
  2. What comes before and after this reading and why is this particular scene between those two?
  3. Are there any omitted verses in this lectionary reading (if so, what do those verses say and why do you think they were omitted)?
  4. What other stories does this one reference—whether in the past or foreshadowing in the future?
  5. How would the original audience have heard this story (what was going on historically)?

Text—close reading of the scene

  1. How would this scene look if you acted it out or saw it in a movie?
  2. Is there any particular line or phrase—funny, strange or unusual—that stands out to you? Why?
  3. How does this reading encourage people to follow Jesus?
  4. Is there anything confusing, or that you want to know about this scene that the text doesn’t answer?
  5. What is a common interpretation of this text? Is there an alternate interpretation you want to offer?

World—character connections

  1. What character do you, in your role, relate to most in this story and why?
  2. What character do you think the people in the pews relate to and why?
  3. How do we see people today (in the world, the church, et cetera) acting like the people in this story?

World—liturgy connections

  1. How does this story connect to the liturgy?
  2. How does this story connect to the church year and what about this current time of the church year shapes how you hear this particular scene?
  3. Does this scene tell the story of how a specific custom or celebration came to be? 

World—problem and grace

  1. What is the problem, the tension, or the “law” in this text?
  2. What tension are we facing today that is similar to the one in the text?
  3. Where is the gospel/grace—the good news of what Jesus has done “for you”—in this text?
  4. How does God’s activity in this scene help us see God’s activity in the world today? Can you give a specific example?

Not all of the answers to these questions will make it into my sermon each week, but engaging the text with these questions does prove very helpful in crafting what I’m going to write. 

  • Do any of the questions above immediately seem like they would be fruitful for your sermon development? Alternatively, do any of them not sit well with you? It might be worth looking into those first reactions. 
  • What questions would you add? 
  • Whom could you ask from your congregation or colleagues for more questions to ask of biblical texts?