Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The other day I received this note on an e-mail from a friend in Texas, in whose home we used to attend a weekly Bible study, which is still going on: “BTW … some question arose last week and Bob asked how Bill Ball would answer that question. I quickly replied, ‘With a question!’”

I took that as a compliment. Apparently I have a reputation for asking questions, especially in reply to questions. I kind of like being known as “The Bible Question Man.” There are plenty enough “Answer Men.” Just looking back through posts on my blog, I realize that questioning just seems part of my way of communicating. It’s second nature. Why do I do this?

I guess I started doing this when I started teaching adults. I began teaching an adult Sunday school class when I was a fairly young believer, just out of my teens. I think I asked questions at least partly because, though I studied hard, I was never quite sure I knew enough. I felt there were always those in the class who knew more than I, at least on certain matters. So why not use questions? Thus questioning became a way of sort of bluffing my way through. It worked! It actually made me appear smarter than I was.

It wasn’t long before I realized I had a great teaching tool that forced people to think, so I continued to ask questions even when I felt I knew the answers.

One of my first ventures into reading philosophy was the dialogs of Plato and it wasn’t long before I was hooked! In Plato’s hero Socrates, I found a kindred spirit. This guy could win people over to his side of any argument simply by asking questions. I realized that I had been using “the Socratic Method” even before I knew what it was and I studied Socrates to sharpen my method.

Now I realize that Socrates was coming from a philosophical/religious view that included the belief that knowledge was innate or implicit in human beings, because of his belief in the preexistence of the soul. He saw himself as a “midwife,” assisting in the birth of ideas. While this is based on some mythological concepts, it does contain a grain of truth. We all have ideas – many of them biblical – floating around in our minds, often unconnected with each other. The teacher can pull these out and tie them together.

Socrates also used his method to inspire doubt in one’s traditional thinking. I’ve found this also to be necessary when teaching believers. So many of us hold to ideas we’ve accumulated through tradition, which need to be thought through rationally and in light of the Scriptures.

But as I studied the New Testament, I found that this was also the method of its writers. In Romans and elsewhere, Paul batters his readers and their assumed objections with question after question, some rhetorical, with no answer given, others answered with a “no way!” (me ginomai). James does the same in his letter. Both of these men were rabbis and “street preachers” and it’s clear that their writings reflected their confrontational teaching methods.
But it is in Jesus Himself that we find the greatest use of questions. I began marking every question mark (on a questions asked by Jesus or the authors) in my Greek New Testament with red, and have found a question mark on nearly every page of the gospels. Jesus was the Master Questioner. Estimates on how many questions Jesus asked in the gospels vary from 100 to 310.

Roy Zuck (Teaching as Jesus Taught) says “ … according to my count, Jesus asked 225 different questions, thought the total recorded is 304” (many are duplicates). I haven’t counted, I’ll take his word for it.

Why did Jesus ask questions? (I’ll not digress here on the matter of whether He asked them in order to obtain information; that’s a heavy theological question). He did it to get people to thinking, to challenge their presuppositions and prejudices, to force His hearers to commitment. I love His question and answer session with His disciples recorded in Matthew 16:13ff (and elsewhere).

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They said, “Some say John the Baptist,” “others Elijah,” and “others Jeremiah, “or one of the prophets.”

They seem to be each coming up with a different answer: simple information questions.

He says to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Here He asks a question that forces a commitment.

And many of the questions that Jesus asked nearly 2000 years ago are still relevant today. I believe that we would all (myself included) do well to take note – perhaps with a red pencil – of the questions He and the other New Testament authors ask.

I also believe that we should question our belief system. Does it hold together? Or is it full of contradictions? Is it compatible with the Scripture? Is all my thinking in agreement with my belief system? And my behavior?

Bill Ball

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