The Interrogatory Method of Jesus”
A Paper Presented to the Evangelical Theological Society
November 19, 2003
Larry Dixon Columbia Biblical Seminary
In Lewis’ The Great Divorce, the invitation to change locations from hell to heaven, to repent and believe, is offered to an unnamed ghost who converses with his friend Dick, a born-again ghost. The unnamed ghost says,
“I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness – and scope for the talents that God has given me – and an atmosphere of free inquiry – in short, all that one means by civilisation and – er – the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness; you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God. . . . Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now. . . .”
The spirit on the one-day tour of heaven responds . . .
“Of course I can’t come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life. Not of a very high quality, perhaps. One notices a certain lack of grip – a certain confusion of mind. That is where I can be of some use to them. . . .”1
My intention is to bring this audience “to the land of questions” as we take a brief walk with the Master questioner, Jesus of Nazareth.
“No one ever spoke the way this man does” (verse 46), the guards declared to the chief priests and Pharisees in John 7 who had wanted Jesus arrested. After studying the questions asked by Jesus in the four Gospels, one could just as easily comment: “No one ever asked such questions as this man!”
The study of the questions Jesus asked, what I am calling His interrogatory method, has received serious scholarly attention in both academic treatises as well as popular discussions of Jesus as Master Teacher. Some of the titles of such studies include: “A Psychological Exploration of Jesus’ Use of Questions as an Interpersonal Mode of Communication,” “Jesus’ Use of Questions and Answers as a Teaching Method,” “The Lord’s Use of Questions in Matthew,” and “How Christ Used Questions.”2
One writer (whose name I forget) once commented on C.S. Lewis’ apologetics by saying that Lewis “loved answers more than questions.” However, I would like to suggest that there ought to be an appropriate affection for well-chosen questions, especially those used by the Savior.
What is the importance of questions? As one writer puts it,
In the skillful use of the question more than anything else lies the fine art of teaching; for in such use we have the guide to clear and vivid ideas, the quick spur to imagination, the stimulus to thought, the incentive to action.3
One study suggests that 60% of teachers’ questions require students to recall facts, about 20% require students to think, and the remaining 20% are merely procedural. If the teacher is to be a “question maker,” then he or she ought to follow the example of the Lord Jesus who “indisputably . . . was a magnificent question maker – in fact, the world’s best – for he knew how to raise the right kinds of questions.”4
Unfortunately, we have an intellectually marginal image of the Lord Jesus Christ, not only in terms of His use of logic, but also in this area of the carefully-chosen and always dead-on questions which He asked. In his article “Jesus the Logician,” Dallas Willard says that “‘Jesus is the most intelligent man who lived’ is seen as an oxymoron by many. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.”5 In our culture which scorns Christian answers, perhaps it will listen to well-constructed Christian questions.
Many benefits are to be accrued from asking questions instead of merely dispensing answers. As we learn from those asked by Jesus, questions can cause one’s audience to challenge their own assumptions, to re-consider their own biases, in short, to actively participate in the educational process. As Zuck puts it, “His queries aroused interest, provoked thought, requested information, elicited response, clarified issues, applied truth, and silenced critics.”6
Quantifying His Questions
Estimates of the total number of the questions posed by Jesus vary from 110 to 310. Zuck says that Jesus asked 225 different questions, breaking them down into 90 asked in the Gospel of Matthew, 67 in the Gospel of Mark, 96 in the Gospel of Luke, and 51 in the Gospel of John. Luke has the most questions; the 51 questions in the Gospel of John are unique to the fourth Gospel. As might be expected, the total number of questions depends on the Bible version one uses. For example, the NIV translates John 6:62 as an exclamation (“What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!”) whereas the NKJV translates it as a question.7
Jesus used questions with a variety of audiences. He asked His disciples as a group sixty-four different questions. (Peter is the recipient of fourteen questions alone!) Sixty-two of His interrogations were to thirty-two individuals or small groups. He addresses His adversaries as a group with a total of fifty questions. Forty-nine questions are asked of crowds. Breaking down His opponents, sixty questions are to Pharisees, six questions to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, three questions to the Pharisees and the Herodians, one question to the Pharisees and the experts in the law, seven questions to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and three questions to the teachers of the law alone. “The Jews,” a term John uses to refer to the religious leaders hostile to Jesus, are asked nine questions by Jesus. The Saduccees are asked two questions; two are posed to a synagogue ruler with other opponents. Finally, two questions are posed to one group of enemies which included Judas, a mob of soldiers, chief priests, and Pharisees who came to arrest Jesus.8
The Purposes of His Questions
In his book Jesus the Master Teacher, Herman H. Horne lists the purposes of Jesus’ questions as: clarifying a situation, eliciting faith, expressing emotion, securing information, silencing a critic or putting him in a dilemma, rebuking or reproving, making the pupil think, introducing a story, following up a story, stirring the conscience, and recalling the known.9
In my study I have found a number of purposes of the questions of Jesus, including defending Himself and others, introducing parables and analogies, advancing His disciples in the faith, appealing to the emotions, rebuking the religious leaders, elevating a conversation beyond the familiar, causing one to admit need, expressing His exasperation, testing the disciples, arguing from the lesser to the greater, etc. In this paper, we will look at five of these purposes.
(1) To petition for information or to recall facts: One writer insists that “When Jesus asked for information, it was not because He did not know. Being the Son of God, he is omniscient. . . . His questions were designed to elicit response from his hearers.”10 Wilson adds, “On no occasion do we read of Him not knowing the answer, either to the questions He asked, or to those He was asked, by friends or opponents alike.”11
But don’t we read in Mark 13:32 that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Because ignorance does not equal sin, others affirm that there were some questions Jesus asked because He simply did not know. Afterall, part of His humanity involved learning (Lk. 2:42), or acquiring information.12
Jesus’ “limitation” in knowledge, if we may put it so, seems apparent from the following texts. Questions which imply He needed information include His asking the demonized man “What is your name?” (Mk. 5:9), the woman with the issue of blood “Who touched me?” (Mk. 5:30), the disciples “How many loaves do you have?” (Mk. 6:38), a blind man “Do you see anything?” (Mk. 8:23), the nine disciples and a large crowd “What are you arguing with them about?” (Mk. 9:16), the father of a demonized boy “How long has he been like this?” (Mk. 9:21), the disciples “What were you arguing about on the road?” (Mk. 9:33), the disciples again “Who do the crowds say I am? . . . Who do you say I am?” (Lk. 9:18-20), and the people of Bethany about the body of Lazarus “Where have you laid him?” (Jn. 11:34). I suppose one could argue that Jesus knew Legion’s name, who had touched Him in the crowd, how many loaves were available to the disciples, whether or not the blind man could see, what the topic of disagreement was between the disciples and the large group of people, how long the boy had been demonized, the subject of the disciples’ arguing on the road, the public opinion about the identity of Jesus, and where the body of Lazarus was entombed. But I’m not sure such an assumption is demanded either by exegesis or theology.
In contrast to the above passages we read in John 18:4-7 that as He was about to be arrested, “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ . . . Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’”
On a few occasions He asked people to recall facts: “Don’t you remember the five loaves . . . ?” (Mk. 8:19), “Haven’t you read what David did . . . ?” (Mk. 2:25)and “What did Moses command you?” (Mk. 10:3). Other examples of such recall questions would be “Is it not written?” (Mk. 11:17), “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk. 24:26), and “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (Jn. 11:40).
(2) To logically defend Himself or others: In his book On Jesus, Doug Groothuis makes the point that Jesus “reasoned with his intellectual opponents. He did not simply declare propositions, threaten punishments to those who disagreed, or attack his adversaries as unspiritual. He highly valued argument and evidence.”13 And the use of questions is an integral part of argumentation. Whether Jesus is asking “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Mt. 9:4) or “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” (Mt. 9:14-15) or “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Mt. 12:9-14), such questions are often delivered as responses to accusations against Jesus or His disciples. To the charge that He casts out Satan by the power of Satan, Jesus replies with the famous statement, “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Mt. 12:22-29). He intensifies His defense by adding, “And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out?” (Mt. 12:27).
To the accusation that His disciples were ignoring the tradition of the elders by not ceremonially washing their hands, Jesus responds, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Mt. 15:3). The Lord does not merely defend the conduct of the disciples, rather He elevates the discussion from breaking the tradition of the elders to breaking the command of God, and, in fact, accuses the religious leaders of supplanting God’s command with their traditions. And this He does with questions.
To the outraged disciples of John (!) and the Pharisees who were upset that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting, Jesus replied, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” (Mk. 2:19). They were failing to realize where they were – at a party for the Messiah!
When the Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of working on the Sabbath (by picking some heads of grain), He replies, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?” (Mk. 2:25). And He follows up His Old Testament Sunday School lesson with His own accusing words: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:27). He further adds, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:28). In other words Jesus is saying, “If my disciples needed to be rebuked for breaking the Sabbath, that would have been my responsibility and I would have seen to it!”
United by their common enemy Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians conspire together to trap Him on the always popular subject of paying taxes. To their double-dangered question “Is it right to pay the poll tax to Caesar or not?”, Jesus replies, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? . . . Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” (Mt. 22:18-20). In His challenge to “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” (Mt. 22:21), Jesus has not only escaped the horns of their dilemma, but has elevated the discussion to the issue of giving oneself (being made in God’s image) to God.
To the skeptical Sadducees’ question about the resurrection, a question framed in a logical ab absurdum fashion (pity the poor woman!), Jesus minces no words in telling them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. . . . About the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Mt. 22:29-32).
When the unholy trio of the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders question the authority of the Lord Jesus, He responds with an interrogation. “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Mk. 11:30). Stein refers to this as Jesus’ use of a counterquestion.14
Part of the wonder of Scripture is its surprising instances of humor, for in this text (Mk. 11) we have those groups debating the future contingencies of libertarian-free antagonists: “If we say this, then He is going to say that, and if we answer this way, he’s going to respond . . .” So these prominent leaders answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist by saying, “Well, duh, we don’t know.” (That’s in the original Greek). To which Jesus responds, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mk. 11:33).
Jesus uses questions not only to logically defend Himself, but also to defend those other than the disciples. For example, when the chief priests and teachers of the law are indignant at the praises of the children directed toward Jesus, the Lord responds, “Do you hear what these children are saying? . . . Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” (Mt. 21:16). What greater rebuke could there be than to be told that one is resisting something that Scripture had predicted would take place?
Jesus defends the woman of Bethany who extravagantly pours perfume on His head. What the disciples perceived as “waste” Jesus receives as worship and says, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mt. 26:10).
Jesus’ use of questions to logically defend Himself or others involves the counterquestion, and frequently includes His elevating the subject matter beyond the original challenging question. The Lord does not side-step charges of being empowered by Satan, but turns the accusation back on His protagonists. On the thorny issue of tradition, He drives to the heart of the issue which is the supplanting of God’s command by their traditions. His questions clarify issues like fasting and one’s proper relationship to the Sabbath. Whether He is dealing with paying taxes to Caesar or theologically untangling the conundrum about after-death marriage relationships, the Lord’s questions display His logic and His concern to defend others.
(3) To logically go on the offense: C.S. Lewis has rightly remarked: “It is our painful duty to wake the world from an enchantment.”15 Our world alternates between being caught in the grip of a fantasy or a nightmare, and the use of questions can help break the spell.
In the following passages we have Jesus taking the offense in His use of questions. In Matthew 22:41-46, we read about a conversation initiated by Jesus with the Pharisees. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (verse 42). “‘The son of David,’ they replied.” (verse 42). “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?’” This certainly seems to be a text in which Jesus affirms the deity of the coming Messiah – Himself.
In John 8:45-47 we read, “Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” The sinlessness of Jesus is a central doctrine of biblical Christianity, a doctrine compromised, we believe, by a view like Pinnock’s who says that Christ “took on fallen human nature” in the Incarnation.16
Yancey tells the story of a woman who asked the famous atheist Bertrand Russell what he would say if it turned out he had been wrong about God and the Gospel and found himself standing outside the Pearly Gates. His eyes lighting up, Russell replied in his high, thin voice, “Why, I should say, ‘God, you gave us insufficient evidence!’”17 [It seems to me that is really what the rich man Dives is saying to Abraham in Luke 16:27-31).]
Jesus’ logical offense in John 10:31-33 directly confronts a response like Russell’s: “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” Jesus refers to the “many great miracles” that He did as evidence that He was from the Father.
In Luke 6:39-42, we read that
He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? Students are not above their teacher, but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.”
In this passage Jesus is presenting two absurd situations. The first is the blind leading the blind. And all that gets accomplished is that two fall into the pit instead of merely one. The second situation concerns a text notoriously misunderstood. One who has a 2X4 in his own eye attempts to help another who has a splinter in his. Rather than teaching that we are not to “judge” others, Jesus’ point involves two steps: First, the plank-person must get his problem solved so that he can better see to, second, remove the speck from his neighbor’s eye. Jesus’ two challenges are to the blinded, hypocritical religious leaders of Israel who are rejecting their own Messiah.
Logic on the offense means that we will not simply be respondents in our culture. We will often be instigators in challenging prevailing assumptions and ossified opinions. We will, at times, pose the initiatory questions in order to rouse our lost world to the issues that matter. And certainly the identity of the Son of God, His sinlessness, and the sufficiency of the evidence for His Messiahship are primary topics for our offense. We need no longer merely engage in intellectual rope-a-dope defense, taking the pummeling of the lost intelligentsia. Like our Savior there are occasions when we must play the prosecutor in the courtroom of spiritual matters.
(4) As a rhetorical device to provoke thought, introduce a parable, etc.:
We need, by nature, to be challenged to think. In his foreword to Braybrooke’s A Chesterton Catholic Anthology, Owen Francis Dudley wrote about Chesterton:
If we criticise, disagree with, see red at what he says, or tie wet towels round our heads to read him, we are probably the very people Mr. Chesterton would prefer to write for – people to tantalise. Not that his intention is to tantalise, in the sense of annoy; rather to provoke fearless thinking and straight thinking. Most of us have to be provoked to think.18
As we will see momentarily, some of the interrogations of Jesus were used to mentally “clean house.” Before we look at some of those examples, let’s notice some comparisons which have been made between Jesus and another famous questioner, Socrates.
W.K.C. Guthrie writes that Socrates held the “passionate belief that knowledge was possible, but that the debris of half-thought-out and misleading ideas which filled most men’s minds must be cleared away before the search for it could begin.”19 Guthrie continues, Socrates “wrote nothing, believing that the only thing of value was the living interchange of ideas by question and answer between two people in personal contact . . .”20
Guthrie reminds us that
The essence of the Socratic method is to convince the interlocutor that whereas he thought he knew something, in fact he does not. The conviction of ignorance is a necessary first step to the acquisition of knowledge, for no one is going to seek knowledge on any subject if he is under the delusion that he already possesses it. People complained that his conversation had the numbing effect of an electric shock.21
In a footnote Guthrie explains, “Lest any reader be taken aback by this simile, on the grounds that the Greeks knew nothing of electricity, I have better explain that the object of comparison was the stingray (Greek narké), a fish which paralyses its victims by an electrical discharge. The homely flat-nosed face of the philosopher added point to the likeness.”22 Socrates “regarded it as his mission in life to go around convincing people of their ignorance . . .”23
Stein points out that “The most frequent use Jesus made of the question was as a rhetorical device.”24 The idea was not so much to draw a verbal response from His audience as to produce an effect.
Some of the examples suggested by Stein regarding Jesus’ questions used rhetorically are as follows. In Matthew 7:9-11 we read, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” The effect intended to be produced is the realization that our Heavenly Father has only good gifts to give His children.
Mark 8:36-37 records Jesus as asking, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” The implication is clear: one’s soul is of inestimable value.
In Mark 9:50 Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Salt cannot be made salty again and this seems to be Jesus’ point.
In Luke 6:32-35 Jesus challenges,
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” lend to “sinners,” expecting to be paid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them . . .
The effect is that those who follow Christ are to give themselves away in service and sacrificial love, even to their enemies.
In Luke 14:28-33 Jesus uses two contemporary illustrations to emphasize counting the cost in becoming His disciple:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
How embarrassing to an architect or builder, wanting to construct a tower, a structure which causes people to look up and marvel, if the structure lies unfinished. By its very nature a tower needs to be completed. And how foolish for a king contemplating war not to analyze all factors which will lead to victory or threaten defeat. Far better to surrender than to be shamefully conquered due to poor planning. Similarly, Jesus’ challenge is to count the cost in becoming His disciple.
Jesus was a master of using common analogies and in Luke 22:27 asks, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The implication for His followers is clear: they too are to take the humble place and serve others.
(5) To rebuke: God uses questions of rebuke in the Old Testament, particularly as He deals with the reluctant missionary Jonah. In Jonah 4:9, God asks, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” In Jonah 4:10-11, God says, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
In a poem entitled “Not Amused,” Thomas John Carlisle portrays Jonah as saying,
I am not amused
at all these convenient
contrivances You employ
to expedite the action:
that extemporized storm
hurled out of nowhere
till You piped it down;
that finny U-boat
a down-and-out seafarer;
that bush that shot up
faster than Jack’s beanstalk
only to become fodder
for that wonderland worm
You weren’t trying
to tell me anything
Jesus’ use of questions to appropriately rebuke others is shown in several passages. He rebukes His earthly, adoptive parents in Luke 2:42-52 where we read,
When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And as Jesus grew up, he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people.
A similar rebuke occurs in the context of His first miracle. We read in John 2:3-5 that “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Mother, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
On many occasions Jesus rebukes the religious leaders of Israel. Two texts that stand out are Matthew 21:42 and Mark 14:48. In the Matthew text, Jesus says to the religious leaders, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” In the Mark text, we read Jesus’ question “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”
But it appears that His strongest rebukes are for His own followers. In Matthew 26:39-46 we read about the Lord’s experience in Gethsemane:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
A second text in which Jesus rebukes His disciples by the use of questions is that of Mark 4:35-41:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Several Points of Application
(1) Resist contemporary skepticism which has given up on questions. Madame Jeanne Guyon once said, “If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.”26 But we belong to One who said that He is the “way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).
(2) Beware of a Postmodern rejection of answers to questions. One Evangelical writes, “. . . Jesus was short on sermons, long on conversations; short on answers, long on questions; short on abstractions and propositions, long on stories and parables . . .”27 McLaren attacks the idea of “bombproof certainty,” “the Enlightenment project,” and “foundationalism.” He criticizes modern Evangelicalism by saying,
Truth is a set of propositions, laid like bricks and cemented by logic, resting on the foundation of indubitable and self-evident truths. And the word ‘resting’ is significant as well: The goal of foundationalism is a kind of rest, where everything is settled, questions are answered, doubts are removed, knowledge is known.28
He further writes that,
Modern Christianity has . . . tended to reduce God to a being containable by human concepts or propositions or logic. It has too often acted as though it had God bottled, labeled, and hermetically sealed, a commodity we own and distribute at will, logically proven, and theological defined.29
(3) Help a lost world ask the right questions. On one occasion Lewis said, “As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”30
(4) Stay close to the Master Questioner who is the answer. C.S. Lewis writes, “I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”31
1 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, NY: MacMillan, 1946, pp. 42-45, my emphasis. All similarities with ETS’s present circumstances are purely coincidental.).
2 (see Zuck, p. 237, note 9, and p. 245, note 19, for further bibliographic information. Also Conrad Gempf’s Jesus Asked, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, is worth consulting).
3 Ibid., p. 235, Zuck quoting DeGarmo.
4 Ibid., p. 236.
5 Dallas Willard, Christian Scholar’s Review 28, no 4 1999, pp 605-614).
6 Zuck, p. 236.
7 Zuck has a very helpful multi-page chart at the end of his chapter listing all 225 questions including the group to whom the question is addressed, the kinds of questions, and the immediate response of the individuals questioned, pp. 291-304.
8 Zuck, pp. 239-240.
9 Herman H. Horne,, Jesus the Master Teacher (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1964), pp. 48-49.
10 Zuck, p. 241.
11 Clifford A. Wilson, Jesus the Teacher, Clifford A. Wilson, (Hill of Content: Melbourne, Word of Truth Productions, 1974), p. 120.
12 Grudem on this issue of the omniscience of the Lord Jesus writes, “The distinction of two wills and two centers of consciousness helps us understand how Jesus could learn things and yet know all things. On the one hand, with respect to his human nature, he had limited knowledge (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52). On the other hand, Jesus clearly knew all things (John 2:25; 16:30; 21:17). Now this is only understandable if Jesus learned things and had limited knowledge with respect to his human nature but was always omniscient with respect to this divine nature, and therefore he was able any time to ‘call to mind’ whatever information would be needed for his ministry.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 561.
13 Douglas Groothuis, On Jesus (USA: Wadsworth, 2003), p. 33.
14 Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings (Phil.: Wesminster, 1978), p. 23.
15 C.S. Lewis, “The Funeral of a Great Myth,” Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997 ), p. 93.
16 Pinnock believes that Jesus took upon Himself a sinful human nature: “It is important to recognize that Jesus was dependent on the Spirit. He had to rely on the Spirit’s resources to overcome temptation. He was weak and human and did not know the life of undiminished deity.” “According to Paul, Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3). He did not protect himself but took on fallen human nature.” Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, IVP, 1996, p. 88). Pinnock’s view is similar to that of Edward Irving here, a Scottish minister who was defrocked for his view.
17 Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), p. 37.
18 Patrick Braybrooke, A Chesteron Catholic Anthology, London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1928), p. ix.
19 W.K.C. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers from Thales to Aristotle, NY: Harper Colophon Books, 1975), pp. 74-75.
20 Ibid., p. 73.
21 Ibid., p. 74.
22 Ibid., note 1.
23 Ibid., p. 74. John Stackhouse, Jr. gives an example of a rude apologist’s questions which skewered his friend in Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. xiii-xvi.
24 Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Phil.: Westminster, 1978), p. 24.
25 Thomas John Carlisle, You! Jonah! (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), pp. 49-50.
26 Madame Jeanne Guyon, quoted in p. 61 of Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
27 Brian D. McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 15.
28 Ibid., p. 129.
29 Ibid, p. 145.
30 C.S. Lewis, “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970).
31 C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, p. 308.