This is a “Back to Basics” reminder. I want to focus on the Why question as the bridge between observation and interpretation. (See original handout used in the SBS called, The School of Biblical Studies: the Basics Of Bible Study. This handout is found under The Method in the Menu: it is called Overview of the Method, The Basics of Bible Study). Note in this document Question number 13 under interpretation questions and also on page 5 the number 3 point.
In recent years the bridge between observation and interpretation has been changed in some SBS manuals. Instead of the Why question as the bridge, Historical Background has been put in as the bridge between observation and interpretation. I see this as a less than helpful change.
In The School of Biblical Studies a student is first asked to explore the text using variety of observation questions. The next step is to move from Observation to Interpretation. The Why question gets a person started. The student begins to ask Why questions about what they have observed. This leads to more Why questions. In fact Why questions keep coming. There are no limits on possible Why questions.
Why questions require deeper thinking, more digging, maybe more observation, and most likely Historical Background research. It is one thing to observe and answer what happened, where it happened, when it happened and who it involved. It is another thing when the student asks why it happened, and why it happened at that place and at that specific time and to those individuals. This opens up a whole new view of the Text. The answers to why questions are more complex. It is getting at the reason for things.
For example, I can observe that Isaiah has three main themes in Chapters 40-47. The themes are: idolatry, God as Creator (not just of the physical creation but also of events and new things) and third Godʼs ability to interpret and explain the past and to predict the future. If I then ask, why are these three themes highlighted in this section, I have then entered into thinking about the reason these three are put together.
I developed a whole lecture on Idolatry due to the Why question. I asked myself, why are people into idolatry? Idolatry is so foreign to my worldview. I had a hard time understanding why Israel keep turning to idols. This lead to considerable thinking and research (Historical Background) on the worldview of an idolator in the Old Testament. I would never have done the background research if I had not asked the Why question.
The point I am making is this. Why questions lead to Historical Background considerations and research. A person does not know what Historical Background to research or consider until they start asking a battery of Why questions.
In summary, the Why question is the bridge between observation and interpretation. Letʼs ask the Why question, lots of why questions.