Yesterday I posted a passage from John Piper’s book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God on the importance of asking questions of the biblical text in order to grow in our understanding (this is true in the rest of life as well!). For example, simply asking the question “why is the word ‘for’ here to connect these two ideas?” can help unleash a mountain of insight.
But is asking questions of the Bible respectful? Piper goes on to answer that question next, and gives a very helpful analogy:
Some may wonder if asking questions of the text is a respectful way to read the Bible. It can be. Or it may not be. An illustration may clarify. Near the time of Jesus’ birth, an angel came to Mary and to John the Baptist’s father with predictions about what was going to happen. Both Mary and Zechariah asked a question about what the angel had said. But the angel was angry with Zechariah, not Mary. Why?
It had to do with the attitude of their hearts in asking their questions. The angel said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). But Zechariah was old and his wife was barren. He was skeptical. In fact he was unbelieving. He expressed this with a question: How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18).
The angel did not like this response. Zechariah did not ask humbly how God would do this. He was not submissive and trusting in his question. So the angel said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:19-20).
But Mary’s heart was different when she asked her question. The angel had said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31). Mary, of course, was perplexed and could not understand how this could be. So she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). instead of getting angry at her, the angel answered her question as far as he could: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Piper’s point is: “It depends on the attitude.” Zechariah’s questions stemmed from unbelief, but Mary’s from a genuine desire to understand. Hence, if our attitude is one of submission to God’s word and wanting to learn more and see how things connect and gain insight, then asking questions is indeed a good and respectful and very important thing which we ought to be doing of the text.