Four Fruitful Questions – pt 2November 14, 2007
Continuing on from last week’s fruitful questions, (what is the content of the passage? what is the context of the passage?) let me conclude by adding another two. These, I recognise are straightforward enough, but every expositor must surely answer them of every text.
3. What is the structure of the passage?
I need to say that this question yields more fruit for me than almost anything else. Here I try to examine the passage in terms of its divisions, connections, and logical flow. Often I simply summarize each verse, highlighting what it contributes to the overall picture and how it connects to what is before and after. This is obviously productive when studying close argumentation (such as in Romans), but I find it can be as beneficial with a narrative account. For example, why does Luke place the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? Is it not because Jesus is explicating both the first and second commands (see Luke 10:27; the Good Samaritan the latter, Mary and Martha the former)? Asking the question, how is the passage organised? – helps me see that Luke is ensuring that these two commands are seen in balance, not to the exclusion of each other. Therefore my sermon title on this section was ‘Deeds and Devotion.’
4. What is the author’s purpose in writing the passage?
Here I’m not just asking what did the author say but why? Another way of posing it would be: what was the biblical writer trying to achieve? So for example, in preaching from John’s gospel, I will want to know about how Jesus first miracle in Cana contributes to his overall purpose of bringing unbelievers to faith (see John 20:31)? Or over in Luke, what is the author hoping to communicate to Theophilus (a young Gentile Christian) when he conveys the Father’s glad reception of his outcast son in Luke 15?