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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Questions And Answers

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.—A full examination of the questions asked and the answers given by Jesus would involve a general consideration of the methods He employed in His teaching, and in meeting the difficulties of His hearers. Every good teacher must adopt the plan, associated for classical students with the name of Socrates, of using questions to make his hearers define their own position and ideas, and to help them to see clearly the admitted fundamental principles which underlie the discussion; and he will further find in the questions they ask, since they give him an insight into the way in which their minds are working, opportunities for emphasizing, explaining, or developing his teaching according to their requirements. If any one will take the trouble to read through the Gospels, and note and mark in the margin all the questions and answers of Jesus, he can hardly fail to learn from the method employed by the world’s greatest Teacher much that will be of use to one who has himself to teach others. It is personal work at the records themselves that has a real value, and the main object of this article is to suggest lines of study, since an exhaustive investigation is obviously impossible within the space available.

i. Questions put by Jesus.1. The prominence of interrogative sentences in the Gospels is due in part to the characteristic avoidance of indirect constructions; but no doubt both in this particular and in the number of questions introduced they reflect the vividness of the Saviour’s methods of teaching. The interrogative form was also particularly adapted to make people think for themselves, and we can trace all through our Lord’s utterances the desire to promote thought. In a few cases the questions are simply requests for information. One instance is of special interest. According to Mark 6:38, Jesus asked the disciples, before the feeding of the 5000, ‘How many loaves have ye?’ This question is omitted in Mt. (Matthew 14:16 f.) and Lk. (Luke 9:13). Jn. (John 6:5 f.) relates that Christ asked a similar question of Philip on the same occasion, ‘Whence are we to buy loaves, that these may eat?’ But the Evangelist is careful to show that he does not understand this to be simply a request for information, by adding, ‘And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.’ The following is a list of simple requests for information; it will be noted that they occur mostly in Mk., and fall in with the simpler conception of the Person of Christ presented in that Gospel:

Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30 ‘what is thy name?’ [wanting in Mt.].

Mark 6:38. See above.

Mark 8:5, Matthew 15:34 ‘How many loaves have ye?’ [wanting in Lk.].

Mark 8:23; Mark 9:16; Mark 9:21 [peculiar to Mk.].

Mark 9:33 ‘What were ye reasoning in the way?’ [Mt. avoids the question; it is wanting in Lk.].

John 11:34 ‘Where have ye laid him?’

John 1:38; John 18:4; John 18:7; John 18:34 probably do not come under this category; in each of these instances the question seems to be intended to suggest some thought to the hearers. John 20:15, like Luke 24:17; Luke 24:19, seems to be due to the character of a stranger assumed for the moment by Christ.

2. Instances of purely rhetorical questions occur with normal frequency (e.g. Matthew 15:3, where the parallel Mark 7:9 has an assertion; Mark 4:13, Luke 18:7, John 6:70). Christ habitually used such questions as a form of mild rebuke, often implying a notion of surprise or of sorrow (e.g. Mark 4:40 = Matthew 8:26 = Luke 8:25, John 3:10).

3. The use of a rhetorical question to introduce parables or parabolic utterances is characteristic of Luke, but is found also in Matthew and Mark. In the latter Gospel the parable of the Mustard-seed (Mark 4:30) is introduced by the striking double question, ‘How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth?’ which Swete (ad loc.) thus paraphrases: ‘How are we to depict the kingdom of God? in what new light can we place it?’ He adds, ‘The Lord, as a wise teacher, seems to take His audience into His counsels, and to seek their help.’ Luke 13:18 retains the double question in an obviously less original and really tautological form, in which the hearers are not taken into the Master’s counsels (‘Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I liken it?’), but Matthew 13:31 drops it. Cf. also Mark 2:19 = Matthew 9:15 = Luke 5:34, Mark 8:36 f. = Matthew 16:26 = Luke 9:25, Mark 9:50 = Matthew 5:13 = Luke 14:34; examples peculiar to Mk. are found in Mark 3:23; Mark 4:21. This use occurs also in Mt. in passages where the matter is common to himself and Lk. (Matthew 6:27 = Luke 12:25, Matthew 11:16 = Luke 7:31, Matthew 18:12 = Luke 15:4, Matthew 24:45 = Luke 12:42), but there do not appear to be any instances of it in matter peculiar to Matthew. Further examples in Lk. are Luke 6:39; Luke 11:5 (where the interrogative form in which the parable of the Friend at Midnight begins is not carried to a grammatical conclusion), Luke 13:20 (= Matthew 13:33 where the question is dropped) Matthew 14:28; Matthew 14:31, Matthew 15:8, Matthew 17:7 f. A somewhat similar use is found in John 4:35; John 11:9, where a parabolic meaning is apparently given to popular proverbs.

This investigation throws an interesting side-light on the Synoptic problem: one of the four parables recorded by Mk. is introduced by a very striking interrogative formula, and many parables in the non-Markan document used by Mt. and Lk. seem to have been similarly introduced; Mt., however, did not care for this use, and was inclined to avoid it.

4. Christ often asked a question also in order to make men draw their own conclusions from His parables: cf. Mark 12:9 = Matthew 21:40 = Luke 20:15 (where He apparently answered the question Himself, though Mt. ascribes the answer to the audience), Matthew 21:31, Luke 7:42; Luke 10:36; Luke 16:11.

5. Very frequently Christ, by means of a question, led His hearers to admit the truth of matters of common knowledge, or of generally accepted principles, on which He was going to base His teaching: some characteristic examples are here classified:

(a) Matters of common knowledge: Matthew 10:29 = Luke 12:6 (price of sparrows), Matthew 17:25 (tribute collected of strangers).

(b) Appeals to common sense: Matthew 5:46 f. = Luke 6:32 f., Matthew 7:3 f. = Luke 6:41 f. (the mote and the beam—almost parabolic), Matthew 7:9 ff. = Luke 11:11 ff., Matthew 7:16 (question-form dropped in Luke 6:44), Mark 7:18 f. = Matthew 15:17, Mark 12:16 = Matthew 22:20 = Luke 20:24 (‘Whose is this image and superscription?’), Luke 11:40; Luke 22:27.

(c) Appeals to the conscience of the hearers: Matthew 23:17 ff., Mark 3:4 = Matthew 12:11 = Luke 6:9, Luke 13:15; Luke 14:3; Luke 14:5 (cf. Matthew 12:10 f.).

(d) Appeals to OT Scriptures: Mark 2:25 f. = Matthew 12:3 f. = Luke 6:3 f., Mark 11:17 (question-form dropped in Matthew 21:13 and Luke 19:46), Mark 12:10 f. = Matthew 21:42 = Luke 20:17, Mark 12:26 = Matthew 22:31 f. (question-form dropped in Luke 20:37 f.), Matthew 21:16, John 10:34.

(e) To establish principles closely connected with the teaching of Christ in the immediate context: John 3:12; John 5:44; John 5:47; John 8:43; John 8:46.

6. Again, Jesus often asked questions to lead men to an exact understanding of the circumstances connected with a question addressed to Himself, or with a request asked of Him: Mark 10:3 (contrast Matthew 19:7) leads to a clear statement of the position of the Mosaic Law in regard to divorce, and enables Christ to contrast with it the higher law of God; Mark 10:38 = Matthew 20:22 corrects the false notions of the sons of Zebedee in regard to the Messianic Kingdom; cf. also Mark 10:18 = Matthew 19:17 = Luke 18:19 (‘Why callest thou me good?’), Matthew 11:7 ff. = Luke 7:24 ff., Luke 13:2; Luke 13:4. The instances of this sort of question in the Fourth Gospel are of interest; sometimes the question seems intended to make people think what they are doing (John 1:38; John 10:32; John 18:5; John 18:7; John 18:23; John 18:34; John 20:15); at other times, to make them consider how they really stand in regard to Christ (John 1:50, John 3:12, John 6:61 f., John 6:67; John 6:70, John 7:19; John 7:23). Similarly a direct question often made men state exactly what they wanted (e.g. Mark 10:51 = Matthew 20:32 = Luke 18:41, John 5:6).

7. Questions were also employed by Christ to draw from men a confession of faith; the chief example is Mark 8:29 = Mark 16:15 = Luke 9:20, where, after the disciples had stated the opinions of the crowds concerning Himself, a further question led to St. Peter’s great confession (cf. also Matthew 9:28, John 6:67; John 9:35; John 11:26).

8. Quite alone stands the awful question of human despair addressed from the Cross to the Almighty (Mark 15:34 = Matthew 27:46). To attempt to examine the import of that question would be to enter on a discussion of the relation in which Jesus stood to His heavenly Father. See art. Dereliction.

9. In two instances Christ asked questions of the learned men among the Jews which they were unable to answer: in each case He evidently intended to show that the fundamental principles on which their boasted knowledge rested were wrong. When they demanded by what authority He acted, He asked them whether the baptism of John was from heaven or of men (Mark 11:30 = Matthew 21:25 = Luke 20:4). Their inability to answer showed that they did not possess the spiritual powers necessary for forming a judgment on claims which rested on eternal principles of right and wrong. The question (Mark 12:35 = Matthew 22:42 ff. = Luke 20:41) concerning the Davidic descent of the Messiah showed that their interpretation of the Scriptures was not consistent, even when judged according to their own principles.

ii. Answers of Jesus to questions put to Him.1. We turn now to the answers which Jesus gave. Very striking are those instances where the silence of Christ was more eloquent than words could have been. It was useless to attempt any answer to the charges of witnesses, brought against Him before judges who had procured their false evidence (Mark 14:61 = Matthew 26:63), or to similar charges before Pilate (Mark 15:5 = Matthew 27:14) and Herod (Luke 23:9); it was useless to discuss with such a man as Pilate the nature of truth (John 18:38), or His heavenly mission (John 19:9). Only when such questions are asked in a right spirit is it worth answering them. When Pilate asked Him (Mark 15:2 = Matthew 27:11 = Luke 23:3, cf. John 18:33) whether He was ‘the King of the Jews,’ He gave an ambiguous answer—‘Thou sayest’: it was a title He had not Himself claimed, and which belonged to Him only in a sense that Pilate could not understand. But Christ did not hesitate, in spite of the obvious danger, to give direct answers to questions concerning His own claims (Mark 14:62 = Matthew 26:64, cf. Luke 22:70). See art. Silence.

A very interesting problem arises, however, in regard to this last answer. The high priest asked (Mark 14:62), ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ (According to Matthew 26:63 he said, ‘I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God’: Luke 22:70 has, ‘And they all said, Art thou then the Son of God?’). Jesus answered, according to Mk. ‘I am’ (ἑγώ εἰμι), according to Mt. ‘Thou hast said’ (σὺ εἷπας), and according to Lk. ‘Ye say that I am’ (ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὁτι ἐγώ εἰμι). It is usual to interpret the answer in each Gospel as a strong affirmation, and, in view of the fact that the order of Lk. (who continues at once, ‘And they said, What further need have we of witness?’) supports this interpretation, it may probably be accepted as the right one. But it is possible that the answer to the high priest was really ambiguous, as the answer to Pilate seems to have been (so Westcott on John 18:37), and that Mk. and Mt. each dropped a half of the answer which is more accurately preserved in Lk.

2. Often He answered a question somewhat indirectly, correcting the mental attitude, or some misconception, of the questioner. Thus in answer to, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ (Matthew 18:1), He shows the character of true greatness in the judgment of God. When a man asked (Luke 13:23), ‘Lord, are there few that be saved?’ Jesus puts the word ‘strive’ (ἀγωνίζεσθε) at the head of His answer, and thus corrects the spirit of the questioner: this was no matter, He evidently thought, for academic discussion such as the Jewish Rabbis delighted in, nor was it a question of privilege—it was a practical matter, in which personal effort was of vital importance.

The following passages will repay careful study, and show how ready the Master was to avail Himself of any opportunities of giving teaching, even if they were due to the hostile questions of His foes, and also how He always drew the questioner away from details and misconceptions to principles of vital importance:—Mark 2:7-12 and parallels (the parallel between physical and mental healing—both are proper functions of the representative Son of Man), Mark 2:18-22 and parallels (formal fasting has no value), Mark 7:5 ff. = Matthew 15:2 ff. (observance of the traditions of the elders), Mark 10:17 ff. and parallels (‘What does the word good really imply?’—then the young questioner is made to feel that his knowledge, that of the letter of the Law, is not enough to lead to goodness, and a counsel of perfection is given), Mark 12:18 ff. and parallels (distinction between carnal and spiritual things), Mark 13:3 ff. and parallels (men are not concerned with foreknowing the dates of future events, but with recognizing their import as they come), Matthew 11:2 ff. = Luke 7:19 ff. (What are the true signs of the Messiah?), Matthew 15:12 (it matters not if the carnally-minded are offended, whatever their worldly position), Luke 9:54 f. (where the Textus Receptus evidently contains a correct exegesis), Luke 10:40 ff. (there is something better than anxious outward service), Luke 12:41 ff. (those who have to teach others must learn all they can). It is evident that in most cases the answer was given in such a way as to cause thought, without which its reference to the question is by no means obvious; this is notably the case in Luke 17:37; the epigrammatic answer to the question of the perplexed disciples—‘Where, Lord?’—finds a solution only when we remember that the Master’s thoughts were fixed on eternal principles, not on the examples of them that take place in time.

3. Very characteristic of the Fourth Gospel is the way in which Christ is represented as making questions of quite ordinary import, or those caused by utter bewilderment, the occasion of spiritual teaching. When Nicodemus asks (John 3:4) how a man can be born a second time, Christ does not attempt to explain the difficulty, but goes on to speak of being born from water and spirit. Each question of the puzzled crowd in the Capernaum synagogue (ch. 6) leads on to deeper teaching, so that those disciples who could neither follow it nor accept it on trust left Him. When the Jews ask where Christ got His education (John 7:15), His answer points them to the Divine Author of His teaching. The disciples ask (John 9:2) whether blindness from birth is the punishment of pre-natal or of parental sin; the answer sets aside such a question as trivial, and embodies the only explanation of human suffering that can be given—it is necessary to the working out of God’s plan. Judas (not Iscariot) asks in surprise (John 14:22), ‘Lord, what has happened that thou art about to manifest thyself to us and not to the world?’—the answer shows the condition of communion with the Father. The careful student will multiply instances for himself.

4. Christ made people answer their own questions by Himself putting leading questions. The image and superscription of Caesar on the tribute money (Mark 12:16 and parallels) gave a practical answer to the question of the Pharisees and Herodians, and to the lesson thus taught He Himself added a spiritual one. Many instances in which the questioners were forced to think out the answers for themselves will be found referred to under i. §§ 5 and 6 above, for it was characteristic of Christ’s methods to answer a question by a question.

5. The answers given by Christ to questions which were asked for the express purpose of placing Him in a difficult position, or of showing the falsity of His principles, may at first sight seem to require separate treatment; but further consideration will show that He avoided the pitfalls prepared for Him by using the same dialectical methods as in replying to the inquiries of disciples: either He made the hostile questioners practically answer their own question, as in the case of the paying of tribute to Rome (Mark 12:17 ||); or else He took occasion to state a great general principle, which included and forced into its right place the particular detail referred to in the question (Mark 2:18-22 ||, and other passages referred to under § 2 above).

Literature.—Gore, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] 198 ff.; Denney, Gospel Questions and Answers; Knight, The Master’s Questions to His Disciples.

P. M. Barnard.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Questions And Answers'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/q/questions-and-answers.html. 1906-1918.

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