STUDYING THE BIBLE IN DEPTH
T. PIERCE BROWN
After one has surveyed God’s Word to get the total impact of the message of the book, chapter, or passage, and after one has tried to state in as short and concise a manner as possible the message of the passage, he should expand it and examine it and probe it by asking all sorts of key questions that deal with the deeper aspects of the story. The surface or factual information will be learned automatically as the student probes into the deeper implications. One should keep in mind especially these following words as one seeks to ask all the pertinent questions that he possibly can: why, when, where, how, what, who, and so what?
The following is a partial list of questions we raise about the story of the Prodigal Son, for example, before teaching a lesson or preaching a sermon about it. We do not attempt to answer any of them until after we have raised all of them, and then attempt to find answers only to those that seem most significant.
What did the younger son’s request indicate about his nature? Why do you suppose he wanted to leave home? Why did his father allow him to? Did his father know that he would misuse what he had? What might have happened if he had not granted his son’s request? Should he have? Was what happened partly his fault for being so permissive? Does God give us what may hurt us? Why?
Did “dividing his living” mean that the older son also had to take responsibility for his share of the property now? Did the younger son’s impatience and selfish desire effect others besides himself? Who? How? Was this fair? Why? Are there areas where your decisions are no person’s business but your own? If so, where?
Where did the young man go? What probable reasons? Did he have a “right” to spend his substance any way he chose? What sort of substance may we have that can be squandered? What is riotous living? Are there other ways to waste our substance? How? Is one way worse than another? If so, which? Why?
What is the natural consequence of waste? When is anything wasted? How does one decide what is waste? Is it a sin to waste? Is “being in want” different than “wanting”? If so, how? What kinds of “wants” are the most important? Why? How can one determine what is an “important want”?
What was particularly bad about his final occupation? Does this suggest the normal end of that sort of life, or is this unusual? Why did his friends not be helpful to him? How does one make a true friend? How does one BE a true friend?
What does “came to himself” mean? Where was he before he “came to himself”? Does this imply anything about his “real” or “true” nature? If so, what? Was there any value in his “going all the way” before he came to himself? Could he have done it sooner if he had wanted to? If so, how? What would have made him want to? Can a person “make himself” want to do certain things? How does this differ from making himself DO certain things? Is there any value in DOING things if you do not WANT to first? Should he have tried to make himself want to go back home? Why? How? By what mental or psychological processes did he “come to himself”? Can one deliberately undergo these steps, or are they merely forced on one by external circumstances? What feelings or attitudes were necessary in order for him to admit that the hired servants had better conditions than he did?
What two dimensions of sin did he admit? Is sin always in two directions? Is there a difference in God’s forgiveness and man’s? If so, what? Could the father in the story have forgiven the son if he had not come back home? What are some of the differences between a son and a hired servant in regard to (1) attitude, (2) responsibility, (3), standing or position, (4) rewards or pay? Which is easier, being a son or a hired servant? Which is better? Why? What makes one worthy to be called a son? Are you? If one considers himself worthy to be called a son, is he thinking of salvation by his own merit or goodness? If you are not worthy of being called a son, why would God call you one?
Is there a difference in character required to make the confession of verse 19 and to take the action of verse 20? If so, what? What would have been the result if he had started home without the attitude and realization of vs. 17-19? Is it possible that he could have? Would he? Why was his father moved with compassion? Can we develop compassion? How?
What do you think is the significance of the robe, ring and shoes? Are there ways to be dead and alive at the same time? How?
What are some characteristics of the elder brother? Why was he angry? Is it possible to work for years without disobeying a single command of God? For days? For hours? For minutes? If not, why? If it is possible to live for one minute without sin, or one day without sin, why do most of us believe and teach that it is impossible to live a sinless life? Does the expression, “I have worked FOR YOU” suggest anything significant? If so, what? Which son had the most blessings? Why? What is the difference between a thing being a blessing and a curse, and who (or what) makes that difference?
What does “prodigal mean”? Have you been prodigal in any way? Is the response of this prodigal always the proper and/or necessary one for every kind of prodigal?
You may notice that these questions not only do not exhaust the kind of questions that can be profitably asked about the Prodigal Son, but they do not even extend to the questions one can ask about the whole story including the elder brother. We trust that not only will preachers and teachers raise these kinds of questions as you prepare to teach about any lesson, but that you will try to teach your students to do likewise.