Have you ever watched an interview conducted by a professional journalist?1 The five Ws and one H questions, a basic journalist technique, are often asked to find out interesting facts and opinions. Likewise, intuitive readers of the Bible can use this technique to enhance their critical analysis of the material.
Here is a list of questions that can be asked about a passage you have been reading.
Who? Who wrote these Scriptures? Every writer in the Bible had a unique perspective and personality. Was it a straight-forward, more scientific approach like Luke? Or more poetic, like David? Who is the author writing to? Who is the subject of the writings?
What? What is the author writing about, and what was his motivation and purpose? What are the key words or phrases in the passage? What was the author’s attitude or mood when he wrote it? Was he excited, angry, or encouraging?
What-if questions can offer some thought-provoking discussion in a Bible study.
When? When was it written and what was the significance of that time? Timing is very important.
Where? Where was it said? Jerusalem, Rome, Judea, and so on? When Jesus talked to the woman at the well, it was important to know they were in Samaria (John 4:1–42).
Why? Why was it written? What message was the author trying to share? Sometimes there is more than one meaning.
How? How was the message presented? Were anecdotes used? Was the message compassionate or harsh? Did Jesus use a whip to get His point across (John 2:15)?
Let’s take this approach, and apply it to the first letter of Paul to Timothy.
Who wrote 1 Timothy? Paul. Who was it addressed to? Timothy.
What was the point of the letter? To guide Timothy in the conduct of his pastoral responsibilities.
When was this written? Around AD 65, shortly before Paul was martyred.
Where was Paul? Most likely he was released from prison in Rome and in Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3), on his way to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Where was Timothy? Timothy was somewhere in Ephesus or Asia Minor.
Why is this letter important to us? It helps us understand the principles of pastoral care in the church, as well as encouraging us in fighting “the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12, NIV).
How did Paul get his message to Timothy? He sent a well-organized letter, to be followed up by another letter.
Reading the Bible is important, but it is more important to understand and comprehend what you are reading. The Ws and H technique is especially valuable if you are having a discussion with other people. The variations of the W questions could be asked to different members of the group. Often, one of the areas may be of more interest to one person than another. Therefore, you can observe and learn from a new perspective. Imagine there was a group that consisted of a sociologist (Who—focuses on groups of human beings), psychologist (What—focuses on mental, emotional, and behavior issues), historian (When—focuses on a particular period or geographical region), archaeologist (Where—focuses on sites and artifacts), and lawyer (Why—focuses on the motives behind actions).Each person will have a unique perspective on the exact same scripture that the group is studying, due to their professional specialties and unique past experiences.
Remember the value of the Ws and H, and implement the questions in your analysis for a greater understanding and perspective.
- Tim Hibsman, EdD, is a tenured associate professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, United State.