Bible Study Is About Asking Questions -- Pure and Simple

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Just how do you study the Bible -- really get into it and understand it? Perhaps the most important key to Bible study is being inquisitive, learning to ask questions of the text. Of course, learning to ask the right questions is helpful. But asking any question that appears to you when you read a passage is the beginning of unlocking its meaning.

Learn to Ask Questions

Here's how to proceed. First, read the passage. Then be a detective; look for clues. What's going on? What stands out to you? What don't you understand? Look for anomalies -- things that you might not expect to find here. Consider, for example, the familiar dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus:

    "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.'
    In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'
    'How can a man be born when he is old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!'
    Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:1-8, NIV)

Several questions occur to me as I read this:

  • Where does this incident take place?
  • What did members of the Pharisee party typically believe? How were they viewed in society?
  • What does it mean that Nicodemus is a member of the "Jewish ruling council" or Sanhedrin? What does this tell me about him?
  • Why did he come by night?
  • Why does Jesus respond as he does to Nicodemus' introductory remarks in verse 2? Isn't Jesus a bit abrupt or rude in verse 3?
  • Is Nicodemus' response in verse 4 mocking or is it a sincere question?
  • What does "born of water" mean in verse 6? What does "born of the Spirit" mean?
  • What does "born again" mean in verse 3?
  • What does the wind analogy in verse 8 teach us about the Holy Spirit?

You get the idea. Your questions of this passage might be different than mine, but that's okay. There are no right or wrong questions. But questions are vital, since they provide direction to where you're going in your Bible study. Give yourself freedom to follow some "rabbit trails," to explore one theme and then another as you get acquainted with a passage.

The questions will vary depending on the passage you're studying, but here are some typical questions:

  • Who wrote or said this?
  • When was it written or said?
  • Where did this happen?
  • To whom was it written or said?
  • What circumstance or event prompted this incident or teaching?
  • Why did the person act as he did? Or say what he said?
  • How can I apply or emulate or obey what I learn in this passage?

You'll be able to think of more questions. Of course, you won't find answers to all your questions, but over time many will be answered. The key is to develop a questioning mind. Then work at probing the text and the Bible to answer your own questions. That's the essence of Bible study. That's the way you'll learn the Bible -- and begin to plumb the inexhaustible depths of God himself.


Dr. Ralph F. Wilson has pioneered Bible study on the Internet since 1996 with his JesusWalk® Bible Study series ( The site offers more than a more than a dozen no-cost interactive online Bible studies, plus books and DVDs designed for personal and group study.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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